From the ML vaults, a young Squamish couple turns a retired BC ferry into their dream home. Words & photos :: Todd Lawson.
Five years ago, while building a bench in his spare time, Josh Meilinger got caught up thinking about things other than the task at hand. Using a chainsaw bit on his grinder, he momentarily lost focus and sliced open his right thigh. Of course he didn’t realize it at the time but the accident was a blessing in disguise.
“It forced me to slow down and focus on the next step I wanted to take with my life. So I started drawing sketches during my down time,” Meilinger says, reflecting on the very first plans for his floating masterpiece. “I’ve spent my entire life in the mountains, it’s part of who I am, and I draw inspiration from it. I guess you could say this home was divinely inspired.”
To bring his sketches into the realm of reality, Josh and his wife Jessica found an old, destined for-the-bottom-of-the-ocean BC ferry called the Ethel Hunter (named after the first female resident of Thetis Island). They knew they’d found the perfect foundation for their dream home.
“We really liked the idea of recycling an old ferry that had meaning and history and giving it a new life,” says Jessica. “It was meant to be. This is Josh’s dream and I’m glad he’s going for it.”
Before turning his attention to carpentry, Meilinger was a logger, fishing guide and avid snowboarder born and raised in Squamish. “Being a logger you kind of become an environmentalist too,” he says. “You appreciate nature because you’re right in it every day.”
For the timber-frame shell, Meilinger combed a few clearcuts looking for discarded timber and found trees that people wanted removed from their yards. He then milled and finished all the logs himself. The home also features a custom spiral staircase, beautiful driftwood railings and arches, glue-lam, post and beam, wildwood, and custom-carved designs. As a self-taught builder, Meilinger has relied on trial and error throughout the project.
“Family, friends and the community of Squamish have been really supportive and helpful,” Josh says. “We are looking for help from the community to keep it in Squamish and find a place to permanently moor our new home/business.”
This unique “houseboat” is a self-contained, self-sustaining enviro-house with simple green elements built into each phase. Upon completion, the Meilingers would like the home to feature an Envirolet composting system, rain-water catchment barrels, solar panels, a roof-mounted wind turbine, a wood-burning stove with re-burner inside the stack chimney and small herb and vegetable gardens. In its ferry days the vessel was once powered by two diesel engines and the owners also dream of the possibility of mounting sails on either side, “like a flying fish,” so it can be moved silently on calm waters when and if the need arises.
“I feel that this is a boat and we’re making it into a home,” says Josh. “It’s the most organic thing you’ve ever seen, and it’s been fun trying to make something as green as possible. A lot of people are really interested in living on the water and there’s so much ocean so if we can do it responsibly, why not? It’s a positive step for the environment.”
Although floating homes aren’t necessarily a new idea, most of them are forced to permanently dock at a marina and draw upon the resources available. This home is different. With an abundance of freedom at their front yard, the horizon seems endless with possibility for the young couple and their new home. They’re open to designing similar homes and other types of alternative housing in the future.
“We’d love to keep doing it for sure,” says Jessica. “It’s been an amazing experience so far.”
Originally published in ML Coast Mountains Summer 2010.