Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Grand Colorado

It used to be that the Colorado River above its confluence with the Green River in Canyonlands was called the Grand River. Hence the names Grand Lake, Grand Mesa, Grand Junction, Grand Valley, and so forth. But the state of Colorado changed the river's name so that the Colorado River would have its headwaters in Colorado. Kind of petty.

Anyhow, we just did a 12-day dory trip down what was once the Grand River from Loma, Colorado to Lake Powell. This links together four different trips that are rarely run all at once: Horsethief and Ruby Canyons, Westwater Canyon, the Moab daily stretch, and Cataract Canyon on the main Colorado--not to mention a few orphan stretches like Cisco to Dewey Bridge and Moab to Potash. We did this once back in 1997, and I've not heard of anyone doing it since. And I really don't know why. It's pretty awesome.

Andy Hutchinson coordinated it with Colorado River and Trail Expeditions (CRATE) and Adventure Bound, as on one outfitter seems to have all the requisite permits. Andy, Kate Thompson, RJ Johnson, Curtis Patillo and myself rowed dories, and CRATE and AB supplied a revolving assortment of excellent raft guides to carry much of what we could not. We had several sub-groups of boating friends from rivers past, who all melded quickly into one exceptionally fun group.

For the first day or two we got to wave to the freight trains and moon Amtrak. Lots of scenic wanders and wacky critters.

On the second day the Dalai Lama, my mom, myself, our lovely raft guide Shawna, and my friend Leah, who made my new cape, all shared a birthday.

Only Shawna (in the green tutu) and I (leading the conga line with a boom box in a bucket) were there to celebrate our special day, however. I am now eligible for a Golden Age Pass to the National Parks, and Social Security. Time does fly.

The next day was Ringo Starr's 75th birthday and he asked that everyone in the world to, at noon their time, flash peace signs and say, "Peace and love." We complied while checking in at the Westwater ranger station.

Westwater at 10,000cfs was fast and furious but we did pretty good. The magnetic wall got one dory but only a surface wound. Here we are whooping it up in Skull Rapid eddy.

We got some pretty wild weather and a couple spectacular mosquito storms.

Fisher Towers and the La Sal Mountains sure make for a nice backdrop.

Tres amigos: RJ, Andy, and I relaxing--but only for a moment. Much hard work to do. Gotta go get another round of beers.

Ruh-row. Here it comes again.

We tied the dories up and threw on RJ's and my 6hp kickers for the long, flat stretch between Big Bend and the Loop. Party barges for a couple days.

One night we were getting desperate for a camp as the shores were thickly overgrown and screaming with bloodthirsty mosquitoes. We finally spotted a a pair of wee sandbars just far enough offshore to frustrate the skeeters. North and South Salvation Island, we called them. Lovely view too.

Hello from long ago.

More storming at Indian Creek.

And on into Cataract Canyon, where we laid over for a death march up to the Doll's House. Look: four original Briggs boats (1/9th of the 36 that were ever made), all sporting the classic three Litton/Reilly colors. Love that look.

RJ decided he could give just as good a geology talk laying down with a cocktail. Better, actually.

Brian and Nikola Megaw, out patrons for last fall's dory build in New Zealand, came over for this trip to see how we do it. What fun.

Blues night.

Andy, Kate, and RJ scouting the Big Drops. The Drops looked pretty scary at first, but the more we looked, the more the line became evident. "Every rapid speaks plainly," Buzz Holmstrom once wrote. "It remands respect... some places it says go here safely if you do it just this way."

Woo hoo! It worked! Thanks, Walker, for the great shots. (And thanks Lauren and others for some of the other photos.)

Despite great trepidation about the mud cliffs at the takeout at North Wash, it went smoothly and quickly. Plenty of time to get back to Green River, clean up the trip, and get down to Ray's for one last ceremonial burger. Here's the place next door--not open this century, but that's where I met Amil Quayle back in '78. Most of downtown Green River looks like this.

I hate to say it but most of you folks missed a really world-class trip. Tune in this winter and we'll let you know about the next cockamamie dory adventure we cook up. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Brain explosion

From boat school I headed southwest to Mystic, Connecticut to visit my old college pal Ben Philbrick. When Ben left Prescott College back in the mid-1970s, it was to get back closer to boats and the ocean and do an independent study on boatbuilding. He applied to a few different places, but the only positive response he got was from some old guy at Mystic Seaport named John Gardner.

[pause for that to sink in]

Yeah. John Gardner, the guy who single-handedly started the movement from the dying trade of commercial small wooden boatbuilding to the modern trade of recreational small wooden boat building. The guy who captured the lines of all those disappearing small boats, brought many of the boats to Mystic (the world's largest collection), and wrote all those books about how to build those boats. One of Gardner's pupils, Jon Wilson, went on to found WoodenBoat Magazine and WoodenBoat School. So Ben ended up being John Gardner's final helper/apprentice at Mystic. Wow. He is still in awe. Ben then went on to run his own boatshop for many years and lives not far from the seaport on an old three-story house on the hill overlooking the sea. Great to catch up and listen to stories.

I spent a couple days at the annual WoodenBoat Show hosted at Mystic Seaport. It was a bit more than my poor aging brain could absorb. So many incredible boats, so many details that I want so badly to steal. And the trade show guys took away a lot of my money in exchange for some very cool tools and technology.

Whale boats.

Class act power boat.

An inner city boatbuilding club (how cool is that?) with a steam bender very reminiscent of the one we invented in New Zealand.

I want rope gunwales on my dory.

Center motor well in a cool little dory.

One of my new friends from WoodenBoat School, Geoff Kerr, was there with his Caledonia Yawl Ned Ludd. Geoff was at boat school a week prior painting a new yawl for the school fleet. I fell in love with the hull. This means I may need to learn to sail. Oh great. I really need a new obsession.

Oh yeah. Mystic has a fine collection of bowsprits. My dory may not really need one of these, but I want one anyhow.

 And one cannot leave out Mecca:

They opened up the Mystic Small Boat Collection and Ben Fuller gave a tour. Two huge old warehouse rooms full, three boats high in places, of crazy wild boats. This blew out the very last of my brain. All the seminal boats that I've known about, read about, studied in John Gardner's books. All those cool dories that are in The Dory Book. There they are. In the flesh. OMG.

With no remaining cerebrum, I drove back toward Boston to return to my life in the high deserts of Arizona. Night found me in my dad's birthplace, Middleborough, Massachussetts. They mostly leave off the "ugh": Middleboro. Not much to see here. A cool downtown building, an historic sign...

I did go to the library to see if my dad's birth made the weekly paper. The weekly events surrounding  June 20, 1908--more than one hundred astonishing happenstances-- included George Shaw catching a large fish, the municipal lighting department getting a new wagon for the lineman, E.H. Blake getting his twentieth consecutive license as a fireworks vendor, F.B. Lovell, L.S. Bailey, J.C. Chase and others making plans to attend a gypsy moth demonstration in Lynn woods, and Miss Florence H. White's cousin Leon coming to visit. But no dad. I guess the Dimocks weren't FaceBookers.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Ahh, home at last. It seems like WoodenBoat School has become a second home to me. Man, I love it here. The boats and jigs for the Fundamentals of Boatbuilding class are already set up in the west bay awaiting our two week boat party.

On Sunday evening we meet the pupils--eight gentlemen from around the country who all want to know more about how to build boats. Wade Smith, boatbuilder and boatbuilding teacher is running the show. I am his lovely assistant. Wade's sweetie Heather is auditing. Let's build some boats.

Not so fast. Before we build anything, we are going to draw it out with pencils. The fine and feared art of lofting occupies much of the first few days.

Finally a fun and tactile reward: stem-bending ribs into a hull and riveting them fast.

More fun: chiseling rabbets.

At lunch one day we have a great ceremony. The leaky old workboat Babson, after decades of faithful service on the WoodenBoat School waterfront, is replaced with the Babson II, which Greg, Mike, and others put together over the winter. After a moving speech, Rich backs her in.

And the Babson stands by to meet her replacement.

One afternoon we make a field trip to the Brooklin Boat Yard, the brain child of the late great boat designer Joel White, who was the son of author E.B. White. Joel's son Steve runs the place now. Here's the view from the fourth floor. Big place, and way high tech. But even though the lofting is all done by computer now, it's done, as it should be, on the fourth floor, in the loft.

They have some seriously cool boats in for maintenance.

Wade is explaining about the finer uses of toilet bowl wax as a boatbuilding material.

After class, most afternoons find me in my favorite boat, a wee Maine dory called the Wild Rose, in which I race about the harbor using a single sculling oar.

Until the sun and sundogs set and it's time to go gorge myself on Cathy's ridiculously plentiful and delicious dinner.

But back to class. Here is Wade's duck transporter--a simple way to move thirty pounds of awkward, pokey drafting ducks.

On to carvel construction. Wade getting out a strake.

On it goes.

And we jump into lapstrake planking.

Two weeks go by pretty quickly. We wrap it up over beers and books.

Then head down to the waterfront for the lobster and mussel roast for one last gut-splitting dinner.


Seriously, if you are interested enough in boatbuilding to read this blog, do yourself a huge favor and sign up for any of the great courses that are going on back here. The catalog comes out in December just in time to give yourself a Christmas present. Sure, it's addictive, but hey, it's a pretty nice addiction.

And by the way, we are putting together a one-week course next year wherein I will be teaching the fine art of building a McKenzie River dory. Come on Down East and join us.