Did Grimes Unsuccessfully Sail the Mississippi in Homemade Houseboat?

 It's hard to pull off a “Tom Sawyer adventure” in real life. 

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Image via Jordan Uhl/Wikimedia Commons

Claim

The singer Grimes, whose real name is Claire Boucher, unsuccessfully tried to sail the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans in a homemade houseboat.

Fact Check

Before Grimes was known for her music or her unconventional parenting choices with Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, she was simply Claire Boucher, a girl trying and failing to sail down the Mississippi River in a homemade boat. 

Back in 2009, when Grimes was just a 21-year-old college student eager to go on an adventure, she paired up with 23-year-old William Gratz, who she met at school in Montreal, according to a 2009 Star Tribune report. The couple packed chickens, a sewing machine, and 20 pounds of potatoes into a houseboat that they built from scratch. They named the boat Velvet Glove Cast in Iron and called themselves Veruschka and Zelda Xox, seemingly with the goal of taking off on a journey worthy of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” a book they packed for the ride but had not read.

They had spent more than a month constructing the 20-foot boat on a friend’s property in Bemidji, Minnesota, from where they hauled it to Minneapolis. They installed “accordion folding doors, glass windows, pink shutters and painted murals in black, white and red paint of fantastical creatures on the sides. Strangers gave them bikes, a mattress and the sewing machine (powered by on-board batteries).”

According to the Star Tribune report, they intended to sail from Minneapolis to New Orleans, but their journey ended up being only a few miles downstream after boat engine troubles and run-ins with law enforcement:

They hauled it to north Minneapolis and shoved off from land the first week of June. Moments later, their engine began to sputter and gurgle. They made it to the other side of the river and tied the boat to a tree, determined to repair the motor and be on their way again in a few days.

They were awakened one morning by Minneapolis park police officer Rob Mooney tapping the side of their boat with a stick. Mooney gave them until the next Tuesday to gather life jackets, paddles and other supplies, despite a Minneapolis park ordinance forbidding boats from tying up to any tree, shrub or post in a park without a permit. 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, they were given citations for camping and alcohol consumption in the park and told to move along.

‘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.’

They ended up reaching a small island in north Minneapolis, near the Lowry Avenue Bridge, where they tried to fix their engine:

The island seemed to be a haven for canoes and other boats, they said, so they set up camp and made plans to resume their search for a working motor over the next week. Swimming was the only way to reach the river bank, so several times a day they would jump in the water and bring back tools wrapped in plastic bags.

[…]

The tranquility of the island didn’t last long. This time, the Hennepin County Sheriff Office’s water patrol showed up and told all of the boaters to leave by that evening in advance of the Lowry Bridge demolition on Sunday. Another boat towed the Velvet Glove Cast in Iron to Boom Island, where the final showdown would take place.

Mooney said when he spotted the houseboat there, he’d had enough.

‘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.

On Thursday, Boucher and Gratz took a city bus to the impound lot to retrieve whatever they could carry from the boat. They searched for a jar of wild rice so they could make dinner for the strangers who are letting the couple stay with them for a few nights.

Ultimately, the great journey failed after only a few miles of travel. 

The experience was featured in a 2018 episode of “Drawn & Recorded,” an animated show telling stories from music history that aired on AT&T AUDIENCE Network. 

According to a 2022 Vanity Fair profile, Grimes’ “real name is Claire Boucher, and she answers to Grimes or Claire, or even better, c, as in the speed of light.” 

Grimes’ houseboat story also came up in that Vanity Fair piece where she described how she used to be more radically leftist in her politics:

‘I feel really trapped between two worlds,’ Grimes tells me. ‘I used to be so far left that I went through a period of living without currency, living outside.’ This was during and after college at McGill University in Montreal. Once she and a boyfriend ran afoul of the police in Minnesota as they tried to sail a houseboat they’d built out of actual junk down the Mississippi River. The police impounded the boat and sent them on their way. During her first shows as Grimes, she’d sleep in a tent when she couldn’t afford a hotel. She’s 34, now, though, with a job and two kids. ‘I mean, when people say I’m a class traitor that is not…an inaccurate description,’ she admits. ‘I was deeply from the far left and I converted to being essentially a capitalist Democrat. A lot of people are understandably upset.’

Her younger brother, Mac, described the houseboat incident to Vanity Fair as “one of the first adult choices she made.”

Sources:

“Did Elon Musk and Grimes Say They Named Their Baby ‘X Æ A-12’?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/elon-musk-grimes-baby-x-ae-a12/. Accessed 2 May 2022.

“Grimes’ Crazy 2009 Houseboat Adventure Turned Into Animated Video: Watch.” Pitchfork, 11 May 2018, https://pitchfork.com/news/watch-grimes-float-down-the-mississippi-river-in-new-animated-video/. Accessed 2 May 2022.

“Grimes on Music, Mars, and Her Secret New Baby With Elon Musk.” Vanity Fair, 10 Mar. 2022, https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2022/03/grimes-cover-story-on-music-and-mars. Accessed 2 May 2022.

Pabst, Lora. “This Boat Don’t Float.” Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com/this-boat-don-t-float/49134952/. Accessed 2 May 2022.

“The Tale of Grimes’ Insane 2009 Houseboat Adventure: The Best Thing You’ll Read All Day.” Pitchfork, 20 Feb. 2012, https://pitchfork.com/news/45488-the-tale-of-grimes-insane-2009-houseboat-adventure-the-best-thing-youll-read-all-day/. Accessed 2 May 2022.