The Boat That Wouldn’t BudgeJuly 14th, 2006 Robyn Suddeth
Wrap (n): The less-than-ideal situation in which a boat is held against a rock or boulder in the river for an indeterminant amount of time by the force of the current.
When I and seven other guides got to the North Stanislaus this last Sunday morning and hiked down to look at the boat that was wrapped in the first rapid, we were amazed. I personally had never seen a wrap anything like it before. Most of the boat was under water, with a hole backing up on it and pounding it further and further against the rock. Literally half of the boat was wrapped around the left side of the boulder, and the other half wrapped around the right, giving no advantage to pulling from either direction. Of course, the boat had had two days by that point in time to get itself good and stuck: The initial wrap had actually occured Friday afternoon, when four boats set off to do All-Outdoors’ last trip on the Stan before flows dropped to a level too low to run. In the very first rapid of the day, Beginner’s Luck, two of those four boats wrapped. One of them came off fairly easily, and the other one,well, the other one is still there…
On Sunday, eight of us (none of whom had been on that trip on Friday) met at 9 am on the North Stanislaus with a lot of ropes, pulleys, carabiners, and throw bags. Our mission? To recover that wrapped boat and bring it home. I expected it would take us four to six hours at the most to get the boat off the rock, and then we’d all go celebrate with dinner and cold drinks in Murphys before heading home.
What I didn’t know was that this wasn’t just any old wrap. This was the very definition, nay, the epitome, of a wrap. By 8 pm Sunday evening, we had tried four different mechanical advantage systems (ropes, pulleys, people pulling on ropes, etc.), endured a few bee stings, witnessed some incredibly heroic swimming, and used spears mades out of a few long sticks and river knives; all to no avail. That darn thing wouldn’t budge.
Sometimes to the frustration of my hard-working companions, I made sure to thoroughly document the entire endeavor, from plan A to plan E. Following are the stories and descriptions from our (sometimes entertaining) attempts:
Plan A: Those Pesky Bees
It’s not like the trip on Friday had made absolutely no attempt at getting their boat before abandoning it in the rapid. They, too, had tried to get it back before having to give up in order to complete their trip before dark. So when we got there on Sunday, the boat was already tied to shore by a few ropes and had carabiners attached to it at several points. Upon inspection, we found two problems with the system that was already there. One, the rope had spent two days rubbing against rocks and was therefore in what one might call, “piss poor” condition. (Note picture on the left.) Second, it seemed that our friends on Friday had been attempting to pull the boat off the rock against the force of all the river’s current.
“Well,” we thought, “That’s easy. We’ll just change the angle of the ropes, and pull the boat upwards and out of the water instead.” (Little did we know that those guys on Friday had also exhausted a few other plans before things got to the position in which we found them.)
Hence was born Plan A. Being one of the lighter people there (although hardly very light), we decided that I would stand on Kevin’s shoulder, and attach an anchor as high up on the furthest away tree possible, straight up the hill from the river-right side of the wrapped boat. (Funny how I’m all smiles in this picture and Kevin seems somewhat distressed. Huh…)
Next, we attached a new rope to the old one below the point at which it was frayed, set up a mechanical advantage system near our tree, and started to pull. Except me. My job was to “manage the break,” meaning to continually re-set a prussik set up so that if those guys stopped pulling for a second, the rope would stay in place and they wouldn’t lose all the work they’d already done.
A fine plan. Usually works great. That is, of course, as long as the break isn’t right above a bee’s nest. Which in this case, it was. So, Plan A was working decently, they were making a slight bit of progress on the boat, when all of a sudden they were surprised by a certain person screaming and running around like a crazy woman, saying something about bees and getting her butt in to the ice cold river as fast as absolutely possible. In the end, I had 8 new bee stings and it was decided that, perhaps, we should move the whole system to someplace a little friendlier. End of Plan A.
Plan C: Captain Tuolumne (almost) Saves The Day
(Yes, I do know my alphabet, and realize that C does not come after A, but Plan B only entailed a slight change in angle on the boats and a different tree, so wasn’t really worth telling. Suffice it to say, the downfall of Plan B was the snapping and breaking of one of the throw bags, shown in this picture on the left.)
Once we weren’t successful in pulling the boat off that rock from the right side of the river, we decided to hike back upstream, cross to the other side, and try a different tactic. The problem was, we needed another point of attachment on the boat, so that we could pull on it from two different places and get it to swing off towards the left side of the rock. In order to do that, we had to somehow climb on to the boat. (Remember that the boat is in the middle of a Class IV rapid.)
Enter Captain Tuolumne (aka Matt). [To learn the origin of his nickname, read this post about what happens When Raft Guides Have A Bone To Pick With Each Other.] As most superheroes go, Captain Tuolumne, naturally, has no fear. And so, he volunteered to dive into the middle of the rapid, grab one of the ropes already hanging from the wrapped boat, climb himself onto the rock behind it, and hold himself there while attaching another line to the raft.
An impossible feat for the average man; Piece o’ cake for Captain Tuolumne. At least until he got to the boat. Then a short battle ensued of Matt vs. the River, in which he had to dive into pounding water in order to get a rope attached to the right spot on the boat. It took a few minutes and there were moments when poor Matt looked like he may be catching hypothermia, but good ole’ Captain Tuolumne prevailed, and soon enough we had our new system set up.
Alas, after all those heroics and a hard-fought battle, Plan C hardly made that boat budge an inch. We had two ropes set up, one upstream of the boat attached to it’s right side, and one downstream of the boat attached to it’s left. We would pull as hard as we couldfrom one side, set the break, then allgo down or upstream to pull as hard as we could from the other. No luck. It was at this point in the day that we began to get an understanding for just how wrapped that boat actually was.
And so, it was back to the other side of the river for Plan D…
Plan D: Playing With Spears
By the time we had eaten some snacks back at the cars and hiked back to the boat on the other side of the river, it had started to dawn on us that we were now in a little bit of a time crunch. Afternoon had crept upon us,and it was clear that if any system was eventually going to work, it wouldn’t be a quick process anyway. And so things took on a little bit more of a hectic tone.
As we were all standing around re-assessing our situation, everyone began to abandon the idea of bringing the boat back in, say, perfect condition. What are a few holes and tears compared to losing the entire boat?… We quickly agreed that the time had come to pop some tubes.
The guys immediately started an inventory of their river knives, and Adam instructed some of them to go on a hunt for long, strong sticks. With a surprising burst of new energy, they all ran off in different directions in a flurry of boyish glee; some gathering wood and others gathering the ropes and tape that would be needed to fashion their new weapon. (I had an incling that the guys were secretly in heaven, but I kept those thoughts to myself.)
Once all the supplies were gathered, Adam, Travis and Kevin set to work creating a device that would be long enough to puncture the boat from the shore of the river (about twelve feet above it.) Two sticks were tied together, and a knife taped to the end. Travis then carried the spear-type-thing down to the water’s edge, and leaned out to give the boat a few good stabs. Stubborn old boat that it was, however, the first knife we used was no match for it. When Travis pulled the sticks back up on shore, the knife was bent in two and the boat still in perfect condition.
Noah offered up his knife as a replacement, and that time it worked. The left, downstream tube began deflating and we all cheered, thinking our creativity had payed off and our troubles would soon be over.
Similar to what had been done on the other side of the river, we started scurrying around to set up one line downstream of the boat (this time on the right side) and one line upstream of the boat (pulling from the left side of the boat.) We were hoping it would pull off towards the right, especially now that one of its left tubes was deflated. Unfortunately, we were still underestimating the severity of that wrap. And again, no matter how hard we pulled and tugged and despite the ingenuity of this fourth plan, that darn boat still…would not budge.
Plan E: Bronco Riding and One Last Pull
Hope was starting to wane a little bit, but we weren’t yet totally ready to give up. We still had a little bit of daylight left, and more boat that we could deflate. Problem was that our ingenious spear invention would not reach to the floor or other left tube of the boat. This meant that in order to deflate the floor (which seemed the next best thing to try), we would need another bout of heroic swimming, and Captain Tuolumne was by that time enjoying being dry and warm.
Luckily, Noah was hoping to do a little swimming, climbing around, and, as it turned out, bronco riding on a boat tube. Oh, and of course, some boat stabbing as well. So this time it was he who dove into the rapid, climbed up onto the rock, then onto the boat in order to get to that floor. He held on with his legs, then dove under the water to stab at the floor, putting another hole in that poor boat. (Although I have to say at that point we weren’t feeling to sorry for the thing.)
Again we scurried about re-setting ropes and getting ready to pull on them one last time. But the theme of the day had not changed. It was eight p.m. when we gave those lines one last tug, and with a defiant snap, the d-ring on the boat snapped and all of our ropes and pulleys came flying back at us as if to yell out, “Give up!” My knee suffered a bit of a beating in the process when a pulley hit it, and we all were finally forced to admit defeat and trudge on home.
With blistered hands, bee stings, sore shoulders, and one aching knee, we packed up all our gear, said adieu to our triumphant competitor with it’s one remaining thwart waving good-bye to us, and headed back upstream to our cars. We were concerned about unweary kayakers getting a very dangerous surprise if they dropped into the rapid unknowing, and so Ryan set up a rope upstream from the rapid that stretched across its entrance, warning boaters to stop and scout. And that was it. We went our separate ways, having learned quite a bit about mechanical advantage systems if we didn’t remember them from guide school, and with a new appreciation for the power of the river and one very strong and impressive little boat that just wouldn’t budge. Guess we’ll just have to wait until the water drops and try again…