By Gary Blumenthal
May 9 marked precisely 30 years since Roger Thiel moved aboard his boat, Doo-Wop, at the city’s only liveaboard community, Gangplank Marina in Southwest DC. This means that, at least unofficially, Thiel holds the city’s record for continuously living full-time on a boat in the city.
After walking the docks with a friend back in 1986, Thiel was determined to become a liveaboard. He saved his money and bought Doo-Wop, a 1974 Nauta-line houseboat built in Hendersonville, TN. A lot has changed on the Southwest DC waterfront since his first night on Doo-Wop. Back then, Gangplank Marina had pay phones and there were not many personal computers.
For most of his three decades onboard, Doo-Wop was tied up to old pressure treated wooden docks originally built in 1977. One of the largest challenges living on a boat are the occasionally harsh winters when the Washington Channel completely freezes over. One of the scariest moments for Thiel was the winter when the sound of the ice flow crunching against Doo-Wop convinced him her hull was about to be breeched and he prepared to abandon ship.
Born in DC, his family at one point ran four printing businesses with a focus on law and financial printing. Washington may be a global power center, but Thiel says all the city’s haughtiness stops at the marina’s gate. He isn’t on social media and says he doesn’t need to be because “the vibrancy of the social life at Gangplank is second to none.” There are regularly scheduled events and happy hours, plus Thiel orchestrates the Captain’s Coffee held every Sunday morning. An avid singer, he will be the announcer on June 1 for the annual Blessing of the Fleet event near The Yards Park on the Anacostia River.
The Wharf development is bringing new opportunities to Southwest and Doo-Wop moved this year to a newly christened floating concrete dock. Living 30 years on a boat means relishing the unconventional and Thiel says, “this is the most unique place within 25 miles.” Only health or economic problems could compel him to leave the water and he says he is looking forward to living aboard for decades to come.