Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2015 Boating Extravaganzas

Time for a bit of shameless promotion. Friends and curious onlookers often ask what river trip would be a good one to join me on. Well, 2015 is lining up nicely, but most of the trips I will be running are charters and not open to the public in general. There are two notable exceptions, which happen to be two of the coolest trip I will get to do. Here they are:

Arizona Raft Adventures

Dories and Stories Trip

April 23 – May 6.

We have been doing this trip each spring for about ten years now. I get to row a dory in the daytime and stand around the fire each evening and tell wild stories of Grand Canyon lore. Two of my favorite things to do in the whole world. It is early in the season, before the heat and crowds arrive, so the days are nice for hiking and the evenings are cool enough for a nice juniper campfire and stories. It is my favorite Grand Canyon trip to do each year, and there is still room on the 2015 trip. Check in with AzRA if you are interested. There is still room but hurry.

Click here: AzRA

Tom Tavee photo

Tom Tavee photo

Dory Moon / CRATE

Upper Colorado River and Music Adventure

July 5 – 16

Back in the 1980s and '90s I began setting up "extended play" dory trips in the upper basin of the Colorado River system. These were trips that went more miles at a slower pace than any other commercially trips available. I marketed them to friends and passengers who liked that kind of thing. They were wonderful.

After I ran out of steam (putting them together is a lot of work) my dear friend Andy Hutchison took the reins with his little operation he calls Dory Moon. For 2015 we are doing a resurrection of a trip we did back in 1997 with great success. We will start on the upper Colorado River near Grand Junction and spend twelve days floating to Lake Powell. We will go through Horsethief, Ruby, Westwater and Cataract Canyons and float through much of Canyonlands National Park and Deadhorse Point State Park. Rapids, scenery, hiking, relaxing, and some great music.

Our crew usually consists of Andy and his wife Kate Thompson, both amazing musicians; RJ Johnson, renown—or should I say infamous—geologist; and myself, relentless blabbermouth. We work with some of the best outfitters in the west. This year we'll be working through Colorado River and Trail Expeditions (CRATE) and Adventure Bound.

Click here:  CRATE -- it's the 12-day trip at the bottom. They have full information to pass on to you.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Oar quest

I've been on a tear for the last few years about oars for aging boatmen's shoulders, elbows, wrists, tendons and muscles--mine in particular. The last few published treatises on oarmarking, written nearly a half century ago, already bemoaned the fact that decent oars were no longer being made, and it has only gotten worse. Way less dynamic flex, way more needless weight outside the oarlocks. The result is an oar that sends shockwaves through your entire frame rather than absorbing the impact of waves, and far more weight (called "P-weight") that you have to lift from the water with each stroke, resulting in tendonitis and associated other grievances. Bludgeons. When we were young we were tough enough not to care. But now--I care. And, still rowing five to ten Grand Canyon trips a year, I hurt.

Even the synthetic oars, which are light and flex well, are not dynamic enough to function quite right. Too much flex inboard of the oarlock where you need stiffness, and not quite enough flex way out toward the blade. The perfect flex, thus far, can only be created with perfectly tapered wood.

When I went to work for AzRA ten years ago, rowing rafts in Grand Canyon, I was allowed to grab oars from the garbage pile. Amazingly I found four very ugly but straight 11' oars. I took them home and power-planed off several pounds of wood from the outboard ends and approximated the nice flex of the Smokers I had long used on dories. More recently I decided that 11' was just too much oar for an old guy. Some of our guides were using ten-foot oars happily, so I cut mine to 10-1/2', dropped my oarlocks an inch, and bingo, my shoulders quit hurting as much. This past season I loaned these Frankenstein oars to a couple friends and they waxed rapturously. I think I am heading somewhere with what I need oar-wise. And what more and more of my aging boatman friends are coming to need.

When I went to WoodenBoat School in June, I learned how to make devine oars from scratch, and I made a pair from nice, light, strong spruce.

By inference, I learned how to make bad oars better. I learned what wood you can and should remove, what wood must remain for strength. One of the big tricks is keeping them perfectly centered and straight--assuming they were straight in the first place.

The lovely set of spruce oars I made in school worked magnificently in Grand Canyon last September, but, being afraid spruce was not quite strong enough, I had left a bit of beef on the blades. Turns out they are heap plenty strong and a bit too stiff in the blade department. I like a springy flex. It makes my wrists and arms and elbows and shoulders all much happier.

So with a bit of trepidation I pulled them out a few days ago and re-marked all the center lines and began symmetrically removing blade. Not a lot--but I think it may be enough to make me happy. And of course, every ounce you remove from the blade not only adds flex and spring, but lightens the P-weight of the oar in your hand.

Once I went as far as I dared with the plane and spokeshave, I smoothed it our with a succession of custom shaped foam sandpaper blocks of diminishing grit size--40, 60, 80, 100, 120, 180, 220. Smooth as a baby's bottom. Next time I get out in the dory I'll find out if I made a difference.

So then I pulled out a clunky Smoker oar I had--made for modern hacker oarsmen, they now carry far more weight outboard of the oarlock than they need to. And they are among the nicer modern oars you can buy. I started in by drawing all the centerlines, and establishing goals to thin to.

I got my rough cut done last night with plane and spokeshave. I was about to start in again this afternoon when Greg Loehr walked in. Greg, the epoxy guru, Greg the surfboard shaper. Away went the spokeshave, out came the big goddam board grinder with a 24-grit disk. Yikes. The thing simply vaporizes wood. But Greg has a light touch after decades of grinding styrofoam boards.

In a matter of minutes we felt out way into creating sweet, concave tapers on the blades, climbing to a raised spine in the oar's center.  Leaving that spine saves most of the blade's strength. Removing everything else saves your arms.  We tapered the blades to about 3/16" around the edges. We ended up with an oar about a pound and a half lighter than its siblings, with a balance point 2-3" closer to the oarlock. This is very good.

We also reduced the size of the shaft between the oarlock and neck of the oar--more flex, less weight.

I finished up with my foam sanding blocks and oiled it up this evening. Wow. I think we are onto something.

Friday, December 19, 2014

More Ketchup

There are a few missing links in the blog. Here are a few snaps from the last half year. The two Rapid Roberts we built in March went home and got their innards build and paint put on. Here is Connie's Running Bare

 And Alan's Panga

We harnessed a team of horses for an upriver expedition. People always ask me why we put transoms on dories. Here is one reason.

And on the other end of the boating spectrum we spent a lot of time on our paddle boards.

I got the new ash gunwales on this wee aluminum dory.

And went down Grand Canyon in paddle boats, motor rigs, and dories. Here are a couple of my offices.

We didn't let a lot of the folks ride in our boats this year.

Some of our folks didn't even have boats.

Food was down to the usual moldy bacon and rancid flour.

It is sure a pretty place down there.


Here are some shots of me hard at work, by photographer Catherine Zuzii Ryan. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Back to boatwork

Well, I've been back from New Zealand long enough to catch my breath, so it's back to the shop. First up was my dory Cataract, who had taken a couple hits in Bedrock Rapid on my last trip when I got tangled up in a couple spinning rafts and slammed into the lower right wall. Ow. Pilot error on my part. Although the wood was a bit shattered at the impact points it was not bad enough I felt it needed full replacement. So I went with the trusty old spooge-patch--inject resin into all the fragments and compress it back into shape. In essence you end up with an area that is still made of wood and glue, but is a bit closer to particle board than plywood. 

But it works just fine.

Then Greg Reiff showed up with Sandra, his 1940s original Nevills Cataract boat. Andy Hutchinson restored her from a desperate state back in 2000, and she's had many a Grand Canyon run since. But something was amiss and she had a bad case of creeping rot. My diagnosis was that it was stemming from the four sealed floatation chambers--an artifact from the old days when the fear of actually sinking was a bit more prevalent. These four triangular chambers were full of spray-foam and plastic jugs. The foam was allegedly closed cell, and the chambers were allegedly airtight. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the same thing that always goes wrong. Curious water molecules find their way in and can't find their way out. So they set up a rot farm. I proposed opening the four compartments to the hatch spaces and removing the foam so they could dry out on a regular basis. More storage room, less rot-farming. And in we went.

It took a splitting maul to bust out the seat hatch, which was aggressively filleted in with epoxy. Kinda fun in a sick sort of way.

We broke out another non-traditional boat tool--a shovel to start hacking into the soaking wet foam.

We quickly struck gold. Well, rot, actually. Lots of rot.

Greg spent the better part of two days clawing away at the foam, which proved to be surprisingly fond of being inside of the awesomely awkward compartments.

One major piece of the side and two of the bulkheads also had to be removed due to rot.

But at the end of two days we had her ready for rebuild. We figure a month or two of drying out is in order before we start the reconstruction. So up she goes into the loft, passing her sister/mother/granddaughter boat Moe on the way.

Meanwhile my buddy BJ has been building all the ribs for another classic Briggs-style dory for Grand Canyon. I was so happy with the scarfing jig I made in New Zealand that I made another just like it. Screw a circular saw to a 2x4 and plywood box, set the angle-cut, and have at it.

And the wedge-clamp glue-up system is my new favorite as well.

BJ ground off the scarf joints yesterday and last night we cut out the side panels. Today was build day. 

Another thing we figured out in New Zealand is that the normal system of starting at the bowpost and installing rib-by-rib to the other end is not necessarily the best way to go. The first three ribs, especially in a Briggs, put up a hell of a fight. Things explode; tears are shed. So when we built Eva, we started normally by fastening both sides to the bowpost, then went all the way to the middle of the boat and put in the middle rib. Then we worked backward, rib by rib, to the front of the boat. This allowed the side panels to come to grips with the crazy twist in a far gentler and more agreeable manner. Once the bow was done, the stern came together very willingly. 

We went with the new system again today and I am sold on it. Bowpost first, then ribs 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Deanna and the ghost of Martin Litton are admiring the build.

Here are BJ and Roy working back toward the bow post with no exploded ribs and no crying.

It's kind of fun, actually.

All smiles at the end of the day. The Thunder River (or Thunder Liver) (or Thunda Liva) is born. Our first boat ride: