Red, right, return. Jeff, our boat “trainer” repeats it over and over again, being sure to drill the information home before setting us loose in Voyageurs National Park. We’ve rented a houseboat from Voyagaire Lodge and Houseboats for a couple days and after a brief tutorial will be on our way into the park, alone. The red, right, return speech is familiar. Jeff says, “It’s the ‘saying’ here at Voyageurs,” but truth is, it’s just the rules of the road in boating. When you are returning to port, you keep red buoys/markers to your right (which means on the way out, they will be on your left). It’s how you navigate your way around rocks and such. Sriram has been sailing for more than a decade – and I’ve been married to him for 4 years – it’s familiar to us both. Nothing else is.
As Jeff advises us to “beach” our boat – giving it just a little more throttle after it hits land, I can see Sriram’s confusion. Over and over again, their recommendations fly in the face of everything he (we) know from sailing. But this is their boat, so we’ll follow their guidance while in the park. We go through the checklist for the boat (and our smaller day-trip boat that’s attached) and ask any questions as they come up. We’ve already loaded our belongings on board, and stopped into the lodge store for last minute provisions – mostly beverages. They didn’t have much in the store, so we asked if there was somewhere else that we could pick up supplies. We were only looking for a couple of onions and potatoes. That was easy enough – they grabbed them from the restaurant kitchen and would just add them to our bill.
With our supplies all set we headed back onto our houseboat, Knot A Care), and headed out. A small motor boat trails us as we head out of the main harbor – Jeff is piloting our boat. Guests are not allowed to man the craft until a certain point outside the harbor. Jeff will “jump ship” and off we’ll go. We’ve been given details about where our best travel points are as we head into the park, as we only have a half day and must be tied up one hour before sunset. Once he leaves us, we follow his advice and head toward a section of the park known as Grassy Pointe.
The drive is beautiful. It is the first lake we’ve been in where we are surrounded by shoreline. It’s both secluded and inviting. We see few travelers as we navigate our way through small narrows and open water, but feel a certain solidarity with those we do see.
The “house” handles well, and things are looking good. We get turned around a couple times, but discover some beautiful places along the way. All is well – until we look for a place to go and “beach” our boat for the night, and then the fun begins. We see nothing that looks like a beach. We’re supposed to tie up to trees on the shore after bringing her in, but there’s no obvious place to do that. Our map (for any sailors/boaters reading – it was in fact a map, not a chart), indicates spots where the house boaters are allowed to “park.” Big black dots, that probably represent a wide stretch of shoreline that has no corresponding black dot to help you out.
We radio into Voyagaire Base. The operator is super friendly and helpful. No beaches in that area, but we’ll see a dot marked on our map of a spot we can settle in for the night. We’re near a series of cliffs and right around the bend is a houseboat spot. We thank her for the info and mention that we’ll get back to her if we can’t find it.
We find the spot, but it’s rocks. Pretty much all rocks. To park the boat, we will essentially slow down and “beach” the boat on a bed of rocks. It’s a mind-blowing prospect. But the sign says to park there. Base has confirmed it. So we do it. I nudge the boat into place and Sriram jumps off and begins to tie up. We get the boat tied up with time to spare before our “curfew.” We try to explore the mini island at Leach Bay where we have landed, but the paths don’t really lead anywhere and the bugs are out in full force, so we retreat back to the boat. But not before taking a picture of our traveling home.
A few housekeeping tasks await us, anyway. Each night we are supposed to idle the motor for three hours, at approximately 1,800rpms. This will charge the batteries so that all of our systems will operate. We’re supposed to do the same each A.M. Jeff had given us a lesson on how to do this. I can’t make it happen. No matter what I do, I can’t get the boat to idle, and as I try to increase the rpms, the boat lurches forward into more rock. Not good.
Base is once again a brief call away. I radio in, and first take a moment to thank her for the previous help and verify that we should indeed be up on the rocks. She gives us confirmation that our parking job is just fine and I move onto my question about the charging. She hands off the radio to someone with better knowledge and they attempt to walk me through the procedure again. I’m doing everything they are telling me, but it just won’t catch in idle. Finally I’m told to give up, that my batteries (which were replaced just before we set off) should be fine, and if they can they’ll send someone out in the morning. OK.
It’s a beautiful night, so we load up on bug spray and sit outside and pretty soon I spot a beaver on the opposite shore. We watch it for a bit, and just as it’s about to exit the water for the shore so that I can get a better picture, a motor boat comes through. It heads over to our boat and it’s Chuck from base, come to check in on our charging situation. He hops on board and gets it to idle in one try. He walks me through it again and I get it to idle on my first try, too. I tell him that I swear I’d done exactly what I’d just done 150 times with no luck. He replies, “151st is the charm,” and off he goes.
We quickly discover that we were better off before we could figure out how to do it, as the running motor intrudes on what was just moments ago a beautifully serene location. The thought of leaving it running for three hours is depressing. The thought of doing it again come morning, even more so. When it’s time for bed we lock up for the night and shut down.
An interesting first day in the park. Stayed tuned for more of our house-boating adventure.