For Rob and Kristy Chappel, the lure of the boating lifestyle all started with a pontoon boat and the beauty of Beaver Lake, Ark. Back in the late 90s right after their kids were born, the family had a blast spending as much time as they could on their boat, soaking up the summer days and lingering as long as they could on the water. After some time, however, driving back and forth between home and Beaver Lake began to weigh on the Chappels.
“We really enjoyed it but realized we liked staying at the lake and not having to drive the hour and 45 minutes home at the end of the day,” Rob explains. “Though we loved our old pontoon and it had lots of deck space, we wanted something we could sleep on as well.”
So the Chappels decided to upgrade to a Sea Ray 310 Sundancer, a 31-foot beauty that provided a great setup for staying on the lake much longer than a day trip. Their growing family was able to enjoy the creature comforts of a galley, built-in grill, and enclosed head while everyone whittled away the relaxing weekends on the lake.
After some time, however…you can guess what’s coming.
Though the Sea Ray had room to sleep six, the four younger Chappels were busy growing, as kids do.
“At the time they were a little smaller but we still had very cramped quarters, so we began to look around,” Rob says. “Dollars and cents, it just seemed like a houseboat was the way to go.”
So Rob and Kristy began scouting out the listings for used houseboats. Lo and behold, they ran across a Sailabration for sale. Rob remembers, “I ended up calling Bryan Lambert, the president and CEO of Sailabration Houseboats, and just had some questions about it.”
In all their searching, the couple had mostly found houseboats built on a solid aluminum hull. Seeing this build’s intriguing pontoon hull caught the Chappels’ eye, and they had a lot of questions to ask about Bryan’s design.
“I fell in love with the idea because, number one, everything’s above the waterline,” Rob recalls. “Nothing against the other boats, but for us personally we like the idea that even if you’re in the lower bunk, you’re still two feet above water. It’s just one of those issues that we really, really liked, as well as the fact that for the price it seemed like we got a lot more value when looking at the dollars needed to spend to have the size that we wanted.”
Dialing It In
As they talked more seriously with Bryan about the right houseboat that would fit their needs, the Chappels were able to refine specifically what they were after. The 18- by 80-foot houseboat they had found was the most serious possibility, but the floor plan dampened their excitement.
“It had a separate living room and kitchen and we like an open floor plan, like our home,” Rob explains.
As he talked with Bryan about their concerns, Bryan pointed out, “Well, if you guys want to go new, I think I could get you in for not a whole lot more than what this used one was.”
Though the lovely 2010 build was a great deal for the price, Rob and Kristy knew the floor plan just didn’t beat the alternative of creating a brand-new boat designed to fit everything they were looking for. When all the cards were down, the Chappels set their sights on working with Bryan to create an 18-foot-wide build with an overall length of 84 feet. It would take a long time for their family to outgrow it this time—if ever.
The threesome worked out the final details as the work progressed, and by April 2014 Rob and Kristy joyously took delivery of their first houseboat. The experience of jumping from manning a 31-footer to a full-on 84-footer was exhilarating, to say the least.
“It can be a little nerve-wracking when you first take delivery of it, and Bryan shows you how to drive it and tries to train you and he says, ‘See you later! If you have any questions, call me,’” Rob jokes. “You cringe at first, but you realize if you take it slow and easy, the thing is extremely maneuverable.”
This was a lesson the Chappels were more than grateful to learn, because once-routine exercises like pulling into the slip were now ramped up to a whole new level.
“The only way I can correlate to give you the size is to imagine two semis parked together with two feet between them, and that’s what you’re driving,” Rob describes. Despite that massive berth, thrusters made maneuvering in close quarters a lot less intimidating for Kristy and Rob.
“I know thrusters are very common on houseboats anymore, but with ours being on pontoons, we really had twice the thrusting power from what I could tell over the traditional solid hull,” Rob says. “Even in strong winds and white-capping situations, getting in and out of our dock, which is extremely tight—there’s 90 feet between the dock behind me and the dock we’re in—with our overall length being right at 84, we can maneuver in and out without worrying about running into anything.”
Staying On Beaver Lake
The marina that the Chappels now call home is Ugly John’s Rocky Branch Marina at their old-time favorite place, Beaver Lake, Ark. Picking this lake was an easy decision to make, thanks to how beautiful and clear the water is. While living near Joplin, Mo., in the middle of rolling hills and farm country certainly sounds idyllic, the downside is there’s a lot of topsoil running off into the nearby lakes, making for decidedly murky water. For the Chappels, heading south into Arkansas was well worth it for the pleasure of enjoying the beauty of Beaver Lake.
“We absolutely love it. It’s a very clean lake; it’s fed directly out of the Ozark Mountains,” Rob explains. “So that’s how we ended up down there, which is less than two hours to the marina. We like to go for the weekend, on Friday nights if the kids don’t have activities. But it’s still close enough and it’s all interstate driving that we don’t even mind getting down there at five o’clock in the afternoon, staying all night, and coming back the next morning if need be. It’s just that pleasant.”
This is partly thanks to the magnificent sleep the family enjoys out on the water, even for just one night.
“My wife and I say the houseboat just rocks us to sleep, because it really just makes for peaceful rest,” Rob smiles.
Making Good Use Of Their Time
Is it a surprise that the Chappels decided a fitting christening name would be Burnin’ Time? There’s hardly a better way to do it than on their new houseboat, after all.
When everyone has the time to stay longer, the family often heads to an island about two miles out to anchor down. Their low horsepower engines are extremely fuel-efficient, averaging about 12 knots and only burning 12 gallons per hour when fully underway. Despite the fuel efficiency, however, the Chappels aren’t big into cruising. Thanks to the jet ski ramp on the back, Rob and Kristy love to watch their kids pull each other around on a tube while they lay out in the sun on the top deck.
“We enjoy watching them goof off in the water, and we’ll get on the raft and just float next to the boat out there when it’s hot and just really enjoy the peace,” Rob smiles.
Even when the weather isn’t so warm, the Chappels can still enjoy Burnin’ Time as much as ever, thanks to the hot tub on top.
“It really adds to the enjoyment in the wintertime,” Rob explains. “When you have the cool evenings it’s nice to go up on top with a drink and just sit down under the stars. It’s a great full-season boat.”
When the houseboat was originally being built, they decided to go with a winter enclosure on the front and added propane fire pits by the end table and between the front deck. This is something that Rob and Kristy have never regretted.
“When we turn on the fire pit, no lie, it’ll end up being warmer out on that front deck than when we’re inside with the furnace on,” Rob laughs. “We have friends who’ll come down to stay with us for the weekend, and I just cannot sell the idea enough of a houseboat with the features we have that make staying year-round on it very pleasant. We couldn’t be happier. I wouldn’t change a thing.”