Burn to Boom

Published in the July 2018 Issue March 2020 Own

Merv Aguiar and his wife Barbara have spent some of the best years of their lives houseboating and making memories on their 1981 36-foot Gibson with their kids and grandkids on the California Delta.

The boat was dubbed Barbara Ann in honor of his wife, and after having it for 30 years, Aguiar had modified the houseboat to make it even more plush and comfortable. In short, he got it exactly the way he wanted it.

Unfortunately, the Aguiars lost Barbara Ann to a fire unexpectedly a couple of years ago, rendering them boatless for a short period of time. But with the help of his nephew, Aguiar was soon able to find another houseboat to fill the void that his last one left behind.

The Fire

It was just a little past midnight when the fire started two years ago, thanks to the work of a faulty refrigerator on one of the boats in the same covered slips as Aguiar’s. The fire took 16 boats down with it and sadly, Barbara Ann was one of them.

“After 30 years it was almost as bad as part of the family going away,” explained Aguiar.

It was an emotional experience to have lost the boat and Aguiar had to stop himself from choking up on the TV cameras when the newscasters came to cover the unfortunate event. The entire ordeal put a dent in the family’s happiness.

Aguiar immediately decided that if he were ever to buy a houseboat again, he wanted another Gibson because his last one treated him so well. He also knew he wanted a bigger one. His eye fell on Gibson’s 44 Standard and he knew this model would be the perfect fit. The only problem was where to find one.

Nephew To The Rescue

There weren’t any for sale in California so Aguiar started looking out of state. He searched high and low without success for over a year until he came across the exact one he wanted, but the boat was in North Carolina. Then Aguiar ran into more roadblocks when he couldn’t get a hold of the owner.

This is where his trusty nephew Mike Gruppo and his wife Claire stepped in to help Aguiar out. Ever since Gruppo had learned that his uncle lost his boat, he’d noticed that he wasn’t smiling as much, and he knew it was because he’d lost Barbara Ann to the fire.

Wanting to help in any way he could, Gruppo reached out to the previous owner Bill Rich in North Carolina and was able to get in contact with him. He told him about his uncle’s situation with his boat burning down and he and his wife helped plan Aguiar’s trip to North Carolina to purchase the boat.

If it wasn’t for them, Aguiar probably would not have been able to buy the boat, so he is very grateful for his nephew and his wife. From there, Rich gave Aguiar a great deal on the boat and they have since become good friends.

Aguiar was able to haul his new Gibson 44 Standard all the way from North Carolina to Stockton, Calif. Once there, he worked on it for about a month as he put everything together before heading upstream to their marina at Walnut Grove.

Since the successful excursion, Aguiar claims to be all smiles with his new houseboat, The River House.

Some Modifications

Once Aguiar got The River House, he didn’t waste any time and jumped right into customizing it to his taste like he did with his previous boat.

“It took me 30 years to get the other boat exactly the way I wanted it,” laughed Aguiar. “At my age, I don’t think I got 30 years left, so I’m trying to get it done in two years.”

To start, when he first got the boat it didn’t have a very good gas tank so he changed it out. He pulled the 454 Chevy engines out too so he could put two new gas tanks in and then replaced the engines. Aguiar also installed two solar panels on the boat for running electricity and a hot water heater while they’re anchored.

The boat has two heads and Aguiar has already replaced one of the toilets with an Atlantis Freedom Toilet that uses a Purasans system by Raritan. He likes the system and finds it much quieter and more modern than the toilets that came from the factory so he’s getting ready to install another one in the front head as well.

Additionally, The River House has a built-in couch outside on the front of the boat, so Aguiar decided to build a great, big table. He had done the same thing on his old 36 and he mentioned that a couple of other Gibson fans saw it and liked it so much that they decided to copy his clever design.

Living It Up

During the summers, Aguiar and his wife spend five days a week on their houseboat, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying each other’s company.

“We’re trying to live it up,” smiled Aguiar.

He and his wife were high school sweethearts and have now been happily married for 57 years with four grandkids and three great grandkids to boast, and they all love relaxing and hanging out on the houseboat together.

When the grandkids were small, Aguiar and his wife would take them out almost every weekend on their old boat, so they basically grew up aboard the houseboat. In fact, Aguiar’s youngest grandson Phillip Dutra learned how to fish off the old boat and is now a professional tournament fisherman in California.

At 28 years old, Dutra is one of the youngest in the league and continues to do well with high points.

“From what I understand the last time I talked to him,” shared Aguiar, “he could miss the rest of the tournament and still take first place. I guess he’s that far ahead in points.”

Dutra’s brother David learned to fish on the houseboat as well and is also an excellent fisherman. For both of them, it all started on their grandparents’ houseboat.

Aguiar couldn’t be happier with all the lasting memories he and his wife made and are making on their old boat and new. It was difficult when he lost his first boat, but he’s been able to forge ahead and not let anything get in the way of his happiness. The River House has been a welcome addition to their family.

“Since I got the 44, I’m smiles all over now,” assured Aguiar.


For more information check out Gibson Boats, Raritan and Walnut Grove Marina.

Photos provided by Merv Aguiar.

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