For many houseboaters, the path to ownership is a familiar tale. The family or couple begin by renting a houseboat a few times as an alternative to their regular vacation plans. After many successful outings on the water they fall in love with the unique boating lifestyle and eventually purchase their own houseboat. Sound familiar? For Mark and Sandy Venuti, who have been married nearly 40 years, their journey into houseboating is a little different and they’re just fine with that. The couple have been regulars to Lake Powell that borders between Arizona and Utah since 1991 and because it’s around 130 miles from their home in Flagstaff, Ariz., tent camping was something the family of six did often.
“We’d of course see houseboats up there, but we were good with camping,” recalls Mark, who worked for the Flagstaff Fire Department. “Neither my wife nor I grew up boating, but we ended up buying a 19-foot Sea Ray from one of the other firefighters. With a firefighter’s schedule we could do four-day trips as my schedule would allow and the kids loved it.”
Tent camping on the shores of Lake Powell went on for many, many years and as the kids grew, so did their love for the outdoors.
“We’d take two-day trips and other shorter trips too, but what we liked best was that Powell offered something for everyone,” says Mark. “We have four kids; our oldest son loved water sports, the second boy was into fishing, and the younger girls just liked being up there. We could explore canyons only accessible by boat and it was a great family time.”
One of the firefighters Mark worked with began renting his houseboat to friends and as a family they had considered it, but it wasn’t until 2008 when Mark wanted to celebrate his 50th birthday that it ever really made sense in their minds to do it.
“I wanted my parents to come out with us, but at this point they were in their mid to late 80s and I figured we might have a better chance of getting them to come if we rented a houseboat,” recalls Mark. “My wife and I and the kids stayed in tents and my parents stayed on the houseboat. We set it all up for them and after that trip we briefly talked about the possibility of maybe getting a houseboat someday but nothing serious.”
In the winter of 2008-2009 the Venutis started looking, but it wasn’t until that summer when the couple took their first trip to Lake Powell by themselves without the kids that they truly began to entertain the idea of buying a houseboat. Depending on where they would camp, to set up Mark would have to anchor into the rock and carry boulders around so it was a lot of work, especially when it was just them.
“We had our 240 Sea Ray Sundeck and we were still camping and after setting everything up my wife says, ‘We need a houseboat because it would be easier on you,’” recalls Mark.
After another full summer of tent camping, in 2011 Mark found the houseboat his wife really liked and they took ownership on Memorial Day weekend. It was a 1993, 53-foot Stardust Houseboat that instantly changed how they enjoyed their time in the area. Now that their kids were having kids (11 grandkids and one great-grandchild) the houseboat allowed family vacations to continue to expand.
“The most we’ve ever had with us is 28 at one time, but most of the time we just take one family with us,” says Mark. “Before I would give our dates to the kids to work around but now that I’m retired they just tell me when they can make it and each family comes one at a time. We typically go up a day or two in advance, find a place to anchor, and set up so we’re ready when they get there.”
When talking about the possibility of owning their own houseboat, Mark figured they needed to use it five times a year to justify having it but says between July and August he’s easily on it 40 days and they stay on it at least once a month, even in the winter when they just keep it in the slip. And since buying the Stardust, his brother and his wife have also bought a houseboat that they keep in the slip next to theirs at the Wahweap Marina in Page, Ariz.
“The houseboat was at Wahweap when we bought it and it seems like the other marinas are only interested in having the larger houseboats so we decided to keep it there,” says Mark. “Plus the other marinas are farther from us than Wahweap, it’s familiar to us and they’ve done a lot of upgrades to the marina so we’re happy.”
Now that Mark and Sandy are houseboat regulars on Lake Powell after 20 years of tent camping on the shores, you might wonder if they have any regrets about not doing this sooner but that’s really not the case. They’re happy with the progressive path they took to houseboat ownership and wouldn’t change a thing.
“We always had so much fun camping all those years that I have no regrets at all,” states Mark. “Besides, I don’t think we could have afforded to do it any earlier. I had two full-time jobs and it would have been hard to justify buying a houseboat at that time. We weren’t interested in renting or shared ownership, we wanted our own and it was worth waiting for. We did it our way and it was so enjoyable.”
This year marks the seventh year for Mark and Sandy as houseboat owners and they’ve already had a busy summer entertaining family and friends with plenty more opportunities to go before the end of the traditional boating season. The houseboat continues to be their hub and it gives the family many more options now to enjoy the area, but with that said it’s still the family time they appreciate most.
“The older boys would come regardless—even if we still had tents—because they want their kids to have the same experiences they did growing up,” concludes Mark. “Lake Powell keeps our family together, but it’s the houseboat that makes it easier for all of us to enjoy.”
For more information, check out Trifecta Houseboats at www.trifectahouseboats.com and Wahweap Marina at www.lakepowell.com.