Thursday, February 14, 2019

Jerry Briggs

I just got word that the great boat designer and boatbuilder Jerry Briggs passed this month at 86. His iconic Grand Canyon Dories, built between 1971 and 1982, carry on his legacy in beauty and style. He set the bar so high we've never been able to equal it--only emulate it. Row In Peace, my friend.

Here is a notice from his family:

Gerald 'Jerry' Briggs
Gerald "Jerry" Briggs, age 86, of Grants Pass, died Feb. 1, 2019, in his home of natural causes.
He was born in Grants Pass in 1932 to Elmer Briggs and Nellie Briggs (Stone). Jerry was a wooden boat builder. He was the designer and manufacturer of the Rogue River Special drift boat that evolved from the early design wood plank row boat his father built. Elmer rowed and pike-poled this boat on the Rogue River. Jerry continued his father's river guide and outfitting business, adding a boat shop, which is still a successful business run by his son-in-law, Bret Clark, and daughter, LeeAnn Clark.
Jerry advocated tirelessly to keep Oregon rivers publicly accessible. He was a proud and active member of the Oregon Guides and Packers. He was hired by a Grand Canyon outfitter to design a dory to run the canyon. This craft was completely deck-over and had a self-bailing feature. These dories are still the first choice for Grand Canyon guides. Jerry also built the early Hellgate jet boats for Grant Garcia, his friend and founder of Hellgate Jet Boat Trips. He and Grant raced hydroplanes in the very early days, when hydroplane racing was started.
Jerry was an active member of city and county government, often at council meetings, standing up for the rights he believed in for this community. He was an active member of the Grants Pass Chamber of Commerce, the Rocky Mountain Elk Club and an NRA supporter.
Jerry loved to hunt, fish, dig clams, find wild mushrooms, garden and raise beef cattle. Finding much joy in preparing and sharing these items with his family and friends.
He was a veteran of the Korean War.
Jerry is survived by his family, Genesse Dyer, Barbara Briggs, Bret Clark, LeeAnn Clark, Lori Briggs, Karli Lewis and Joe Lewis.
No funeral services to be held, fulfilling his wishes.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Hatch Hatchy

This restoration stuff starts to run into a bit of money. Fortunately my friend Cort just send me a big bag of boatmen's bucks.

The Avery ladies came by a few times to work on the last of the bookshelf boat fleet. It's nearly done.

Up at the house, Secret Handshake opened a house concert.

Followed by the lead act, Growling Old Men. Such wonderful music all evening. I think the house loves to soak up those vibrations for later.

And I made a run to Apache Junction to give a lecture. According to my careful calculations, I was speaking to approximately 50,000 years' worth of humanity.

And back to work. With the hull stabilized we began framing it the hatches. I made a tough call on the accuracy of this restoration. The original side hatch lids were in the middle of the long side hatches. This meant they could not be opened with passengers onboard, leaving the boatman with nowhere to put things. And the hatches were very awkward to get gear out to either end of them. I went ahead and added a bulkhead, making two hatches out of each side hatch--a cargo hatch under the passengers, and a boatman's hatch to the rear of that.

Sometimes you just have to show those rusted in bolts who's boss.

The magic of storyboard spiling.

 On with the decks.

And for the final mystery, off with the floor. What terrors lie within?

The boat looks pretty good, but the floor, which I'd really hoped to save with a few small patches, had a terminal case of the nasties. For about a foot in the center of the boat, the center ply of the plywood had failed. See all that black stuff? But the outer plies were fine on both sides. Deal breaker. Can't fix that. By the time we scarfed in a whole new center section and new ends, there wouldn't be much left but joints. The bummer is that is was defective plywood, not boat damage. If it had been good material to start with we could have kept it.

And here's a cool thing. The chine had been smashed in at some point, so they just filled in the entire depression with MarineTex and painted it. MarineTex is still available. Scary weird stuff. It comes in two containers--a gray putty sort of stuff in a big metal can, and a clear jar of amber colored gel. When you open the gel it starts visibly vaporizing. Freaky. Also it's super heavy and extremely brittle. Not really the best thing for patching wooden whitewater boats. But back when I worked for Martin Litton, we used tons of it.

Okay, new floor it is.

Off with a dozen layers of old paint.

Patching a bad spot in the side. Love those reach-around clamps.

Yesterday we finished truing and straightening the ribs. Tomorrow we put on the new floor.

The old floor has got to be good for something. How about a billboard?

I'll drink to that.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Patch Patchy

It's a delicate process. Take off too many pieces at once, or that one wrong piece, and the Hetch Hetchy will fall to bits. So now we have the rotted end panels pretty well affixed to the new bowpost and transom, and the boat somewhat twisted back into shape. I think we're solid enough to go after the rotted right side.
Wouldn't you know it. Keith Steele went ahead and nailed the outer gunwales on. With boat nails: little barbed bastards that will not come out until the wood rots away around them. They just break when you try to pull them out of solid wood. And, oh, he also glued the gunwale to the sidewall throughout the hard bend in front. These techniques work fine when you're jamming out a boat. Quick, clean, and looks fine. But for the poor sonofabitch that has to do the repairs, it's a nightmare. Pat is carefully jig-sawing his way between the gunwale and the sidewall here. (End of rant.)(For now.)

The bolts at the rib stations all rusted in two. Pretty easy to just twist the remaining parts out each side. Now with the gunwales off we can assess the ribwork. Most of them are fairly sound. We end up replacing three and scarfing new tops on about five more. The rest are fine.

But I'm thinking this side panel has done its duty.

There's a good story about this front end damage. 

1972. "That's the third boat of Martin's I wrecked!" recalls John Blaustein. "I hit in the hole at the top/middle of House Rock.  I went straight over the "hump" of water just above the hole and plunged dead-on into the hole.  There is a rock down there!  I hit the bow-post and it splintered it, along with the floor and parts of the sides.  You could open the bow hatch and crawl right out the front of the boat.  Pretty bad!  The boat and I were in pretty bad shape that afternoon and next morning." (Nice warming fire!)
And just a scant 47 years later we're going to fix it.

Laying up a new side panel on the floor while the boat waits off to the side. There wasn't enough of the gunwales to save, so we cut new Port Orford cedar ones and steam them up, clamp them on. This gives us enough strength to roll her over.

Gunwales off again. We were amazed to get that rotten sheet off in one pice.

We carefully transported it over to the lofting table to make a pattern.

With the shape and rib placements recorded, we install a new piece of wall art.

A new side panel is born, lines drawn, holes offset, drilled, and countersunk.

On with the icky sticky spooky.

And she's a boat again. Sort of. Closer, anyhow.

Gunwales clamped on again, and up she rolls.

Although the left side panel is in good shape, its ends are not. Time for a little scarf work

Off with the old, on with the new.

Cricket is checking to see if this is going to be her boat.

Off with a bit of the bow. For as funky a patch as this was, I've got to say, it somehow lasted a very long time.

A new front end. And it's even straight.

Oozy goop.

Scarf on a few new gunwale ends and voila! Note: we were able to peel back the rock guard just enough to scarf the new side in under it.

If you're really serious about restoring the Hetch Hetchy, you gots to wear the proper hat.

So here's the quandary. Why don't we replace everything? Or if we're going to do that, why not just build a new boat? It would be a lot easier. And faster. And cleaner. And would make for a stronger boat. Thing is, we are trying to resurrect this old piece of history. Every original part we can save is some sort of victory. Isn't it? Or is that just goofy?

Hint: there's no right answer.