Off in the distance the early morning sounds begin to awake as I make my way down the steep hill. The sun is just starting to peek and make its first appearance of the day as I take a moment to appreciate the sounds of nature around me.
I begin my stroll across the floating dock towards the Beaver Creek Marina when suddenly, due to the quiet surroundings, I'm very aware of the sound my steps are making as the noise echoes below. The only other sound competing against my shoes is the gentle lap of water that is intercepting the shoreline on this nearly windless day.
It's still early, but the marina staff is already in mid-morning form. Rental houseboats are quickly being cleaned and prepared so they'll be ready for the next round of guests that will soon be arriving. Because of the low water on Kentucky's Lake Cumberland, the marina has no choice but to ferry people to the nearby slips, since walking to the private houseboats is no longer possible.
As I step on the pontoon taxi it gently rocks and the captain just smiles as he welcomes me aboard. It's going to be another hot one on this August lake so I take the time to appreciate the gentle wind in my face as we begin our short cruise toward the slips where the Horizon Yachts houseboat that I've come to photograph is docked.
Out of nowhere, without warning, I'm startled by the sound of a large train that is blaring its horn and it's all that I can do to keep from falling out of my seat. If any creature was still sleeping, it's surely awake now. With a look of confusion I glance at the pontoon driver as I try to comprehend where a train could possibly be coming from and he just simply smiles back.
"Ah, that's just Doc Ison," says the young captain in a southern accent. "He's just welcoming you to the lake." I look off the bow of the pontoon taxi to see a man smiling as he's now standing on the dock waiting for my arrival. I'm not sure if he's as proud of his houseboat as he is the train steam whistle, but either way I quickly realize this is going to be a fun day.
If there is a more inviting and friendly couple than Dr. David and Tracy Ison on Cumberland we haven't found them yet. This lively couple with fun personalities are all about having a good time and the train whistle on their Horizon houseboat named Yeah Buddy is the perfect addition to their boat. Now you can call the dentist Dave or David, but don't be offended if he doesn't respond at first. It's just that he's simply known as Doc Ison around here and everyone calls him Doc, including his wife.
This isn't their first houseboat, but a custom-built Horizon hardly seemed possible just a few years earlier when the couple was looking to upgrade from their current boat.
Tracy recalls walking through the National Houseboat Expo in Louisville, Ky. in 2009 with her husband and having the feeling that they'd never be able to afford a custom houseboat.
"He was telling me you must have to be rich to afford to have a houseboat custom-made, but dreams are kind of funny," says Tracy. "I have a theory: the more you talk about a dream the more it comes true and the more you say it out loud, the more you network it into your life and that's what happened to us."
While looking at the showboats that year at the Expo they felt some had features they didn't really want, while others were missing features that they felt they truly needed. So it was at this show when they started looking seriously at the possibility of having one built just for them.
"We found many manufacturers were busy building boats and didn't have time to talk to us or they weren't in the mood to help us financially afford the boat," recalls Doc. "So we talked to Mr. Ray Chesney at Horizon and he was tickled to death to work with us."
The couple met with Chesney, the owner of Horizon Yachts, as well as Jason Stockton and plant manager Darrell Bunch and they began going over plans as far as what they felt they had to have. What they ended up with is a beautiful 18- by 87-foot widebody Horizon Yacht that actually looks bigger in person.
"People see us coming down the lake and then when they hear the old brass steam whistle blow they tend to get out of the way," says Doc with a smile. "They do notice the Yeah Buddy coming down the lake."
Easy As A Whistle
Working with Horizon was very easy for the Kentucky couple because the manufacturer was willing to incorporate their ideas into the design, including the steam whistle.
"I had been very hesitant in the past about working with a houseboat company because I thought it was going to be one of those, `It's going to be our way or nothing else' kind of situations," says Doc. "I found out that's not the way Horizon works. Mr. Chesney bent over backwards to make sure we had the best boat at a price we could afford and on a timely basis as well."
From an antique dinning table to modifying a bed for the master stateroom, the Isons' personal touches were mingled perfectly throughout the layout of the new boat. And best of all, Horizon was able to incorporate the train whistle, which was something that made them happy.
Years earlier Doc had picked up the steam whistle that originally came from an Ohio manufacturer that used it on a steam boat on the Ohio River. He tried to find a way to make it work on his boat at the time, but discovered it to be nearly impossible since you need a very big compressor, as well as good high-pressure lines. He also failed when trying to adapt it to his second boat so he wasn't sure it would even be possible when he took it to Horizon.
"Mr. Chesney said he wanted to take a look at it and the next thing I knew it was mounted to the boat," says Doc. "He was blowing lunch calls every day at the factory after that."
Seeing their ideas come to life as well as working closely with Horizon on the specific interior designs was a highlight for Tracy. She estimates she spent between 10 to 12 hours total over several weeks picking fabrics and getting the woodwork exactly how they wanted it.
"They gave us all the latitude we wanted and were very receptive to our ideas," says Tracy. "Anything we wanted to include they said they'll find a way to do it."
The couple went with a side hall design, which Tracy likes to boast was constructed by the finest Kentucky craftsmanship around and is still amazed by how well all the angles fit together on this unique floorplan. In the master stateroom you get a sense of home with the bed posts as well as the headboard.
"They made it very easy and you really do feel like family at Horizon, mainly because they've stayed with us since the day we put the boat in the water."
The battery setup is a combination of the Horizon system and Lite the Nite Technologies custom inverter system. Horizon installed two house batteries for the vessel 12-volt system as well as one battery for the MMC electronic shift. Lite the Nite Technologies installed a custom-built 3000 watt pure sine wave inverter system with 180 amp three stage smart charging system, along with a bank of nine batteries, totaling 1125 amp hours. All the battery systems are on separate chargers and that ensures he will never run out of electricity in case of an emergency.
Lite the Nite Technologies staff worked in conjunction with Horizon to pre-wire the vessel for an inverter system. An energy usage analysis was completed to determine the customer's usage needs and load requirements of the individual electrical components.
"I wanted something that would run 8 to 9 hours while using only half of the charge so I didn't over extend the batteries," says Doc. "Lite the Nite Technologies came up with this custom pure sine wave inverter system, which recharges in 3 to 4 hours and it can give me 9 to 12 hours, even with a tremendous load. It tweaks the electricity out of the batteries and I only used a capful of water for each battery in our first year and that surprised me."
Powered by twin 5.0 GXi Volvo Penta dual prop outdrives, Doc is plenty happy with the power. The 87-footer quickly moves across the water, but it's the 10-inch hydraulic bow and stern thrusters that he really appreciates, especially while maneuvering his boat around the docks at Beaver Creek Marina.
Other touches to the boat include the hydraulic lift for the PWC is the stern, the lake water system, top deck projector screen, as well as all the other necessities that Horizon made possible.
"I stop by [Horizon Yachts] regularly just to see what they have because at some point I might decided to do it again," says Doc. "You just never know." For now the couple is very content enjoying their custom houseboat that they never felt could be possible.
"Horizon Yachts did a superb job in the construction and our boat has state-of-the-art engines, thrusters and electronics," says Doc. "My hat is off to Mr. Ray Chesney and his staff for the excellent boat they built for us."