Once upon a time a river runner could essentially choose between two types of boats, an aluminum canoe or a fiberglass canoe. Fortunately all sorts of better options have materialized since, one of which is the inflatable raft. If you’ve spent any time floating in Arkansas or Missouri you’ve likely seen them for rent at outfitters. They are set up for paddlers, but did you know a raft can be outfitted with a frame and rigging and turned into a float camping conveyance? Well, it can, and a darned fine one at that.
Recently my old friend Jill Morris acquired a Rocky Mountain Rafts Storm, a little 10.5′ wonder that is equally happy being paddled or rowed down river, but her primary objective was to load it with camping gear and/or passengers and row it. She had no idea where to begin, so she asked The Gram for a little guidance and we were happy to help her blow lots of her hard earned money……..I mean we were happy to oblige.
The main thing she needed demystified was the frame. This is understandable. Raft frames were initially constructed of wood by the oarsmen (or women) who intended to use them. Today they’re generally made of aluminum tubing and assembled with fittings or welded, but there are many options available, so the process of acquiring one and pressing it into service can be daunting. But, regardless of how it’s constructed a frame essentially just serves two purposes; providing a perch to row from and a place to put people and stuff on the raft. To be sure these are two very important purposes, but as critical as the frame is it ain’t rocket science (unless we’re talking about the aluminum of which it’s made).
Jill chose a modular frame from a small Colorado company called Rowframe, who cut the pipe, packaged it with the requisite fittings, wrapped it all together and shipped it to her COD. Yep, COD. Boaters…….It looked like this.
We double teamed the packaging with knives and invectives and within a few hours (it only took us thirty minutes though we later joked that unwrapping required more time than assembly) we had all the pipe and components exposed and inventoried.
Next up was assembly. Assembling a modular raft frame is not difficult. It’s a simple matter of determining which lengths of tubing and which fittings go where and how then tightening set screws and drilling holes for pins. The head scratching begins when it’s time to determine how and where to position the oar towers and center pipes, because this determines how comfortable (or uncomfortable) rowing will be and how well the payload will be distributed. This is very much a moving target at first, so since modular frames are adjustable they’re a good choice for beginning rubber pushers. We soon had Jill’s assembled and tweaked for its initial trial.
A frame can only occupy so much real estate on the raft without compromising its structural integrity, handling characteristics and safety. For Jill’s Storm we chose the largest frame possible, a 50″ x 60″ three bay version.
We’ll talk some time about the PBR Repair Index. It’s a little metric I use to convey the amount of time and skill required to complete an outdoors related project. For now I’ll just say this one was a Two PBR Job, and Jill was soon on her way home with a smile and a new frame for her raft.
She’s steadily working on her trailer, oars, dry box and all the other equipment necessary to successfully prosecute her rafting endeavors. When this process began I advised her that rigging is a big part of the fun. She seemed dubious, as my fellow adventurers often do at some point in our conversations, but I think she’s convinced.
See you out there!