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2003 Spring Sailing on Lake Powell
Lake Powell-Glen Canyon Recreation Area In Arizona and Utah
Anne J. Westlund
475 N. Division St.
DeTour Vlg., MI 49725
Bruce McCreary's yellow P-15 "Wight Away" & Anne Westlund's green P-15 "Peapod" beached at
Warm Creek Bay. Photo by Bruce McCreary.
"I'll never get used to this scale," I shouted across to Bruce McCreary. Our two tiny West Wight
Potters 15s were motoring through Antelope Canyon on our way up Lake Powell, up the mighty
Colorado River Glen Canyon Dam has turned into a lake or river/dam impoundment with a 1900 mile
shoreline. High above us looking close were great sandstone walls rimmed 96 feet above us with a
white bathtub ring of higher water. Lake Powell was that far below it's normal 3700 ft. above sea level
due to extensive and multiple uses of the river's water plus several years of drought, low snowfalls in
the mountains, and hot weather evaporation effects. Up beyond the bathtub ring there were more and
more rocky canyon walls, way high above us bobbing along in the wakes of powerboats and
houseboats. All boats had to take Antelope Canyon up the river because the open "lake" was now
exposed sandy lake bottom that blocked the normal travel routes.
Photo of Bruce McCreary motoring his P-15 "Wight Away" on Lake Powell.Photo by Anne Westlund
Park Rangers said that there was more bottom exposed than had ever been the case since the lake
reached it's normal high water mark. It has never been so low since the 1960's. The impoundment
began to fill in 1963 when the dam was finished. Forty years have gone by. It is now a very popular
recreation area in a desert environment.
Bruce McCreary exploring a rocky beach on Lake Powell. Photo by Anne Westlund
The beaches exposed by the low water are mostly sandy and easy to go upon for anchoring by
staking your bow line to a rod shoved deep into the sand. Then if you walk up the rise you find you
can walk for 20 or 30 minutes and turn to see you're little boat more and more toy-like.
Anne Westlund's P-15 "Peapod" with Last Chance Butte in background. Photo by Bruce McCreary
The scale is enormous. For many days I would think, 'That butte is about 15 minutes from here.' Then
the truth came home an hour or more later. The butte was huge, the distance matched it and I goofed
up the scale again. One time I anchored in a nearly perfect little pool behind rocks and a shallow
entry. When I went walking up the sloping sand and exposed sandstone it took almost an hour to get
to the huge eroded ampitheather behind the little cove where my Potter almost disappeared in the far
distance. It was by these walks and explorations away from the boat that I was finally able to grasp
the scale enough to be able to use the maps available.
It was like a chart but it wasn't. The north and south sections have their own maps. They are
fishermen's maps printed nicely on plastic "paper". Marked on them are the mile marks, the buoy
numbers, and marinas, of which there are several at about 40 to 50 upriver mile intervals. They had
contours on them showing the elevations from sea level but not bottom contours. The lake level does
vary yearly and seasonally so bottom contours are really land contours from the bottom up - some
depths exceed 800 ft. or more! Intervals on the fishermen's maps are 100 ft., very different from a
normal lake or ocean chart.
I found the channel marks odd too. There are lighted buoys that have the up river mile marks on
them. They are mid channel buoys and show the "flow pattern" of the Colorado River down, down,
down, and further down below your boat. Then there are nuns and cans, red and green, and if you
keep red to the right as you return up stream all is well depth wise. Of course in the shallow draft
Potters we didn't worry as we could navigate, or more correctly pilot, by sight. The clear water
indicated it's depths by light is shallow and darker blues are deep enough. Sometimes it was really
strange to sail over a mesa top or butte that was near the surface and visible, but deep enough to go
over with no fears of hitting it. Meantime the map showed the butte or mesa to be actually thousands
of feet higher than the river's normal height. As I said, the scale is weird there.
A welcome sight..Dangling Rope Marine! Photo by Bruce McCreary
The two P-15s head to Dangling Rope Marina with Bruce in the lead. Photo by Anne Westlund
Big sky predominates. Many times I exclaimed about how wonderful it was to enjoy the bright
sunshine, day after day, and huge dome of blue, sometimes moon struck and other times star struck.
Nights were quiet and days were too if the motorheads stayed away. Houseboats are many and they
are wave makers, not noisemakers. Jet skis are used in parts of the lake. The nasties were the
overpowered large motor boats such as the drug runners use in the oceans - 300 + horsepower and
fast. Dangerous so far as I am concerned. The beasties were the tour boats with their wakes of 4-8 ft.
throwing huge rollers like ocean waves.
I made it as far as Hall's Crossing Marina and Bullfrog Bay at the 93 mile mark up the river. Bruce
made it to Dangling Rope Marina at mile 40 before his health meant he had to turn around and head
for home. We sailed in tandem for five days exploring and I continued on for a total 12-day trip. It
seemed longer and no wheres near long enough. There is much to see and do. I enjoyed watching
the new-to-me western birds, the plant life, often tiny and lots of wildflowers in early May plus the
wondrous red and tan sandstone cliffs, buttes and mesa, rincons and canyons. This is a place I'd like
to explore for many years but not summer when the heat is terrific, the traffic terrific and the calms
meaning all motoring, plus the rainy season the locals call the monsoons in August when
thunderstorms and heavy rain squalls attack the region. The marinas and facilities are open all year
so fall is often the best time and early spring starting in February until mid-May is a good time with
some wind. Mid-winter is often squally with winter winds. The lake doesn't freeze but occasionally
they get a trace of quickly melting snow.
Anne found the perfect anchorage on Lake Powell. Photo by Anne Westlund
I bought my Golden Age lifetime National Parks and Recreation Areas pass for $10 and enjoyed a
half-price campsite for $7.50 the day we arrived; and, camped free on my boat, Peapod, on the lake
after the free launch. Costs for me for the 5400 miles drive to and from were gas, an occasional motel
and some campsites not to mention the new "used" engine for my Isuzu Rodeo. I'll not go into that
here....still too angry.... although Kearney, NE is not a bad place to get stuck for a week if you have
to be somewhere waiting for the work to get done.
ASIDES AND NUANCES:
Plan on things drying out ASAP - it is a desert and you will find things not dewy in the mornings,
laundry done on the shore dries so fast it's a mid-westerners dream. I wore sandals in the water with
leather on them. They dried on my feet in the boat in 20 minutes!
There are no bugs. Bruce slept outside on boards he put on the cockpit seat stringers so he had a
big bed under the stars. There were a very few house-type flies and some tiny gnats. Nothing bit this
mosquito bait (me). No scorpions or spiders were seen. The lower lakebed seemed to be quite sterile
of critters and insects.
Bruce fishing at dawn in still waters. Photo by Anne Westlund
I enjoyed four or five decent days of sailing in twelve days. Carry extra fuel, plan on lots of motoring
and sail when you can. Two of my sail days were covering over 50 miles downwind between 11 and
5 o'clock wing-and-wing. It was romping great sailing and extraordinary due to the high canyon walls
and incredible scenery.
Anne Westlund with Domingez Butte in background. Photo by Bruce McCreary
The lake is at 37 degrees north latitude. It has little twilight at each end of the day. Light comes
quickly around 5:30 am, and dark does too, 7:30 pm.
A good GPS is nice to help you find your way and find out where you are the first few days. If you
have little piloting experience with maps and charts you might really need one! Once I figured out the
scale of the landscape I had no problems and used my GPS only to site my anchorage for the night
as I was able to keep total track of where I was at all times.
Anne's P-15 looks very tiny in comparson to the towering Last Chance Butte. Photo by Bruce
A VHF radio is good to have as the Park Rangers monitor as do the Coast Guard who have a
presence on the Lake due to it's sharing of borders with more than one state.
You need a "boombox" or portable toilet if not a built in toilet for human waste. There is a series of
floating toilet buildings that have pump out facilities for holding tanks, and dump out places for a
porta-toilet plus toilet rooms for men and women. These are free. At marinas you can also dump the
human waste free, plus dump any garbage free. These free things help keep the lake clean and
mostly free of any drift garbage though I did find a beached double mattress that must have blown off
a houseboat's roof.
Basic food supplies, marine supplies and motor repairs, towing and other potentially needed things
are sold at all the marinas. The ice cream was excellent at Dangling Rope!
You can park for free at the launch sites for 14 days at a time, camp at one place for free for 14 days
at a time, etc. Nice: you could camp on the land for 14 days at Wahweap near Page, AZ where we
launched, move to State Line campground for another 14 days, etc. at $7.50 per night if you are old
enough. It's a good benefit to aging. (grin, grin)
The weather is not steady but rather fickle. You will, however, encounter strong, tropical sunlight.
Cover-ups like sun protecting clothing and lotions, large brimmed hats, gloves and an awning are
needed. Bruce had a bimini and I envied him more than once. I got a nice tan even though I did all the
above. I bought a large umbrella with Lake Powell on it as a souvenir and almost wore it out before I
left the lake!
I'd like to thank Bruce McCreary for encouraging me to leave the doldrums of a nasty winter and cold
spring in northern Michigan for a trip to Lake Powell. He was a wonderful tour guide and a source of
conversations for the five days we sailed and explored togeather.
Bruce sailing "Wight Away" on Lake Powell. Photo by Anne Westlund
Anne and Bruce enter Mountain Sheep Canyon. Photo by Bruce McCreary
Another view of the closeness of the canyon walls in Mountain Sheep Canyon. Photo by Bruce
A better view of the two P-15s in Mountain Sheep Canyon. Photo by Bruce McCreary