Saturday, June 8, 2019

Off Like a Prom Dress

Cricket headed to Colorado yesterday afternoon, and Pat and I fly to Maine this morning. But we kicked some butt yesterday in the shop. We started by taking a few steps backward, revising a few of the deck arch supports to be more accurate to the original. Then we started decking with 3/8" plywood, but took another step backward and downsized to 1/4" like Bert did. The arch of the decking makes the 1/4" plenty stiff.

One detail I missed in the last post. Turns out Bert was a Seagrams Crown 7 drinker. So we added some to the paint. Seemed like the right thing to do.

Is that grin maniacal?

Knocking down the bow post. It's made of part of one of the old boat cradles from Grand Canyon National Park. The cradles held the historic boat collection for several decades--boats from Julius Stone, the Kolb Brothers, and so forth. I'm sure a little magic seeped down into them.

We made a commitment to quit around 2 yesterday so we could deal with our lives and imminent travel arrangements. But we couldn't stop. We finally got the decks on at 3, toasted Bert and ourselves, left the shop an utter shambles, and stumbed out the door.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Loper Boat at Light Speed

Its continues to amaze me how fast things happen with a good crew of three boatbuilders. We are a bit behind pace for our more typical McKenzie or Rogue dory build, but this boat is a new, unfamiliar design, unfamiliar construction, and we had to build a strongback. All things considered, we're screaming along. 

This morning, Day Four of the build, we ground down and prepared the gigantic 17' x 5' floor for Bert's Boat, and faired the boat to receive it.

The precision of the screw holes normally necessary for our dory builds is not so important here. For one, the ribs and chines are very wide and hard to miss. Secondly, we are replicating a crudely built boat, created by an 80-year-old feller who built it under a cottonwood tree in Utah with old bent nails and salvaged hardware. Sometimes we just have to say "What would Bert do? He'd probably use cheap deck screws instead of high dollar silicon bronze wood screws. And so we do. Looking at the remains of the original boat, screws, nails and roofing nails are randomly banged into the frame to hold it together. Perfect spacing on our part would be inauthentic. 

Here I am putting in the last floor screw. It's an old rusty one from Bert's original boat that was heading for the river when I rescued it. (So can we call it a restoration now?) And the screwdriver was given to me by Rolf Holmstrom many years ago when I was planning to replicate Buzz's boat. "You'll need this," Rolf said, handing me the old Yankee screwdriver. "It's the one Buzz used."

On with the cheesy but authentic plywood chine cap. And a rock bumper.

On with the ghastly yellow paint. Bert's was likely a mix of old paint cans given to him by Greenriver locals. Ours unfortunately had to be purchased at full whack, as none of the mis-tinted paint was close to the appropriate color. This hue is called Fuzzy Duckling.

The plywood, however, is top dollar marine ply. But so was Bert's. He wrote a nice letter to the Harbor Plywood Company, from whom he bought the wood for his 1939 boat. They were so charmed they gave him the wood for the cost of freight. I need to work on my letter writing..

Hoping to get the decks and hatches on tomorrow, as July has few opportunities for the crew to get together again. We'll see how far we get--we need to shut down early to head for our various destinations--Cricket to Colorado, Pat and I to Maine to build a Viking Faering. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Bert Loper's Boat

Bert Loper died at his oars in Grand Canyon just shy of his 80th birthday. His companions caught his boat several miles downstream and pulled it up on the bank, where it remained as a memorial to the Grand Old Man of the Colorado. 

But the elements have not been kind and 70 years later little remains of Bert's Grand Canyon.

It seemed like as good a time as any to build a replica before there is nothing left. Using photographs, correspondence, reports, journals, and some measurements Andy Hutchinson and I took fifteen years ago, Cricket and I were able to pull together what we think are a pretty accurate set of lines.

This week we seized the opportunity of Cricket, Pat and I all being off river and got started. Monday we began building ribs and built a strongback.

On Tuesday we finished the ribs, bulkheads, bow post and transom and began hanging them on the strongback.

Today we installed the inner chine and a sort of inner gunwale.

Then we patterned the side panels, cut two of them and screwed them on. The floor is massive--five feet wide and seventeen feet long. Fifty-six feet of scarf cutting to assemble the beast.

Not bad for three days' work. We'll see how much farther we can get in the next day or so, then it's off to Maine for five weeks of serious boat fun. So blog posts will be even more infrequent I am afraid.

But to tide you over until later this summer, here are a couple nice videos that came out recently about Cricket and I and the boatworks:

Three segments on Arizona craft folk--I show up just before minute 12.

And for those who missed it, here's one that came out last year:

Ouch Ouchy

The months just keep whooshing by. It's river season so at least I have an excuse. I took Hetch Hetchy downriver for a spin. Here she is about to launch into Grand Canyon for the first time in about 45 years.

She got to stare downstream at House Rock Rapid all night--the scene of her loss of front end many years ago.

But we made it fine. It was a treat to see Vasey's Paradise running again after years of decreasing to last fall's pathetic dribble.

All the side streams are happy this year.

Well, I reintroduced Hetch Hetchy to Grand Canyon in style, cracking her front end in Crystal Rapid. We were just a touch too far right.

But that's why we carry four colors of duct tape. She looks as good as new.

But I don't.

Storms and chilly weather. Beats the summer heat.

It's sure a nice place to "work."

The spring convention of Flannelmouth Suckers

My favorite view in Grand Canyon--Lava Falls from Tequila Beach with my morning coffee in hand.


A nice display of Hetch Hetchy's lines. She rowed well, but not quite as quick to turn as a Briggs boat--a wee bit narrow for her length. The lower bow was a bit wetter, but easier to move in the wind. 

And back home to the shop. Hetch will dry out for a while I attend to other things. A pretty simple fix, but the drier the better.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Broadening One's Horizons

My style of boatbuilding and oar making is sort of a hodgepodge of different styles. I've learned from my friends Andy Hutchinson and Tim Cooper; from Jerry Briggs, Sam Johnson, and Roger Fletcher in the Northwest; Greg Rössel, Harry Bryan, Clint Chase, Sam Manning, Dynamite Payson, and others in the Northeast; from my surfboard shaper and epoxy guru friend Greg Loehr, from dozens of books, from growing up in a culture of carpenters, and on and on. But even more learning has come from within my own shop as techniques evolve and change, and my coworkers and students come up with ever more creative solutions. I've never been a purist, rather preferring to mix and match styles at the spur of the moment. Traditional plywood on frame; lapstrake; carvel; stitch-and-glue; classic boats, new designs, hopeless restorations. Boats is boats. And boatbuilding is an unending progression of problem solving, and the more angles I learn, the more tools I have to come up with a better mousetrap.

In that light I have signed up for two courses this year which promise to broaden my quiver of methods immeasurably. I thought I'd share this in case any of you blog followers were looking for an adventure this summer. I think there is still room in both of them. Think about it.

Building a 15' Aspoya Faering

The first will be a course in Viking boatbuilding from my amazing friend Jay Smith back at WoodenBoat School in Maine. Jay is the premiere Viking boatbuilder in the Western Hemisphere, and a bit of a maniac as well. For two weeks we'll be building a small Norwegian-style vessel. Using materials and techniques more common a thousand years ago, we'll be building by eye, whittling and hacking and riveting together a really sweet little boat.

Japanese River Boatbuilding

For the yang to counterbalance this yin, I've signed up for a course with Douglas Brooks on Japanese Riverboat Building. It will be up in Port Townsend at the Northwest Maritime Center, August 24 through 28. Brooks has spent much of the last two decades apprenticing with old Japanese boatbuilders, many of them the last of the line. He has won their confidence and they have passed on to him secrets many generations old.  His book, Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, is simply stunning.

I'm so curious how these new techniques will affect my thinking this fall.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Boatman's Holiday

A gang of us dory geeks often head up into Glen Canyon for a few days before the annual Guides Training Seminar at Hatchland. Cricket and Justin join in with us this time, along with Andy, RJ, and Terri. A film crew is doing a wee documentary of Cricket and her aged mentor (me). So Brian Dierker chased us around a bit for the first few days, helping the film crew get the shots. 

Heading upstream.

Something is impeding further upstream progress.

A taste of old Glen Canyon.

More exploring. It's springtime in the desert.

Brian finally took the film crew away and brought back Vladimir to paint the letters. It's fitting that he do the honors, because his granddad used to run trips with Martin Litton when the Hetch Hetchy was a new boat. And what better place to put the name back on than Glen Canyon--two of the greatest environmental disasters of the 20th Century.

Cricket is studying under the master.

Can't stop now.

Oh yeah.