Ellen and Brian Swedberg from California have restored their 30 year old Kingscraft Houseboat. Following is a question and answer session that Houseboating World had recently with the Swedbergs regarding their project:
Q. What is your boating/houseboating experience?
We’ve both been sailors for most of our lives. Brian grew up next to San Francisco Bay and has been a coast guard licensed captain since he was 20.Currently, Brian manages a ranch and marina on the Petaluma River, a tributary of San Francisco Bay.Our family was beginning to outgrow the 27’ sailboat we had been spending summers on in the California Delta and were looking for a houseboat when we found this one...
Q. How did you find your houseboat, why did you choose it?
We heard about a houseboat that needed to be removed from local marina. Brian and a co-worker were thinking that maybe the top of the vessel could be cut off to use it as a barge. It was a Saturday, and the family came along.Once Ellen saw it, she immediately saw the possibilities and said “don't you dare cut her up”.The boat had been in salt water and not been hauled for 10 years or more. I figured, we could haul her out and if the bottom was so bad that repairs could not be done we could scrap the boat for the aluminum. We towed her the 6 miles to Brian’s marina.People truly thought we were crazy.
Q. What is your experience with restorations (carpentry, electrical, etc.)?
We have done many home renovations; the boys have been involved in many of these projects at home and were able to help with the houseboat. Brian has worked around boats most of his working career. After realizing we had size restrictions on the doors, we used Ikea cabinets in the galley because they came flat in a box and could fit through the aft sliding door.
Q. How long did you estimate this restoration would take? How long did it take?
We didn’t have a hard date, but we spent most of our weekends as a family at the marina working and Brian often stayed nights to do some of the more detailed projects.We were able to get her back in the water in one year. We drove her under her own power after launching, and spent another three months on the cabinet work in the water.So, after approximately one year, the houseboat was back in the water, small projects continued over time.
Q. What surprises did you encounter during your restoration?
After the hull was repaired and declared structurally sound, we were happily surprised to learn that the entire structure under the rotten paneling, cabinets, and floor was in excellent shape. This was a wonderful surprise.After removing the entire interior of the boat, the condition of the basic aluminum frame was just like new.
Q. Did you do all the work yourselves? Was anything contracted out?
The welding repair on the bottom and welding of the engine transom bracket mount was done by professionals. The whole family did all the demo and installation, including new electrical, new fuel and holding tanks. It should be said that the boys were young when we started this project but were more than capable for the demolition and handling the wood construction, painting, and cabinet installation.
Q. What was your budget? Did you meet it exceed it?
We had a working budget based on rough estimates but it functioned more like a running account of expenses.We didn't mind an old boat but we wanted new systems that would be dependable.As we tore the boat apart we were looking for systems we could save but everything including all electrical wiring needed to be replaced.This basically added to our budget as we dug into the boat and more things needed replacement.But once we knew the hull was sound we were committed.It helps if your wife loves the boat as much as you do.
Q. Why did you choose to go with an outboard?
The boat is in salt water most of the year and an outboard has ability to be tilted out of the water and needs less maintenance than an out drive system. We were sail boaters before and were not looking for speed in a boat.The boat weighs 8,500 lbs with a v8 inboard/outboard and apparently did well over 22 knots when the boat was new.We estimated that the outboard could push us at about 8knots which was fine for us.Fuel cost was also a factor; the outboard uses a quarter of what the old v8 system would have used.The motor was, of course, completely frozen, both the out drive and motor.Putting in a new outboard was much less expensive than a new inboard/outboard system.The removal of the motor also created a wonderful, large, space for storage in the back of the boat.
Q. Where do you dock/boat?
We keep it on the Petaluma River from October to May and bring it to the fresh water Delta four months a year.The Delta is approximately 65 miles from our home port and makes a wonderful trip every year.
Q. What would you do differently next time?
We have installed extra panels since and upgraded to two D batteries.If we did it again (and had more funding when we were building) we would have started with larger solar panels and larger batteries.We've now upgraded both and everything is working fine.
Q. What are you most proud of?
The solar panels eliminate the need to plug into 110 at the dock or use a generator.We can stay at anchor all summer on just the solar panels.We are also happy with the decision to use an outboard, it was a big decision to replace the inboard/outboard which had more power but it’s been a great decision. An outboard is a different look for a houseboat but functionally we think it’s been superior.
Q. What advice would you give prospective houseboat restorers?
The whole family needs to be "on board" with the project, if not as hands on help, at least as tolerant family members looking forward to the final project.It takes a lot of time and it’s important to keep your eye on the prize.Don't be afraid of the boat aspect of the restoration, the bulk of the work is the "house" part of the houseboat, which is within the reach of most people considering a rebuild.
Q. What are future plans for the boat?
We've gone through two complete haul outs since the rebuild.The hull has continued to stay in great shape.We have talked about adding systems but we find the boat meets our needs just the way it is.
Q. What do you most enjoy about houseboating?
We appreciate the lifestyle of houseboating and look forward to it all winter.We anchor with other house boaters in the Delta, some of whom have been anchoring with us for over a decade.
You can read more about their houseboat restoration here: http://members.cox.net/houseboat/index.html