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.
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.