The 'Three Twenty'

Reclaiming the slow life on the Arrow Lakes

Scottie and Dallas Tait live and roam in the "Three Twenty", a paddle wheeler they built themselves as a labour of love.

  • Aug. 19, 2011 2:00 p.m.

The “Minto” and “Bonnington” are familiar to paddle wheeler buffs on the Arrow Lakes, but the name “Three Twenty” may not have reached as many ears.

Around April every year, the “Three Twenty” shoves off from her winter moorings at the Castlegar Boat Club and paddles around the Arrow Lakes.This is her first visit to Nakusp in five years and she’s drawn a lot of attention.

Scottie and Dallas Tait have been travelling in style on the sternwheeler for eight years now and welcome visitors heartily, cheerfully regaling them with “Three Twenty” stories when they come aboard.

This paddle wheeler is no dormant showboat, it’s their permanent home complete with a wood-fired hot tub on the fore deck.

The vessel is an expansive 108 feet by 22 feet across and weighs in at about 50 tons. What propels this blissful behemoth is an old John Deer skidder engine with a flail motor turning the wheel.

Diesel-run, the mileage isn’t great. The “Three Twenty” gets about two miles to the gallon, and travels at a sedate three miles per hour. In a pinch, she can speed up and rip along at six m.p.h. The Taits tend to run her low, though, as the vibration running at higher speed isn’t great.

The paddlewheel itself was fashioned from an old fuel tank from the Castlegar airport.

“Lots of people asked why we didn’t just put two outboard motors on,” Scottie said, “We want the paddle because we like the paddle.”

A labour of love that was worked on whenever time and funds allowed, the boat took four years to build from scratch.

What keeps her afloat is 1,000 square feet of empty propane tanks, and her decking is redeployed creosote-soaked timbers from a 1920s CPR barge.

“Lots of people think we party up here,” Scottie told me as we climb the stairs to the “second floor”, a flat deck with a small look-out up front. There are storage containers up here, and a plastic table and chairs.

“You can’t sit up here,” Scottie said.

“Not without an umbrella,”Dallas chimed in. I believe it. It is scorchingly hot with the full sun beating down on the light-coloured deck.

“We’re not party people anyway,” Scottie voiced. One of the storage units up here houses their wine-making facilities, however. And of course, Scottie told me “Three Twenty” was happy hour’s earliest start time on the vessel, so there is at least some light partying going on.

It’s not just the sun, but the wind that keeps them off the top deck. Early the previous night, the Taits had to tie the chairs and table down to keep them from being blown into the marina.

The house component of this houseboat is well-lined with styrofoam which keeps them safe from the elements all year round.

For amenities they have a plastic drum of potable water when they’re laying in at a marina, but otherwise they trust the lake to satisfy their thirst.

As I look around the “Three Twenty” I can see she is in jeopardy of becoming a floating museum. Outside, there are antique light fixtures in use, a bell from the Royal British Navy, a pele reel, a cracked and questionable life buoy from Castlegar Search and Rescue and an old spotlight outfitted with a working bulb. Inside, there are ancient portholes repurposed as tables, and a cork-filled lifejacket from the Minto slouches in the corner with a British flag stolen in 1943 and brought back to Canada by a Castlegar man.

“People want to give us stuff,” Scottie explained.

But there is limited space on a boat, so he and Dallas had to start saying no to the steady stream of furniture offers.

After enjoying a few days docked at the marina, the Taits said “bon voyage” to Nakusp and set out again, making their way on their hand-crafted Arrow Lake adventure.

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Claire Paradis, Associate Editor, Arrow Lakes News

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