WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Growing up along the southeastern coast of North Carolina, you can't help but notice the charter boats. They're floating milestones for many of us, a birthday party, a graduation or a dinner cruise to celebrate a special occasion.
One boat that was part of a fleet in Carolina Beach is getting a new lease on life as a private home.
Mike Gillen, of Baton Rouge, saw the old Royal Winner Queen in an ad online. At that point, the charter boat was long forgotten and out of service.
"My father used to describe me a stubborn," Gillen said. "I prefer to think it's tenacity."
Gillen is hoping for a floating retirement home, a palace on the water for his family. The boat is undergoing renovations and should provide about 3,000 feet of living space when it's finished.
"It's been a lot of work these past four months," Gillen said. "I've fallen down the steps, broken three ribs, punctured a lung, been hospitalized for fume inhalation. It's all since this project started."
Gillen placed an ad and recruited a couple of Cape Fear Community College students to help with a lot of the manual labor involved in the demolition and minor engine and plumbing work.
"When I first showed up, I thought, how hard could it be?" said Connor Forsyth who, along with his friend, Zech Chastain, are on CFCC's swim team.
The Royal Winner Queen was commissioned in 1994. That means for a generation of locals and tourists, it's a floating memory.
Forsyth sees that every time he's sent to the marine or hardware store. People know immediately what he's up to.
"I walk into places looking all ratty. I smell like oil or trash or grease or something, and people kind of stare at you," Forsyth said. "I tell them I work on the Royal Winner Queen, helping to restore it and they say, 'Oh, I've been on that boat.' It's nice to talk about the boat and have people immediately knowing what you're taking about."
The journey for Gillen is just beginning. Once the boat gets running, he's heading to Charleston, S.C., to haul her out of the water for hull repair.
After that, it's a journey to New Orleans. A lot of work and time are involved, but Gillen is excited. His advice for people at home is simple: Don't think. Do.
"If something interests you, just do it," Gillen said. "Go for it. If you don't try it, it's not going to happen. For me, this is a dream come true."