Captain’s Log: June 22, 9:27 a.m., Marble Point, Shuswap Lake
Slightly overcast and 20 C. After devouring fresh apple scones and local raspberry yogurt, we prepared our houseboat for departure, checking the propeller, engine fluids, battery levels and filling the toilets with water. We warmed up the engine, sounded the horn three times in warning and reversed engines away from shore as instructed. Our inaugural launch into the deep, tepid waters of Shuswap Lake, tucked into British Columbia’s verdant southern interior, was a triumph of teamwork. Our giddy five-year-old twins squeal in the rooftop hot tub, co-captain and husband Dan puts on a little Ray Charles and, with duties concluded, I believe it’s time to do the mashed potato dance.
Up until yesterday, I had never set foot on a houseboat. My idea of a summer getaway was renting a lakeside cottage. But what if your neighbours are jerks, or the beach is too rocky? With a houseboat, you can just start the engine and seek out a beach with privacy, or go to any one of the many trails leading to hilly lookouts.
I overhear my daughter, Daisy, whispering to herself one morning as she lay in bed, staring out the window at the water: “We have a house. It’s on a boat. We’re floating along with nature.” What more do you need?
It’s just before peak season in late July and August when families, corporate groups and gangs of friends—mostly Albertans—descend upon Sicamous, BC, the houseboating capital of Canada, to rent one of some 200 luxury floating craft.
Like us, others have come to beat the rush, grinning beneath Gilligan hats and slapping down the dock in sandals, with ATVs close behind, ferrying boxes of beer and burgers.
We share one goal: to glide aimlessly and very slowly through this marine paradise. You can’t go anywhere fast in a houseboat, but that’s the whole point. It’s not about getting somewhere; it’s about the journey.
Our craft, theCruiseCraft IV, is owned by Twin Anchors, the largest Sicamous houseboat company, which rents and manufactures these vessels. We have five bedrooms, seven TVs, two bathrooms, two barbecues, a gas fireplace, a waterslide and a kitchen with a dishwasher and microwave. At 1,900 square feet, this boat is bigger than my Ottawa bungalow—and with better appliances.
We are a family of four, plus a photographer friend and her partner. We live like rock stars; which is to say, sometimes we have no idea what we’re doing.
Captain’s Log: June 22, 2:15 p.m., Four Mile Creek:
Docking was textbook—cruise straight into the gravel shore at about 2,400 RPMs, beach the boat, pull out the gangplank, hammer metre-long iron stakes into the sandy ground and secure the craft to land with rope. Mission accomplished. We ate Thai soup and sandwiches, then explored the forest, collected geological and marine specimens, skipped stones and whooped shamelessly down the waterslide, singing the Love Boat theme. But rapture turned to fiasco when we tried to depart. The stern veered to the port side until she was beached sideways. (Curses! Foiled by a starboard current!) I summoned all hands to the bridge. Second Mate Jay suggested pushing the boat from shore while I reversed engines. (I like the cut of his jib.) Through the crew’s strength, and my steely helmsmanship, we jimmied the craft free of its mooring. My mates swam to the boat and celebrated before noticing a dollar-store purchase forgotten on shore. I blamed myself and suffered alone, as captains must, after disobeying the prime directive: never leave a flip-flop behind. We press on.
Shuswap takes its name from the 17 Secwepemc bands that make up the Shuswap First Nations group. The lake and surrounding area was carved out by retreating glaciers, now covered in a thick forest of spruce, birch and cedar. The water
is clear and deep, with few hazards, making its 309 sq. km stretch ideal for boating and swimming, especially since air temperatures remain in the high 20s all summer.
A number of lakeside communities, including Sicamous and Salmon Arm, offer the necessary summer supplies. Stock up ahead of time to maximize your cruise.
You don’t need boating experience to rent a houseboat. A comprehensive one-hour orientation session led by trained orientators prepares the designated captain to operate the vessel. Emergency equipment includes life preservers, a two-way radio and a fuel pump (with a spare 450-litre fuel tank).
The rental fee, which starts from $1,200 for a three-day rental, includes access to more than 24 provincial park beaches—most of them water access-only—which is where you must dock for the night. In the summer, these beaches can get crowded, but in June we can pick and choose on the fly, never once having to share the real estate.
Some beaches are more family-friendly than others which does raise a point about the Shuswap’s “wilder” nature. With 200 houseboats with roughly 10 to 15 people on board each one, that’s a congregation of 2,000 to 3,000 blissed-out strangers on the water.
During the 2010 Canada Day weekend, a man was killed and several people injured in an evening collision between a houseboat and a speedboat. Such accidents are rare, but they serve as a sobering reminder to act responsibly behind the wheel.
During our three-night adventure, the closest we come to open-water impact is a slow-motion game of chicken at eight knots (about 13 km/hour) with another houseboat a half kilometre away as we both try to determine which side to pass on. It takes about 20 minutes and ends with sheepish smiles and lots of waving.
Captain’s Log: June 23, 3:38 p.m., Cinnemousun Narrows Provincial Park:
After saying farewell to our photographer friends—a pre-arranged water taxi took the landlubbers to Sicamous—we docked and hiked a short trail to get a clear view of the lake and a gathering of black clouds overhead. We looped back to the beach in haste and, within minutes, rain was cascading in sheets. I clamoured aboard Inspiration with a clap of thunder at my heels. We battened down the hatches, ladled out hot soup and watched the light show on the water. Nobody seemed to mind, especially wide-eyed Maggie. “Did you see that lightning mom? Whoa! Did you see that one?”
On our final morning, cruising back to Sicamous on the upper deck with ravens wheeling overhead and Bob Marley bringing positive vibrations through the speakers, I can’t wipe the smile off my face. It’s that grin you get when you’re stockpiling stories you’ll brag about for the rest of your life.
The lake is dead calm. Glee still clings to the boat like confetti in our tangled, matted hair and dirty feet.
During our getaway, we dawdle through muted mornings brimming with earthy forest aromas, and recline into breezy evenings, playing dominoes under a riot of stars. (Munching on Doritos in the hot tub is pretty sweet, too.) But, above all, it is the slow float that drains the tension from our shoulders and makes us embrace a sluggish pace—the proper goal of all summer vacations.
Houseboat vacations run from April to October. Twin Anchors offers low-, mid- and peak-season rates, along with multi-night packages and five different boat models. Rates start from $1,200 for three days, but keep in mind, when it’s split between 10 people, it’s quite affordable. (101 Martin St., Sicamous, BC; 250-836-2450; twinanchors.com)
Don’t feel like cooking? You can feast (think tangy beef or chicken souvlaki, barbecued ribs, delicious soups and homemade cheesecake) during your cruise with Sage Catering. Sage will cater your party or send a private chef to your boat.(102 Martin St., Sicamous, BC; 250-836-3663; sagecatering.ca)
Take a Hike
Burn off the calories by hitting the trails. Shuswap Trail Alliance volunteers have been bushwhacking for years, carving out and maintaining trails of varying lengths and difficulty, including some pathways accessed by lakeside beaches. (shuswaptrails.com)