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Lake Powell


October 04, 2001|By AL KALIN, Special to this newspaper

It was an April morning many years ago. Patti and I were fishing ahead of the large houseboat as it slowly cruised up the San Juan Arm of gigantic Lake Powell. It had taken us two days to get this far from Wahweap Marina near Page, Ariz.

Friends Chuck and Jean piloted the big boat while Whacky Jack and his wife, Bea, worked their way along the bank in their small aluminum boat, also fishing.

The grandeur of the 186-mile long lake was breathtaking. Red rock cliffs, over 1,000 feet tall, towered above us on either side and ancient American Indian petroglyphs and ruins were visible from time to time. Earlier we had entered a canyon that narrowed quickly until we could touch the walls on either side of the boat. It then opened up into a body of water that seemed to stretch forever.

Jack caught one crappie that weighed a whopping 3 ½ pounds, in water so clear our lures were visible 50 feet below the boat. That afternoon we beached the houseboat on a shale bank in one of the coves as the weather began to turn stormy. Jack and I carried the two heavy anchors 150 feet up the bank, buried them and piled multiple sheets of shale on top of each anchor.


As we finished a delicious meal of crappie and fried potatoes, the wind started howling through the canyon. Chuck, who had been feeling bad from the start of the trip, was much worse now as he lay moaning in his bed. At one point early in the evening he offered $1,500 to anyone who could come up with a laxative that would solve what he thought was a bad case of constipation.

At bedtime the wind gusts had increased. The large houseboat was actually rocking every time a wind gust blasted the boat and rain and hail rattled on the roof. During the times the moon beamed through the clouds, I could see both large anchor ropes snap taut and the two piles of shale lift off the ground where the anchors were buried. I knew if the anchors came loose, we would be smashed against the rocks on the other side of the bay.

Checking our bass boat, I saw both bilge pumps had come on automatically as they worked to drain the boat. Wacky Jack's boat had sunk and only the bowline was visible where it was tied to the houseboat.

As the night wore on, Chuck's condition worsened and his pain intensified. His offer for a laxative was now $2,500.

During a lull in the rain, I climbed into our bass boat to try to call for emergency help for Chuck but my single side band CB radio wouldn't reach out of the deep rock canyon.

At daylight the winds had abated enough to head back for help. After floating Jack's boat and securing our bass boat behind the houseboat, I took the controls of the big boat and headed toward Rainbow Marina and we arrived before noon. An ambulance boat took Jean and Chuck, who was now delirious, to the hospital in Page. The rest of us continued toward Page in the houseboat.

Whacky Jack had not paid attention during houseboat-driving lessons when he and Chuck had rented the boat. He was scared to death to drive so I told Patti what I knew, which wasn't much. With Patti as the captain, I drove our bass boat ahead, looking along the shore for a place to spend the night.

By noon the next day we made it back to Wahweap Marina and Patti and I traded places so I could dock the houseboat. It seemed easy enough. I hadn't run into any problems when I had docked the big boat at Rainbow Marina the day before.

I slowly edged the boat up to the dock and from 50 yards away put both 150 horsepower motors in reverse to slow our progress but we continued to slowly glide forward. Starting to get nervous, I increased the power until both motors were roaring in reverse. The boat refused to stop and in slow motion it climbed up over the dock, submerging a 150-foot section before one pontoon came to rest, with a loud shriek, on the cement boat ramp.

Remembering my flying days when any landing was a good one if you could walk away from it, I slowly backed the boat off the dock and with Jack's help, tied up so we could unload.

The rental people, who knew of Chuck's condition, quickly signed us off and asked me to park the houseboat between two others. I told him where he could put it and we left for the hospital to see how Chuck was doing.

Chuck was feeling much better. His problem, a strangulated bowl, had been fixed by the doctors without having to operate. Jack and I both presented him with a laxative but he refused to pay up.

Outdoor Tales columnist Al Kalin may be reached by e-mail at

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