A two-story houseboat built in Port Townsend sailed through the Ballard Locks on Sunday, destined for a berth on Lake Union.

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Bob Little and his family have been building houses for 33 years. But Sunday was the first time they floated one through the Ballard Locks.

A two-story houseboat Little and his crew have been laboring over for the past 10 months slipped smoothly into Lake Union after a daylong tow from Port Townsend, where the company is based.

“We took off at 5:30 a.m.,” Little said Sunday.

On Monday comes a waterborne ballet, as crews maneuver an old, single-story houseboat away from its Eastlake moorage and slip the new one into its place. Then the old boat will get a tow to Port Townsend.

“It’s a slow process,” Little said. “We won’t be moving very fast.”

With its burnished cedar exterior, the new houseboat attracted a few people as it made the slow passage through the Locks around 7:30 p.m. The floating house’s 32- by 45-foot footprint wasn’t close to a tight fit for the 80-foot-wide Locks.

With three bedrooms, two baths and a family room, the new boat will provide more space for the owners — a family with three young children who outgrew their old floating home.

Building the house itself wasn’t very different from building the type of finely crafted homes Little & Little Construction has specialized in since 1979, Little said. But flotation was new territory. The structure sits atop a 6-foot-high honeycomb of concrete cells, each packed with foam. Just for kicks, Little said he once calculated the insulating power of all that concrete and foam — and came up with a number that was off the charts.

They built the foundation and house on dry land, in the Port of Port Townsend’s shipyard. Getting it into the water was the trickiest maneuver.

“It was a really cool operation,” Little said.

With the house supported on a series of giant dollies, and towed by a truck, the structure slowly edged toward the beach across a temporary road of heavy steel plates. It was only about a 50-foot trip, but it took nearly five hours, Little said. “A lot of people came down to watch,” he said.

At the water’s edge, Little and several family members climbed aboard to spend the night waiting for high tide. It arrived around 4 a.m. and floated the boat gently into Puget Sound. A waiting tug tied on and towed the houseboat less than a mile to the temporary moorage, where it sat for several weeks before Sunday’s trip to Seattle.

The extra cost of transporting the houseboat wasn’t enough to knock his company out of a competitive bidding process, Little said.

Little & Little also had an edge because it had once built a home in Port Townsend for the houseboat owners.

After the old, one-story houseboat makes the return trip to Port Townsend, it will find new life on land. Little and his crew plan to detach it from its log base, sit the structure on a new foundation and recycle the old logs into lumber.

The owners couldn’t find a buyer to keep the old boat afloat. While houseboats remain a Seattle icon, moorage space is so limited it’s tough to find a vacant slip.

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com