By Jim Thayer - Colban, Colorado - USA


The author with Nina

So, what can we say about the '09 Kokopelli? On a positive note, we had the largest group ever, 24 souls by Dewitt's tally. On a Rio Grande River run Chuck, the Duckworks honcho, had extolled the Kokopelli within hearing of Donna Grimes. She, in turn, talked it up among her paddling buddies in Houston. As a result, four wide-eyed paddle people found themselves at the Hite put-in, staring wonderingly westward as Lake Powell disappeared into the cliff-bound fastness.

Michael Storer came all the way from Australia

Also assembled on the rocky shore was the usual bunch of Kokonuts, as well as some of the Yahoo group who have, in recent years, attended the start of the Kokopelli. Among the birds of similar feather was spotted a rara avis, native to Australia. Michael Storer had been invited by the Leinwebers, who sell his plans via Duckworks, and who was on a jaunt around the US hosted by various boat nuts. He had been met in Salt Lake City, wined, dined, and conveyed hence by Messrs Hatch, Smith, et al.

Hikers enjoying Thin Man

Many of the attendees had met a day earlier at the Thin Man Camp to hike the slot canyon, so were well acquainted by the time they got to Hite. When I arrived late Saturday afternoon, Tom Gale had his regimentsize gas cooker going to heat Dewitt's bag of smoked ribs. It appeared that about four piggies had given their best for the project.

Michelle at the Hite overlook

I initiated nibbling with a plate of Mrs T's deviled eggs and munching multiplied on through Dewitt's ribs, fries, slaw, and on into several desserts. At the campfire Michelle produced a couple of wine glasses that showed red or green from lights in the stems. In a pinch they would do for sidelights. About bedtime Kim and Jeff blew in from SoCal.

Left: Martin poses with his latest Rebelcat

Right: Steve and Tanner pause for a picture while loading the Penguin

Sunday dawned bright and windless, with somewhat desultory doings around the various camps. After our standard camp breakfast of butter-fried homemade bread with jam or pb, Steven and son Tanner set up and loaded the Penguin as the canoeists and kayakers also prepared to depart. Martin was mooching back and forth getting a feel for his latest catamaran. The morning was disturbed by loud backfires and eruptions of sputtering from Tom's Ford truck. It even brought the Rangers. Dedicated tinkering didn't seem to effect any improvement. Finally, around noon the big Macgregor was launched with a tongue extension and some pushing.

Wil - captain of the Swooper Duckah!

I had brought a Swooper Duckah! for somebody to use and Willie, having outgrown his little pulling boat, was just the fella. He was soon headed down lake with me not far behind. A decent little headwind had sprung up and Willie, Martin with the cat, and I were crossing tacks and covering a lot of ground without making much westing. Heather with the Girlie Boat was well behind until she and Martin went for the wood and soon disappeared ahead. Tom came back with big Mac and hauled us to camp. We arrived just at dusk, missing the Texan's Fiesta Mexicana, but after a long day, yesterday's sandwich was a nice complement to beer and chips.

The Texans prepare a Fiesta

Monday's wind was a replay of Sunday. Time for the oars. Ah yes, the oars. To review; inexplicably my half-finished oars from last year were nowhere to be found. A couple of weeks of searching turned up nothing and no ideas, leaving me somewhat befuddled. Actually, it's not that remarkable as I have a number of oars strewn about the US. Well, I had another pair with grips and blades finished. I chopped six inches off the blades so they would fit in the cockpit and called them good enough.

Butchering the oars

This morn I discovered that the looms still square) were way too big to fit in the horns. Seeing my predicament, Steven came aboard to lend a hand. I had shipped a plane, thinking to work on them in spare moments. A cursory search failed to turn it up, so we set to work with a butcher knife, Steven wielding the blade while I played vise. Wood butchers for sure. Well along in the task the plane practically jumped to hand, chagrined, no doubt, to have its place usurped by a mere kitchen tool.

Three of the four Duckworks kayaks

While engaged with the oars, we noticed four Duckworks kayaks (Chuck, Sandra, son Joe, and Michael Storer) and the SoCal rowing boats passing us up. Tanner and Willie fooled around rowing and paddling and then Tanner hooked up and gave us a tow. By dint of some rowing, a little sailing, and indeterminate drifting, we rounded the end of the big meander and earned a little breeze, enabling us to slowly beat south toward the Horn.

Michael enjoys a swim as the SoCal and Duckworks group stop for lunch under the Horn

Lunchtime found us on an inhospitable shore with marginal shade, but we managed to get a line ashore and rafted up. Tanner slipped, but both water and sun were warm, so no pain. Willie, without supplies, distained chunky peanut butter and so enjoyed plain soda crackers until his mom hove into view with his lunch.

John and Cindy with their twin Hobie tris

It was a long afternoon against a moderate headwind, with occasional short reaches as the west wind came over the Horn and couldn't decide which way to go. Once around the Horn it was a stiff beat for a mile or so until we found a group hauled out on a rocky peninsula. John and Cindy were there with their twin Hobie tris and Mike and Michelle with their lug-rigged Sea Pearl. Dave and Anita soon powered up with their big Picara, hauling the night's supper.

Dave and Anita

The speedy kayaks and SoCal boats were off west somewhere and Tom powered off to check on them. Word came back that they were happy where they were. About this time the Houston four paddled up, having gone clear to the head of White Canyon and then come after us. They did indeed have a long day.

Kayaks all the way past Castle Butte

No Dutch ovens for Dave this evening as he warmed up his chicken dish and Anita chunked up a couple of big watermelons served in the shell. We had a nice fire until Steven and Tanner headed off to bed. They had gone just a little way when Steven called for Tom to bring the light. Careful shifting of some driftwood revealed a nicely coiled rattlesnake, which attracted some cell phones. I had thought to call the place Easter Island Camp after an iconic head high on the skyline, but it will be known henceforth as Rattlesnake Point. Rest assured that people were wide-eyed and alert as they tiptoed through the driftwood the rest of the trip.

John using his VHF to get a weather forcast

The connected among the group had been getting prognostications of a cold front due Wedneday and so Tuesday morning there was general agreement to head for the barn. The boys pushed me off and I was away for a spiffy run to the Horn. Once around it was the same old story. The wind was rushing thither and yon having a great time and confounding those who would harness it. I was putting up a good fight with the Sea Pearl, but fell in a hole and watched them sail almost out of sight.

Kim sailing his dory

Back at the north end of the meander there was a large bight opening to the north and I decided to take a little break. The entire shore was boat-sized broken rock except the far end, which was an impossible trap. Coasting about, thinking I might have to give up the game, I noticed a large bush perhaps one quarter submerged. I hit it dead center at a goodly rate, grabbed a branch, and tied up. It would have been suitable for a day or a week. Ready to leave, I pushed back, held a branch while the wind brought the bow around, and peeled out.

Back to the first night's camp

Back in the channel, I hooked up with the Penguin and we soon stopped for lunch. Then it was south, a close reach with occasional short boards, back to the first night's camp where every body was settled in except the Texans, who were full speed for Hite. There was still plenty of wind, which snatched away Ruby's kayak, prompting a high-speed launch and rescue by Chuck. Finally, Tom lay the cruise liner alongside a ledge where Sandra took over the galley and produced her celebrated salmon cakes. Recreation director John D set up a game which involved pitching large washers at tuna cans embedded in the sand. Sort of a sailors' horseshoe affair which continued until too dark to see the cans.

John and Steve pitching washers

Wednesday dawned with dark scudding clouds with rents here and there to provide dramatic lighting. Nothing sets off a nice cliff or a group of sailboats like low angle light through a hole in black clouds. A stiff west wind raised a sea of whitecaps beyond our sheltered anchorage. Kim, Jeff, Randy, and the Duck folk took this as a chance for an express ride to Hite and so put off while the rest of us lay around. Not long after a shout was raised that Randy had capsized. Apparently help was at hand and soon we were advised that all were safe. However, the affair scuttled any thought of the laggards leaving for Hite.

Randy a few days before the capsize

The hot sun encouraged some of the gents to erect a makeshift awning. I had already moved in under and an addition was just finished when a fierce gust destroyed the whole thing. The good breeze enabled serious development work by engineer Steven on Tanner's grocery bag kite project. By mid-afternoon the natives were restless and the wind was adjudged to be moderating, although there was still plenty to have us at Hite in a couple of hours.

Us little guys sailed right out over the ledge that had blocked the way last year. It was a soldier's wind and I was prepared to dose most of the way. It fell lighter and lighter and I was about to go for the oars when suddenly, like a freight train 'round the bend, it came booming out of the east, right in the teeth. I had a couple of rolls in the main so wasn't too concerned. The Denisons were off to the north and the Penguin out ahead. I was doing OK but wasn't keen to keep it up all the way to Hite.

There was a bight to the south with a high cliff on the east side and a low peninsula culminating in a rocky eminence on the west. On a moment's whim I ducked in there and let the boat sail circles while I considered things. Steven and Tanner came running back under bare pole and drove ashore. Seeing Tom and the Denisons ashore on the other side, Steven hailed me to go round to the leeward side. I started out but needed more sea room so tacked and took about five gallons over the lee rail. That's just not done on a boat like Nina. Perhaps a little "shook," I quickly made another run at it. It was clear that I couldn't make it. Time to wear ship. Oops, been here before. This time, however, I feel that the lesson is graven in my ever-softening cranial tissue.

This little digression probably comes as no surprise to old hands but may be helpful to neophytes. The rudder is to steer the boat but one learns early on that it has no effect unless the boat is moving through the water. The same is true in a car but this is less intuitive in a boat. However, there are times, invariably inopportune, when the rudder becomes powerless even though the boat is moving well.

Suppose you are on starboard tack (boom over port side) and for some reason (lack of planning, ultimately) you cannot tack. You decide to gybe. What happens? Because the force of a stiff wind on the mainsail overpowers the rudder, you continue plowing ahead. If you are quick to dump the main you may get around to dead downwind, where the main will again have more turning moment than the rudder. If you have an unstayed rig you may run out of sheet or wind up with the sheet around the mast.

In the instant case, I crashed headlong into the rocks and then began bouncing backward along the rocky shore. I feared for the rudder but luckily the shore was steep-to. Steven and Tanner were quickly on the scene and got me headed off.

Contributing to the fiasco, in addition to incompetence, was too much belly in the sail. My reefing system, with the sail rolling around the mast, depends on a rather light line for the clew outhaul. Between stretch in the line and the little bit of movement before the clam cleat grabs it, it is impossible to get the clew snug. This is acceptable in light air or when running but is ruinous with the snot-in-yer-ear wind we had.

I've got to come up with some kind of quick acting 2:1 purchase for an outhaul. Would be a good idea to hang a couple of tires on the bow while I am at it. We are just fooling with small boats but at times it pays to think like the pilot of a four master.

Once squared away, I could have probably made it around to the other side but I was out of the mood, ran ashore near the boys and we stood around watching the action. The Penguin had been hauled up the beach but the Nina isn't amenable to such handling. She is a double ender with about two feet of freeboard aft but heavy spray was blowing clear to the foredeck. Steven opined that it wasn't a very congenial place to spend the night and I readily concurred. As I stumbled about, the boys conveyed my kit up the beach to behind a large cottonwood log where I began dusting off a spot for my bag, while counting myself truly fortunate.

Heather on one of the better days

Tom had gone back to get Heather, who hadn't a prayer of making any headway, so we were all safe and sound. The Denisons availed themselves of the big boat galley to whip up a supper featuring, wait for it, Fettuccine Tartufi di mare. Steven assisted with chicken salad and his personally baked pound cake topped with Grand Valley peaches. I tell you, this ain't no beans outfit. After a nice evening fire, listening intently, I carefully picked my way over the driftwood back to my log where I found a tent all set up for me.

Tom in the big boat galley

Wednesday morn I was shaken awake to find the Coleman going outside the door and breakfast on order. If you are going to really enjoy geezerhood, you had better raise good kids and cultivate the best sort of friends. Whether I had been adjudged incompetent or just needing a hand, I can't say, but it had been decided that Tom would tow me on up to Hite. The first throw missed and the big Mac wound up sloshing around in the bushes while a line was made fast. Luckily we got away without any problem.

As a crusty old salt, it is my responsibility to critique the operation. Generally the line should have a loop which can be dropped over a cleat, bollard, or whatever you are after. Since Nina is a sturdy craft, the Mac could have been laid alongside while lines were secured. To be sure, I ain't any smarter than the principals involved. It's just that I have had time to think about it and we are supposed to learn from experience.

The rest is anticlimactic. The ramp was deserted, the out-of-staters long gone. The Ford had been put to rights. In my day the firing order was cast right into the block. The boys and I opted for camping in the Swell and spent the next day looking for Swazy's Leap. It was fun as always, although perhaps not vintage Kokopelli. But it was a whacking great time if you are a bit of a masochist. Heartfelt thanks to all who shared.


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