Call Us Today 1-877-426-7238
Info +
Menu +

The Gearboat Chronicles

Patrick Rows, Rows, Rows the Boat

Two graduations in two months. This kid Patrick Baird is piling up the accomplishments.

Young Baird got his mortarboard from high school this year, then won a healthy Ford scholarship that, from the sounds of it, gives him part-ownership in the University of Oregon . . . and just last week he went from apprentice to experienced by getting down Hells Canyon in the gearboat, running the oars the whole way.

I was certainly nervous the first trip I rowed solo. I was shaky, up on the scouting point above Wild Sheep Rapid, the first class IV. The knees especially, I remember my knees being trembly.

We looked at Wild Sheep. Discussed the run. As a morale booster, several people told Patrick they would help him pick up all the gear that washed overboard if he were to mess up. I’m sure he appreciated that.

Walking back to the raft, picking our way over the boulders on the Oregon side of the Snake River, I mentioned that of course if he didn’t feel like doing it this trip, I could row.

He chugged an A&W; rootbeer to get some sugar in his system and politely declined the easy way out.

Wild Sheep Rapid basically has two rocks down the center that you don’t want any part of. Then at the bottom, on the Oregon side, there’s more rocks you’d rather not be close to. So with the gearboat you enter the rapid tilted sideways, with your bow pointed toward Oregon. This sets you up to pull when the time comes.

The gearboat is heavy, cumbersome and difficult to move. Pulling on the oars gives more oomph than pushing.

So you enter drifting sideways, trying to graze the wave coming off the top-most rock in the center. Then you take a few strokes. But not too many, because you’re pulling toward a big rock with a churning hydraulic. Get past that and start pulling with a vengeance, because now you’re getting into the final stretch where being too far left will make for bad things.

Once you’re past the final snaggly rock in the center you might get in a few more pulls, but it’s time to start swinging the bow toward Idaho to set up for the waves at the bottom. By now you’re either clear or you’re not. You square up to waves and ride it out.

Our Wild Sheep run wasn’t the cleanest, and that was no fault of Patrick’s. I was sitting above him, calling out moves. Here’s a transcript:

Me: OK, we’re looking good, looking good . . . uh, maybe more right. Go right. Go right.

Patrick: (Grunting, going right)

Me: Whoah. That’s good. Maybe too much. Go left, go left.

Patrick: (more grunting and rowing)

Me: Excellent. OK, now we’re coming up to — O, dear God, start pulling, start pulling . . . Stop. OK, OK . . . uh . . .

Patrick: What?

Me: Pullpullpullpullpullpullpullpull . . .

Patrick: (sound of veins exploding in his neck, over roar of whitewater)

Me: Swing, Swing, Start swinging your bow . . .

The Raft: I don’t want to swing.

Me: Hold on.

We hit the tail waves and took a good one over the side, but for all the drawbacks of rowing a big, heavy raft, the upside is that you can take a hit like that to the side and the big barge just plows on through.

It’s a whole new sort of backseat driving for me, perched on a pile of drybags calling out moves and anticipating the response of a boat. We got through fine and the rest of the trip was better than fine. He’s got it figured out.