Couple steps in to revive Big Blue, a houseboat foundering on Yellowknife Bay | CBC News

Two Yellowknife residents have taken on the repairs of a nearly-sunken houseboat. 

Big Blue, a two-storey vessel on Yellowknife Bay, had been seen partially underwater and vacated by its owner, former Yellowknifer Dan Gillis, who left town. 

After seeing photos of the foundering vessel on Facebook, Nancy Gaudette and Nelson Johnson decided, “well why don’t we just try to save it?”

“It’s important right, it’s part of history, it’s part of the culture here and it would be a shame to see it go down,” Johnson said. 

The couple contacted Gillis and arranged a deal where they fix the vessel and will then look to purchase it. 

Couple smiles at camera in front of lake.
Johnson and Gaudette estimate they’ve so far spent about $19,000 on repairs, and done about 178 hours or work between them. (Natalie Pressman/CBC)

“The agreement is, we’ll get it up and floating and then once it’s floating and stable then we’ll look towards the purchase price and finally make an agreement on that,” Johnson said. 

He declined to disclose the details of the offer since the deal isn’t complete, “but the price is very reasonable,” he said.

The couple said their agreement with Gillis was in place by June 19. Since then they’ve repaired a broken tank to now hold air and stay afloat. Johnson said they plan to install four other tanks to support the home. Next, they’ll have to make sure there’s no mold from the parts that had been left underwater. He said they’ll get the insulation out of the walls, let it dry and probably rebuild much of the vessel’s interior.

Then there’s the deck.

A man in a wetsuit kneels on the deck of a houseboat.
Nelson Johnson at work on the deck of Big Blue. (Nancy Gaudette)

“Right now the deck is the biggest issue,” Johnson said. He said it came off its attachments under the weight of the sideways-turned vessel.

“We’ve only got two corners of that deck that we’re able to walk on.”

The couple estimates they’ll be living in Big Blue by September. 

They say they’ve so far spent about $19,000 on repairs, and 178 hours between the two of them. 

The pair has never lived on a houseboat and say they’re thankful for the help of their soon-to-be neighbours on Yellowknife Bay. They said that when they’re working on the boat they often have other houseboaters stop by to offer advice and contribute materials. 

“People are very nice here,” Gaudette said.

‘Bit of a sideshow attraction’

Jake Olson is a houseboater who has lived on Yellowknife Bay for three and a half years. He says the houseboat community is pleased to welcome a new chapter for Big Blue. 

“I think we’re all just happy to see new people,” he said. “We’re excited that there’s a new perspective out there on Big Blue that has the means and the capabilities to take on a project like that.”

Couches, a table and a fridge inside a room.
Inside the houseboat. Gaudette and Johnson expect they’ll be living in Big Blue by September. (Nancy Gaudette)

Olson said the sinking ship has been an unusual event that’s brought a wave of attention to the houseboats. 

“There’s just never been a circumstance where the owner or someone should be taking responsibility, completely walks away from the situation,” he said, referring to Gillis leaving Yellowknife despite the vessel’s deficiencies.   

He said there were sometimes 12 or 13 boaters a day circling Big Blue. 

“It turned into a little bit of a sideshow attraction,” he said. 

Olson said that the water below Big Blue is only about 10-feet deep, so the ship would never have sunk completely. 

A blue houseboat on the water, with several others visible in the background.
One neighbour says the houseboat community is pleased to welcome a new chapter for Big Blue.  (Nancy Gaudette)

Eight other members of the houseboat community declined to comment on Big Blue or its surrounding circumstances.

Gillis did not respond to CBC’s interview requests. 

CBC asked Fisheries and Oceans Canada — the government department that oversees the Canadian Coast Guard — about the implications of neglecting the vessel and what might have happened if no prospective owners came along to fix Big Blue. 

The department did not respond before deadline. 

Johnson said that he has been in touch with the Coast Guard to inform the agency that the vessel isn’t abandoned. The couple admits they’ve got their work cut out for them to get Big Blue back in shape but say they’re looking forward to learning from their more-experienced neighbours. 

“Once everything is done,” Gaudette said, “come over and have a visit and just chat with us. That’s nice. We like people.”

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