Like many water-loving couples, Wesley and Heather Story knew they wanted a houseboat but didn't think it would be easy to attain. But having a love of the water was never in question. Wesley is an avid bass fisherman and fishes in the local and regional tournaments with his father and friends. He is a member of the River Rats bass fishing club and he grew up fishing with his father on Clarks Hill Lake, which is now known as Thurmond Lake. However, it's one of those areas where the locals continue to refer to it as Clarks Hill.
When the couple first met in 2006, they spent a lot of time together in Wesley's bass boat on the lake. Every chance they had to be on the water they'd fish and lay out in the sun and have a great time together with friends on the lake, or just alone. They'd enjoy the day, but that didn't keep them from dreaming of someday owning a larger boat.
"We would always see the houseboats and Wesley would say that one day we were going to own one," recalls Heather. "We would see small and large ones and daydream about how cool it would be to have a houseboat."
For Wesley the dream of owning a houseboat began during his childhood when his grandparents, who owned a small houseboat, would take him and his siblings out for the weekend.
"We'd be jumping off the top, eating great food and of course, just being on the lake," says Wesley. "I have a lot of fond memories because of that houseboat."
Wesley and Heather were on the lake late in the spring of 2007 when they decided to drive into Tradewinds Marina just to look at the boats there.
"We walked up and down the docks and spoke to some of the locals at the marina," says Heather. "We saw several boats for sale and that's when we saw what was soon to be ours."
The couple called the owners and they came and met them for a view and a quick ride. They were officially in love after a closer look. The boat was outdated but it ran fine and there was a lot of junk on the boat that they couldn't wait to get rid of.
"It needed some work but we were okay with that," says Heather. "We knew that it would take a little elbow grease and lots of learning to correct some of the issues but that didn't intimidate us."
New To Them
After an appraisal and the approval of their loan, the couple became the proud owners of a 1978 Carlcraft houseboat. They were so excited and couldn't wait to clean out everything and make it their own. The fist step was to immediately start the cleaning process.
"We actually had a great time cleaning out the boat and really learning every nook and cranny of the vessel," says Heather. "Wesley already knew quite a bit about boats so for me it has been a learning process. One that I have come to love even more than before. I am a very proud first mate."
During the cleaning process the couple came across a box with a tattered notebook which had a lot of what they considered to be trash inside. Once they looked closer they noticed it was a history of some sort of the boat. It had paperwork from previous owners and showed that the boat was once docked on Kentucky Lake.
"It had ghost stories that were passed down from another previous owner that shared spooky folklore about Kentucky Lake," says Heather. "It revealed some of the past work performed on the motor and when the boat was removed from the water for a new gel coating on the bottom. It was a super awesome find. I was really intrigued to see all of this data in a binder."
Heather trashed the tattered binder and moved everything into a newer one so they could continue on with the history to pass down if they ever sell their vessel. The next step was to figure out a name for the boat. Wesley suggested Heather Rae, which was flattering to Heather, but she wanted something a little funkier.
"I knew it was about to become a serious party and good time hangout so I begged him to name it the Gypsy Yacht," says Heather. "I had big plans for some renovations and color schemes and I wanted the name to match. We settled on a meshed name of Heather Rae's Gypsy Yacht."
Fix 'er Upper
Once they decided on a boat name, the couple had to figure out what project they were going to tackle first. The most annoying thing to them was the fact it didn't have a functioning toilet, but instead had a SaniPottie.
"We endured that for one summer and then got to work on prepping the bathroom so it would be fully functional and up to date with today's EPA standards. No Y-valves on our baby," says Heather with a smile. "When we were cleaning out the boat we found the original head and it looked like it had been through World War III. We sent it and the macerator to Raritan in New Jersey to be refurbished and they were super nice to work with and were very helpful in assisting us with learning about a marine toilet."
The existing holding tank was severely corroded and was unable to hold anything so they ordered a brand new 50-gallon one and added all new hoses and fittings and proceeded with their bathroom rehab.
Next, they had a new motor compartment door fabricated and fiberglassed. The existing one was almost rotten through and with the amount of people coming to visit each weekend during the summer, the couple knew it was imperative to correct this problem. "We didn't want anyone getting hurt on the Gypsy Yacht," says Heather. "Our new door was made by Lon Annis and he runs a stellar fiberglass and boat repair shop just across the lake in Georgia. He and his crew did a fabulous job of repairing our door."
After the door was repaired they decided last winter to replace the kitchen countertops with tile and replace the sink with a larger one.
"We really wanted to replace the oven but couldn't find one we were happy with so my dad took it home and refurbished it," says Heather. "It all looks fabulous and I even made curtains for two of the windows and then I decided to hire someone to make some custom roman shades. I am so excited about them as well."
Close As Family
The boat is docked in a slip on "C" dock at Tradewinds Marina. The couple has made a lot of great friends at Tradewinds as this marina is known for being a tight-knit community of people who all share a deep love of boating and the water.
"We work so hard during the week at our jobs and can't wait to get to our little bit of "sanity" on the lake," says Wes. "It really helps us to unwind. We take great pride in our boat and the continual process of fixing it up but we don't just work, we PLAY!"
Every weekend during the summer the couple is ready to take their boat out and that includes just about any type of weather, which has earned them a reputation on the dock.
"The folks at the marina joke with us and tell us that we'd take our boat out in a hurricane," says Heather. "Of course, I don't prefer that, but I must say the Gypsy Yacht really handles storms pretty well. It can take on some fierce wind and waves. Trust me, we've been on the lake is some really rough weather. We've experienced high winds, heavy rain, even hail, all while out with our friends."
Grilling is a Gypsy Yacht staple as the couple loves to grill chicken wings, burgers, hot dogs, shrimp, fresh corn and a lot of other favorites. Everyone is encouraged to bring something to throw on the grill, but there is one major requirement for those who visit the houseboat.
A fun tradition Heather and Wes started on the boat is if you jump off the top deck you get your picture taken and put on the front counter. There have currently been 50 people that have jumped off the boat.
"There are some of our friends, and you know who you are, that haven't done it yet," says Heather. "I love to take the photos and display them on the laptop or on the front dash of the boat under the Plexiglas for all to see."
As much as they love houseboating, that combines great food, music, family and friends, they're also quick to mention their love of America.
"Wesley and I are also very patriotic. We have hung a gigantic American flag next to our boat," says Heather. "We display it often and on special occasions. It has become a real sight for those of us that come to the marina."
The couple holds the American flag in high regard and are proud to be able to enjoy good times and freedom because of the hard-working service men and women who make it possible.
"We always want to remember that freedom isn't free," adds Wes. "We love Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. It gives us a chance to deck the boat out with all of our patriotic gear."
Wes and Heather are continuing to live their dream of being houseboat owners and are always thinking of ways to improve their 39-foot boat. But more importantly they enjoy being on their boat every chance they get, while continuing to make memories on the Heather Rae's Gypsy Yacht. And that's what it's really about.