Thursday, September 19, 2019

Japanese Shinano River Boat

The obvious yin to the yang of this summer's Viking boat course would obviously be Japanese River Boat building. So it was off to Seattle after a river trip. Here's Rainier from the window of the flying machine.

I drove due west and found space aliens inhabiting the Pacific Ocean.

 And a stump-eating monster.

Here is the world's largest Sitka spruce. There are a lot of nice oars inside of this, but I hope they stay there.

A big ol' cedar tree.

There's something about the ocean shore that pulls at the heart.

What a fun word to say, especially without engaging your vocal cords.

Here is the Elwha River, rapidly recovering from its former dam.

The first thing I ran into at the Northwest Maritime Center was another of Jay Smith's Viking faerings. Small world.

Suriawase. (Su-ree-AH-wah-say) Sawing between boards over and over until the fit is practically airtight.

Douglas Brooks is a wonderful teacher and a superb storyteller. His tales of the harshness of Japanese apprenticing are a bit daunting. He has now worked under several ancient masters, each being the last of their line. Mostly in silence. "The teacher refuses to teach. But the apprentice is required to learn." He said that the answer to many of his questions were one of two things, meaning either "Watch—and you will learn." or "Wait—and you will learn." But in as much as we didn't have six years to wait, watch, and learn, Douglas actually taught.

By the way, his book on Japanese Boat Building is amazing, as are his adventures. Check him out at Douglas Brooks Boatbuilding.

Once the floor planks are fitted we have to edge-nail them together. Which involves chiseling many beveled notches.

And many pilot holes.

Once the nails are in, we plug the notches, then chisel in little bow-ties to make sure things never come apart.

Riley, who runs the programs at NMC, makes us a bunch more nails.

BFNs. Big Flat Nails.

The beveled ends of the floor get splined on and braced in place.

Heaviness in the center gives it a bit of rocker.

A Shinto blessing of the hull.

More suriawase as we begin building up side boards.

What a wild way to make a really wide plank.

As I did this spring on the faering, I get sidetracked into making another truly weird oar. This boat only gets one oar. It has a big cross-grip for sculling. 

Outside I discover Amos Burg's old boat, which he sailed down around the Horn way back when. In 1938 Amos was the first person to take and inflatable boat down the Green and Colorado Rivers. Shades of Grand Canyon.

We put the sides in place. The Japanese use few clamps, but many props and wedges.

More suriawase.

Once the fit is near perfect we spike the sides on with Riley's BFNs.

More fun joinery as we put in seats and thwarts.

Cleaning up the bottom.

Gunwale caps and end blocks in place, and we're calling it done.

Note the oar notch in the stern for sculling.

A dedication with salt and sake.

Douglas demonstrating the sculling process. I tried it as well but had to sit down or fall down. I need a bit of practice.

Here is a Shinano boat with a bit of rice in it.

Much like the Viking faering, I don't think I really need a Shinano River boat for Grand Canyon. But I am certain the physical and processes we engaged in will color the way I do things back in the boat shop. 

Big Birthday Parties

In my limited time back in town I was able to finish off the Bert Loper boat. With my favorite sign painter Vladimir out of town, I was left to replicate the old Loper inscription on the decks. Using an old photograph of the original, I PhotoShopped it out to straight and square, scaled it up to size, and printed it out on the giant printer at Kinkos. Then I scribbled soft pencil all over the backside of the paper to make it into its own carbon peer.

Once in place, I traced it through onto the hideous yellow decks. I sure wish old Bert had picked a nicer color.

I also wish my hands were as steady as Vladimir's.

He did the GRAND CANYON placards earlier this summer.

Pat came off river for a few days and we dialed in the hatch lids and a few other details.

We took it out to the lake and by golly she floated. And Bert was right in his theory that arching the decks would make it easier to roll up. We were able to pull it upright from the lake without having to climb up on it.

During the building process we realized not only that this year would be Bert Loper 's 150th birthday, but that I would be launching a river trip at Lees Ferry that very day, July 31. So we took the Grand Canyon up to the Ferry and tried her out on moving water. Bert had set the boat up with a broad stern and a motor hatch that doubled as a transom. Much like Oregon's Rapid Robert, actually. And she motors like crazy.

Yeah. Like that.

I baked Bert a cake. A lemon cake, to go with the yellow boat.

I lost a bet with myself that we couldn't get all 150 candles lit. We did. It was kind of like the fire bombing of Dresden. It created its own weather.

Well, after my river trip (in a dory) I dragged the Loper boat up to Ken Sleight's place outside of Moab. Ken is a dear old friend, my boss in the late 1970s, the model for Ed Abbey's Seldom Seen Slim, an ardent environmentalist, and all around wonderful human. Ever since he saw the wreck of Bert Loper's boat in Grand Canyon in the 1950s, he's been after the National Park Service to salvage and preserve it. Here it is when pulled ashore in 1949.

And today.

So of course it's a bit late for salvaging now, so replicating it was the next best thing. And it was Ken's 90th birthday. It was, I gotta say, a big hit. Here's a shot with Ken in the boat, me behind him, and the brothers Quist: Bob, Richard, and Clair.

There's another story, though. When the boat was found in 1949, Harry Aleson pulled out a bottle of whiskey and saved it for many years, to be consumed ceremoniously at some boatman's gathering. Well, when Harry finally got married in Glen Canyon, they sent Ken upriver to Hite to get the Bishop. When Ken returned, he realized before he even landed that they'd drunk it without him. That was a lasting sting.

I found out that it was a fifth of Seagrams 7. Wrapped in the July 6, 1949 Deseret News. So when Ken mentioned to me that there was once bottle of whiskey in the original boat, I rummaged around and sure enough, there was an old fifth of Seagrams 7, wrapped in a (xerox of) the July 6, 1949 Deseret News.

If I live to be 90, or even 150, I doubt I'll ever get to be a part of giving someone two things they've been wanting that long. What a wonderful party that was.

The next day some of the younger generation and I went out boating. The old Loper boat is pretty fun to run.

Mike Dehoff, my co-conspiritor on dory design, brought along the Chub, a 13'6" dory we designed. Man is THAT thing fun. It can carry a huge load and three or four people, and handles like a Mazzeratti. He's going to make more, so get in line if you need one.

Just plain fun.