Boating Adventures | "Houseboating on a Budget" | Story and Photos by Vicki Totten

Pennypincher. Budget minded. Financially conservative. Whatever name you want to call it - I am a sucker for a good deal. As a long time garage sale person, most of my furniture was acquired second hand. And since we didn't have much money growing up, I learned to shop at consignment stores for most of my clothes - a habit I still can't break. But when you combine my love of a good deal with any adventure that also involves boats and water - well, that's my nirvana. So, when I happened to see a Travelzoo deal show up in my e-mail a few months ago for a substantial discount on a houseboat rental on Lake Powell (which straddles Arizona and Utah), I immediately began talking it up with friends. And, amazingly, within a few weeks, my husband and I had two friends committed to joining us on an eight day trek through Arizona that included four days on Lake Powell in a rented houseboat.

Before boarding our houseboat, we first stopped at the Grand Canyon for a few days, since visiting the Grand Canyon was something on my husband Stan and mine's bucket lists. Somehow I had managed to snag a few rooms at a lodge within the canyon, which made it easy to explore various paths along the south rim and take in what I was sure was the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. Well, that is, until we pointed our rented SUV north and headed for Glen Canyon National Recreational Area - or more specifically to Waheap Marina, where our houseboat awaited.

One would think that to rent a 46' houseboat you might be required to first have some sort of a license - along with maybe some boating experience or training. Well, you would be wrong. A credit card seemed to be all that was needed in order to rent the houseboat of our choice. Fortunately however, three of the four of us were at least familiar with steering sailboats. Stan had also obtained his "skipper" status through various courses, and we both had completed a boating safety course in Rockport last year. It was nice to have that added sense of security, since none of us had ever spent the night on, much less driven a houseboat before. In some ways, this trip brought my husband and me full circle, since before we bought the sailboat we now live on part-time, we had first looked at various houseboats across the country, thinking maybe we would find a small one to trailer. But still, we had never actually driven or slept on one.

It turns out, however, that driving a houseboat is not that much more complicated than driving a car. It helps to be armed with really good maps, and in our case, we also were armed with Navionics on our iphones, which is navigation software for boating. The most challenging part of driving a houseboat is getting in and out of the marina without hitting any of the other parked houseboats. But the marina has even solved that problem, since they offer to pilot the boat out for you - at no charge, if you would like them to. Once you are outside of the marina and on the lake, however, it's pretty easy sailing - so to speak.

The first few days of our adventure were a little dicey because of the weather. Even though it was mid May, the weather the first two nights was so cold that we turned the heater on to take the chill off before we went to bed each night. Since our only source for energy when the engine wasn't running was a gasoline driven generator, we never wanted to keep it on all night - so when we woke up the first two mornings, we had to add a few extra layers just to keep from freezing. Oh, and did I mention it also rained - a lot - that first day or two? But even with nature not quite cooperating initially, our houseboat adventure ranks as one of my all time favorite trips ever.

It was helpful that we had this really nice kitchen, along with a small refrigerator and freezer, microwave, stereo, toaster, coffee pot and blender available to us. We had also brought enough food to have incredible meals while aboard. But beyond the creature comforts of a nice kitchen and two bedrooms, we were absolutely surrounded by the most beautiful landscape I have ever encountered, even compared to the Grand Canyon. The landscape in Glen Canyon is simply other worldly. The Colorado River ran through the canyons surrounding Lake Powell and had been home to Anasazi and Navajo tribes for thousands of years. The controversial decision was made in the late 1950's to build the Glen Canyon Dam, which created what is now 2,000 miles of shoreline on Lake Powell and spans land from Arizona to Utah. This area is still considered sacred to the many Indigenous people living in the area, and I can understand why. The word used most often during our time on the boat was "wow." It was and is difficult to capture the beauty of the surroundings and the sense you get that you are the first people to have discovered it. Of course, it helped that we saw very few other boats or people during our four days there.

There are many advantages to living on a houseboat as you are exploring a new area.  First of all, you don't have to look for a restaurant when you get hungry. We had prepared detailed menus and grocery lists before heading to the boat, and so had come prepared to eat well - which we accomplished. Whether it was pecan pancakes for breakfast, chicken salad for lunch, or steak for dinner - not only were the meals delicious, but there is something about eating a meal on a boat that always makes it taste even better.

And one of the funnest parts of driving a houseboat on Lake Powell is when you dock it. You just drive around until you find a cove with a sandy beach that looks good to you, and then drive the boat right up onto the beach, burying your anchors in the sand in case the wind comes up during the night. You are then free to hike around and explore the area, swim, kayak if you happen to be carrying along a kayak or two (as we were), or just relax in front of a campfire on the beach while enjoying the sunset with a nice glass of wine.

But, you might be wondering, was it really a good deal? The 46' houseboat we rented can accommodate as many 8 people - but was ideal for 4. It had two tiny bedrooms and two couches that made out into double beds. But when you split the expenses four ways, we figured that for the same amount of money we could have been in some non-descript hotel by the side of a highway and be paying the same amount per night that it was costing to be in paradise. It was definitely worth the investment - and it sure seemed to us like a good deal.

So, my advice is that if you spot a Travelzoo deal (usually they show up right before or after the busy tourist season in the summer) - go for it. Just be sure to take all of your family and friends with you, because if you don't, once they see the pictures, they are going to be really upset that you didn't invite them along. Some things are, after all, priceless.

Vicki and husband, ceramic artist Stan Irvin, are both retired professors who have discovered the joys of Rockport and living part-time on their 33' sailboat and are still working up the nerve to venture further out into the Gulf.


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