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.
What a nice family!
A few years ago, my family set up a massive vacation where they rented two houseboats, three jetskis, all manner of skiing & tubing equipment, and set off on Lake Powell. The complement was something like 13 adults and 16 children. I sadly had to miss out.
It was a disaster. The heat was oppressive, the water level was extremely low, boats constantly drifted all over the place, people got injured, sunburned, food blew overboard, there was constant fighting, and one aunt was fed up enough to practically disappear from the family afterwards.
I still wish I could have been there, foolishly thinking my presence could have helped, but it goes to show that you have to have a lot of experience and patience with this lifestyle. I’d still love for them to try it again someday, but maybe with just one boat, in better conditions, and with a bit less personal volatility. I just want to see that view of the stars described here.
If you go it help to houseboat with experienced people. We have none of the issue your mentioned. Mostly because Bob has been doing this trip for 30 years. He know how to keep the boat and the people safe and have a good time. In about ’94 on my first trip the first thing I learned was “Listen to Bob”.
Looking over the post this morning, I realized I’d photographed Dan Watkins shirt that reads “Drain Lake Powell.”
While there is a movement to drain the lake and return Glen Canyon to its natural state, this image showing the back of Dan’s shirt (“are you crazy?”) should make his position on this clear.
Long-term drought, excessive water use, and prioritization of Lake Mead are already making this a reality regardless of his position on it. Lake Powell is a rather large example of the hubris and greed of western American water policy, and frankly the preservation of this expensive recreation culture is nowhere near the biggest problem associated with it.
Utah is one of only two states that my wife hasn’t visited, so it’s high on our vacation priority list. We’re considering an RV rental for our eventual trip there, but I never thought about houseboating… interesting idea.
For several years, we’ve actually considered taking a houseboat vacation with extended family, but haven’t yet done it. We’ve considered going to the Kentucky/Tennessee lakes (something like 90% of US houseboats are manufactured there) or other lakes in the Midwest, but for some reason never associated western lakes with houseboating. Given the tranquil nature of Lake Powell, maybe that would be a good choice (well, assuming it’s still a lake, given what Petrichor noted above).
If you’re launching from Wahweap then there’s still hundreds of feet of water in the main channel, so you’ll probably be able to float a boat for some time 🙂
Don’t mistake Lake Powell for tranquil, though. That capsized houseboat picture is no anomaly–those canyons can channel some sudden and dangerous winds and there’s no safe harbor in many parts of the reservoir.
Hmm… maybe I’ll stick to the RV idea. 🙂
Wow, what a great time that looks to be. Thanks for taking us along.
That sure looks like a relaxing place to be. And I learned something about a subject I was unfamiliar with. What a great way to “camp out” among nature!
Back in 2006 we and four others rented a houseboat on Lake Powell. The rental package included a powerboat as well. One of the guys who had done the process before was the pilot. We coordinated the groceries needed for three days and two nights; the fridge was packed full when we started. It was a great experience, even at the end of June when storms were threatening one night. As for the heat, the solution was simple: get in the water. (We didn’t have one of the high-end houseboats with A/C.)
I think I’ll try the smaller more local option of Lake Billy Chinook near Madras Oregon.