classic boat no longer seen in Grand Canyon is the Triple
Rig. Georgie had the mondo rendition of this class of boat.
Take three inflatable boats, roughly the same size, hitch them together
side by side and, by gosh, youve got a triple rig. In the
early seventies, Grand Canyon Youth Expeditions ran triple rigs
consisting of three Green River rafts roped and carabinered together.
An outfitters dream is to run three boats with just two boatmen.
This was accomplished by rowing with two oars something that should
have been rowed with six. The full load compliment was twelve passengers,
all the camping stuff you needed for a two week tour and, of course,
two spare oars. Boatmen actually did this for the same reason that
a bumblebee takes to the air.
The two-oar set up on a triple rig had basically the
same function as a rudder or sweep at each side of the boat. The
rig could be rowed but you were essentially aiming it downstream
with one oar upriver and the other one downriver. The pilot was
in the downstream or lead boat and the poor sucker in the back boat
was along for the ride to provide terror stricken muscle power.
With any other boat in big water, you would try and go into the
waves and holes lengthwise. In a triple it was preferred to go through
diagonally. The diagonal method allowed the rig to snake through
whitewater in a somewhat slovenly, graceful manner and lessened
whiplash and pile-up of the back boat. When a cut maneuver was necessary,
say a right run in Crystal, it was best to cheat or hedge the back
boat closer to the right shore. The front boat was easier to maneuver
because there was no mass of the rig in front to pull around. The
cheating of the back boat would keep it from swinging down and overtaking
the lead boat. All of this was theory of course. A good triple rig
team had to believe this nonsense to fight off the reality of not
having one bit of control once you entered a rapid.
The idea of running a boat as a team was fairly unique to
triple rigs. It was a love-hate relationship. If the other boatman
was asleep at the wheel you could angle the rig just so that he
was in the eddy and had to work his ass off, while all you had to
do was play with your oar in the current and torture him. It was
a bad move to get a triple into an unwanted eddy; they just loved
to stay in them. After running a trip or two with the same boatman,
a silent communication would form. Complete jokes and in-depth ideas
were exchanged with just an expression, without the spoken word.
Because both of you were in the same boat, literally, the good runs
were shared. The bad runs could be a different story. One boat could
get through fine and the other boat could get trashed. This was
where the boatmen realized that they may be joined by the hip but
the river was going to smite whom she wished.
Don Neff broke me into the ways of triple rigging .
Eventually triple rigging broke us. On my second trip of running
back boat with Don, we had ten eighth and ninth graders and two
chaperone adults. McCallum, GCYEs owner, worked for the Flagstaff
school district at the time and billed these kids as the cream of
the crop. Don and I came to bill them as the perfect cast for Lord
of the Flies. The two chaperones were nurses. This came in
handy when one of the little rascals broke his arm in some harmless
game on the beach. Don and I were having good runs with the triple
and the gang of thugs was no longer impressed with the ferocity
of the white water. I am sure that the river felt this, so it made
Bedrock into that oh-so-awkward stage. Don and I went smashing straight
into the damn thing. The word accordion came to mind. I was shot
from the back boat into Dons bilge. We had ropes running underneath
the length of the rig as well as diagonally. This prudent step in
rigging allowed the rig to spring back instead of remaining like
a stack of drying boats at Diamond creek. We careened down the left;
the sweet children of Flagstaff were crying loudly.
Mike Yard started going along with us as a trainee.
Don had many friends on the river and he would occasionally hop
on their boat and leave the triple in our hands. Oh boy! I got to
play engineer and drive the train! Once, after pulling out of Matkat,
Don was thirsty and got aboard a motor boat. Mike and I pulled in
above Upset to get Don and take a look. Don told us that we should
run it and that he would be waiting down below on the motor rig.
This engineer drove that boat right into the middle of that hole.
It was ugly. We lost people, gear, and skin. Don helped pluck some
floaters out of the river and looked down at us from the motor rig.
His bemused grin told me that he either liked the show or that he
liked to see the young bucks bleed. He later told me that what intrigued
him was to see what an ungodly beating a triple rig could take.
I had done my time and taken my beatings. On my first
trip as the lead boatman I was told that my partner would be a guy
that hadnt rowed a triple before but who had considerable
motorboat experience. When I first met Tom Moody I had my doubts
that someone who appeared to have more hair than muscle would be
able to pull that back boat around. We had a good run in House Rock
that first day and I was impressed to see how well that skinny guy
could pull an oar. A bit further downstream Brian had pulled the
galley snout into camp above Boulder Narrows. Tom and I pulled in
too high on the eddy. We went back out into the stream but then
failed to make the pull in at the bottom of the eddy. Brian was
a bit perturbed as he was already unloading his boat. Tom and I
looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders as we floated downstream
looking back at Brian standing on the beach in a bad temper. I knew
then that Tom was a pro.
Mike Yard and I had a tough run to make at the old
Crystal. Everything was going fine on the entry except that Mikes
boat started to swing downstream. I was intent on the hole and pretended
not to notice his calamity. My boat skated by the hole but I felt
the triple shudder as the hole remodeled the boat that had just
dropped in for a visit. I yelled enthusiastically for Yard to get
pulling to avoid the island. Then I looked back. No Yard. No other
people in the boat, for that matter. An oar blade was flopping around
where Mike should have been. Oh well, I had a good run.
The triple had done its duty. It hadtaught us how to
run the river without endangering the passengers too much. McCallum
decided to forego the triple and give us some sports cars to row.
Snout rigs. It was kind of lonely at first but the independence
was intoxicating. We didnt miss the bailing and the snouts
were great to sleep on. At first we thought Mac made the change
to make life easier on us, but later realized that instead of rowing
just twelve passengers with two boatmen, he could now send sixteen.