“Houseboats on Florida Waterways”
By Kevin McCarthy
Having just come back from my fourth time renting a houseboat on European rivers, I want to mention a great way to see our Florida waterways: a houseboat. The vessel I rented in France for a week was a 33-foot-long boat that my wife and I, and another couple lived on, drove ourselves, tied up at nighttime, and slept on while we traversed a canal in central France. We had done the same sort of trip twice before in Franc, and once on the Caledonian Canal in Scotland, through Loch Ness, keeping our eyes out for any passing monsters.
The people who live along European canals are used to amateurs tooling along in houseboats, that one can easily hire for a week at a relatively modest cost. The company I have used four times now is leboat.com, but there are others just as good, I’m sure. The French/Scottish canals had many locks on them, but we quickly became skilled at opening and closing them, or in waiting for a lockmaster to do the work for us.
The houseboat-rental facilities along North Florida rivers that I am aware of are at a marina at the mouth of the Suwannee, and at Holly Bluff Marina near DeLand. The Florida houseboat I rented on the St. Johns was difficult to steer, since the maximum speed was only five miles per hour, and the boat’s reaction time was very slow – with only a small outboard motor, but we became skilled at anticipating any turns. I also had trouble extracting the anchor when it got caught in the muddy bottom, and of trying to tie up to trees along the banks.
We ended up going back to the marina each night, since it was too hard to tie up along the river (the alarm would repeatedly sound off as we approached the river bank), but all in all it was a pleasant, relaxing way to see the St. Johns. The Suwannee is also a great place to explore from the mouth up to the bridge at Fanning Springs. The boat traffic is much less on the Suwannee, and therefore one can easily fish and bird-watch along the way.
There was much more natural scenery to see along the St. Johns, especially during the week and not on the weekend, but the French/Scottish canals allowed us to tie up near a town on the canal, walk into the town for dinner or groceries, and then spend the night ensconced in our little home-away-from home, having only the birds to lull us to sleep, since boats seldom ,if ever use the canals at night. If you want a different way to see our rivers, I would strongly recommend renting a houseboat.
Kevin McCarthy, the author of North Florida Waterways 2013 (available at amazon.com), can be reached at [email protected]