Shortly after John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers in 1869 — with the heavy round-bottomed Whitehall rowboats originally designed to ferry people and cargo coming into the New York Harbor — the famed Nathaniel Galloway improved upon whitewater rowing techniques and boat design. His work resulted in the creation of the Galloway boat, which was the best whitewater vessel of its time and has inspired modern whitewater dories.
Compared to Powell’s boats, which curved from side to side, Galloway’s had a flatter hull focusing on the bow-to-stern hull surface, creating a pronounced rocker shape that made the boat more maneuverable and less likely to capsize. Unlike Powell’s expedition, where the oarsmen looked over their shoulders and pulled into rapids, Galloway pushed downstream facing the rapids. In short, it gave him a chance to better read the water and to use the more powerful pulling stroke to ferry upstream across the current, rather than charge into the unknown. As a result of these improvements, the Grand Canyon expeditions started to run the bigger rapids, which previously had to be portaged.
After WWII, army surplus stores started selling pontoon tubes and rubber rafts, which marked the advent of modern whitewater rafting. These craft cost only a fraction of a wooden dory and the rubber raft offered a cheaper and more durable option to river running, given one could get away with capsizing or hitting rocks.
To this day, many river runners regard the dory as a truly superior vessel with its better handling and the smoothness of the ride as it rocks back and forth slicing through house-size waves.
A local company, Eddyline Welding, opened in 2012 building boat frames and accessories. Two years ago they ventured into building aluminum dories and built three for private customers and two for O.A.R.S Moab, which go out weekly down Cataract Canyon during the high-water season.
“We set out to make the prettiest aluminum dories ever made,” said Mike DeHoff, Eddyline’s owner. “I don’t claim bragging rights, but I think we’re on the right track.”
At the beginning of the year outfitter Arizona Raft Adventures put in a request for two whitewater aluminum dories, which are on track to be finished in time for the spring season. These $20,000 boats will run 16-day Grand Canyon trips with four people and all their gear. Usually dories don’t do well with that kind of weight, making rafts a more practical option for outfitters, but these dories come equipped with an enormous hull and lots of gear space.
“We got the lofting plan on an 18-foot-long by 5-foot-wide aluminum sheet, for which we built a special table to lay everything out. We gave our lofting plan to our partners in Salt Lake City who do our laser cutting design,” DeHoff said. “One of the things about boats is having a good curve is you don’t want it to have too sharp a corner; we really focused on having a well-shaped hull. I think we did pretty good with these boats.”
DeHoff has partnered with boat welders Collin Topper, Bob Wojtalik and Sam Lieberman in order to get better input regarding design and trip-rigging logistics, making their latest project a team effort.
“It’s a totally different ride — nothing wrong with rafts — they’re just different animals. It’s like the difference between riding a mountain bike or a horse,” DeHoff said. “A dory is like a rocking horse when it goes through the waves. The displacement on the hull really wants to raise the boat up and the boat is designed to rise much more than a raft and that makes for a much better ride for the passengers and the oarsman.”
After the completion of this project Eddyline will begin building a frame and accessories on a plastic drift boat hull for a boatman planning a source-to-sea trip from the headwaters of the Green River to Mexico, where he will hike the dry riverbed to the Sea of Cortez.
“What I most enjoy about boat building is what I sometimes hate most, all the little problems you have to figure out along the way,” DeHoff said. “And then seeing your boat on the water, getting to row it, and thinking about how we can improve the design is very rewarding.”