by Juliann Tallino
We weren’t looking to buy a boat, we definitely weren’t looking to buy a tugboat, we were just looking. We have a home in Port Townsend, Washington but the commute into the city for work was too much to do everyday, so at the time we were renting a house in Ballard (a neighborhood of Seattle). It was a nice house in a great neighborhood, but we really weren’t keen on being renters. When we saw the tug on craigslist we were just curious, but once we looked at the boat we realized we could stop being renters and have a place of our own in Seattle. A place on the water with a million dollar view.
The tug needed a lot of work, the decks needed to be replaced, the interior needed to be completely renovated, and the whole boat was in dire need of a coat of paint. But both my husband and I are comfortable with working in wood, so we decided it was a project we could handle. At first, my husband was worried the space would be too small for the two of us. I work at home and he thought I’d go stir crazy in such tight quarters. But when I thought about how much space I actually used in our rental house, I knew we could make it work. I think most people live in just a small part of their house, the rest of the space is taken up with storing stuff. Luckily we didn’t have a great deal of stuff. So two weeks after seeing the ad on craigslist, we bought a vintage wood tugboat, the Iver.
It took about two months of just looking at the boat to figure out where to start. It was a bit overwhelming, we are not experienced boat owners, we bought our first boat a little over year before, a 28 ft. fiberglass sailboat. We named that boat Troublemaker because we were so clueless about boating.
The first thing we tackled was making the boat water tight, it leaked through the decks. We covered the sides and back deck in cheap plywood and then coated that in a rubberized decking material called Gaco. Then we set about converting the interior into a liveable space. We tore out everything the previous owner had built, which wasn’t really much. A poorly designed galley area, a platform bed in the f’o'clse (the area under the bow deck) and a too large vanity in the head.
The galley cabinets were built in place, nothing on a boat is straight, especially an 85 yr old boat. We replaced a small electric marine stove with a household gas stove converted to propane. The shelves in the cabinets all slide out and the space between the stove and small fridge is a can pantry drawer. We later added a dish storage rack between the portholes on the back wall.
The rest of the cabin is our sitting, computer, TV area, guest bunk and dining area. We built a settee from wood we salvaged from my old work desk that my husband had made for me from a nice oak pallet he found on a construction site. The cushion is cut from a thick full sized foam mattress we had in the attic in Port Townsend. The settee is about the size of a twin bed and we made it high enough off the floor so we could put the dogs food and water dishes underneath and out of the way.
On the opposite wall we built an entertainment unit to house our flat screen TV with storage for laptops and other stuff, as well as a small bookcase. This wall hides the exhaust stacks that come up from the engine room, to the right was a bit of dead space that we turned into a wet/dry locker by adding a door from the built-in to the wall. The wood we used is mahogany tongue and groove that was salvaged from a house on Lake Washington.
Our stateroom is in the f’o'scle (boat lingo for the area below the bow deck) we built a queen size bed frame with storage underneath. We had a hard time figuring out how to get a regular mattress down into the space, but found a sleep number bed was the perfect fit. It came apart and we could put it back together in place. Getting big things in and out of the tug is always a challenge, the doors are not normal house door size, they’re a bit on the small size. When we brought in the gas range, it had to come in through a hole in the cabin ceiling that will someday be a nice skylight hatch.
We then built in a hanging locker (boat for closet), a six drawer dresser (using that old desktop that was leftover when we built the settee) and shelves with doors. Plenty of storage for clothes and linens.
One of the most challenging aspects of renovating the tug as a live aboard was what to do about the toilet in the head. The toilet that was in the boat when we bought it was plumbed to flush directly out of the boat. Not only was that really gross, but it was also very illegal. To install a marine black water system would have been difficult, there was no way to get a decent sized black water tank down into the engine room (remember those small doors, the hatch down into the engine room is even smaller) and paying someone to come pump us out every week just didn’t sit well with me. We could have installed a waste water treatment system, but that was really expensive and possibly not totally legal in our no discharge area of the ship canal. After much research I came up with the idea of installing a dry composting toilet. My husband was not thrilled with the idea, but he couldn’t come up with a better plan, so……..
The commercial units available at that time were a bit expensive, but I found a DIY option that turned out to be inexpensive, easy to build and works very well. My husband is now a complete convert and we plan on replacing the marine head on our sailboat with a dry composting toilet.
We also replaced the large vanity with a smaller unit and did some upgrades on the plumbing fixtures.
We bought the boat in September of 2009 and moved on board July 1st, 2010. While renovating our new home we try to be green, using salvaged materials as much as possible. I joke that we should have named the tug “Craigslist” since that’s where we find most of our materials, especially old growth lumber for replacing the decks. We also shop all the re-use and salvage yards in the area. Our carpet tiles in the salon and subway tiles in the kitchen came from the local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. I made lights in the galley from old coffee cans and just finished painting a floor cloth for the galley from a scrap of vinyl flooring.
During the time we were building in the living spaces, we were also working on the plumbing, replacing old PVC pipe with pex pipe and putting in new freshwater filtration system. Our water comes from a heavy duty garden hose that runs down the dock, the electrical is all household 110v that also comes from the dock. My husband and I work well together, we design everything as a team, he does most of the woodworking (he just likes doing it more than I do) and I do the majority of the painting and varnishing (I hate painting a bit less than he does). We love living on our tug, we find we have plenty of space and being able to live on the water is amazing. Life should be an adventure, right? Sometimes it’s work, but it’s almost never boring.