Man hopes improved houseboat proves more seaworthy

Published online: May 19, 2010 News RAY WEISS - Daytona Beach News-Journal
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DELAND -- Living aboard a houseboat on land wasn't David Ansley's plan.

By now, the 85-year-old widower figured he'd be out on the water someplace in Florida or upstate New York, free to float and fish anywhere his mind and motor took him.

But an unexpected design flaw surfaced on the maiden voyage two years ago on the St. Johns River. Water from wakes sometimes would roll up and over the front of the 40-foot-long pontoon boat, creating a mini-flood inside.

"I had no idea what I was doing," Ansley said grinning, an assortment of tools at his feet. "I'm a retired plumber, not a boat builder."

So a few months back, Ansley brought the "floating condo" he built from scratch back to the St. Johns River marina where it was created, adding two long pontoons and a wall of wood to hold back the water.

"The front end was about 2 inches low, and dug into the water. A boat doesn't look good plowing," said Ansley, a colorful character with bright blue eyes and weathered skin who has more stories than John Steinbeck. "I redesigned the front, raised it. I'll take a pretty good wave now."

Ansley's about ready to test his steel-reinforced fortress that's named Tug Me Once -- launching again as soon as this weekend.

"Going to New York might be out of the question now," he said, given his age. "Maybe to my son's place around Fort Pierce. It's a three- or four-day trip. But I'm in no hurry."

He never was.

It took a while to draw up the plans -- blueprints the salty old fisherman and a few buddies never consulted while building his 15-foot-wide aquatic home. It was all in his head.

"My wife passed away a year before I started, and she was in favor of me doing it," he recalled. "One day I woke up and said, 'I'm going to build this boat.' I'd built about 15 fishing boats in my life."

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