The Mississippi, houseboating and everything

November 2015 Feature Jeffrey V. Shirts


In the heartland of Minnesota lie the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The fourth longest and the tenth largest river in the world, the Mississippi, or a tributary, flows from Minnesota to Mississippi across an astounding 2,320 miles and through 31 different states.

“It is strange how little has been written about the Upper Mississippi,” said one of the Great American voices, Mark Twain, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune on July of 1886.

“The river below St. Louis has been described time and again, and it is the least interesting part,” argued Twain. “One can sit on the pilot-house for a few hours and watch the low shores, the ungainly trees and the democratic buzzards, and then one might as well go to bed. One has seen everything there is to see. Along the Upper Mississippi every hour brings something new.”

On the headwaters, the first major stop of the portal of the river is Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Twin Cities. From this urban launching point, the Mississippi River truly begins flowing to the sea. Due to the large, ponderous size and its auspicious course cutting through the US Midwest, the Mississippi River is a perfect place for houseboating, and is rich with houseboating families and histories.

Sharing The Joy Of Houseboating

One of the best experiences of houseboating is sharing the fun of the boat and the water with new people. Deb and Jody Sorg understand the rich houseboating tradition on the Mississippi River and introduced houseboating to Annie Groleau and Ruth Terpstra.

“We either owe a big ‘thank you’ or can pass all the ‘blame’ to Deb and Jody Sorg,” says Annie. “They are long-time houseboat owners and dear friends who showed us how fabulous houseboating really is! For several years, we spent more time on their boat than we did our own! I think they are happy we finally made the purchase!”

King’s Cove Marina

In May of 2014, Annie and Ruth purchased their first houseboat and named it MewPhoria because of their cats, Lucca and Paolo. Before purchasing the houseboat, Annie and Ruth were not new to boats or boat ownership. In fact, MewPhoria is the seventh boat they have owned. Previously they have owned a 16-foot runabout, a 29-foot Maxum, 330 Silverton Sport Bridge, 35 Silverton Motor Yacht, and finally they purchased their SkipperLiner.

Annie, Ruth, and the cats dock their 58-foot SkipperLiner in King’s Cove Marina in Hastings, Minn.

As all houseboaters know, the marina is the houseboater’s neighborhood and the lake is their city. Through all of the different boats they have owned, they have docked with King’s Cover Marina since 2000. Founded in 1966, the King’s Cove Marina is a family-owned, full-service marina with 480 slips, offering boat repair, boat sales, boating store, and boat rentals.

“Our favorite aspect of King’s Cove Marina is definitely the people with whom we boat and share a dock!” says Annie. “We have developed many, many good friends we may not have known otherwise. That is really what keeps us at King’s Cove.”


“First, it really is the little things that matter,” adds Ruth as she explains the dos-and-don’ts of first-time boat buying. “The best advice, I think, is to spend as much time as possible on a variety of boats. That really is the only way to learn about things beyond how it looks. Second, be prepared for the expense. Finally and most importantly, when learning how to pilot the boat, regardless of size, remember you don’t have to get it right the first time. Patience and humility is our mantra, which took a really long time for us to learn, but was worth it. We owe that thinking to our houseboat mentor Jody again or maybe it’s an age thing!”

The Boat

With owning the houseboat there have been some basic items and maintenance that have caught their attention. The seasoned boat owners that Annie and Ruth are though, nothing has been too difficult for them.

“We have had a few DIY projects—the steel hull houseboat requires maintenance throughout the year,” says Ruth. “We are trying to catch up with the various rusted spots and repair them as we find them. It requires a lot of grinding, sanding, buffing and painting!”

However, when asked what they would change with the boat, Annie replied, “Change about the boat? Nothing ... really, it is perfect. If we could change anything it would be to make our boating season in Minnesota a little longer! Honestly, there isn’t anything we don’t like. It truly is our dream boat and something we have been looking for, for many years.”

They also like the size and the ease of boarding.

“We beach a lot and with our previous boat, a 35-foot aft cabin, it was a challenge getting on and off the boat,” says Annie. “With MewPhoria, two steps and we are on the beach! Our cats like the houseboat much more than our other boats because it is more spacious, very quiet and has many places to hide!”

Mississippi & St. Croix

At the time of purchase the boat was docked in La Crosse, Wis., and together with five of their closest friends, Annie and Ruth traveled on the houseboat up the river to Hastings. Travelling along the waters, they were able to experience some of the history of Minnesota and Wisconsin traveling through two days of perfect weather and six locks and dams with dicey, fast-flowing high water. Since that maiden voyage, MewPhoria has had several adventures down and throughout the region.

Draining into Hastings is the St. Croix River, which flows north to south before connecting into the mighty Mississippi. About 25 miles north of Hastings is the idyllic Stillwater, Minn., on the border with Wisconsin. The river stretch from Afton, Minn., to Stillwater is a favorite of the owners and crew of MewPhoria, offering a look into the forests that have stood since the last glacier crawled through the region.

“We travel from St. Paul to Lake City, Minn., on the Mississippi and spend a great deal of time on the scenic St. Croix River near Afton and Stillwater,” says Ruth. “We are out most weekends from May through September. The beaches we frequent are on the St. Croix.”

The Future

“All of our MewPhoria memories are new!” adds Annie, who is excited at the prospects ahead. “This year we were fortunate to have many, many visitors and admirers aboard. We love sharing our boating experience with others, especially those who don’t necessarily have a lot of opportunities to experience the river.  We hosted several outings this past season with guests up to 25 people for day trips to the beach, fall colors tours, and even a baby shower!”

With so much river and opportunity before them, it is impossible to know what the future brings, but they do know that it will be exciting and, hopefully, exactly what they want and need from their houseboat.

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