Today, I’m going to skip the tech articles and share some shots of a houseboat I’m very familiar with. In the past seven years, I’ve taken five trips on her, and several of my friends have been on-board during the second week of September every year since 1998. She’s actually their second boat, as their first houseboat (The Great Escape), burned up in a dockside accident in 1997. Over the winter they built this boat to replace the old boat, and recalling the fire that led to her creation, christened her “Dances with Fire.”
If you’re not familiar with Lake Powell, here’s a map showing it’s incredible shape and lengthy shoreline. A reservoir on the Colorado river, the lake was formed when they built the Glen Canyon dam at the base of the canyon near Page, Arizona. Completed in 1963, the lake opened for recreation shortly after, reaching full capacity in the early 1980s. Located southwest of Arches and east of Zion National Parks, Lake Powell is one of the many outdoor attractions in Southern Utah.
Dances with Fire is a typical Lake Powell houseboat, purpose built to maximize interior volume, providing living, sleeping and “comfort” spaces for 12 to 20 people. Built on an aluminum mono-hull, the ship uses two 305 Chevy V-8s mounted in the stern with traditional inboard out drives, plus a 12 kW generator mounted between the two drive motors to provide 110 Volt AC power while parked on shore.
The main deck includes a covered patio both front and rear, with cabin space containing kitchen/living space up front, two heads along the starboard side, and four berths tucked down the port side. A sun deck covers the entire cabin (but is only shaded on the front half) and extends out over the rear deck, providing more room for passengers (including sleeping space for a dozen or more bodies).
Dances with Fire also includes an upper and lower helm. The upper helm offers the superior view, but as the inset photo shows, Captain Robert Lee prefers to steer from inside the cabin.
While there’s typically plenty of elbow room at Lake Powell, we prefer an isolated lake experience. On the first day, Dances with Fire motors north about 35 miles, looking for anchorage near the San Juan River branch of the lake. We also bring a small fleet of support vessels every trip. This year the fleet consisted of a rental Jet Ski, a Centurion Ski Boat, and a V-hulled lake cruiser.
Dances with Fire was built in Kentucky, and designed for the protected waterways along the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. In the open spaces of the west, the large “Sail Area” formed by the cabin can easily force the boat off course, or blow it clear of the anchorage during an overnight squall
To keep her under control, we look to anchor in secluded coves, and bury four large anchors on shore to prevent unplanned wind driven excursions.
In this picture from the rear deck, you can see the “Shotgun” layout of the cabin. Behind the sliding glass door is one berth space, and a hallway runs up to the main cabin, with more berths on the left, and two heads on the right. It’s a remarkably efficient layout, as we had 12 people on board, and fed and bunked everyone very comfortably.
Here’s a shot of the main cabin at dinner time. That’s Dan Watkins in the red, exercising his taco cooking skills. To give you some idea of the cabin size, Dan is 6’6″ and still has ample head clearance in the main cabin- But he does have to duck to clear the ceiling fan.
One more interior shot, this time showing the hallway from the front of the boat. The first door on the right accesses an upper berth, and the second door takes you down into the hull and branches out into two lower berths.
This exterior shot (of a different boat) shows the berthing arrangement more clearly- Both upper berths have high beds built into the structure with the underside of each bed forming the ceiling of each (tiny) lower berth. Although the lower berths are tight, I slept in one all week, and had sufficient room for my 6’2″ and 265 lb body.
On the starboard side, there’s no additional space under the deck, since it contains tanks for drinking water, black water, and HVAC equipment. We boat late in the season, and don’t typically use the Air Conditioning, but folks taking the boat out in July and August need some mechanical cooling to sleep through the 95 degree nights.
Finally, here’s a shot of the upper deck. This space provides one of the great pleasures of Lake Powell. After sunset we lie on our backs, watch the stars rotate overhead, revel in the brightness of the Milky Way, and try to spot satellites racing across the sky or catch furtive glimpses of meteors as they burn through the atmosphere.
So that’s how I spent my summer vacation. But before we bid goodbye to Dances with Fire, I’ll share a picture of this pretty blue boat taken from Dances spacious upper deck. Much like the houseboat, it is built for a very specific purpose, but it also shares almost no design features with the larger boat. Next week, we’ll take a closer look at it.