Wide-Eyed Anticipation


By Jim Favors



Boater-homing in n RV park in Springdale, AZ, the only way this could be better is if it was on the water.

It has been said that you can never experience something quite the same as you do the first time around, this is why Lisa and I love cruising to places that are new to us. After sitting at dock for three days, waiting for fowl weather to push past us, we were more than a little anxious to leave Wahweap Marina and begin our inaugural exploration of Lake Powell, a man-made wonder, near Page, Arizona. We’d provisioned the boat, changed the engine and transmission oils, and studied the charts over and over. To say we were excited would be an understatement at this point; we were itching to get out onto a new body of water with the eyes and hearts of an explorer.

I bought a manual oil extractor (shown in front of my left leg) to use for changing our Tug’s engine and transmission oils

We left Wahweap Marina with clear skies and fairly calm waters; only a slight breeze was left over from the passing cold front. Our plan was to spend at least ten days (our allotted time of two weeks was shortened a bit by the storm) becoming familiar with as many rock canyons and beach anchorages as we could, without cruising more than 10 to 20 miles per day. If a spot warranted a two or three-night stay we wouldn’t travel at all those days. We didn’t want to rush; we felt it was important to spend a leisurely morning having breakfast while watching the canyon walls being transformed by the rising sun before we ventured out for the day. Knowing we would only be able to see a small portion of Lake Powell (there is 1,960 miles of shoreline and we had only a limited time scheduled) our plan included cruising a couple of canyons by water each day before we rested for the night.

When we left Wahweap Marina our sights were set on Gunsight Canyon, only 16 miles up stream and to the north of Padre Bay. Shortly after leaving the marina we crossed over the border into Utah, where we spent the rest of our trip. Because we didn’t have a mapping chip for our Garmin GPS, for Lake Powell, I knew we’d be using our I-Pad 2 with the Navionics, Marine & Lakes USA app as our navigation device. However, I was a little apprehensive, not knowing how it would perform in the remoteness of Lake Powell. My concern had to do with the availability of the 3G signal, which I understood we’d need for the app to receive a GPS signal. As we left Castle Rock to our port and headed into the original Colorado River route the I-Pad was working as anticipated and my electronic mapping concerns drifted away. It was a surprise to us that the Navionics app even worked without a 3G or Wi-Fi signal present, as long as the boat’s GPS antenna was activated we could track our route easily.

I hate to call this a typical view in Lake Powell, but it is.

As we worked our way WNW we could see, not far off in the distance, how increasingly taller the canyon walls were. It was as if we were being slowly introduced to Lake Powell and it’s rugged beauty as we cruised through what I’d call the low lands of “The Sand Hills,” to our port and, “Wild Horse Mesa,” off to our starboard. These two areas are large sweeping plateaus that lead up to higher mesas and buttes with a backdrop of the canyons we would be exploring over the next ten days.

Each new mile, we put behind us, created an entirely new vista to feast our eyes upon and we had just gotten started. Guess you could say, we were on sensory overload, in a very good way. As we entered Padre Bay we left the Colorado River basin, with a depth of over 500 feet below our keel. The further we traveled towards Gunsight Canyon the shallower the water became, as was the case in all the canyons we explored. We chose Gunsight as our first canyon cruise and anchorage because our previous research indicated there were several good campsites available there. We also wanted to make our first day a short one so we could take our time picking out a good spot and have plenty of time to practice “beach anchoring.”

Cruising around Gunsight Canyon.

A view of Padre Bay as we make our way to Padre Canyon.

As we rubber necked our way into the depths of the canyon we were in awe of mother natures gift. While taking in as much of the sandstone rock formations as we could we were also scouting for a suitable anchorage. The normal anchoring style was completely foreign to us and therefore I was more than a little nervous about how it would all work out. Over the years the many boaters on Lake Powell have, because most of the water is so deep and the bottom so rocky, perfected this technique called beach anchoring as an alternative to anchoring in open water.

We didn’t quite know what we’d find as we worked our way back up into Gunsight Canyon. We did notice that wherever there was a patch of sandy beach there seemed to be a boat of some kind, mostly houseboats with their accompanying jet skis or power boat. We nosed all the way back to the end of the canyon and found no suitable or available, beach sites to claim for the night – my anxiety level was starting to elevate as I didn’t want to get caught too late in the day testing our beach anchoring skills for the first time.

We found this nice beach at the end of Padre Canyon, however the pictured houseboat already occupied it.

With no “campsites” available in Gunsight Canyon we decided to motor out and over to Padre Canyon, hoping our luck would improve, we really didn’t have much of a choice at this point. Rounding Gunsight Butte I could immediately see some empty beaches and it was starting to look like Padre Canyon would be our home for the night. Slowly, we worked our way to the end of the canyon, this one being even more dramatic than anything we’d seen up to this point. Eventually we settled on a nice sandy beach at the foot of Little Alstrom Point, partially surrounded by sheer walls of rock and a big sandy beach.

In talking to some locals, back at the marina, I learned about the proper techniques of beach anchoring for a boat like our Ranger Tug. As previously mentioned one needs to find a sandy beach. With this accomplished you’d proceed slowly towards your chosen spot while a crewmember hangs over the bow to watch out for rocks and tree stump hazards. We found out through trial and error that although a site might have looked good from afar, after closer inspection of the sandy bottom, a boater might have to abandon their approach due to obstacles lurking below. With a good location identified you’d proceed to gently place the bow of your boat onto the sand beach, giving it just enough pressure to hold the boat in place.

That’s me working the details out at our first beach anchoring routine in Padre Canyon; this was the hardest one by far, the rest were much easier.

With the bow nudged onto shore, typically the lakebed at your stern falls off quickly therefore preventing the use of a stern anchor. With this in mind my research indicated I’d need to run a line from both the port and starboard stern cleats at a 45-degree angle up and onto shore, to properly secure the boat from moving to either side. We have a spare Danforth anchor onboard Kismet; we buried it into the sand on our port side while I found a boulder to tie off the starboard line. As an added measure we ran our bow anchor straight out 70 feet and buried it into the sand (sometimes we’d pile a few rocks on top of the anchor for added security). Upon full installation of this, new to us anchoring technique, we were confident the boat was secure for our first night on Lake Powell, in Padre Bay.

I like doing things a first time, however when it involves something that could be damaging to our boat, or ourselves, I become overly cautious and rightfully so as I don’t want to cause any problems that might be costly or possibly shorten our time while on an adventure. Because of this I was wound up tighter than the lid on a new jar of martini olives, as we tried to figure out how to anchor in Lake Powell. In the end, it came off without any problems, thanks to the helpfulness of the locals we met back at Wahweap Marina and Lisa’s expert scouting from the bow.

Just like the big houseboats do, I buried an anchor in the sand to secure our Kismet to the shore.

Sometimes you just get lucky and that’s how we felt with the above average 80-degree daytime weather, mild nights, clear skies along with the calm water we experienced once we left the marina. It’s a foregone conclusion good weather enhances ones cruising and anchoring experience but the ancillary benefits became very evident to us as we started to relax in the cockpit of Kismet, sipping a glass of wine, proud of our day’s accomplishment in Padre Canyon.

This scenery was our reward at the end of a pretty exciting day.

Most days we would beach anchor the boat early enough in the day so that we could take a hike and have a relaxed dinner. Our first night was no different, virtually surrounded by canyon walls of varying heights, colors and contours; we were introduced to the perfect setting for Mother Nature’s setting sun spectacular, which began shortly after dinner. As the sun set behind the canyon wall that separated us from Gunsight Canyon, the east canyon wall of Padre Canyon became as vivid with a luminescence reminiscent of glowing coals in a raging fire. About the time this show had climaxed, the moon, just short of its full glory, began its rise over the canyon. The moonlight danced off the rock walls, providing us with a cool afterglow that lingered for hours, as the dark blue cover of nighttime possessed the lake. To top this off even further, with no artificial lights to compete against, we were treated to a star littered sky as brilliant as any we’d ever seen. With only one day under our belt, our grand exploration of Lake Powell yielded great rewards and first time experiences and yet we felt confident – the best was yet to come.