A bitter divorce, insurance settlement scam, drug dealers — there’s no end to the rumors of how a houseboat became abandoned between two coves on Lake Lanier.
But after about eight years, a series of events and two enterprising Forsyth County residents, it appears the rotting vessel will finally be removed — piece by piece — from the lake.
“That boat is notorious,” said Kevin Smith, community outreach specialist with Keep Forsyth County Beautiful. “There are a lot of different stories that go along with it, but it’s been an eyesore for years.
“Being that we do anywhere between five and 10 shore cleanups a year, we’ve known about it. It’s definitely been on our to-do list for a long time.”
It also was on the list of Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association and a Forsyth County resident, who said she had been trying to get rid of it for years.
“To have something this big be abandoned, we don’t see this all the time. This is kind of an unusual one,” said Cloud, who first noticed it while volunteering for a shore sweep.
“It happens occasionally, but certainly this is the most unsightly thing that I’m aware of.”
Cloud applied, unsuccessfully, for a grant to help pay for the houseboat’s removal. Eventually, she got in touch with Smith, who recommended she call Busy Buzzards owner Barbara Shoemaker.
The company has worked for nearly a decade helping people haul docks and boats from Lanier.
“Just cleaning up the [lake] and helping older people that have lived there forever, they accumulate things for years and they don’t have family to help them,” she said.
Despite Shoemaker’s extensive experience removing debris and other materials from Lanier, the houseboat was beyond her scope.
“I can’t use cutting torches,” she said. “We were trying to find the best way for it to come off the lake … but there was just no possible way.”
The rusted hulk of houseboat is beached on the shoreline of Lantern Lane, which is off Browns Bridge Road in northeastern Forsyth.
The bow is partly submerged. When the lake level was higher, residents said, most of the craft was under water.
Because the property surrounding the boat is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, trees can’t be cut down to clear a path for the vessel to be removed intact.
Shoemaker called a friend, who contacted another friend. That’s where Harold Rodgers and Paul Hollers come in. The two men have been collecting scrap metal from old tractor trailers and cars, but never a boat.
“This is experimental,” Hollers said Wednesday afternoon as they began work on the houseboat. “We’re going to see how this goes … Hopefully, we’ll perfect it as we go. About three years ago … my wife and I stumbled upon this boat and I have pictures of [it].
“It’s been here for years and we’ve always wondered who cleans this stuff up. And all of a sudden we are.”
Rodgers said their plan of attack is to saw and torch the vessel, piece by piece.
The job likely can be handled in about four days, if the men “stay at it steady, which we’re probably not going to be able to do, since we’ve got other stuff going on. We’ll just periodically go back and forth and get a piece at a time,” he said.
Added Hollers: “We’ll haul it off to the scrap yard and chop off another chunk until she’s gone.”
Originally thought to be aluminum, a lighter material, the houseboat turned out to be made of steel, Rodgers said. Given the weight, he anticipates they can get about $1,500 for the scrap metal, plus additional money for the motor and other parts.
Karin Barbato, whose home offers the best land access to the beached houseboat, is just glad to see the eyesore go.
She allowed Rodgers and Hollers — not to mention the other officials, companies and volunteers who’ve passed through to assess how to remove it — to access her property.
“It’s been eight years, so it’s nice,” she said. “The people that owned the boat tried to get it out with a four-wheeler, but then they just left it … it’s been a long time.”