Michalak Boats on the San
| By Chuck Leinweber - Harper,
Texas - USA
We did not make it to the annual Midwest
Messabout as we thought we would. What happened is
we got an offer to float the San Juan River in southern
Utah. This is not something to be taken lightly as
there is a lottery to determine who can go. We were
invited by Terry Burgess who was awarded a permit
for 16 people.
of boats for the San Juan
images to enlarge)
The San Juan River begins in the San Juan Mountains
of Southwestern Colorado. It flows south into New
Mexico, back up into Colorado very near the four corners,
and then into Utah where it ends in Lake Powell which
is formed mainly by the Colorado River. The so called
lower canyon cuts through Cedar Mesa in a series of
entrenched meanders. The most spectacular of these
is the “Goosenecks” near Mexican Hat,
Utah. Our course would consist of 50 miles of canyon
from Mexican Hat to Clay Hills Crossing on a 3000
cfs river traveling at more than 5 mph for most of
the way. While described as no more than Class II
in difficulty, there were some challenges. One was
the sheer weight of gear. The river carries a huge
load of silt and filtering water for drinking is not
practical, so we had to carry 5 gallons of drinking
water per person, making our total load substantial.
of the San Juan from the State Park overlook.
Our original intention was to build one of Jim Michalak's
RiverRunner designs for this
did this and made it strong by glassing
inside and out and stitching the chines rather than
using the usual chine logs. Additionally, we coated
the bottom with graphite mixed with epoxy for enhanced
abrasion resistance. Jim Hauer who built the prototype
was a great help in building the boat.
puts some finishing touches on our RiverRunner
Shortly before our departure, we learned that our
youngest son, Joe (age 23) would be able to go with
us. You may remember that he and a friend built a
JonJr several years ago. Anyway,
we decided that we would need to take Sandra’s
Toto to keep from having to put
three people and a week of gear on the one boat.
|Joe mans the
Within the first quarter mile, one of the plastic
canoes capsized and withdrew from the expedition.
Our boats took on some water too, but thanks to the
watertight compartments in both boats, we never turned
over, though we did have some other misadventures.
Of six canoes, three capsized during the trip.
the unfortunate canoes that capsized on
The early part of the river was swift with our GPS
showing 6+ mph with us just steering. We used paddles
for this section and Sandra used her double paddle
throughout. We tried rowing facing forward a few times,
but it was not comfortable – probably because
we were not used to it. Later, when the water slowed
near Lake Powell, we found that we got behind the
easier to paddle canoes so we rowed facing backwards
and were able to easily catch up with the rest of
the group. One big plus is that we were able to stand
at any time to scout the river ahead or stretch our
legs – when they are over half a century old,
legs need stretching now and then.
|we were able
to stand to scout the river or just stretch
The only real excitement with the RiverRunner came
when we hit a rock and Joe fell overboard. I was in
the front and upon seeing a rock barely submerged,
tried to turn at the last minute. This rotated the
boat sideways and we hit the rock with the boat's
chine. The impact threw Joe into the water from his
perch on the rear deck. To his credit, he held onto
his paddle and he was able to easily reboard over
not hit this rock, but there were plenty
of smaller ones just below the surface
On that same stretch of river, Sandra completely
swamped her Toto yet was able to paddle upright to
shore where she bailed it out. You may remember that
this boat was build very lightly with ¼ inch
ply only on the bottom and 1/8 inch stuff everywhere
else. It made for a nice light boat that was easy
for Sandra to carry to the water, but not really durable
for a river like this. At Ross Rapids, about 2/3 of
the way through the canyon, she hit a rock going sideways
and punched a hole in the garboard about 18 inches
long and 4 inches wide.
not think we would ever be able to repair
I was not too concerned as I had purchased a fresh
tube of 3M 5200 before the trip and had brought some
tools, screws, and plywood patches. Imagine my concern
when the tube of stickum turned out to have set up
before it was even opened. Who knows how long it sat
on the shelf before I bought it. Sandra suggested
Duct Tape but I knew that would not hold to wet wood.
Then I thought: why not tape up the hole and screw
ply patches over the tape to hold that in place? That
is what we did and it worked better than I expected.
She did not even have to bail once for the last 10
miles of the trip. One good thing about building your
own boat is you gain the skill to repair it.
At Ross Rapids Joe and I had a little adventure of
our own: we hit a barely submerged rock head on. The
graphited bottom had already proven itself on some
of our Texas rivers so we weren’t worried about
gouging, but we weren’t sure what would happen
balance-wise when we ran up on a rock at 5 mph. What
happened is the boat stopped, spun around and sat
there happily providing entertainment for the rest
of the group. I used a paddle to pry us off the rock
and we immediately ran up on another one. I think
we only got really stuck on three rocks total on that
part of the river, but we never felt we were in danger
of turning over, thanks to the great stability of
and Toto on the beach at our last camp:
Terry is going to try to get a permit again next
year and if he does, we may go again – assuming
it does not interfere with the Midwest Messabout.
This time we are thinking about building two bullet-proof
Totos with glass (which Sandra’s did not have
except on the chines) inside and out and graphite
on the bottoms and garboards. We would take the RiverRunner
again but we cannot agree on who is to be captain
so we will want to take two solo boats.
Sandra likes her Toto.