Nestled in the shadows of downtown, adjacent to a row of rustic-looking, time-worn grain mills in Buffalo’s Ship Canal, Mike Weekes sat cross-legged on a floating wooden platform, toiling away on his houseboat.
He is about two weeks shy of a finished product – a houseboat equipped with the bare minimum in amenities, including a portable toilet, four beverage coolers and a grill.
It is the kind of boat that could serve as a full-time home for the low maintenance, and Weekes envisions entire waterfront communities living in houseboats patterned after his spherical abode.
A brief summer rain pelted Weekes as he worked, forcing the business consultant to quickly cover the unfinished, exposed dome roof of his creation with a tarp. He scaled a ladder and planted himself on two approximately foot-long wooden pilings as he made his way toward a rocky, gravel lot situated at the foot of hulking sand dunes.
“I would describe it as a Tom Sawyer flat boat with a cocoon on top,” Weekes explained after climbing into a car for shelter.
The project, which has been met by a blend of bewilderment and wonder by curious passers-by, originated about six months ago. Weekes researched the idea, inspired by people such as R. Buckminster Fuller, who popularized a geodesic, or spherelike, design.
The reasoning behind Weekes’ endeavor is multifaceted. His houseboat is sustainable, it encourages tiny living, and it provides an inexpensive way to enjoy Buffalo’s waterfront.
It was also a personal challenge: Weekes wanted to see if he could single-handedly fashion a habitable vessel for less than $2,000.
With two weeks of work remaining on the six-week project, he has fulfilled that expectation. The 7-foot, 6-inch tall houseboat is kept afloat by 24 rubber storage containers – each costing $6 and capable of supporting 148 pounds, or about 3,500 pounds in all.
The houseboat is 16 feet long and 10 feet wide.
“You could put as many as 12 people on the boat for a cocktail party,” he said.
The dome structure is created by the joining of wooden planks. When complete, screens will wrap 360 degrees around the “glorified picnic area,” to allow for maximum ventilation.
Pine flooring and a plywood roof will complete the project.
The houseboat will remain largely stationary, though Weekes does plan to embark on a two-week trip down the Erie Canal to Lockport later this summer.
Because the vessel can be maneuvered by paddle or oar – it does not have a motor – Weekes said he is not required to register it with the state.
“That’s the loophole in which I live,” he said, noting that no electricity has been involved in the boat’s construction.
The houseboat will be equipped with an emergency whistle, life vests and a fire extinguisher, per Coast Guard guidelines.
The architectural project does face a potential obstacle.
In its current waterway location behind the General Mills plant and Archer Daniels Midland building, the houseboat could impede the next sand shipment for the nearby dunes. Weekes hopes to relocate in the coming days.
Weekes’ SUV has doubled as a mobile toolbox of sorts, crammed with construction materials and a hand-powered drill. The houseboat’s recently finished door frame is tied onto the vehicle’s roof.
But the clutter is a minor detail. Weekes believes his creation sits in a location historically regarded as a hotbed of innovation. Sandwiched near the mills, pillars of innovation long ago, Weekes feels he is adding to Buffalo’s tapestry.
“This project has made me slow down and take the time to make something with my hands in a world where we are overwhelmed with data, technology and applications,” he said. “The greatest joy has been making real something that was a seemingly impossible dream.”
Ultimately, Weekes would like to educate and motivate others to take on a do-it-yourself project.
But his project is also rooted in a far simpler sentiment, said Weekes’ fiancee, Tatiana Shaffer, who has watched Weekes battle minor bruises and scratches.
“His whole point is to prove that this is easy enough that one man can do it,” she said.