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Home, sweet houseboat

Slow cruising in the Shuswap

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SHUSWAP LAKE, B.C. -- Houseboating in this region has had a reputation as one big, boozy floating party. But for those of us past that all-night party-till-you drop stage, the Shuswap, located in south-central B.C., has more than enough watery playgrounds along its 1,100 kilometres of shoreline for summer vacationers looking for a more languid lake experience.

For sure, evidence of the wild side is easy to find, like the guy mooning us with beer in hand as we headed back after three days on the mild side. The partying had already started a week before the houseboating season ramped up ahead of the Canada Day long weekend.

But we got to see the other side of this summer-long tradition of puttering along in what is considered the "houseboating capital of Canada" with a host and a captain named Noah.

They showed us some of the 30-plus marine parks, and the more serene side of the Shuswap, two lakes with arms that seen on a map look like a lazily drawn letter "H."

Although there are often close to 200 houseboats on the lake at the height of summer, those in the know can point you to natural wonders on beautiful and all-but-deserted beaches.

Getting familiar with what would be our floating home for the next three days, I first spotted the hot tub. Then, I saw the triple-S slide attached to the back of our two-storey vessel with enough room for 10 to 12 people. It comes complete with three "staterooms," a full kitchen, including a granite island, two bathrooms, a living room, big-screen television and fireplace.

Although generous in size, our floating accommodation is not the largest of Waterway Houseboat's fleet. The company also rents the three-storey Legacy model, which can accommodate up to 30 people and includes such niceties as video conferencing for corporate retreats.

Though the forecast called for drizzle and grey skies, I was determined to make a splashdown through that slide -- but not before taking a steamy hot-tub soak and sidling up to the wet bar with the 36-inch television suspended above it.

As we glided along Mara Lake en route to Shuswap Lake, we settled into a relaxing routine: reading, sipping wine, listening to our captain's guitar-strumming and singing and enjoying the opportunity to pilot the boat from time to time.

Moving at a leisurely top speed of six km/h, gave us plenty of time to take in the gorgeous screen-saver-like views of the lake and to scan its meandering shoreline.

Our captain, Noah Sturdy, plies these waters regularly and grew up in the area. He says Waterway Houseboats steers its customers to the areas of the lake that would most suit the type of holiday they're after.

Want to party with like-minded houseboaters? Head towards Seymour Arm for Nielsen Beach near the Cinnemousun Narrows on the east side. Families looking for a quieter experience will be directed towards Anstey Arm.

From the bow of our boat, the Prairie Princess, the seemingly never-ending Shuswap Lake lay before us. The palette ranges from the deep green of the trees on shore in early summer to mauve-tinged hues near sunset. The shoreline is dotted with clusters of towering pines, rocky cliffs, hidden waterfalls, petroglyphs, coves and beaches and a sporadic collection of cabins and cottages, ranging from modest to magnificent. We spot eagles and osprey several times in a day.

In the coming weeks, this lake will become water-sport central, attracting water-skiers, jet-skiers, motorboaters, paddle-boarders, fishermen, cliff-jumpers and even divers taking advantage of the waters near regionally famous Copper Island.

Though our on-board fridge had been amply stocked with groceries from DeMille's, a favourite go-to market for locals and vacationers, plus a fine selection of wines from one of the seven local wineries, we're going to dock at the Hyde Mountain Golf Course for lunch, one of several championship courses in the region.

Boaters can chug up to the dock, as we did in our houseboat. A shuttle is there to take golfers -- or lunch patrons -- up the winding pathway to the clubhouse. We passed a foursome about to attempt one of the signature holes aptly called Geronimo. It's 425 metres and the tee box sits 80 metres above the Par-4 hole, overlooking Mara Lake.

We were anxious to get back to our home on the water, and then savour a little beach time with some wine around the fire, followed by a beach "sauna."

But first we were ready to experience an island feast, delivered to the boat by Bahama John, a jovial six-foot-eight Bahamian. With restaurants in Freeport, Grand Bahama, and Florida, the affable restaurateur recently opened Bahama John's Seafood and Rib Shack restaurant in Sicamous. Like several businesses in the area, John's also caters to houseboaters, delivering on 48 hours' notice.

Sated by Bahama John's delicious coconut rice and jerk chicken, we settle into Hungry Cove as our hideaway for the night. Noah points out this serene site will accommodate dozens of boats overnight in the coming weeks.

For now, we have the place to ourselves and we're treated to an impromptu steam bath. A couple of large rocks are getting hot in the roaring fire. As the sun sets and the temperature drops slightly, the rocks are placed on the beach beneath a large tented tarp and we pour lake water over them. A wall of steam envelops us, warming us up and inspiring some of us to dive into the lake to cool down.

Ahhhh, I'll take this over the 24-hour party circuit any time.

 

A loop through the Shuswap

Here's a summer-long list of things to do in the Shuswap area. It includes either a three- or five-day houseboating trip, bookended by a list of other things on offer in the area.

  • Houseboat companies: Waterway Houseboats has been in business for 45 years. The Sicamous-based company offers three-, four- and seven-day rentals. You can be trained (approximately two hours) to captain your own boat or hire a captain. Depending on the size of the boat, 10 to 30 people can be accommodated. Prices vary depending on the time of year (boats run from May 1 to Sept. 30) and the size of the boat. Waterwayhouseboats.com.

There are two other houseboat companies in the area, Twin Anchors and Bluewater.

  • Wineries: Stock up on some fine award-winning wines from the Shuswap for the houseboat or to take home. There are seven wineries in the area; each has a tasting room and can be visited throughout the summer. This part of the north Okanagan, one of the most northern grape-growing regions in North America, is known for its cool-climate white grapes, such as Pinot Gris, Siegerrebe, Gewxrztraminer and reds such as Marechal Foch and Gamay Noirs.

www.shuswapwineries.ca/.

A company called MSO Tours also offers a collection of guided driving tours of the wineries in the region. www.mjotours.com/.

 

Restaurants

  • Shuswap Pie Company: Husband-and-wife team Michael Jamont and Mary Jo Beirness are behind the popular Shuswap Pie Company. Savoury or sweet, the four-year-old business bustles every day. Eat in or take out, the made-from-scratch, hand-mixed and hand-rolled pastries are a big hit in Salmon Arm. The most popular is the classic Chicken Pot Pie, but a close second is the Steak & Stout, with meat braised in the Backhand of God Stout made by local, certified, organic, microbrewery Crannogh Brewery, based in Sorrento. They'll also do pre-orders with at least 24 to 48 hours' notice. Salmon Arm, http://shuswappiecompany.ca/.
  • Barley Station Brew Pub: Not just a popular brand of locally brewed beer, this is also a great lunch or dinner spot. The lengthy menu features pub standards such as fish and chips, but also fish tacos, mussels and beer bread and a big selection of salads, sandwiches and burgers. Salmon Arm, www.barleystation.com/.
  • Blue Canoe Bakery Cafe: Known for its fresh breads, sandwiches and sweets -- the locally owned café is one of Salmon Arm's most popular haunts. If I was hiding away on a houseboat or at a cabin, I'd be sure to take a daily dose of its decadent and to-die-for caramel brownie and/or Nanaimo bars. They also do take-away lunches including delicious sandwiches made on fresh bread and local ingredients when possible. They also offer catering.
  • Table 24: Located on the main floor of the Podollan Inn on the Trans-Canada Highway, Table 24 has a loyal following. And no wonder. Its locally inspired menu features a selection of entrees and appetizers for dinner or lunch. Okanagan-raised beef and pork is on the menu as well as Pacific seafood and a good selection of vegetarian offerings, including a vegan soup of the day. Salmon Arm, www.table24.ca.

 

Houseboat catering/restaurants

  • Bahama John's Seafood and Rib Shack: A fusion of southern and Bahamian cooking, Bahama John's is new to Sicamous. It's a full-service restaurant featuring jerk chicken and beef, seafood and, of course, ribs. It will also cater to houseboaters.
  • Shuswap BBQ & Catering Company: Owned by Morley and Nancy Hansen, the couple caters to houseboaters with at least 16 to 24 hours' notice. Specialties include southern-style food such as wood-smoked brisket, pulled pork, prime rib, salmon ribs and chicken and sides such as Greek salad. www.shuswapbbq.com/.

 

Shopping

  • DeMille's Farm Market -- This is a must-stop for anyone visiting the Shuswap, whether you're camping, renting a houseboat or cabin or just cruising through the area. You'll find fresh local produce and regional specialty items, including ready-to-barbecue meats and handmade sandwiches. Kids will love checking out the farm's animals behind the market, which incudes peacocks, turkeys, cows and llamas.
  • Gort's Gouda -- Cheese lovers will go a little crazy at all Gort's handmade offerings. Gouda flavours include spicy jalapeno, smoked, lightly spiced as well as a range of ages. Be sure to sample their chocolate milk: Demillesfarmmarket.com.

 

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2013 E1

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