Thursday, December 21, 2017

Road Test

Every now and then it seems worth while to get the hell out of the boatshop and see if the damned things float. And maybe even have some fun. Last weekend Kate and her beau Brian invited me up to the San Juan (BringYourOwnBoat) (actually, bring both boats), to take Kate's as-yet-unnamed woodcut McKenzie and my wee Bernie out for a spin. A nice wintery float on slow but reasonable water. Hell yeah.

We spent the night at Kate's folks' refuge in Bluff and hit the boat ramp at Sand Island as early as the frigid temperature would allow. Kate's magnificent carved boat needed a little something to take the edge off before getting wet for the first time. So did we.

It's always so exciting to see if the arts and craft project will actually turn out to be a boat. Little Bernie had been on a few flatwater excursions before but Kate's boat was a virgin to the wet stuff.

Yes, that's ice. Frozen water. Really cold crunchy stuff.

Although I had rowed Bernie on calm water before, this was the first time I got to see how he/she handled in swirls and currents and waves. Better than my wildest dreams. I am in love. So, as it turns out, are Kate and Brian.

But of course the real point of river trips is camping. So we picked the spot most likely to hold our cloud-cover sun the latest in the afternoon, and give us the earliest shot at morning sunbeams. 

Because the boats were so light, and because the river might actually freeze us in overnight, but mostly because we simply could, we dragged the boats up over the bluff and into camp. Which allowed Kate to make a few more prints off her woodcut project / boat. 

The clouds lifted overnight. 

But it's still really cold. And there's still a fire...

Cold toes and big smiles.

Kate spent a bit of her career as a boatman on the San Juan, so running the dreaded Eight-Foot is not too big a deal. With water. In the summer. In a raft. But winter in low water in a wood boat seems to work okay too.

An aerial view of Bernie and I in Eight-Foot Rapid. I am amazed with the speed Bernie pivots and moves. Such a delight.

Coming up on Mexican Hat Rock.

That bit of purple ink toward the stern of the boat is where Kate made a print that night prior of the Raplee Anticline. In the background on the horizon is the anticline itself.

Afternoon sun at the takeout.

I think we'll call this mission a success. Turns out it doesn't have to be either a gorgeous art object or a fabulous boat. It's best if it's both. (Bernie too.)

If you missed the origin of these boats, here are their stories:

Kate's Boat: Some Assembly Required

Bernie: Little Swampy, and then Bernie

Sunday, December 10, 2017

This could work

So far so good. The hull came together beautifully. Now the bottom must go on. Since it is designed to run commercially, I have elected not to do the standard inner chine log, due to how annoying they are to fix once the boat is inevitably crashed. So we are putting in a heavy duty fiberglass one. 

We notched the ribs ever-so slightly in order to be able to lay in a couple layers of resin-impregnated biaxial fiberglass. And we screwed on a temporary light outer chine to hold the sides in a fair curve while the fiberglass bonds to the bottom.

With the bottom held in place, Cricket is managing the biaxial glass into place.

The inventory from my moribund publishing company has found a use. Books are heavy.

So are railroad rails.

Meanwhile it's time to mill out gunwales for this boat and for the two aluminum sister-boats being built up in Moab. The mountain of ash we bought this spring is thick enough to rip the gunwales of vertically, making for beautiful strong vertical grain.

Sometimes my brain wakes me up at night with an idea. Usually they are dumb. But this time I thought, why not plane and grind the scarf bevel of all of them at once, side by side? Here is Janek doing that very thing. And since it's just as easy to make a flatter slope, we are going with a stronger 12:1 bevel rather than my usual 8:1. Why not?

Here's a sideway movie that, for the life of me, I cannot seem to rotate into the proper position. It just turns black. So rotate your head.

Hurrah. The glass chine held! Now we grind the outer chine into its final shape.

We put on a layer of glass tape to make double sure nothing comes apart while we do the interior work. And steam-bend on the first two pairs of gunwales.

Here's another movie. This one is right-side up.

So is the boat now. Damn, she's big!

With her shape fairly well established, we take off the bracing and a couple of the unwanted floor ribs

In goes the plumbing. The two passenger footwells will drain into the boatman's footwell, which in turn will get pumped back into the river by a high-volume bilge pump.

This thing is really starting to look like a boat. That's a good thing.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Fretwater Boat School: January & February 2018

In January and February I will once again be teaching some of the arcane and useless skills involved in building and running wooden boats. For some reason, people seem to want to know this stuff. Beats me. Anyhow, the votes are in and we'll be running a similar schedule to last year. All the courses will be here in Flagstaff at my big ol' shop.

We run from 9 until about 6. Don't be tardy in the mornings, because that's usually when I'm explaining things and don't like to do it twice.

We break for lunch mid-day. On weekdays I can usually get the burrito truck to come by. On weekends we'll have to forage--lots of good food nearby.

I work on a donation system: about $60 a day seems to make it worth our time and cover costs of running the shop. ($70 a day for bronze casting, due to the vast amounts of propane we blast into the stratosphere, and the amount of materials that just seem to evaporate.) I do not have lodging available, so you'll need to move in with a friend or find accommodation somewhere.

Classes are pretty small and fill quickly. If you want to sign up, send me a $100 deposit to Brad Dimock, 1000 West Grand Canyon Avenue, Flagstaff, AZ 86001. Or you can PayPal it to me at

Let me know what you're wanting to do and learn, and what you hope to go away with. It helps me to plan.

Bronze Casting

4 days. January 19–22. Class limit 8.

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 ($7 a pound.)


Five Days. Two courses. Class limit 8 each.
January 25–29
February 8–12

To my knowledge the perfect workingman's oar is no longer being built, and has not for many decades. Just about any oar you can buy is ergonomically awful, destined to bring tendonitis, golfer's elbow, bad shoulders, and carpal tunnel syndrome. I am on a mission to change that, and to give professional and hobby oarsmen the opportunity to row with superior oars. 

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. Materials for a new oar run just under $100 each including leathers and tips.

We ran two courses last winter and the oars that came out of those are bringing huge smiles to faces down in the Canyon. 

"I didn't know oars could feel like this. I thought they were supposed to hurt." 

"I picked my set of Smokers out of a shipment of 100 ten-footers made back in the ‘80s when trees were straight. I thought I had the best. What an eye-opener. After the tune up, every stroke feels like snow falling from a bamboo leaf. And my elbow doesn't hurt.

"They are not only a work of art but, lightweight, strong and amazing to row!" 

"Simply put, the Fretwater oars I built last year with Brad are far and away the best oars I've ever used. They're balanced, they slice effortlessly through the water, have excellent flex, and are beautiful to top it all off. They are the only set of oars I've every rowed with that don't make my hands go numb."

"I was in love from the first stroke! They are perfectly balanced, rigid yet flexible & powerful, a better size (10’ 6” for an 18ft oar boat instead of 11’), and thus easier on my body than any other oar I have ever used... did I also mention how beautiful they are as well?! It’s hard to put into words the joy I receive with every stroke, knowing that I made these useful pieces of art."

"Anyone and everyone who rows needs to experience doing so with a pair of oars that they put some love, sweat and tears into."

Building the Briggs Grand Canyon Dory

8 days. February 18–25. Class limit 10.

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 will start with lofting out an imperfect set of plans (Guess what: they're all imperfect.) We will loft the boat full scale, perfect the lines, then begin building. We'll build the ribs, mill the chines and gunwales, scarf together the huge floor and side panels and assemble the boat. Then we'll get to work decking her out, learn the art of storyboard spiling, and maybe even slap some paint on her. Some classes move quicker than others.

We certainly won't get her done, but at the end of the course you'll have all the skills you need to go home and build the drift boat or dory of your dreams.  On the last day we will raffle her off to anyone who wants her for the cost of materials.