Daily Archives: April 22, 2009


This will be a continuing post added on to as time goes by.

The big question in moving to Panama is “where are you going to live?”

Answer: I don’t have a clue. A friend of mine who has retired to Panama has said, repeatedly, I see you in Bocas del Toro. Well, me, too, sort of.

Of course I had the idea that I’d like to buy a sailboat and sail it down to the Bocas del Toro area. That was when I still had money.

I also had the idea of building a houseboat and even bought plans for a 27 footer that I was looking over again this evening. But I’m not sure that is doable, either.

I ran across a blog the other day, http://sites.google.com/site/cocovivo/ which had a picture of this floating home…


Now that is cheap and doable with what I have.

It wouldn’t be the first houseboat I’ve owned. When I was in Louisiana I bought a 35 foot houseboat which was little more than a shack on pontoons. I bought it for $1,500.00, put about another $500.00 into it mostly to repair the old outboard motor and lived on the boat for a little more than two years and finally sold it for $3,000.00. This is it:


Certainly not a lot to look at, but I enjoyed it. I think I can do something similar in Panama.

When I bought the boat it didn’t look like this. The “house” part was only completed from the aft end through the three small windows in the rear and was sided with a corrugated metal. There was a sort of galley on the starboard side with a long counter and an L-shaped counter. Forward of those windows the framing and the larger windows and the door existed but there was no siding at all. I had found the boat in the Tchefuncte River on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It took me about a month to have the old 25 hp Johnson outboard tuned up so that it ran and to reinforce the transom with a new 2X8 in order to hold the engine and be capable of pushing the boat.

I had been paying for dock space at the Mississippi Gulf Outlet Marina for those two months even though the boat was nearly 30 miles away. I got a friend of mine, Woody, who was a tug boat captain to agree to help me bring the boat across the lake to the marina. We were both professionals and knew the local weather well and picked a picture perfect day. We left the river bank where the boat had been tied up just as soon as there was enough light to see and headed south. We made good about six or seven miles an hour and got inside the industrial canal on the south side of the lake in the early afternoon before the breeze picked up and finally arrived at the marina about 12 hours after we had cast off.

As we were pulling into the slip the brother of the marina owner got off of his pretty Striker sport fishing boat and came over to tell me “I don’t think we want this thing in here.” I can’t say that I was offended by his statement.

First thing the next morning I was at the marina office when they opened their door. I introduced myself to the owner and explained the situation to him; that I had paid three months rental and still had three weeks to go on the current payment. “I know that this houseboat looks awful at the moment. I see it exactly as you see it sitting at the dock. But I can promise you this…it won’t look like it does now three weeks from now. It certainly won’t be the finest boat in the marina by a long shot, but you’ve got a lot of floating crap here as it is, and when I’m done it will at least be acceptable.”

He took a deep breath, looked out the window of his office at my boat which sat at the far end of the marina. There was a long silence before he said, “Well, you have paid three months rental and haven’t been using the dock so I tell you what. You’ve got until the end of the month to make that piece of shit presentable and then we’ll see if it gets to stay.”

I thanked him and as I was leaving he added, “You work as hard as you want, but at the end of the day I don’t want to see any crap or tools on the dock. If I do, I won’t ask you to leave, I’ll tell you you have to be out the next day.”

“Fair enough,” I told him. “Just so long as I know what the rules are.”

Woody and I spent the next week tearing off the old tin siding and installing T111 siding over the entire boat. We laid down 3/8″ plywood for the roofing and covered it with roll roofing. We worked 12 hours a day almost without a break before Woody had to return to work leaving me to finish the job. As you can see I put up 1X4″ trim around the roof line and then painted the whole thing a pale yellow with white trim. On the first day of the following month I went to the marina office with my $95 rental check and handed it to the marina manager. He took it without a word, stuck it in his shirt pocket and said “Thank you,” and I stayed there on Bayou Bienvenue for the next two and a half years until I left Louisiana.

I enjoyed that boat. I loved being on the water. I lived through the heat of the summer and one horrendous ice storm Super Bowl Sunday of 1985.

Though you can see the boat had a wind0w-shaker air conditioner I never used it. In the worst days of the summer when I’d return home from work the temperature inside the boat would often be over 11o degrees. The way I combated that was to open the window part of the rear door and set up a large box fan on a chair blowing out of the boat. I’d then open the window of the front door to create a good through ventilation and then turn on the lawn sprinkler I had on the roof. You could see the steam rise in the humid late afternoon air. I’d then take my a shower with a setup I’d rigged up on the dock and by the time I’d finished and dried off the temperature would have dropped 25 degrees or so. At least to a point where I was comfortable.

If you do a search on  WordPress.com for the word “houseboat” you come up with 2,005 hits.  The same word on Google brings up 1,540,000 hits. Shantyboats on Google gives you 193,000 hits. “Houseboat” on a Yahoo search brings up  11,100,000 hits and “shantyboat” on Yahoo brings up 17,200.

The idea of a houseboat has been with me for years and in several different forms. One of my early ideas was to make something utilzing pontoons and powered with an outboard motor. I could purchase a camper shell like those used with pickup trucks. The advantage of this would be that the interior would already be built with a galley, living area and sleeping facilities. If it was one of those that have a section that overhangs the cab of the truck, like this:


You could set up your helm under the overhang section that would provide you with shade and a little protection should it rain.

As silly as it seems some people have actually done something similar to this idea though this is a bit extreme:


Of course this idea never got off the ground, or in the water, the idea still simmered away.

In 1980 when I was visiting some friends in Maine they had a National Geographic magazine about a Louisiana couple who were given an old “shotgun” house that needed to be moved to make way for a highway. They purchased a used deck barge, the kind used to transport materials around the bayous and rebuilt the house on the barge and kept it up in the Atchafalaya swamp. I thought that was the essence of “cool.”

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