I wrote this story after my family’s Lake Powell vacation/adventure in June of 2007. This was one of those vacations we had wanted to go on for many years, discussing the fantasy and romance of a vacation on the water in our own little houseboat. The events described really did happen (my embellishments not withstanding). Looking back I think I actually had fun, but, oddly enough, I’m not ready to go back!

Greg Saunders
 
 
The First and ‘Last’ ride of the Double B
 

            Every boat needs a name yet ours was curiously without. No black stencil on the back to proudly proclaim the Mary B., or Serenity, or Wind Dancer, or quite possibly, The Saunders Folly. Just a big broad sheet of grey metal awaiting a christening. Perhaps the last intrepid crew had chiseled it off after their adventure, and then polished it clean to hide their shame. A theory I developed later in the voyage. Yet we didn’t let something so mundane as the lack of a name daunt our spirits. No! We loaded her up at the dock and prepared her for the adventure of a lifetime (or at least this summer), and eagerly awaited our instructor to give us the run-down on the care and operation of Houseboat 07, our 48 foot slice of rented vacation joy. 

            Yet I must digress at this point as the adventure really began the day before, setting the precedence for what was to come. For to take the boat, one must get to the boat, and for us it was a short eight and a half hour drive to a little place with the unlikely moniker of Ticaboo, (Who thinks up these names anyway??) just north of Bullfrog Marina on Lake Powell where Houseboat 07 lay peacefully at anchor. Only one event stands out but it must be told. Our conveyance, a venerable GMC pickup truck, quite resembled good-ol 07, loaded to the gills with every assortment of plastic bin and container known to man and wallowing up the road just like a fat slow barge fighting a stiff current, for one must plan carefully when embarking on seven days without a grocery store, laundry or other civilized accoutrements of life. I say this in my defense, since passing another vehicle was usually not an option, unless assisted by a favorable breeze and a long downhill run. The vehicle behind me seemed to have similar issues, though it didn’t keep that fine gentlemen from riding our tail for all of fifty miles. Some call it 'drafting', but NASCAR we weren't. So, being a gentleman as well a future captain, I found a long flat and smooth stretch of black top sporting two lanes going in the same direction and pulled carefully to the right, allowing said fellow traveler the opportunity to egress. He leapt at the chance, pulling past at a glacial pace, me staring up the road at another vehicle (in my lane), this one much slower than our two racing steeds which would shortly be obstructing our path. With bare inches to spare, he cleared my front bumper and I yanked my wheel over, pulling behind him, a bow wave of air the only thing between us and the third truck. Expecting a wave of gratitude or a tip-o-the-hat for allowing him past, I was quite surprised instead when something flew from the back of my new friend’s truck. A nameless object to be sure, yet it darkened the sun as it rose in a graceful yet ballistic arc, then fell, smashing with a loud crack against our pristine1999 never before touched wind screening device, eliciting gasps of astonishment from those of us inside. We cradled two emotions then, relief a moment later as we could find no damage, disgust shortly after as a gaping fissure started its rise from the very bottom of the windshield. Ah the importance of entertainment on a vacation. The significant other and our progeny spent much of the rest of the trip watching as centimeter by painful quarter inch the fissure grew, crawling across the landscape of our glass, a monument forever marking the passage of an unknown friend and thus proving the wisdom of the ancient axiom; “Thou shall let no good deeds go unpunished!”

            Flash forward one day, skipping the almost futile hunt for frozen anchovies (according to some that’s the only bait that can be used on Lake Powell with any success, one we would soon disprove - nothing works on Lake Powell), and one very long night enduring the serenade of simply heroic snoring emanating from one of our traveling companions - and eldest son, not to mention the worry of all our gear still sitting in the open bed of the truck in a parking lot far far from our room. Hey, who needs sleep? Its vacation! (Keep the sleep thought in mind as it will be an ongoing theme for the next few days.) 

            As duly elected Captain of our voyage, pulling into the marina I gaze at the line of ships, each docked side by side in dual lines like toy soldiers at attention, one particular vessel sandwiched tightly between another boat and the dock, first in line and on display for everyone to see. To me self me thinks, I wouldn’t want to be the unlucky virginal Captain who’s first task would be to pilot that boat into open waters. It would be akin to dragging a very unhappy cat out of her carry cage at the vet. My blood is too precious for such things and I look to the other would-be Captains milling around the dock wondering which one of those worthy fellows it will be, a smirk on my face. One which slowly drains away as I spy the massive 07 on the shady deck of the sandwiched boat, the numbers pulsing like the vein at my temple as it beckons to me, her new victim - er I mean skipper (insert heavy sigh). The other captains looked smug as I stepped aboard putting on my best "I got it covered face". There was no help for it though, so we 'turned-to' and as we loaded her up some of the trepidation bled away. Yet still I watched the water and the dock and the movements of other boats in the area wondering just what the holy #$@! I'd gotten myself into.

              Enter stage left a sparkling young thing all nautical looking, paperwork in hand. Her mission, to answer all our questions, count all the silverware (obviously a hot item with the local pirates this used 'silverware') and generally dash my many illusions of grandeur. She smiles and nods patiently throughout the orientation, her mind clearly on other things, like the internet site she was surfing before we showed up to inconvenience her. However her vacuous look disappears as we near the stern (notice how i throw all these swabbie terms at you?). It seems ol' number seven sports two outboard motors with the only two things on the boat not covered in any warranty or premium insurance plan available, at any price, to any mere mortal. With a gleam in her eye she explained how dinging, scratching or generally even using said propellers would cost us! Do what you will with the rest of the vessel, but don’t you dare even look cross-eyed at the props. Remember, they will cost you. 

            Shaking off the chill and still undaunted by the tasks ahead, we move to the on-board generator, the very machine of civilized life. The one that will power all the comforts of home. If I didn’t state it before, we paid a premium, up-front and sight unseen, for all the comforts of home; TV, VCR/DVD player, microwave oven, air-conditioning, sauna and Jacuzzi; well maybe that last is a bit of a stretch. All of these visions of comfort vanished like smoke in a stiff wind as we were informed that our deliverer of comfort utilized a mere 4-5 gallons of petrol per 60 minute cycle. My face sags a little, but the rest of my crew is nodding enthusiastically. I haven’t the heart (or courage) to inform them that the generator will remain in the off position and be just so much ballast (and serve as our outdoor table for the duration of the voyage). Don’t think badly of me… you do the math. With each precious gallon of fuel at $4.28 per, and with the nearest gas as much as 4 or 5 hours away at 12 - 15 gallons per, and with the very same limited supply of fuel powering our beautiful out-board motors and their pristine props; $21 movies were out of the question. let alone 8 to 10 hours of blissful air-conditioning at…well you get the picture. I felt it prudent to wait until we were several hundred yards off shore with no turning back to lay on the bad news. I’m not sure how they took it; other events would soon consume far more of my attention. Though I may have told them and just be repressing the memory; only my therapist will ever know for sure.

            Nirvana! That’s how it started. The chipper young lady conducting our orientation read between the lines, and my squinty eyes which were constantly roving from the pilots chair to the dock, completely ignoring her beauty. Bless her for rescuing my manhood for it was she who suggested we have one of the "experts" guide the boat from snug birth to open waters, there to be picked up by a roving dingy and then abandoning us to our own devices; “all very routine” she says. Though I still feel the burning of shame as the other new skippers smiled knowingly when they passed us, each having expertly guided their own craft from sheltered anchorage to beyond the no-wake zone. It was a little like having your mother place you in the sandbox with a helmet on your delicate little punkin' head while the other kids are swinging on the monkey bars and snickering between back flips. But that’s another issue...er story. 

             So now the tale truly begins! Four of us on a houseboat sitting in open water just off the marina, our little ship slowly rotating in a circle and rolling up and down from the swales cause by all the happy boats zipping past. The wife and kids sitting out front with ear to ear grins on their faces, me sitting at the pilot’s seat, staring at the controls desperately trying to remember the sweet young thing's instructions.  Two engines two throttles, “Check!” Both in neutral, “Check!” Turn the key to the first position. “Opps.” No click, no happy gurglly sounds from the stern…nothing. Face falls slightly, pasted on smile beginning to hurt, mental curses to the young man who’d so recently abandoned ship leaving me with the motors in the up-right and @#% off position. Quick note to self; keep smiling, ignore wife’s questioning look, look busy, act like everything is under control and search like hell for the problem. Wave to the wife and swirl the hand as if giving them the full 360 degree panoramic view of the lake, three times, is all in the plan. In desperation I reach out gripping the throttle ready to tear it from its mounts, only to find a little hidden black button which, when properly depressed, becomes the route to all joy in a houseboat adventure.  With the override in place and the key properly turned the engines were now happy and we were off, headed at the incredible rate of six miles an hour in the exact opposite direction we wished to go. And yes, before she could ask, I expertly spun the wheel; lining us up with magnetic north (the direction we actually wished to go) sat back with a heavy sigh and bellowed out the window for someone, anyone, to, please God, fetch me a drink.

            What follows is, to the best of my knowledge, the actual events of our Lake Powell Adventure. If I take certain creative license…well chock it up to pain killers. The first thing we notice in our observation of the other ships-o-the-line around us is that our lovely 07 is missing something else besides a name. Spying upon them with my trusty optical enhancing device I soon discover that each of them, in their swarming hundreds, is trailed by numerous other objects. Could it be? Why yes… Each boat has a smaller speedier boat in tow, sometimes in pairs and one looks like a mother duck with all her chicks paddling dutifully behind. I search the tail-end of our own number seven and all I see is the churning white water flowing out in a great long wake from our pristine propellers. Could it be I missed something in the brochure? Perhaps none of the other boats will notice - perhaps the wife won’t either. Or will the other captains look upon us with disdain? Heaven forbid! Involuntarily I duck my head, as if hiding could be the answer. Naww, me decides. We’re all part of a greater brotherhood. Such simple oversights will surely be overlooked and I happily wave to each and every boat that passes, completely oblivious to my offenses. For the most part, they wave back.

            Bright is the sun dancing across the wave tops, illuminating the immensely high canyon walls, each painted the myriad hues of red and tan and each framing the azure sky above. The sandstone reflecting the full spectrum from blood to nearly bone. Miles of each, ever changing and ever beautiful. Around us the fishies jump and frolic amid boats of every description, color, size and speed. Surely this is how God meant man to vacation. 

            It is hard to hear what's truly going on around me, safe in the cocoon of the ship and the comfort of my Captain’s chair amid the drone of twin motors; else I may have heard the rumble of the large ocean-goer as it advanced upon us from aft and starboard. Yet I did not, and as the 07 was designed without mirrors, (a serious design flaw that I must speak with the engineers about) I sat oblivious to what was next to come. And while most sound was curiously missing one scream did cut through the din, along with a visual picture I will carry with me always. 

            The Deep V Hull Cabin Cruiser moving at a rate of speed many times that of 07, fairly flew past us as if passing on a freeway and us being in the ‘really’ slow lane (can you say, "hitchhiker speed?). The very vision of beauty and grace, she curved in a great arc in front of us, turning the blue waters to a deep green as it cut its wake. Notice my utilization of words like "ocean" and "deep" and the operative word, "wake", for suddenly that was what was upon us. I’ve been told by sea-dogs of old that the wise Captain should always steer into the waves, thereby keeping the ship from rocking in a violent manner and keeping an even keel. Yet no one ever told me of the proper rules when dealing with a "tusami!" (The wife’s words not mine). In came the wave and dutifully I steered toward it. I watch as my wife rises from her chair turning toward me and away from the green wall, horror written on her lovely face. I see the wave crash into us, smacking her in the back, her hair flying as the green turns to white foam around the silhouette of her entire being fairly erasing her aura, then covering her as it washes past and down the center of the house boat, filling 07 from starboard to port and aft to stern with three inches of water. ON THE INSIDE!  I watch in fascination and stunned amazement as the wave, white cap and all, rolls past my Captain’s chair, the galley, the dining room, into the bedrooms and out the back and over the fan-tail; fortunately leaving me comfortably high and dry, (The only one and only thing on the boat!). The epic words of the wife echoing in my head as she screams from the shock of the event and sudden dousing in icy cold water, “You’ve ruined our vacation!” It rattles about in the cranium still. 

            Nirvana no more! We drift in the middle of the channel mopping the carpet attempting to rid ourselves of what seems a hundred-thousand gallons of water two pints at a time while speed boats, house boats, cabin cruisers, wave runners and all manner of watercraft and happy people zip around and past us. Some frowning at the idiot who thinks it's a good idea to park his butt in the middle of the sea lane. Yet we were not alone for long, for a party barge strolled past. The fifty or so persons on board wishing to include us in their wake of bliss. With great shouting and gleeful yells, they proceeded to pelt us with water balloons. Oh joy! Me thinks. More water.

            Captain endures scornful looks of crew and many suggestions of how he might handle or even avoid large waves in the future. Each one he stores in that treasure trove of knowledge imparted by those who truly love you. Not wishing at this juncture to point out that lunch is over due, I do my best to help evaporate the moisture left inside the boat (which now and for the next few days will feel like the sauna not included in the luxuries mentioned above) by motoring quickly up the lake searching for what we would later determine to be the most elusive item at Powell; a sandy beach to moor our floating campground upon. The wind flowed across the carpet in a gentle drying motion and waves were carefully avoided and by evening it was merely wet inside. Which was good because all that sloshing noise while we were trying to sleep would have been slightly annoying and may have dulled the many snorts and rumbles of contented slumber coming from those fortunate enough not to be the Captain.

            Did I mention sandy beaches? Why yes, I even remember the training video describing such things. And it was oh so simple. Find a nice strand, push the nose of the boat up on it, throw out the anchors and enjoy life. I now believe that the individuals in the video, with their glowing personalities and bright shinny pasted on realtor faces, have in fact never been to Lake Powell. Had they, they would have known that the lake is a man-made structure with a vast quantity of water held in place within some of the steepest canyons on this green earth. And if anyone didn’t point out the physics to you, sand is only happy on flat surfaces. To be sure there is plenty of sand at Lake Powell. Billions of tons of the stuff in fact. The very cliffs we travel past are nothing if not firmly packed sand; AKA Sandstone, with a heavy emphasis on stone! Each one like a great red, brown and tan glacier ready to calve off huge chunks and bury the unwary. So search we did. The rest of that day and well into evening we searched. To use someone else's vernacular; a sandy beach is as rare as hen’s teeth, as snow in the tropics, as a lawyer with a heart, as a night without snoring, as…  I could go on for some while with this subject. This then is the actual theme of the story. How to beach a big wallowing pig of a houseboat on shear rock and live to tell about it! Though curiously, none of the other hundred or so other houseboats we saw seemed to have any trouble. I now suspect they brought sand from home, perhaps carried in one of those dingys they towed along behind; many a wailing kid’s sandbox suddenly emptied over night. I shudder at so many heinous acts. 

            Needless to say, after many hours of fruitless searching, we did find a place, beautiful beyond belief, and for some unknown reason, devoid of other campers. It was also the remnant of a slopping sandstone cliff, created in the cretaceous and just beckoning number seven. We beached; the grinding and crunching on the rock (because as we discussed - there ain't no sand!) giving me nightmare visions of the insurance I was too cheap to buy. Then we carefully set the anchors and turned off the motors. Mental picture of me collapsing in a relieved dripping heap, my jaunty Captain’s hat, now crumpled, laying a foot away from my bald spot like a navy blue headstone. Our first and, unbelievably, easiest landing was complete. That night is a blur. Dinner and a marathon of board games to entertain the young-uns. A night of sleeplessness; new surroundings, rocking boat, worry about whether we set the anchors correctly, wondering if every gentle roll of the ship was grinding a hole in the bottom of the worthy boat and of course, a deeply snoring eldest son who insists that sleeping on his back is the only way it's done. Ah, vacation.   

            Blurry eyed, I exit my cabin in the wee hours of the AM eager to watch the sun rise and illuminate our Eden, looking forward to a long day of loafing, fishing and generally enjoying life. Yet as I look out upon our cove I wonder if I might be better served by another name. Perhaps Clark Griswold, Sparky or even Murphy, for instead of beautiful blue open water we find the venerable old number seven landlocked in a Sargasso sea of driftwood, drawn to her as if by magic sometime in the night. I look to the debris and then to the small ores from my way-too-small inflatable fishing boat and mutter under my breath, “this is going to be a very long day.” No truer words were ever spoke.

            One would think we’d be experts by now. A full day on the lake, barely surviving a 'Tusami', persevering through trials and tribulations that would have brought another family to its knees and the success of still having pristine propellers. Carefully and with much sweat we extracted the 07 from almost certain doom. A nudge of the engines here and a paddle there. Fending off driftwood logs as if they were pirate boarders’ intent on taking the ship. Had it been two days later I would have let them, happily staying on shore and cheering them on, but for now we pushed out of the Sargasso Sea and made way for parts unknown. 

            Did I mention how big a lake Powell is? You don’t simply point at the map and say, “let’s go there.” At least I didn’t. I can’t vouch for the rest of the crew. A flippant, “this canyon looks nice” with no more information than a smudge of chocolate left behind on the map by the finger of some earlier adventurer, could turn into hours, oh lord, endless endless hours of toil, only to find, what's the word? Squat! 

            That second day however, within a length of time endurable, we found paradise! A small finger canyon that may well be the prettiest place on the planet. Winding walls of sandstone cliffs three hundred feet high, each curve in the canyon carved by wind into natural amphitheaters with turquoise blue waters turning to sea green at their verge. And at the end? Two house boats and their myriad hangers on, rafted up and having a great party. “No problem,” says I. There was a spot not too far away I spied on the way in. A beautiful cove under an overhang in deep “protected” waters. 

            Slowly we creep to shore, searching the shallows for reefs and thankfully, finding few. Except of course where we wished to tie up - there was a big one there. Notice I have dropped the use of the word “beach” at this point. Be assured, this is no oversight by the author, there ain’t no friggin' beach! Yet we persevere and finally get the big fat wallowing beast of a boat on to the rocks, anchored and secured. Valhalla!  We have arrived.  Personally I would have been content in this spot for the whole rest of the vacation and I was just about to crack a cold one when Eden’s serpent appeared. Creeping slowly from the deeper lock where the party boats lay, snuck my nemesis. My eyebrows lift in question. Could it truly be? Yet I am not yet fearful that it's the same Tsunami creator from the eve of our journey, for this one is behaving, puttering slowly along and creating almost zero wake. I smile in contentment and am just about to tip my beer in his direction when I see an evil gleaming glint burst forth from his eye. There is a sudden rumble of great engines as if vast quantities of coal have been suddenly fed to the fires and I know I feel the 07 cringe beneath me. The Deep V hesitates a moment as her own pristine props dig deep then thrust her forward screaming past us in seconds. The speed boat is not even in sight when the waves arrive. Who knows, perhaps he'll circle back later and search the debris field for goodies, even look for survivors. With a resounding crash the 07 is lifted and dashed upon the rocks. She rises again and again, her twin pontoons drumming like a rock band on the stone, the noise echoing through the amphitheater and assaulting us over and over again. Slowly the waves diminish until once again the waters are like glass. But the damage it done (mostly to our nerves and my oh-so-fragile ego). Amazingly 07 has stood up to the test, but we know she would never survive a second pounding. So with sad looks of regret we quit paradise; Adam and Eve (and their progeny) are once again cast out.

            The rest of the trip begins to blur. Our next mooring involves high wind and a spinning boat. I put her in to shore thinking we have firm ground beneath us, the 07 touching down, kissing terra firma with grace. We begin to place the anchors -you can only do this from off the boat. Another serious design flaw me thinks - when a tempest of wind and waves slam into her swinging her sideways. I scream like a little girl as I rush back to the boat then leap gracefully back aboard with a twisting turn to land butt first, only to fall a moment later into a writhing heap of separated ribs. Gasping for a breath that would elude me for days to come, I crawl to the pilot’s seat and spark up the engines rotate the wheel and slam her into reverse, narrowly saving us from disaster. I look toward the rear to pick my way out of this morass knowing I am leaving the rest of my intrepid crew stranded on shore (I did intend to come back… Honest). When what to my wondering eyes do appear? Is that brown water flying forth from the right engine? Chunky brown water? Sure enough. Scratch one pristine $75 propeller. The others demise was mere hours away!

            Score is now Lake Powell many, us nearly zip! The nights are noteworthy in as much as sleep is non-existent. The growing list of injuries (all mine), the heat and the snoring of the crew is taking its toll, painkillers and beer not providing nearly the delirium required; or desired! I dare you to to sleep on a mattress that is little more than plywood covered in a sheet while cradling separated ribs. Even exhaustion don't work. We try beaching the boat six more times, three successfully though none without many and certain trials. One attempt is particularly painful as, for the third time; our friend in the Deep V turns up just as we are about to hit the rock. Hit being the operative word. Bang and bam as the newly christened "Double B" is thrown about smashing her side into a cliff and a rocky bottom. Evicted again we pull out, waiting a moment near the shore to see if she is still sea-worthy because it simply won’t do to swim more than a dozen yards with everything we own strapped to my back! But once again 07 holds her water and off we go to find another spot many many watery miles away, reaching it only to run aground on a sand bar five feet from shore. Yes I did say it. Sand! The only beach we find and its three feet underwater. As I sit, stranded in almost dry dock, contemplating how to move the Big Bitch..er Double B from her perch, the kids are swimming and laughing, fairly mocking me with their joy. I sits an frowns, cogitating and thinking on the feats of engineering required to get us once again mobile. My ears perk up however when immortal words echo across the water, uttered by my youngest. I will remember them forever as if they are carved in my flesh and etched upon my soul. “Dad?" he yells. "Did you smash that hole in the side of the boat?” 

            I suppose in future years we will look back with fondness on our floating campsite, yet time has yet to dim the memories. We took the good with the bad though, as all adventurers do. Family togetherness can’t be replaced and the fishing and hiking, snorkeling and scenery were second to none. We arrived back at the marina seven days and many bruises later, found that the hole in the Double B's side was already there, placed lovingly by a previous skipper. Heavy sigh and relief followed quickly by anger and disgust. The sparkly eyed one who launched us at the beginning of the odyssey failed to mention that minor fact, causing the beginnings of an ulcer and many days of anxious worry over a lack of maritime insurance. But we did survive, short only the cost of two Pristine Propellers, a loss of sleep, little relaxation and the aformentioned separated ribs. It still smarts but I will get over it, though I had to follow a fellow on the way home towing a boat, his still pristine props staring me in the face and reminding me of my folly and my lighter wallet.
 
            I didn't even mention the joy of the septic pumping stations. Or the lesbian ladies that said, I, a mere man, was the highlight of their vacation because I lent them a fitting they'd lost which was entirely necessary to the septic pumping, and in which they were in dire need. Nor the shear joy at hugging my truck at the end of it all.

            As we pull away from the marina I look back at the lake from the rear view mirror to catch a last longing glimpse of this inland ocean. My attempt to more permanently etch its beauty in my mind and prepare for the long journey home. Then my grin fades slowly away. There just off shore, slowly circling the marina like a shark awaiting a wounded sailor clinging to the last bit of driftwood, was the dreaded Deep V. A mile away and I could still see the gleam in that black heart’s eye promising us more of the same should we ever again cross his path. I suppress a shudder and the wife reaches to turn down the air-conditioner. “Are you cold honey?” she asks in her innocence. I don’t answer; I just press the accelerator hoping to put a few miles of good dry land between me and the Double B as fast as humanly possible.

Fini (at least until next time)