On March 21, 2012, river runners from five Western states, Canada, Japan, and Chile launched five homemade boats, replicas of important historical designs, in an attempt to complete a twenty-four day self-guided traverse of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. The replica boats represented a snapshot of river running in Grand Canyon during the 1950s and 1960s, just before Glen Canyon Dam took control of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.
Greg Hatten built one of those boats – the 1962 Portola which was originally built by Keith Steele for the Martin Litton/Brick Mortenson/PT Reilly trip of that same year. It was one of the last trips to experience the Colorado in it’s “wild” state before the Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963.
His objective was to build an exact replicate of the Portola from the building material to the paint scheme to the oar length. Even though the Portola vanished years ago in a fire, the Susie Too (with an identical hull) survived the years and is on display in the Grand Canyon National Park. With a line-drawing from the Susie Too and over 50 pictures of the finished Portola from the 1962 trip, Greg went to work with over 8 months to complete the dory and launch it on the Colorado River.
Having built a McKenzie Style Drift Boat a few years ago, Gregturned to my favorite techniques and favorite brands for this historic project. Because the Colorado River puts an enormous amount of pressure and stress on every boat, high quality material is essential. The only brand of epoxy Greg even considered using was West System – and the Six-10 worked extremely well !!
Somehow, even with all that time, the deadline snuck up on me and the paint (not the epoxy) was still drying as he pulled the boat out of his Oregon driveway on the way to the Colorado River. Pulling the boat over 1,200 miles across four states was made even longer knowing his “untested” Portola would have to withstand some of the biggest white water on the planet for almost 300 miles on it’s “maiden” voyage.
Greg held his breath as he it down the boat ramp at Lee’s Ferry. It floated off the trailer and continued to float for the next 24 days. After a few “get-acquainted” close calls and a few river-side repairs, they worked well as a team. In 1964 they referred to these boats as “monsters” until they had them on the river and found out how responsive and nimble they were in big water. Greg continued to hold his breath, however, through Hance, Crystal, Bedrock, Lava, and many other rapids as waves of water covered him and the Portola several times a day.