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William Gratz, left, and Claire Boucher sit on their houseboat at the Minneapolis impound lot on Thursday in Minneapolis. The young couple with hopes of floating a self-made houseboat down the Mississippi River have instead run afoul of the law, and their vessel has been stranded at an impound lot. (AP Photo/Jerry Holt)

Huck Finn-style adventure marooned in Minneapolis

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Huck Finn-style adventure marooned in Minneapolis
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A young couple with hopes of carrying out a Huck Finn-style adventure by floating a self-made houseboat down the Mississippi River have run afoul of the law instead, and their vessel has been stranded at a Minneapolis impound lot.


Claire Boucher, 21, and William Gratz, 23, hatched the idea for a river voyage last fall. After months of research, they headed to Bemidji in northern Minnesota, where a friend allowed them to use his property to build their 20-foot boat -- complete with accordion folding doors, glass windows and pink shutters.

They gave themselves river names -- Veruschka and Zelda Xox -- and got a copy of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," which they never read.

"I always wanted to live on a boat," said Boucher, of Vancouver, British Columbia. "We both wanted to go south and live on it when we got to New Orleans."

Boucher and Gratz, who is from Tennessee, packed up their chickens, a sewing machine and 20 pounds of potatoes and hauled their boat to Minneapolis. Moments after their launch in the first week of June, the engine failed.

So they tied their vessel, the Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, to a tree -- which is forbidden under a Minneapolis park ordinance. They planned to fix up the motor and continue their travels in a few days.

One morning, Minneapolis park police officer Rob Mooney woke them and told them to gather their things and leave. The officer said the couple never told him about their engine trouble.

"I love the idea of the Tom Sawyer adventure," Mooney said. "The problem is it's not 1883. You can't do that anymore. You have to follow the rules."

When Mooney returned a week later and saw Boucher and Gratz's chickens grazing and signs of camping, the couple were given citations for camping and alcohol consumption and were again told to leave.

"We were just trying to get our act together so we could get out of the Twin Cities," Gratz said. "We didn't want to float down the river out of control."

But the couple left without a working motor. They entered a channel and began to drift toward rocks jutting out of the water. Surrounded by caution signs, they used sticks to push away from the danger. They reached an island north of the Lowry Bridge and saw other canoes and boats there.

The couple said they set up camp and made plans to resume their search for a working motor over the next week.

But before long, the Hennepin County Sheriff Office's water patrol told all the boaters to leave because the bridge was being demolished. Another boat towed the Velvet Glove Cast in Iron to Boom Island -- and that's where Mooney saw it again. He said that was the last straw.

"I personally allowed them for a couple weeks to try to solve the problem on their own," he said. "It was clear that they couldn't get it done."

The city loaded the houseboat onto a flatbed trailer and took it away.

The couple picked up their belongings from the boat. They plan to continue their trip by bus. Their chickens can't be reclaimed without a Minneapolis address and permit, so they will be sent to a chicken farm. The fate of the Velvet Glove Cast in Iron is uncertain.

"Even though it's sad this happened, it's still an adventure," Boucher said.

Pioneer staff reports