Yacht is full-time home to family of five – and two cats
At her covered berth at Lakewood Yacht Club in Seabrook, no one would take Liberty Belle to be a houseboat. Sleek and seaworthy at 67 feet, her lines bear the stamp of renowned yacht designer Jack Hargrave. Her all-aluminum hull is a 1968 product of Miami’s Lantana Boatyard, her gleaming paint and varnish work are a credit to the club.
But she is the full-time residence of Paul Dunphey, his wife Amy, their three sons, Nicholas, 8, Benjamin, 11, and Sammy, 13, and their two cats.
Liberty Belle is every inch a yacht, but she functions well as a three-bedroom, three-bath home, with full if compact galley and commodious living, dining and entertaining areas on deck and below.
“The kids love it here,” Dunphey said. “We can’t get them to leave.”
Marinas are pleasant places, with water views, lawns and palm trees and an endless variety of boats. When they’re part of a major, fully appointed yacht club, they also are pleasant places to live.
Most of all, they offer a kind of sociability that is rare in suburban or semi-urban developments.
“How often do you go into a restaurant in the city and know everyone in the place? That’s what it’s like at the club dining room or the bar,” Dunphey said. “Living here is like living in a village.”
It’s a village of high-end yachts, protected by 24-hour security at its only land entrance. But like a traditional village, it offers children the kind of freedom to roam and visit friends and explore that has become rare in most American childhoods.
Dunphey and his wife are confident that trouble of any kind will be responded to by friends, rather than ignored in the anonymity of city streets.
Like many large yacht clubs, Lakewood maintains an active youth sailing program, racing small boats two afternoons and Saturday mornings each week. The youngest and oldest Dunphey boys are active participants, though Benjamin has other interests.
The clubhouse facility, in addition to the restaurant and lounges for the adults, swimming pool and tennis courts, includes a large game room for kids. The game room is staffed after school and on weekends.
It was partly for this kind of neighborhood living that the Dunpheys decided to sell their house on a 2-acre lot overlooking Galveston Bay and build a new house in a more cohesive community on the canal at Seabrook. Selling and building would take more than a year, so for the interim they moved aboard Liberty Belle.
Before it was the family’s residence, the yacht had served for some years as sort of a summer vacation home.
Dunphey bought Liberty Belle five years ago. The owner of a successful fuel systems company, he has the means to support his consuming hobby: He’s a collector of historic cars and boats.
He owns 10 or 12 boats of various sizes and states of restoration and about 25 cars. Dunphey also is president of Lakewood Yacht Club’s popular annual Keels and Wheels yearly event, at which restored vintage cars and boats are showcased on the extensive grounds of the club.
Liberty Belle wasn’t exactly historic, but badly in need of restoration and updating when Dunphey bought her. The previous owner had died some years before, and the boat was in a state of neglect. It also needed to be brought from a 1960s sensibility — white carpets, Formica counters, linoleum in the heads — into the 21st century, and be somewhat adapted to suit family life.
Her name when he bought her was “Sea Ho,” which may have been a clever play on “Land Ho” in the 1960s, but in 2010 held connotations that Dunphey’s wife would have none of. “Liberty Belle” was an upbeat name, though today she is one of two Liberty Belles at Lakewood.
“We stripped the interior completely,” Dunphey said.
He replaced the carpet with wood decking throughout, converted painted doors and trim to varnished wood and replaced some of the overheads with softer materials, including bead board.
He converted the two-man crew’s quarters in the bow into a den with comfortable bunks for the boys. It’s a fairly small space for three boys to share, but it’s made up for by the roominess of the rest of the boat and their run of the harbor and grounds. And the boys have learned, as sailors do, to keep their gear in order in their own hanging lockers and in drawers under their bunks.
Most of the rebuilding and refinishing was done by Mark Phillips. A skilled woodworker and finisher, Phillips also took on the job of tearing down the twin Caterpillar D-330 engines the boat was built with, renewing and rebuilding them to good running order.
Original equipment also included tanks holding a total of 3,900 gallons of fuel.
“That’s a lot — enough to go to the Bahamas and back without refueling,” Dunphey said.
Not that he intends to make that trip in her. Although the family enjoys cruising her around Galveston Bay, for the most part, Liberty Belle stays at home. In fact, she is home.