Sink or Swim: Houseboating Adventures on Raystown Lake

houseboating in Pennsylvania
Seriously. It’s so big you can’t even get a photo of it in the frame.

By Vanessa

As Terri and I stood on the shore watching our houseboat slowly float away, we realized that we had made two grievous errors. The first being that at least one of us should have stayed on board. The second, thinking that the two of us could ever handle a 54-foot houseboat on our own, considering that neither of us has either boating experience or common sense.

Our adventure started when we were offered the use of a houseboat on Raystown Lake from Seven Points Marina, who had far more faith than us that we could handle the vessel after watching a 30-minute video, answering a short quiz, and getting a fast but thorough tutorial on how the boat worked by one of the marina crew. After taking us out of the dock and walking us through how to steer, what to do if the generator didn’t work, and showing us the most important aspect of the boat—the large cooler—our guide jumped off the houseboat onto another boat, and we were on our own.

houseboating in Pennsylvania
This should have just stopped at “You may not operate this boat.”

Terri: What are we supposed to do now?

Vanessa: Steer it, I guess.

Terri: Do we know how to do that?

Vanessa: I’m not sure. I know we’re supposed to keep it away from the shoreline until we’re ready to dock. Then we run it aground and tie it to trees.

Terri: We run it aground?

Vanessa: That’s what he said.

Terri:  I thought we weren’t supposed to wreck the boat.

Vanessa: And I thought we were smart enough not to take a 54-foot boat out onto a lake when there are other people whose lives are now at stake, but here we are. So the world’s gone crazy.

houseboating in Pennsylvania
Note that there were no boats within miles of us. With good reason.

Who Runs Aground on Purpose?

I took the first try at steering the houseboat, which is kind of like steering my Jeep, Lucille. Neither of them goes where I want them to go. After a lot of cursing and yelling at Terri to stop taking my picture while I was focused on trying to keep us alive, I finally got the hang of it. Mostly. I was still struck with abject terror every time we came within a half-mile of another boat, though I think most locals are used to the fact that there are many beginning house boaters out on the lake, so they act accordingly and flee the area, choosing to fish somewhere safer like in another state.

Brimming with false confidence, I agree with Terri that we should try to dock our behemoth new home.

Terri: There’s a cove! And some trees! Let’s stop there.

Vanessa: No problem. How do we stop?

Terri: (madly rewinding her recording of our instructions as the island gets closer and closer). Give me a minute.

Vanessa: We don’t have a minute. We have an island. And it’s getting larger. In a hurry.

Terri: (clicking back and forth on the recording) I think it was sometime after he talked about the kitchen…

Vanessa:  Which won’t exist if we hit this island. WHICH IS RIGHT THERE.

houseboating in Pennsylvania
Even the snake knows this water is way too shallow. He and I were both screaming. (FYI, water snakes are harmless.)

In a sudden flash of inspiration, I pulled back on the handle (throttle? Magic boat-stoppie thing?) and we were able to gently drift into shore. And then the wind and current turned us sideways, where the water was getting shallower by the second.

Vanessa: This can’t be right.

Terri: But we’re on the island.

Vanessa: We’re supposed to be perpendicular to it, not parallel.

Terri: So just…um…move it.

Vanessa: How?

Terri: (pulling out her recorder again)

Vanessa: For the love of….

I pull the magic boat-stoppie thing again, and now we’re going backward. Which is good, because we were out of other directions. I make a second attempt to head straight into the shore and gently bump up against the land. SUCCESS!

houseboating in Pennsylvania
Terri trying to tie up the boat. Does she look scared? We both were.

Watching Our Hopes Float Away

Terri grabs the rope and not so gracefully climbs over the two kayaks we have at the front of the boat to make it to shore. In her defense, she’s only 5’2” and the kayaks are stacked about four feet high. She ties one rope to a tree and begins singing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘round the Old Oak Tree,” not realizing that while she’s performing, the currents are once again moving the boat parallel to shore.

Vanessa: Terri, tie the other rope!

Terri: (still singing and now dancing) What??

Vanessa: The other rope!

Terri: (going full-on Broadway)  What??

So I leap out of the boat since I can’t wait for intermission and grab the other rope to tie it to another tree. As I’m doing this, Terri finally stops her performance long enough to realize that the boat is slowly drifting away from us, and since our knots pretty much suck, the ropes aren’t stopping it.

Terri: GET ON THE BOAT! GET ON THE BOAT!

We both start to scramble toward the boat, and I get a leg on it before it gets too far away. Hoisting myself back over the kayaks like a broken-legged giraffe, I pull or push some mechanical thing, and stop the boat from leaving us ashore. Terri, after retying the ropes, gets back on board. And we hold our breath and wait. And nothing bad happens. The boat stays where we put it.

Vanessa: I think we’re docked.

Terri: (opening a bottle of wine) I think we’re drinking.

Vanessa:  Can you imagine if we’d had to call to tell them that we lost the boat on the first day and needed to be rescued?

Terri: I’d drown myself first.

Vanessa: We’re out here four more days. There’s still time.

I’m happy to report that the next four days were absolute heaven, and that no boats or humans were harmed during our excursions out on the lake (or into town). We started the mornings and ended the evenings basking in the hot tub on the roof of the houseboat and spent the days hiking wherever we were docked.

houseboating in Pennsylvania
Aw…bliss! Talk about the perfect escape!

We even discovered a cell signal at the top of the mountain, which is one way to force us to get exercise.

houseboating in Pennsylvania
Need a cell signal? Start walking! (We did later find a signal on the water, but let’s face it; a little hike isn’t gonna hurt us.)

The two of us also loved our time exploring the beauty of Raystown Lake, where we tried unsuccessfully to motor to the dam, which we never could find. I’m pretty sure that was because of our inability to read a map and not the fact that they might have moved the massive, many-ton structure.

If You Go:

Because we visited in April, it was a little chilly for swimming, but the houseboat is the perfect home base for families who want to spend all of their time on the water—it even has a two-story slide for the kids. The four bedrooms offer plenty of room, and a fully stocked kitchen, including a microwave and grill, means that you can bring your own food and never have to leave this vacation paradise. And you can change the scenery every day—just use the magic boat-driving thing to take yourself to a new location as often as you like!

houseboating in Pennsylvania
How much fun is this?

We were especially pleased with the wonderful Seven Points’ staff who not only bring you bags of ice if you radio in, but also take the boat in and out of the dock for you—saving untold thousands of dollars of damage in our case. They are always right at the other end of the radio, which adds a level of confidence much needed by newbie boaters like us, and they didn’t even laugh (too hard) as they watched Terri at the controls of the boat, which she drove like a drunken sailor on a four-day binge before deciding her talents lay in navigation (did I mention that we never found the dam?)

houseboating in Pennsylvania
See that teeny tiny space between the boat on the right and the next one over? That’s where you’re supposed to fit your boat. Time to call in the experts.

If you do decide you want to go ashore, Huntingdon has a charming downtown area. Make sure you go to Mimi’s for dinner—the martinis and Italian food are delish! —and you should also stop at the Isett Heritage Museum atop Stone Creek Ridge to learn more about, well…everything. A collection of everyday items from at least the last 100 years, you can find everything here from toys to miniature railroads to barbed wire collections and Fred Harris’ barber’s chair. And that’s just in one building (there are three).

houseboating in Pennsylvania
There are so many cool things at Isett Heritage Museum that you could spend a month wandering the aisles! My personal favorite was the poisonous baby doll. Seriously.

I also loved Lincoln Caverns & Whisper Rocks, which was discovered 88 years ago during the construction of Rt. 22. Unfortunately for Terri, she missed this part of the trip (I think she was still looking for the dam), but it’s well worth a stop to see not one, but two stunning natural attractions.

houseboating in Pennsylvania
Stalagmites, stalactites, bacon….so many awe-inspiring structures to see at Lincoln Caverns & Whisper Rocks!

To learn more about renting a houseboat in Raystown Lake, contact Seven Points Marina at www.7pointsmarina.com or call 814-658-3074. To learn more about all there is to do in Huntingdon County and the Raystown region of Pennsylvania, visit www.raystown.org or call 1-888-RAYSTOWN.