He hesitates only briefly before relating that the mahogany beauty is celebrating “her” 50th birthday this year.
Don and his wife, Linda, have been around for 43 of those birthdays, having purchased the large wooden vessel in Saugatuck in 1975.
They are docking in Grand Haven for a week or so, until the weather clears up enough for them to travel again.
“We’ve traveled when the waves hit and came over the top,” Don said.
“We don’t do that anymore,” Linda noted.
“If it’s nice, you travel. If it’s not, you don’t,” Don added.
The 47-foot Pacemaker, complete with its original twin Detroit diesel engines, was homeported in Spring Lake at the Holiday Inn between 1975 and 1983. That’s when the Nases lived in South Bend, Indiana, and their parents spent the summers aboard.
The boat has been stored in South Haven during the winter months. The Nases travel from port to port during the summer, taking time from their business in Phoenix, Arizona, to get back on the water.
Don said it’s an interesting story about how he obtained the boat, but you have to go back another 10-20 years to get the history. He explained that his father discovered that he had cancer in the mid-1950s.
“He thought he was going to die, so he went and got a boat,” Don said.
The boat was a 40-foot, 1947 Chris Craft.
The Nases named the boat the Little Naco because father and son had participated in the Indian Guides program where the elder Nase was Big Naco and the son was Little Naco. They had no boating experience.
Little Naco was docked in St. Joseph, where a man named Don Bullock took the Nases under his wing and helped them learn the ins and outs of boating on the Great Lakes.
“We did that for about 10 years,” Don said. “Then Dad sold the boat and I went off to college.”
They eventually lost touch with the Bullocks.
When Don was 28, he was explaining to his 23-year-old girlfriend, Linda, about those boating years. Don took Linda to Saugatuck and that’s when they saw the large mahogany boat on dry dock.
Don asked if the boat was for sale, and the person he was talking to said he would have to ask Mrs. Bullock.
It turned out that Don Bullock — the man who taught the Nases about boating — had custom-ordered the boat from an East Coast shipyard. But Bullock died before the vessel was delivered in 1968, and it had been out of the water ever since.
“It only had 100 hours on the motor, and that was from its delivery trip,” Don said.
This boat also became Naco, which, if you look at the Spanish pronunciation of the word, it means “foolish pleasure,” according to Don.
When Don bought the boat, he decided he wanted to make it look like it came from 1940s or ‘50s, so they changed the brown striping to red and changed the hull color from off-white to white. His mother sewed period curtains and Don took on a 280-hour project to replace the cloth headliner on the aft deck to wood.
The boat, which is 15 feet wide, contains about 1,000 square feet of living space. That includes about 700 square feet of below-deck living space and 300 square feet of the aft deck.
There are three staterooms (bedrooms), three heads (toilets), one shower and three air conditioning units. It has a salon (living room), booth dining and a small kitchen.
Don said they prefer traveling on the east side of Lake Michigan because of its sunsets; the small, scenic towns; and the ports are closer together.
They recently traveled to Mackinac Island (their sons were baptized in the little stone church there) and have traveled as far away as the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.
Don said they like to go about 4-5 hours at a time when they travel, usually at a speed of 9-10 knots. That means he will burn about a gallon of fuel to travel 1.6 miles.
Putting the single-plank vessel into the water is also a pricey trick. It usually takes about a week to put the boat back into the water, because it has to be lowered in an inch or two a day, allowing the planks to swell and seal the hull, Don explained.
The whole time that is being done, Don runs pumps that move 8,000 gallons of water an hour.
“All you see is streams of water going out both sides,” he said. “The joke is that I am filtering the lake.”
Then it has to sit another 3-4 days after its floating, just to make sure it’s tight, Don said.
“You don’t just put your boat in the water and go,” he said.
Don uses the services of Ron Zinn and his son, Michael, to do any woodwork on the boat. To facilitate that, they might store the boat in Manistee this winter.
To save money, Don does as much of the work on the boat as he can, including any sanding, staining or painting of the woodwork.
“You have to be very dedicated,” he said. “You’ve got to do the work yourself and you’ve got to like doing it. ... From the day you get on the boat, until you get off, you keep working on it.”
Don said he and Linda plan to continue traveling with the boat for the next few years, although now he is looking for a permanent slip — then they can travel with friends and have more people around to help when they go in and out of port.