Building “The Darwin” Houseboat

Building a Great looking Houseboat

If you’d like to build a houseboat but aren’t sure if you would really like it when it’s finished, now you have chance to check one out for yourself. All you’ve got to do is jump on a plane and fly to Saugatuck, Michigan and try it out for yourself. You can book a cruise for the afternoon and learn all about building it from the guy who did, Chris Carr.

I’ve always been interested in houseboats and houseboat building. Small houseboat building is what I’m talking about, a tiny house that floats, not some big 68′ “floating city” that needs clearance from NASA to take off. Most of us couldn’t even afford the gas for those monsters. No, I’m talking about a managable 30’ by 10’6″ plywood over frame houseboat that is so good looking the guys with the $300,000 – 68’ gas-hogs will be jealous.

I think I may have found the best example on the web. It’s called the “Darwin” and is owned by Chris Carr in Saugatuck, Michigan. Chris built it following the “Riverwalker” design by George Buehler. It’s a houseboat, a riverboat, and probably one of the best ways this summer to spend an afternoon or a week-end.

canalboat building
canalboat building

If you have spent any time on the web at all looking at houseboats you’ve probably seen it. Its just that nice. And now for the best part, you can book a cruise on it for a few hours and experience it for yourself. Michigan is a long way from North Carolina, but if I lived in the midwest I’d be making plans for a mini-vacation just to get onboard and check out out myself.

houseboat construction
houseboat construction

The Houseboat Construction

The Darwin is framed out of treated pine. To quote Chris, “ The hull is framed with treated pine (2×6). There are 1×4 treated pine stringers, doubled at the chine and sheer. The superstructure and decks are framed with fir 2 bys ripped to various sizes. Curved deck beams were sawn from 2×12 fir, not laminated. The hull bottom, bow, and transom are 2 layers 1/2″ treated pine plywood (not the greatest quality, and I think I’d just use better untreated plywood instead). The hull sides are 2 layers of 3/8″ b/c pine plywood. House sides are 3/8″ b/c pine with 1/4″ t&g cedar laminated with polyurethane adhesive (PLC supreme or something like that, Lowes. etc have it in big tubes). Roofs/decks are 2 layers 3/8″ b/c pine on the decks and 2 layers 1/4″ luan underlayment on the pilot house. The decks and hull have one layer 6 oz fiberglass and epoxy.”

I asked him if it needed special attention in the winter. He told me that he hauled it out in the winter with with a big travel lift, but that with the right trailer you could probably pull it out yourself.

When he originally built it he powered it with only a 25 hp Tohatsu but when he recently switched to a 40 hp Honda he noticed a great improvement in handling and gas consumption. At about 6,000 lbs. its not really too big to haul around. It’s not much heavier than your average travel trailer. (except that it floats!)

From what I can see the construction is not more than most guys are capable of, but the quality might be. The builder did an excellent job of finish inside and out, something of which I’m probably only capable of in my dreams. Patience is a quality greatly needed for a beautiful boat build. It took Chris 5 years to build the Darwin in his spare time and the quality of the finished product shows it.

Darwin…the early days

Finishing the Darwin cost about $20,000 and is a small price for such a nice houseboat.

There is a lot more information about this boat and you can find some of it at the following sites.



Boat Forum

Kalamzoo Gazette

On board with Mark Corke

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