I just picked up a used drift boat this spring, and I'm looking for some advice from the experienced oarsmen in the forum. I have very little experience rowing a drift boat but a lot of experience with a raft. My rafting experience is with my 15 foot whitewater raft that I have taken down the Middle Fork of the Salmon and many other trips that include class 3 and 4 rapids. My understanding is that drift boats are a little more tricky, especially when hitting a strong eddy line. I welcome all suggestions and tips.
Shake: I have had two different guides warn me about crossing a strong eddie line. They say to angle slowly across. Personally, I have yet to experience a problem with an eddie line. Hyde and Clackacraft both have DVD's out on the fundamentals of rowing a drift boat. You can find these DVD's on EBay or the manufacturer's web sites. A drift boat should row pretty much the same as a raft with a rowing frame (I would think). The basic idea is that as you approach a hazard you want to angle the back of the boat from the hazard (across the current say 30-45 degrees) and then row backwards. As you clear the obstacle you then straighten the boat with the current. If you are drifting a river like the Green River, UT which has a lot of pillow rocks (rocks submerged just under the surface) you want to keep the bow pointed down stream as much as possible except when hard maneuvering. The idea with a drift boat is that if you have to hit an obstacle you want to hit it with the bow, then you can spin off the obstacle. You don't ever want to hit an obstacle with the side of the boat, that is how you can get the boat pinned or sunk. You also don't ever want to tie a knot in the anchor rope. If the anchor accidently deploys in a very fast current it can drag the back of the boat down and swamp the boat.
I bought a 2001 16' Clackacraft Bench Model. It will probably get used the most on the Snake river and Salt river since those are so close to my house. I do have plans to float the Green also.
Thanks for your advice earlier. I have seen the Hyde video and that has a lot of good info. I'm pretty confident in the oars but I get nervous when I see boats wrapped around rocks, that will certainly make you think about safety.
Rowing a drift boat isn't that much different than a raft other than a drift boat is less forgiving when hitting an object and they respond a bit quicker than a raft. Other than that they are very similar to row. In regards to eddy lines a drift boat will get sucked out or into an eddy much easier so you do have to use a bit of caution when approaching them. Getting into an eddy usually isn't much of an issue since you are going from faster water to slower water. When coming into and eddy from a faster current just be sure and keep an angle to the eddy line. Don't come in completely perpendicular to the eddy line because it will make the boat dip to the downstream side and it can make someone standing in the boat loose their balance if they are not paying attention. Keeping a good ferry angle is key to entering into an eddy from fast water. Typically in a drift boat you want to "row with the rear" using a defensive oar stroke. Whitewater rafting you typically "Row with the Bow" and use offensive strokes. If you are not familiar with this terminology rowing with the rear means you point the rear of the boat in the direction you want to go and pull back on the oars to slow your momentum. Rowing with the bow equals pointing the nose of the boat in the direction you want to go and taking offensive forward strokes on the oars to speed up momentum to get the boat past the obstacle.
When entering a fast current from a slower eddy you have to use a bit of both offensive strokes and defensive strokes. Basically you will be pulling back on one oar and pushing slightly forward with the other. It is kind of like scratching your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. When you get ready to leave the eddy establish a ferry angle of about 30 to 45 degrees from the eddy line. As you enter into the faster current the flow will want to pull around the rear of the boat since the faster water is catching the rear of the boat and the bow is still in the slower eddy. To combat this you will want to take back strokes on your downstream oar to fight against the push of the current and to keep your momentum of the boat traveling in the direction of the faster water in the middle of the river. With your upstream oar you will have to use a bit of judgment depending on how fast the current you are entering is. You are basically going to be making a forward stroke with the upstream oar which will help keep the rear of the boat from spinning downstream. You are not really making a hard stroke forward with your upstream oar as much as you are keeping the blade of the oar in the water and pushing forward so that you can maintain pressure and keep the chine of the boat at an angle to the current, and not allowing the boat to do a 180 degree turn really fast. If the current is really fast that you are entering be sure and keep your ferry angle very narrow, maybe 10 to 20 degrees from the current rather than 35 to 45 degrees. If your angle is too much you could run the risk of water coming over the upstream gunnel and in an extreme case flipping the boat.
The risk of flipping a boat entering or exiting an eddy exist but you would really need to mess up to have it happen. The biggest problem with eddy lines is throwing an unsuspecting passenger over the side of the boat. I make sure and let the people fishing know when I am entering an eddy and I usually make them sit down when I am leaving an eddy. I also am a bit of a Nazi about making people who are standing up in the boat stay in the leg braces of the boat. People always want to migrate to the side of the boat they are fishing, it makes it tougher to row the boat if they are standing on one side or the other and in the case of you hitting something with the boat they don't stand a chance of staying in the boat. Keep your fisherman in the leg locks!!!!
I hope some of this makes sense, it is always harder to put it in words than it is to explain it in real life circumstances. Enjoy your new boat and the most important rule of drift boats is if you are going to hit something, hit it straight on with the nose of the boat, never hit something sideways.
Chad: Yes I know what you mean. I have a used HOG Island drift boat, the other day I was on their web site and they have some photos of a HOG Island boat stuck on a bridge pillar somewhere on the Colorado River (as I recall), pretty scary looking, luckily no one got hurt. The caption said the rower tried to avoid the bridge pillar but the path he choose was through a rock garden that prevented a good evasive maneuver. Before you float the Snake, try to PM Davo, he is a guide out of Jackson Hole and he can give you advice. Fyshstykr also has a Clacka and I think he has floated the Snake, you might also PM him and ask. I did a guided float on the Green River below Flaming Gorge last week (wanted the guide to show me the correct path thru the rapids) and then floated on my own the next day. The Trout Creek Flies web site has a good description of each rapid and also some pictures that are well worth looking over before you try that section of the Green: Green River Fly fishing Flaming Gorge, Utah, Utah flyfishing Guides, Utah Fly fishing Guides, Trout Creek Flies - Your Complete Green River Guide Service - Rocky Mountain Fly Fishing, Emmett Heath, Fishing
One thing I noted when I was over there, virtually all of the boats are high sided, I asked the guide about it and he said they have low sided boats go down the river, but the flow when we were there was at 800 cfs which is the minimum. The guide told me that he has floated it at high volume and he said you will take on water spray on virtually all the big rapids. I don't think I will be doing that anytime soon!
Last spring when I bought my boat, Davo offered to show me some tips on how to row so we floated the upper Green river near Pinedale, WY. We put in just above the Warren Bridge and floated down to the fish hatchery (Davo, fyshstykr and myself). We put in at the number two BLM campground. That water was way over my rowing skill level at the time as it was a heavy rock garden for the first several hundred yards. Davo did the rowing through the technical sections and then I rowed on the milder sections. The only difficulty I has was that the ranchers have inserted diversion dams into the river bed. Davo had successfully navigated us over 3-4 dams and then as I was rowing he pointed out the correct line for the next dam. I had the back end of the boat 40 degrees from the current lining the boat up on the path through the rocks, but I was only 20 ft from the rocks, as I turned to face the rocks, Davo shouts "row" I had no idea what he meant. He was trying to get me to row forward to gain speed so we didn't high center on the rocks. Of course the boat high centered then turned sharpely to the right. Davo jumped out and straightened the boat and pushed us off. On the far side of the rocks the river did a hard right hand turn. As soon as we were free I did a hard left to face the outside turn and rowed a couple hard strokes to avoid impacting the shore, so that part I did correctly. Since then I have floated the North Platte (by Saratoga, WY) a few times and the Colorado River from New Castle to Silt, CO a couple of times and I have down the Grey Reef section of the North Platte a half dozen times. This year I want to get the boat up to the South Fork of the Snake and maybe a trip down the Snake.
Biggie and mcnerney thanks for the advice on the eddy lines. In the raft you can actually feel the tube that is in the slow water get sucked down.
Most of the time in a raft you are back stroking away from objects but when you get into whitewater you want to forward stroke, to build momentum to punch through.
I'm looking forward to my first trip, might have to go float the Green below Fontanelle (sp). Right now they have increased the flows on the South Fork to make room for run off, so I'm not sure I want that to be my first trip out.
Chad: Your welcome! Yes you definitely want to stay off the SF right now, last I heard it was running pretty high. The Green below fontenelle would be a good place to start. I have never floated that section, but I watched a Familiar Waters episode the other day where they were floating that section in mid summer, looked like a pretty easy float, similiar to floating the Grey Reef section of the North Platte. Actually, the North Platte from Treasure Island to Saratoga is a pretty easy float. I have a video of the Hydes doing a float on the South Fork later in the summer when the dry fly action was superb. Here is a link if you are interested: fly fishing the south fork of the snake dvd - Google Product Search
I see you mentioned the Green below Fontenelle Dam. I have seen some ads about private water below the dam. Has access to the Green been reduced in this area. I know the oil wells on the bluff has some restrictions but what about launching below the Dam on the West side? Can we still launch from there?
Sounds like you are in my home waters area. I've guided the last 15yrs on the snake in Jackson as well as the Green. I took Mcnerny out on the green last season when he was just learning in his new boat. Once the river clears up I'd love to get out and float with you and give some drifting tips. Always looking for folks to float with on the rare days off. As long as everybody does their fair share at the oars. With your rafting experience I'm sure you'll master the nuance of a driftboat very quickly.