Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Seaman's Visit to the Festival

I was reminded this week how enjoyable it was to have Tom Jackson and Corinne Jackson visit this year's McKenzie River Boat Festival. The July/August issue of WoodenBoat magazine includes his report on that visit. See the lead story in Tom's column, Currents, beginning on page 14. Tom is the Senior Editor at WB. The column speaks of things historical about the McKenzie Riverboat tradition, and features conversations with Randy Dersham, Dick Helfrich, Mike Baker, Steve Steele and others.

Tom and Corinne drove down from Port Townsend, Washington. Since Tom can do his work anywhere, given today's technology, coupled by the fact that they are North westerners at heart (e.g. Tom is a UO grad), the pair chose to winter in Port Townsend this year. It's hard to imagine anyone "wintering" in Port Townsend, but if your home is Brooklin, Maine, and sea water courses through your veins, a more moderate Left Coast winter climate makes sense.

(Tom at the helm)

(Tom's home build dory)

Roped atop Tom's car was his home built Gloucester Gull Dory. She's a great rowing dory. She tracks beautifully and pulls with ease. His intent was to do the Finn Rock to Eagle Rock drift as part of our annual boat parade to launch the Festival. I was concerned about a couple of gnarly rapids he would encounter, especially as relates to the boats needed agility for quick pivots and turns. The longitudinal skeg down the center line of the underside might also be problematic. Regrettably, I talked him out of the run. Instead, I helped arrange for he and Corrine to join the parade as guests of a couple, boaters.

(Dick left, and Tom prior to launch)

Tom rode with Dick Helfrich. Dick is the second son of Prince Helfrich, and is today the patiarch of a Helfrich clan well known as premier river outfitters in Oregon and Idaho. Dick talked of his childhood and his family's guiding tradition.

(Rob's guests)

(The host)

Corinne rode with Rob Grubb. Rob operates Outdoor River Training Ventures out of Bend, Oregon. I left my drift boat home this year, intending instead to focus on shuttling people and rigs between the launch and egress pints. Rob however, insisted that I give up that silly notion and instead join he and Corinne in his dory. I did, and it was a delightful float.

There were two high points for me in that boat. First, Rob talked Corinne into taking the oars for a short period. She was more than game, and unlike Tom, she can claim to have handled a boat on the McKenzie. Sweet. Sorry, Tom.

(Fishing creel respectively resting on deck)

The second high point was paradoxically a melancholy one. Rob spoke of the loss of his Dad last Fall. The two worked Outdoor Training Ventures together as hand-in-glove. They were tight. Very tight. As Rob told the story, I commented that I'd bet his Dad is with him today. Rob answered, "Yes, he is." I offered an acknowledging smile, and Rob said, "Yes Roger, he really is," and pointed to his dad's fishing creel off to the side. And there he was indeed. Sweet again.

It was a good day, complemented with occasional liquid sunshine. Tom hinted that they will be back. We'll count on it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dutch strikes again!!

Dutch (Adam Gottschling) of Jackson Wyoming strikes again! He has become the restoration expert in returning vintage McKenzies to usable condition; the go-to guy for many vintage drift boat aficionados. He has restored the original Trapper, and his hands have resurrected Kaarhus, Hindman and Ostrem boats.
So Dutch called me yesterday. Whenever he calls I know something unusual or remarkable has happened, or he's about to make a request (Hey, Roger, could you check out a boat for me?). He says, Roger, you're not going to believe this. I've picked up two dories build for Martin Litton by Ketih Steele in 1969. The hell you say, I replied. Keith built but two boats for Martin in 1961, and their relationship collapsed when Keith didn't deliver on a subsequent order. That's where Jerry Briggs enters the scene.
 Well, you may have to re-write chapter 9 in your book, Dutch replies, because I picked up two dories in Lewiston, the hulls of which were built by Steele in 1969. The boats have been sitting for 30 years at O.A.R.S in Lewiston, and Curt Chang (O.A.R.S)reports they were built by Steele. So I called Steve Steele, Dutch continues, and Yes! Steve remembers helping his dad build those hulls for Litton in 1969! 
The boats are Hetch Hetchy and Diamond Head. Dutch's plan is to begin restoration of Diamond Head to river condition in November. Hetch Hetchy might be restored to exhibit condition. Dutch plans to work on her in 2018. He is doing this work for O.A.R.S., but she may not float again.
Notice the weep holes inside the hatch. Keith's weeping style, unusual for a decked and compartmentalized dory. Interestingly, these boats are not among Keith's records. Son Steve says his dad was upset about building them, so there's got be an intersting back-story here. Could it be tied to Keith's aborted delivery to Litton? 
Kudos to Dutch. His reputation exceeds the boundaries of Wyoming, and it was Curt Chang (O.A.R.S)who heard of Dutch, and made the intitial contact.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Z - The last is the first . . .

“The first shall be last, and the last first (Matt 20:16).”

Taken completely out of context, the same can be said for my good friend “Z,” Dave Zielinski, that is. “Z” hails from Saltsburg, Pennsylvania. Even though he’s the last entry into an alphabet soup mix, he’s long been first in my book. Z” was one of the first friendships I forged during my research, and writing about, the McKenzies. It was a digital friendship, like so many others I have forged around the globe.

Z” was the first to test the efficacy of the lines and construction detail of the Trapper. Had “Z” not stepped forward this boat might not have been part of my book’s inventory of recoverables (pp 213-221, Drift Boats and River Dories). 
Z” was one of the first to build my re-creation of the first Woodie Hindman double-ender with a transom, circa 1948. 
Z” was the first to get hooked on drift boat building, for himself first, and then for friends. He has built 13 such boats. He now has his own little boat building business that specializes in small drifters for those smaller neighborhood streams (
Z” was the first to visit Oregon, and with me, make his first trip to McKenzie . . . 

 . . . and meet my good friend, Dave Helfrich. 

The more I mature, the more I recognize that relationship is a central feature in my work, and in my world.

Monday, March 27, 2017


"Believe me, my old friend, there is nothing -- 

 "absolutely nothing --

 "half so much worth doing

"as simply messing about with boats."
(Adapted from Wind in the Willows)

The aroma of Port Orford cedar,
Fresh shavings on the floor;
The appropriate christening,
And the delivery to a flyfishers cave.

That's satisfaction.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Woodenboat Festival and Dave Helfrich

Many thanks to Randy Dersham for orchestrating this year's McKenzie WB Festival. His poster this year features Dave Helfrich on the oars. His life partner, Terry Sambrailo rides shotgun. 

The McKenzie lost David Prince Helfrich on October 7 last Fall. He is a river legend, not only on the McKenzie, but also on the Rogue, the Middle Fork, the Owyhee, and the Bruneau. His legacy is part of the larger Helfrich legacy which began with his dad, Prince, then Dave, followed by younger siblings Dick, Diane, and Dean. Collectively, the brothers spawned 15 Helfrich guides who today ply the McKenzie and Northwest waterways. His is a remarkable heritage.

It his later years, it was Dave’s intention to write his life story, but the river, travels and other interests got in the way. Four months before he died, and knowing that his time was  very short, he decided it was time to do that book. By that time, he was unable to write. His mind and his voice, however, were clear, so an audio recording system was set up. Every Tuesday afternoon from early May until a couple of weeks before his death, Dave recorded his stories. His Hospice room became his “campsite,” and as several of us collected around his “campfire,” Dave told of his family’s early years on the McKenzie, his youth, his years as a logger, a back country pilot, a river guide and outfitter, and the intriguing characters he met and worked with. His stories have been transcribed and are being organized into a book. His book.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Just reflecting . . .

I don’t craft a lot of these. They are time consuming, and consequently, take me away from other interests I have. At my age, that’s an important consideration since each day is numbered, and those numbers are getting smaller – by the day. That’s life. The chrono clock just keeps ticking away. But the river memories are there, and as I sip my morning coffee or an afternoon IPA in the presence of this boat, I am heartened by the recollections it brings, the interesting shop projects yet to come, and the multitude of friends I have. Just thinkin’ this morning . . . pleasant thinkin'.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Two countries. Same Boat. Two methods.

I am enjoying two (among others) satisfactions from the 2007 publication of my book, Drift Boats and River Dories: The histories of these fine boats is much more broadly known, as well as the stories of the people behind the boats; and I am approaching 100 reports from people across the globe who have re-created one of these functional dories for their personal use. Here are a couple of current examples:

Gordon Olafson, Ladysmith BC, is building his Rogue River dory from the book. He formed the boat on a strongback to assure accuracy and now has a completed hull. He returns from the southern hemisphere in early March to complete the boat.

Across North America in Bolton, CT, David Sianez is crafting a quarter-scale model of the Rogue dory from the book. His approach is to model the boat first to determine interior configurations that suit his needs, then build it full-size via the stitch and glue method. 

Same boat. Two different methods. Two countries. How cool is that?