Why would someone want a cabin in the woods when they can have a houseboat? That's the question Andy Anderson, houseboat owner and water lover, asks. "It's like a cabin on the water, but it makes so much more sense," he explained. "There's no lawn to mow and there's less to maintain.
You just climb on, start the engine and wave to everyone." Anderson and his wife, Kathy, residents of Duluth, built their houseboat some 30 years ago and have enjoyed it every summer since.
For the past 20 years they've kept it on Fish Lake. The houseboat is their favorite place to entertain guests - they catch fish for dinner, visit an inhabited eagle's nest, play bridge and discuss politics.
Over the decades, the couple has spent many nights on the boat, moored to a tree along the shore, listening to wildlife splashing around. It's peaceful relaxation, just 18 miles from home.
For Bonnie and Todd Jacobson of Prior Lake, renting a houseboat up north for a week is a great way to escape the metro area with friends - really, really good friends.
"I highly recommend going with people you know really well," Bonnie said with a laugh. "It's close quarters and you're sleeping out in the open. But we think it brought us closer together as a gang of friends.
The minute we got off the boat, we wanted to do it again."
And they did. After the group of eight friends boated for a week on Birch Lake, a few years later they rented again on Crane Lake. They brought along a couple of extra small boats to explore the lakes and they caught fish and made bonfires on land each night.
For the second trip, they learned to stock the boat better. Obviously, there are no stores in the middle of the lake. "We ran out of beer and the guys started after our wine coolers," said Bonnie. "You better make sure you have enough for all those days!"
Whether it's your own houseboat or a vacation rental, the appeal is being on the water and in the water. Drop anchor and jump in for a swim or cast your rod to fish all day.
Days can be spent exploring the northland's large lakes and each evening can be spent at a different site.
If you go the route of ownership like the Anderson's did, be prepared for the standard responsibilities: putting it in the lake each spring and then hauling it out to store for the winter, regular maintenance and cleaning. But sometimes, the work is part of the adventure. The Andersons and
their heavy, homemade, steel-framed houseboat became bi-annual
entertainment at the Eagle's Nest resort.
People would collect out on the Eagle's Nest veranda with their beers, and watch me and my youngest son yelling at each other what to do," said Anderson with a grin. "They have a picture of us on the wall, screaming and yelling, pulling that boat out."
When you rent, everything is ready and waiting. And according to Beth Rykken, co-owner of Timber Bay Lodges and Houseboats in Ely, Minn., previous boating experience isn't necessary. She says the boats are very easy to operate.
"We go through an orientation about the lake, the buoys, what to avoid. Then we go on the boat and let you start the motor, work the lights, show you how to tie up at night," she explained. "And we suggest people bring cell phones to call us, if you need help."
Timber Bay also makes service trips around the lake a couple of times a week to fill up gas tanks, pick up garbage and bring out bait or ice. Boaters can put in an order for any necessity they might need replenished.
Timber Bay has been a Rykken family business for 31 years, with Beth and her husband Ron managing it for the past 11 years.
They've noticed that spring groups tend to be guy's fishing trips, summers are busy with families and fall is more fishing groups and couples.
"People seem to enjoy houseboating because you get everyone's attention," said Beth. "At a water park, the kids go running off. So we see families that want to really spend focused time together and extended families will rent a few boats and moor together at night."
For the Andersons, the houseboat is simply a way of life for their family each summer.
"We really do enjoy that boat," said Anderson.
For those who want their own houseboat adventure, just pick a lake. Houseboats can be rented on many of the larger northern lakes - Kabetogama, Namakan, Sand Point, Birch, Crane, Rainy, Vermilion and Lake of the Woods. The boats range from the 30-foot "honeymooner" size with all the basic comforts to boats 55 feet long with enough beds for 12 people.
A good resource to start searching for information is the Explore Minnesota Web site at www.exploreminnesota.com. Just enter "houseboating" in the search bar.