Earth & Conservation

Eco-Adventurer's Houseboat Mysteriously Crosses the Atlantic

An empty solar-powered houseboat washed ashore in Ireland, having apparently drifted from Newfoundland.

<p>Ballyglass Coast Guard Unit on Facebook</p>

No rent, no mortgage, no utilities to worry about. Sounds like a dream.

Canadian eco-adventurer Rick Small scrawled a note to that effect inside his homemade solar-powered houseboat, donating the self-sufficient structure to "a homeless youth" in Newfoundland.

So how on earth did his creation end up washing ashore empty on a beach in Ireland, more than 1,900 miles across the Atlantic from where it was last seen anchored in Canada? This mystery is connecting communities on both sides of the ocean.

Small's work on a sizable solar-powered bike made the local news in Newfoundland back in June 2015. His DIY three-wheeled bike had a 500-watt motor powered entirely by a solar-panel-covered trailer, CBC News reported at the time. That was apparently enough to get him all the way from Thunder Bay, Ontario to St. John's, Newfoundland. He spent several months on the road.

After arriving in Newfoundland, it appears that Small got to work constructing the houseboat, according to messages posted on the Ballyglass Coast Guard Unit's Facebook page. Over the weekend, a man walking along Cross Beach in County Mayo, Ireland, spotted the vessel and alerted local authorities. They towed it off the beach to dry land today.

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"Rick built this craft at the Foxtrap Marina in Foxtrap, Conception Bay South, Newfoundland," Rodney Mercer wrote on the Irish Facebook page. "Every board was transported from hardware store to the marina on his peddle bike with a little trailer in tow. He slept in this insulated trailer every night."

Another Newfoundland resident, Ted Perrin, commented on Facebook that the houseboat was stuffed with insulation foam for floatation, the seams sealed with tar, and the vessel's small electric motor was powered by solar panels on the exterior. Perrin added that he called the Coast Guard when Small said he was going to try sailing the wooden houseboat to British Columbia via the Northwest Passage.

"He made it as far as Portugal Cove about 10 [nautical miles] from where he started," Perrin wrote. "He lived in it most of last year and abandoned it on the beach in Portugal Cove sometime over the winter. I'm amazed how far it drifted in such short time. I'm positive it was still in the cove in September."

When the Coast Guard in Ireland inspected the odd vessel, they found Small's scrawled donation note but no sign of him. So far he hasn't been located. Michael Hurst, an officer in charge of the Ballyglass Coast Guard, told the BBC that the inside of the battered houseboat was "habitable."

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