California professor spends summers on a 20-foot-long boat: Photos – Business Insider

Workers and supporters of the Secret History shantyboat gather to say goodbye before the expedition.Wes Modes

  • Wes Modes, a professor and artist from California, spends his summers on 20-foot-long, 8-foot-wide shantyboat.
  • Modes travels through river communities across the country and records the stories of the people who live in them.
  • The construction of the boat began in 2012 and was completed in 2014, the year of Modes’ first expedition.
  • In a tell-all interview with Business Insider, Modes explains how he built the boat from scratch and what life is like during these expeditions.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“It doesn’t cost much to live on the river.”

That’s what Wes Modes, an artist and a university lecturer, told Business Insider about the lifestyle he’s chosen for himself every summer.

During the school year, Modes teaches art and design at the California State University at Monterey Bay and the University of California in Santa Cruz. But during the summers, he lives on a 20-foot-long, 8-foot-wide shantyboat he built, and travels through river communities across the country.

Read more: An architect who built his dream tiny home in Colorado shares 30 photos that go behind the scenes of designing a tiny house

The creation of Modes’ shantyboat, which is named Dotty, began in 2012. Modes told Business Insider that prior to the shantyboat, he would partake in what is called punk rafting — the art of building a raft out of scavenged materials. With his rafts, he would set sail for several weeks at a time on various rivers. 

Eventually, Modes decided he wanted something more permanent

Modes wanted to be more than just an observer and decided he would use a homemade shantyboat to explore river communities and river cultures around the country.

“Rather than just being a tourist who floats through towns, I wanted to give something back to these communities,” he told Business Insider. “I thought I might be able to give back the gift of listening.”

So, during the summers, with one or more shipmates, Modes lives on the shantyboat and moves through various river communities recording the stories of the people who live in them.

Since its maiden voyage down the Mississippi River, Dotty has sailed through rivers all over the US: the Tennessee River, the Sacramento River, the Hudson River, and the Ohio River. Over the last six years, Dotty has traveled 1,800 miles on five different rivers and through 16 states, Modes told Business Insider.

“When I’m not teaching, I’m on the river,” he said.

Keep reading for a look inside the boat.

Are you living in a tiny home, boat or any alternate means of housing? If you want to share your story, email this reporter at


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