Friday, November 25, 2016


I saved a picture during the night of the last election, which I hold as a small amulet of hope as the national political climate spirals wildly out of control. This is Coral Evans, our new progressive mayor, seeing her election results come in. And we have a progressive city council too. We done good.  Maybe I'll just stay here in town for a few years. I think we may have to build a yuge wall around northern Arizona 

My old kitchen stove crapped out and I got lucky enough to stumble across a used industrial Viking range on Craigslist. Here's an artsy shot of my first meal. This thing rocks.

The guy selling th stove also had a giant air compressor for sale. Now it's mine as well. My pneumatic tools are very excited about it.

BJ stopped by to show us what happens when you get thrown on your oarlock in Lava Falls and you don't have those bulgy-topped oarlocks that Fretwater Boatworks is casting. Yikers. As unlucky as that was, he was pretty lucky. A quick flight out, staples and stitches, and he was off touring Sicily with his mom a week later.

But I digress. Back to the boatshop. It's finally time to make spars--the mast and boom for Stella. The Sitka Spruce that my friend Rob shipped down from Alaska is finally ready to turn to shavings. I got out my slick spar gauge that my friend Wick made, which allows us to draw perfect lines to transform a square boom into an octogon.

Here's Janek using the drawknife to cut down near the lines the spar gauge drew.

And then planing to the line (if you have flash you can watch a movie) :

Once we got a perfect octagon, we dirtied up the boom so we could see where we were planing next, and turned the octagon into a sixteen-ogon.

From there we went to a thirty-two-ogon, then sanded it round. Next we sanded it downing diminishing grits 40-60-80-100-120-180-and fin 220. Lastly a coat of LTV. Clamped up on the floor beside the boom is the 14' mast, which will go through the same process shortly. Then all we have to do is find a rigger to figger the rig.

And off to Oak Creek for Thanksgiving with friends. Thanks.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Dories from Flaming Gorge to Jensen 2017

Once again, our eccentric gang of nutball dory boatmen, collectively calling ourselves Dory Moon Expeditions, is putting together another peculiar adventure. 

At the end of May, 2017 we are headed to Dinosaur National Monument to run the Green River's  infamous Canyon of Lodore, where sensible wooden boats don't go. As usual, we plan to start well above where normal people do, way up at the foot of Flaming Gorge Dam. We'll run the rapids of Red Canyon and meander through the outlaw country of Browns Park for a few days before getting up the nerve to enter the Gates of Lodore.

Although it is a mere stone's throw from the Yampa River, which we ran a few years ago, it is on the other side of a huge fault system and in totally different terrain.

Lodore has the steepest drop of any stretch of the Powell Route that stretches a thousand miles from Green River, Wyoming to the foot of Grand Canyon. It culminates in rapid aptly called Hell's Half Mile. Not quite sure what we'll do there, but Bert Loper figured out how to run it in 1922, so I guess we'll find a way.

Once through Hell's, we will meet the Yampa River in Echo Park. 

Then on through Whirlpool and Split Mountain Canyon to where sane folks usually end their river trip. But we won't. We'll camp another night and cruise on down through the big scenic W and take out near Jensen, Utah on our eighth day. If they'd let us stay longer, we would.

As we did on the Yampa, we are booking this through our friends at Dinosaur River Expeditions, an authorized concessionaire of the National Park Service. And they's good people, too. We plan to be running five or six ancient wooden dories, rowed by our ancient selves: ringmaster Andy Hutchinson, Kate Thompson, RJ Johnson, Tim Cooper, myself, and perhaps another. There'll be music, stories, adventure and exploration, and an all around very good time.

Here are the numbers and facts:

Trip Cost: $1925 (Adult) 
Deposit: $500.00 per person, Refund available 60 days prior to trip launch date, with a $100.00 service fee per person. Final payment is due is due 60 days prior to your departure date. (NO refund within the 60 days) 

Reservation and Trip Details : 

The trip cost is all inclusive, with professional guides, all the safety gear, amazing food (Steaks, cowboy potatoes and yummy dutch oven deserts) and transportation from Vernal and back to Vernal. 
We supply drinking water, coffee, cocoa, tea, lemonade and iced coolers for personal beverages. You supply your own soda and alcoholic beverages. We also provide large and small dry bags for your personal gear. Sleep kits rentals $40 (sleeping bag, river pad, pillow) Tents $20. Not included in the trip cost is guide gratuity and a NPS pass of $10.00, if you have a pass we will need a copy of it. 

Drop an email to Andy Hutchinson right away pronto now now if you want to go, as it is already over half full via word of mouth.

and mail that deposit to:

Dory Moon
Box 473
Dolores, CO 81323

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Fretwater Boatbuilding courses: a Query

Many of you have been asking what Fretwater Boatworks is teaching this winter and when. Well, it was a long river season and I am just getting my feet back on the ground. So I want to check in with all y'all and see what you are looking for. Here are four courses I am contemplating between now and April. They will all be here in Flagstaff at my big ol' shop.

If you are interested in one (or more), drop me a line at and let me know. Tell me when you can or cannot attend. And let me know what you are hoping to learn or accomplish.

I have several immediate shop projects to get done so will not be able to pull anything off before Christmas. I am looking at January, February, and March.

I work on a donation system: about $60 a day seems to make it worth our time and cover costs of running the shop. I do not have lodging available, so you'll need to move in with a friend or find accommodation somewhere.

Here's what we are thinking:

Building the Briggs Grand Canyon Dory

An eight day course, from lofting to beginning to deck her out. This is the classic Grand Canyon boat, but equally lovely for many rivers of the West: Green, San Juan, Yampa, Upper Colorado, Salmon, Snake, Rogue, and so forth. It's a big boat--nearly 17', and accommodates a boatman, four passengers, and a lot of gear below decks. We certainly won't get her done, but you'll have learned all you need to know to build and complete one at home. On the last day we will raffle her off to anyone who wants her for the cost of materials. This will likely be the first course of the winter, so folks will have time to go home and tinker before the boating season begins.

Bronze Casting

Four-day course. We will be making patterns, pounding sand molds, pouring bronze, trimming and polishing. We mostly make oarlocks, deck hardware, bow-eyes and stern-eyes, but the possibilities are endless. It is loud, smelly, smoky, filthy, scary, wildly fiery work. Oh yeah. All those fun things at once. You will also learn how to make your own low-cost foundry at home. Additional cost will be the poundage of castings you take home.


Five days. To my knowledge the perfect workingman's oar is no longer being built, and has not for many decades. We will be making some oars from scratch and reshaping others to make kinder, gentler oars for the working boatman. We'll work on shaft shaping, blade carving, leather wraps, mild counterweighting, and oar tips. If you already have oars but they seem heavy and clunky, we may be able to fix that. Or you can start from scratch.


Five-days. Yo. 'Sup? A couple years ago we built ten Stand-Up Paddleboards with help from Greg Loehr. They are a Loehr-designed cruising model, foam core and epoxy/glass on the exterior. We start with a gigantic block of styrofoam and end up with super-sweet cruisers. Cost ran around $600 per board if I recall correctly. We need a class size of exactly nine to make this work, probably broken into consecutive shifts of four-to-five at a time.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Winding down, winding up

The river season is finally over. Time to exhume the house, rekindle the shop, and figure out where we go from here. But first a few last shots from the river. My last trip began with a group of Wounded Warriors and their service dogs. Arthur rode with me a lot and made noises of discontent and misery.

He preferred hiking.

The warriors and their hounds hiked out at Phantom and were replaced by a group of trainees--promising, young (compared to me) folk who are eager to join the ranks of AzRA boatmen.

We got in some exceptional wandering.

And celebrated Halloween honorably.

I can say without a doubt that the future of AzRA is bright.

The following weekend I went up to the South Rim for the Grand Can yon History Symposium. I spoke on Martin Litton's legacy at the Canyon. Outdoors a group of us historic boat nuts lined up a remarkably complete collection of the wooden rowboats of 1938 through now. Beginning with five replicas: my rendition of the original Nevills Cataract boat, then morphing through P.T.Reilly's redesign, Brick Mortenson's upgrade to Reilly's, and Mounty Fulmer's unique version. Then on to the Oregon drift boats: Keith Steele's original 1962 design for Martin Litton, Steele's smaller, sportier 1967 Betty Boop (original) and the 1971 Briggs Grand Canyon Dory (original) still in use today. Such a treat to see them all in a row and follow their evolution.

Back home Margeaux gave me a new haircut.

Janek and I finished up the root repair on Cataract.

And last Sunday the boating and photography communities, and Flagstaff in general, gathered for a barn raising for our dear friend Dave Edwards on his 77th birthday. He is putting up a studio space for his photography and knife making, and we felt a big jump-start was in order.

We got a hell of a lot done and will likely reconvene for another push when the steel roof arrives. If you know Dave and want to come help, let me know and I'll fill you in on plans. Here we are celebrating as the superman rises.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

From out-patient to emergency surgery

With my ballot cast long ago, and a gut-ache from staring at the utterly nauseating election coverage, I could think of nothing more pleasant to relieve my misery than to grind fiberglass. Cataract had a few bottom bumps that we planned to grind down now and let sit and dry for the winter.  A quick patch in the spring and back to the river she goes. 

All was well until Janek started poking at some weird goopy stuff stuck between the bottom of the gunwale and the side of the boat. He sniffed at it and said (no shit, this is what he said), "These are mushrooms." I laughed nervously and tried to go back to bottom therapy when he began tapping on the side of the boat and noted that it sounded quite hollow. Oh damn. Oh damn. The dreaded Briggs boat cancer. It has happened to a lot of them--water begets rot and it creeps down the side-panel, usually along ribs, where it cannot dry toward the inside of the boat. "I'm sorry to report to you, Ms. Cataract, that your tests came back rather poorly." 

A quick survey of the rest of the boat was blessedly free of other metastases, so I set to grinding off the exterior layer of glass in the fungal zone. Yup. Boat cancer, sho' 'nuf.

And yup, right along a rib, where in my mid-1980s fiberglass infatuation, I had filleted the rib to the side, ensuring that any water that got in there could never escape. Those little wads of orange googe in the corner are more mushrooms. Or some kind of fungus. 

People ask me why I bolt on gunwales and never glue them on. Boom--twenty minutes later the gunwales are safely off and the tumor has been removed. That's why.

Janek is grinding in the scarfs for the replacement piece.

And for tonight, the radiation treatments begin--a heat lamp to dry out any remaining fungy moisture. Once we epoxy the side-panel back together, we'll do the chemotherapy--turn the boat up on edge and soak the entire area with Board Defense--a boatbuilder's anti-fungal.

The take-away here?

1) Keep your eyes open when you are running a 44-year-old plywood boat. This kind of shit is always wanting to happen. As Bego once said, there are three things you don't want to do to plywood: get it wet, bang on it, and leave it out in the sun. Uhhhhh....

2) Don't glue those gunwales on. They have to come off with disappointing regularity.

3) If you must put fiberglass over wood in a boat that's going to be treated this roughly, try to leave one side un-sealed so the water can get back out. 'Cause you know it's going to get in.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Free ship in the desert

A nice lady down the street here in Flagstaff would love for someone to come take away an abandoned boat project. It is a 27' plywood double-ended Sharpie. The hull is assembled and on a strongback. Included is a big pile of aluminum masts and rigging and a large pile of plywood to build the interior. It will take a fork-lift and a flatbed truck to move it, but the price is right. And it's an all or nothing deal--if you want any of it, you've got to take all of it.

Here is an internet shot of what the boat could become.

And here are a few shots of the hull as it sits:

Here is some of the rigging.

Now if you really don't want a giant boat, it could make a fine roof for a tool shed or meditation parlor. And there is enough plywood included to make the walls.

Or you could cut it in two, stand the halves on end in the forest and make shrines out of them. A place to house your giant Virgin of Guadalupe. Or that huge statue of the Whore of Babylon that's been out in the rain. Or both.

Anyhow, it makes boatheads like me weep to see a boat hacked into firewood or taken to the dump. If you're interested, let me know in the comment section and I will get you in touch with the boat's custodian.