Friday, May 24, 2013

The Voyage of the Dr. Hyde

I don't blog as much these days as I am spending more free time writing on actual books that will hopefully be published, and the river season has started again in earnest even further constricting what little free time I do have. However, a story that should be recorded and told is that of the voyage of the Dr. Hyde.

The boat was named on the river after Glen and Bessie Hyde, who perished on a mostly successful sweep scrow voyage in 1928 down the Green and Colorado rivers that ended in mysterious death somewhere after mile 232 rapid. The boat was in part inspired by their voyage, but it was also something of a Frankenstein. Fun to row but a pain to build. Hence the Jekyll and Hyde part of the name. The boat was also inspired by one part Huckleberry Finn and another part the "triple rig", a method of running big whitewater by tying three 18 foot oar rafts side by side and using a downstream and upstream oar. I liked the size of the triple rig, but I wanted something with a wood deck that could be cooked and slept on better than a raft. While working for Holiday Expeditions in 2011 I got to use a lot of "double rigs", smaller versions of triple rigs equally stable, and I was impressed by the potential of sweeps.

I also red Dimock's book on Glen and Bessie Hyde. I think he did a good job on the book, but I'm not entirely convinced sweeps are without merit. Being able to cook and sleep on the thing saves a lot of time, makes flat water more interesting, and lets you do night floats.

In a previous post on here I mentioned a long time vision I had to build a sweep scrow that I could float on and sleep and cook on and use to run hitherto unrun flatwater sections of the Colorado - Green River system. Finally that dream has become a reality. From August 25th-30 we ran the 63 miles of the Cisco to Potash sections of the Colorado river. We put on when the river was just a trickle- a mere 2,000 cfs or so. By the last day of the voyage the snow melt had begun and we had about doubled that, though it was still a seemingly imperceptible difference in the meandering flats above potash. Over the course of the journey we had night floats, party barges, good food, rapids, and many visitors.

Here are the photographs along with some brief descriptions. The purpose of preserving this story here is to offer helpful advice for others seeking to construct similar rafts, open up some minds about the types of crafts one can use to go down a river, and hopefully inspire in others to do more fun and interesting things with their lives as another river season dawns upon them.

For flotation we have a few options. The best option is using duckies. The second best might have been large styrofoam dock floation, which is more expensive than the third option, truck inner tubes. Truck tubes are "cheaper", but reasonably strong as long as there is no acute pressure placed on them. We wound up buying six of them from this guy on ebay.

They are pretty big when inflated. You have to make sure the valves are correctly tight or else they leak slightly. I heard they can get up to 60 inches, but we inflated them to 56 to 58 inches to give them a little play. Jessica for scale:

In the backyard I began laying these things out with the wood I had bought in Grand Junction. As it turns out wood is not significantly cheaper in Grand Junction that it is in Moab. One problem is how to not get the wood to rub unduely on the tubes, stressing them. A solution is to get towels between them, but that is an ineffecient solution as they towels move eventually and it takes about three of them per tube. That is a lot of towels.

We cut ropes in to 12.5 foot lengths to tie each joint. That eventually meant a lot of ropes. I think total, including the anchor and the oar locks and the flag poles, there would be somewhere between 700 and 800 feet of rope holding the boat together. Initially I tried square knots, but those come undone with water and stress. On the final version we tied the boat by making a loop in a bowline knot, wraping the slack to pull two pieces of wood together, and then tying it all off by pulling tension to and making a truckers' hitch.

Next was to build the oar lock flagpole. I think I wound up building them about 6 inches too high, so I would shrink them in the future. The oarlocks are held onto the wood with two joint pieces from chain link fence lined up to make one long metal loop. These joint pieces have been pounded with a hammer and anvil so they are straight with a loop in the middle. Then eight screws hold them into the wood. The flagpole is made with 1.25 inch PVC pipe tied to the wooden oar lock mount. A 6 foot pine dowel of 1" thickness slides in. Then more PVC is loosely fitted over that dowel, with an additional 8 foot pine dowel fitted in. The dowels are just resting on top of each other being held in place by several feet of PVC above and below the joint. Finally an eye bolt on top of the highest dowel allows you to run a rope through to haul up a flag.

The towels couldn't be trusted to prevent friction so I began making trips to Bob's Sanitation waste transfer station. Eventually some old carpet was thrown out and I was able to haul it away for free.

Then we measured and cut the carpet and staple gunned it to the bottom of the support boards. That process took a few hours. Finally it was time to do food shopping, lay out all the gear, and get things packed.

We tied everything to the trailer that night and loaded all the gear in the truck, so in the morning all we had to do was to take the cold food from the fridge or freezer, put it into the cooler, throw that into the truck and go.

We got to the Cisco boat ramp where few people ever put in, but we did see a CFI trip putting in.

After everything was unloaded we began assembling the boat.

After a while Dave came to visit to run our shuttle for us. Other people visited too. It was nice to have people to talk to but doing so made it hard to build the boat right. The frame was completely assembled on the first section and the floor was two thirds on and the floation was on when we realized we made the main frame supports too close together for the oar lock to fit. So we had to take it largely apart and retie it.

I was all for ropes and Chris wanted to use screws. As he was half invested in the project we decided to let Chris screw one section together and I kept ropes on another.

Several hours later, we had one section done and were getting the floor on the other section.

Joining the two sections together.

There isn't a good picture of the joint, but what you had was two eye bolts sticking out from 2x6 wood that needed to be connected. They weren't directly lined up, as some how one section had got them not exactly lined up. We ran a doubled up 4' cam strap through each set up of eye bolts and pulled them together. Then we took pallet wood and put it over the top and bottom of each joint, and then that on there with bungee cords that had a lot of tension on them. That gave the joint flex and stability, and it wound up being fine for the rapids.

Finally, at about 3pm we had the boat built and the gear loaded and we were ready to shove off the ramp.

We pushed off right into a nasty upstream wind that prevented any downstream travel. Unwilling to fight it with our wind- inept craft, we dropped anchor in the slackwater opposite the Cisco boat ramp. The anchor was a large piece of sandstone with a hole drilled through it. It was about as heavy as I can left when wet, but if I tried to drop it in the current the boat and it bopped right along. So where we parked each night had to be in an eddy or at least very slow current.

Opposite the boat ramp we made mojitos with fresh mint and lime and enjoyed the fact that we were no longer building a boat. People coming off westwater with motors came over and hung out for a bit. Finally the wind died down and we drew anchor. By moving the boat so it was perpendicular to the current we could "row mode" our way downstream. Soon islands appeared and the river became braided. We then moved our craft so its length was parallel to the current, with an down stream and upstream oar. We then "sweep moded" our way down stream. At one place, we picked a windy narrow right hand channel. We were rather impressed with our ability to maneuver the boat.

The evening came on and the beavers came out. Soon we had an early rising moon that was completely full to light our way. We tried lighting tiki torches but they destroyed our night vision. So we tried to keep them out and steer without them. Finally late we dropped anchor and slept. Too tired to cook our dinner, we made sandwhiches instead.

The next morning we awoke in a magical place with steam coming off the river. I think we were near a great blue heron rookery. The birds were flying everywhere and singing their songs. Instead of getting up early to enjoy it we fell back asleep to wake up later. We put a pot off coffee on and then I began making deluxe quesodillas. For several miles we floated with Chris P steering the boat alone while I cooked. We saw one other lover of peace and quiet on this stretch, a nudist enjoying the solitude of the Dolores Triangle, an inaccessible hinterland forming the left shore.

Soon enough it was time to take "the walk" as we agreed we weren't going to poop on the boat. Trying to land, a submerged stick poked a hole in our inner tube and that corner of the boat began sinking. We limped to the opposite shore where there was a cobble bar and a better place to work. First we inflated the spare duckie, and then put it under the submerging corner of the boat to keep the ply wood from getting further water damaged.

Apparently Chris had not brought a wetsuit, so I got to put on mine to do the repairs. The Colorado River on April 26th was bitterly cold and it was painful to get in. Once submerged, the suit began working and feeling warm again. Sometime during the repair, a couple in a canoe passed us in our moment of ingloriousness.

To fix the boat after the tube popped we had to untie and take off the deflated tube, take off the inflated tube opposite the deflated one, get extra milk crates from under the inflated duckie, rig them into the spare duckie along with milk crates we had planned to hold gear in on the deck, and then tie those crates down to make a nice surface for the frame to rest on. Then I had to tie the duckie and crates to the frame. All this had to be done while crawling around in the mud underneath the boat.

The whole process took about 2 or 3 hours, but the boat was much stronger for it. We probably should have used two duckies from the beginning on each end, as their strength makes landing easier. For the extra tube that we now had, I wedged it between the duckie and the two unpopped tubes on the opposite side of the section for some added support.

We then floated along, through the badlands of Morrison and Cedar Mountain Formations topped by Mancos Shale. The colors bleached in the sunlight giving us a maze of badlands. I'm sure there would be some good hikes around here. Maybe for another trip. Chris P at the oar

Me topping off a 6 liter dromedary for drinking and cooking water.

Soon we came out of the cliff and slope forming strata and began meandering through the mancos shale, which weathers into relatively flat topography broken only by occasional pediments. The snow capped 12,700 foot La Sal mountains appeared in the background.

Finally coming around a bend we saw Jessica on a cliff. She took great pictures of us in a riffle. We tried to stop but the current was too strong. Miles later, she met us as we passed under the historic Dewey Bridge. Some maneuvering was needed to keep the flagpoles from hitting the bridge supports

Jessica hang out for a bit while we made mojitos. Then she had to go, as she had work the next day. Shortly below Dewey Dave and his wife met up with us in their raft. We cooked potatoes and steak while waiting for them to catch up. We floated together in the moonlight again all the way to Hittle Bottom. There were many Beavers. At Hittle, we dropped anchor opposite the boat ramp, technically not yet where we needed to have life jackets on. We slept on the boat while our friends slept on shore.

There we were the next day

Some partying camping people from California and Salt Lake paddled over in a pool raft and a duckie. They hug out with us for a while. Also at this time Robert drove Jessica to Hittle and she would join us for the rest of the day. We now had a crew of three.

We got to hang out with two dogs.

Soon it was time to go. Before departing our visitors gave us away their duckie, a Sea Eagle. That was a very nice and unexpected present, we were quite excited. We pushed off, running Onion Creek Rapid and then exploring the ruins of the gravel pit river right below it. Later we ran Professor Rapid before camping and making dinner near sorrel. We all three slept on the boat in an eddy opposite that ranch.

Jessica rowing:

The lady in a state of repose

The morning was beautiful as the sun came up.

We were awoken by passing boaters. Soon we pushed off and began making coffee and breakfast. Having three people was great, because two could steer while a third did the cooking. The next day we ran Rocky Rapid. It was low water and choked with rocks. I think we only ran over one I had hoped we could avoid, but there was no damage done and we had a fine run. After Rocky was Whites' Rapid, the largest on the river. We had a great run there as well. Chris P below that rapid:

We stopped at Salt Wash, which drains Arches National Park, and hiked up it. We found no petroglyphs or dinosaur footprints, but plenty of lizards and blooming cactuses and a nice view. There is a really good campsite there, I think it is the best on the River Right side of the river here. As the evening wore on we ran the left run at Salt Wash Rapid with no problems. We passed takeout beach as darkness began to happen. Proceeding past big bend we lit the tiki torches and made dinner. We floated through the relatively undangerous and uncomplicated rapid at dark, which made things much more exciting. Finally we found the Beach and Mile 6, where Jessica's car was parked. She had to leave the next day, but we did enjoy our time with her.

Jessica and I together

Floating down to Moab there were many Beavers again in the morning.

We did an adventurous hike river right up the Navajo sandstone. We found a cave, we got to use the grappling hook a few times, and we avoided getting cliffed out by using the rope to crawl down a way that looked to steep to safely jump. We even got the rope back too.

Near the Moab bridge we did a bit of waiting for another passenger. Chris P and I caught up on a reading.

Soon enough Katie arrived, who I had once worked with guiding rivers. She was living in Moab now and met us at the boat ramp. We floated through the wetlands preserve, past the uranium tailings pile, and camped out near the mouth of "the portal." We had our best campfire on the boat here. The next morning it looked very pretty.

The float to potash began smooth and I was able to cook while we drifted with no one rowing. The river was nice and wide here. After Gold Bar a nasty wind came up that stopped us from moving down stream. While fishing I caught a very large catfish, which managed to get off my line and escape. Good for him I suppose.

We made a bit more progress before the wind stopped us again. We took another break while i figured out how many invasive tamarisk seedlings I could pull up. Finally it slowed and we pushed off again. Darkness came. Just above Potash the channel was very difficult to find and there was a bit of wading. It was after 9 when we got to the boat ramp, so we decided to sleep another night rather than de rig in the dark. After making a pork soup a nasty wind came up. This at last gave us an excuse to set up a tent.

Then it was time to de rig and drive back to town. Untying the boat was faster than tying it together. The trip had been great but was not long enough. What is next, the Uinta Basin? The Colorado above Grand Junction? Labyrinth and Stillwater canyons? Time will tell.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

New Year, New Vessel

I have decided to undertake the construction of a sweep boat. In deciding upon our years' epic Spring trip we have the possbility of many miles of flatwater, and I think such a vessel will be more interesting than just sitting in a duckie paddling along.

Advantages of this system are that it will be more social, more fun, more of a team effort with two bodies required to row it. Also the ability to cook and sleep on the thing while floating will take out camp set up, cooking, and break down time, allowing us to cover more ground faster.

After thinking about it alot and sketching various designs on paper I built a scale model. Dimensions I settled on are 8 feet wide by 20 feet long. For flotation I have a combination of 6 X 56" heavy truck inner tubes, as well as two to three tributary tomcat tandem inflatable kayaks. For my model I scaled it down to 1/1th size. Most of the porportions are right, with the notable exception of the wood I used for the oar lock mounts, the main floor, and the two main structural supports under the vessel. This was inevitable as it was built out of scrap. The basic porportions and connections, however, are about right.

The whole thing is designed to be held together with cam straps and rope, so it can be completely disassembled for transportation without a trailer.

Ideally it would look something like this:

Building the frame, you've got two long structural supports, which I think might be 2" X 6" boards, or possibly 2" X 8" inches. Across them go the three main cross boards, forming a grid.


This is the core of the structural integrity, and will be held together with six 1.5" 6 foot long cam straps. There are holes drilled through the long pieces and the cross pieces where they meet that the straps go through, as well as being wrapped around. This helps for structure now, but will become even more important later.

Now of course it is very hard to find, much less transport, an 8' X 20' piece of flat wood. So the scaleded down piece in this model will have to be cut up to simulate the real life project of building decking out of 4' X 8' plywood, which will probably be 1" on the full model.

In the full size the upper left, upper right, bottom left, and bottom right pieces will be 4' X 7'. The center pieces will each be 4 ' X 6'.

To add more support, I then add cross supporters to each side of the main side supports to make a more stable craft.

Using 2" X 8" X 8', or 2" X 10" by 8' wood for this in real life would be stronger, but I think the supports are so numerous I will be able to get away with using 1" thick wood. I don't think I need to drill holes through the joints here, just waving the role around the joint should hold it strong enough. I line up the boards and make sure they fit.

For oar locks I could go for something nice like this, and affix it to a wooden post and use real metal oar locks.

However, I am also planning to make some homemade oars, and I worry they may not fit in regular oar locks. This leads me to favor a more traditional, and simple design:

Rope, a cam strap, or bungie cord can be put over the top of this to keep the oar in place in rougher water. Also, in the above photo note the many holes drilled into the floor. That allows you to drain water, but more importantly you can tie the floor boards to the frame as seriously or as simply as you like, depending on what kind of trip you are embarking on.

The diagonally extending piece here that the lock sits upon is connected to the support piece with screws and held strong together. Then there are holes drilled into the support piece. These are threaded through the floor, and through the main structural support under the floor. Additional holes drilled through the floor itself allow for the rope to be run through and cross woven across the support to hold it in place.

Here, we come to a problem. The boat as it is constructed now will do great in flat water. It is very, very stable. However, if it its a rapid the downstream end will rise up over it and then crash down. That strain can break the main foundation wood piece. Furthermore, it is difficult (though not impossible) to transport 20' long pieces of wood. Also, having the supports that long means I will always have to completely re and disassemble the boat each time I use it.

I thought about maybe sawing the boat into the three modules, based on where the floor meets, and connecting the pieces with some kind of heavy hinge like this one:

That would allow the three modules to flex up and down with the waves. It would also allow you to break down the single 20' long structural pieces into folded back against themslves pieces with a maximum length of only 7' long. However, two problems remain. One is that you still must dissassemble the frame entirely to transport the boat, and another is that most rapids don't simple lift the bow of your boat up. You hit things from the side a lot, and that will stress the hinge in a way it won't like, causing it to eventually rip out. There must be a better way, something with more flexibility, sort of like the human shoulder's ball and socket joint.

So I came up with this:

You've got a heavy duty eye bolt on each end, and the twine symbolizes a carabiner holding them together. This allows flexability in all directons.

I decided to try it out but I needed to come up with flotation. I got some empty dog food tins, put them in a ziplock to keep the water tight, and taped that on there.

Now keep in mind the porportions of tins are a lot more vertical and a lot more uneven than what inner tubes or duckies would be. Whatever problems the design will have floating balanced in real life are going to be seriously exaggerated in the trial of this model.

Lets put it in the tub:

Even allowing for problems with diverting from true scale, that is a very serious instability. The oar lock mount here is weighing it down unevenly, but even some one moving gear or walking around on it in real life could do something like this, which we can't have.

I like that the design is modular. And I like that it is flexible. But right now it is too flexible. What it needs is something like tendons and cartiledge. So I came up with the idea of usinge a plank across the boards, held in place with tightly wound bungee cords, connected to each other and / or running through eye bolts drilled into the sides of where the main supports meet so they don't slide out. This will allow the plank to move up as waves want it to, but not too high. As soon as they are passed, the bungee pulls the plank bank down getting us stable again.

For the model I simulated this with a piece of wood placed over the joint and held together with tape.

Lets see how that floats

While there is some minor bending, that is probably exaggerated on the model. Even so, it is definately an improvement and one that we could work with while continuing to improve on. Best of all, to transport the boat now all that needs be done is have the flotation detached, the plank unbungeed and the caribiner taken off. Essentially you just stack up the thre large pallets you have built on top of each other. Throw the oars on the side, and put the flotation on top of that. Most of the time this won't be run on whitewater anyway. If you ever did, you'd need to really avoid getting a foot caught in the joints. Rigging dry bags and coolers on either side of the joint as in a traditional whitewater raft triple rig will help keep feet out of there as well as to prevent clam shelling.


Oars are big and expensive. Even with wholesale pricing you are going to spend $35 for a cheap oar plus another $40 or so for the blade. And you will need at least 3 oars. Not worth it. Wandering around lowes and home depot I found these super thick wooden dowels. They had them in lengths well beyond the 11 to 12 feet I'd like.

You take one of those and stick it in a 1.5" or 2" PVC pipe. You can even have a wheelbarrow handle coming out the handle end for a more traditional look. Fill the space between the pipe and the wood with caulking, wood glue, or spray foam (cheapest). Then saw a slit in the end where you want the blade. Stick your wodden blade in there and drill in holes. Secure with big thick bolts. Replace blades as needed.


Right now I am thinking one tube under the top and bottom of the middle pieces. One tube under the top and bottom of each end pieces (6 total tubes). For better stability and protection from sharp impacts, attach one tributary tomcat underneath each end. You can still pop a side tube on those things by hitting a pointy rock at a high impact but that is unlikely on flatwater with small rapids. It will certainly be a better protection than just the tube, and it will make you more stable as well. Where the frame rests on the tubes or duckies I will put towels or carpet down first to limit chafing. Ideally styrofoam dock flotation, more duckies, or several rafts would be better for this. But those things are more expensive and I cannot afford them.

For the deck you can get crazy and due whatever you want. Put a bunch of tie down loops for gear. Build a kitcken. Put a sofa on it. Put poles and guy wires for a tarp- tent across the middle if it gets stormy. Whatever you want.

For wood I'm thinking something light but strong. There is a lot of incised pressure treated wood that would probably be the best thing to use. Alternately maybe redwood would be nice, but that is a lot heavier.

Next step is to buy the actual materials. Then assemble it in the yard. Then float it at Ken's lake. Then work out kinks and try a maiden voyage.

The key river streches I have in mind for this are the Green River through the Uinta Basin, the Green River from the town of Green River, Utah to the confluence with the Colorado River, the Colorado River from Cisco to the Confluence, and the Colorado River from below Glenwood Springs to Westwater (while making two portages). Running Deso with it would be fun and allow you to do a truley epic trip, but I think there are some places that would give you some trouble. Particularly I'm thinking of Three Fords, Cow Swim, and Coal Creek Rapids.

Also, I like the side mounted oar locks in the old timey image at the top of this article. That would allow you to move down stream to make more time. Maybe I will add them later. But for now there is no means of propulsion but the river, and you just move side to side across it.