A record of the 2021 River Semester Expedition (beginning May 1, with the boat-building project)
October 17: Day 51
Today, we spent the whole day “portaging” by van from the Quad Cities to Memphis TN. Most of us spent the night at Elias’ brother’s apartment and we woke up at 6:30 to leave and get to Memphis in time to unload to boats before dark. We left a day later than expected because of technical difficulties coordinating with a truck that took our boats there. But we made it! I made a guide to “life on the Mississippi” to pass the time while in the van.
Oct. 16: Day 50
This is about the halfway point of our journey (we are scheduled to return to Minneapolis about 100 days after we departed) and marked the transition from the Upper to the Lower Mississippi River. We have finished our initial 350 miles of “saiddling” or “paddailing” (Chris Fink’s neologisms for our hybrid mode of transport) and today the guides and students loaded the disassembled Water Striders onto a 40-foot “hotshot” trailer for the shuttle down to Memphis. After various back-and-forth exchanges with the transportation broker and a high degree of uncertainty regarding the timing of the transport, the driver Hugo showed up at the Illiniwek State Forest Preserve campground and “Team Gumption” sprung into action. Gumption has become a key part of our vocabulary (first introduced by Steven in reference to the spice level of particular dishes we were cooking) and captures some of the spirit of the group–capable and determined (and maybe a little spicy sometimes). The students are getting to know these boats and the gear very well by now, and with the guidance of Hannah, Nell, and Steven, got it all loaded onto the flatbed, with a little energy left over for some inverted posing at the end.
The boats now head to Memphis, and the lower river. In the Quad Cities, the Mississippi flows at a rate of about 37,000 cubic feet/second (CFS). In Memphis, below the confluences of the Illinois, Missouri, and (most notably) the Ohio, the current volume of the Mississippi is around 260,000 CFS or about seven times as much water. The river is low now (average flow in Memphis is more like 700,000). And the river levels can fluctuate wildly, with the record discharge recorded at 3,000,000 CFS, and the record low of 159,000 CFS) We will be entering into a different kind of space, in many ways, and it is exciting to be entering into this next phase of the journey. The students have had their training period, and will begin to take on more leadership roles on the trip, as we enter into the so-called “Wild Miles” or relatively undeveloped river that characterize the lower Mississippi in between the cities of Memphis, Greenville, Vicksburg, Natchez, and Baton Rouge. But it is also very much an Anthropocene River, profoundly shaped in a myriad of ways by engineering, agriculture, industry, and climate change. We will explore these entanglements and interventions through an online course developed in conjunction with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, and the Anthropocene River Project.
Oct. 15: Day 49
Today was another layover day outside the Quad Cities. This morning we had a visit from Olivia, who works with American Rivers. We were able to hear and learn from her and her work, which is mostly working to mitigate the consequential effects from the Army Corps of Engineers and other harmful groups on the wildlife and habitats down the river. She talked to us about her efforts for dam removal, habitat restoration, and the different social movements that the organization promotes on the river and off of it.
After that, we headed into Davenport to walk around the city to bookstores, libraries, and cafes to study and work.
Olivia then generously offered to cook dinner for us as part of her family’s Friday Pizza Night tradition. She told us how she had helped host other River Rats, but since the pandemic has not recently. We enjoyed the family’s company and meal (and couch) and entertained their kids and pets. We ended the night with some hot cider and thank you’s & goodbyes.
October 13: Day 47
This very morning . . .
- The refreshing waves of hot shower water dripping down my back
- The smell of essential oils being ever so gently combed into your soft hair
- The sound of birds chirping about how joyous the morning sun is
- The kisses of rainfall on a fresh clean shirt
- The texture of a soaking wet bagel as you try to scarf down a breakfast in the thunderous downpour
- The rattling headache that remind you that you haven’t had a cup of coffee yet
- The cool fall breeze that carries a prayer off of your lips to the soul of the world
- The gratitude of a dry tent
- The hardness of the ground you have become accustomed to by the unfortunate fate of a malfunctioning sleeping mat
- The heartwarming happy birthday tune sung to Kelly
- The flutter of butterflies when you receive a morning text from that special someone
I would have never noticed these simple things if I would have stayed indoors.
October 11: Day 45[Joe]
October 10: Day 44
October 9: Day 43
October 8: Day 42
THE BONEYARD ISLAND
Today, we spent the night on an island where we met up with Chris Fink, an English Professor at Beloit College, a writer, and lover of poetry.
Chris Fink (seated on bucket at center), Creative Writing Professor from Beloit College, joined us for a few days. It was great having him work with students on some creative writing projects and readings. (Kelly was very excited!)
The island that we chose to stay at is filled with bones! Chris Fink noted that some of the bones that we saw (that kind of looked like shells) were actually bones that hang out inside of fish ears to help them hear. He said that certain indigenous groups have traditionally used them to make jewelry.
We finished off the day well when Angelica and Zoe made some incredible enchiladas for dinner. We had a group “check in” in a circle at the fire where we played “rose, bud, thorn”. My rose today was setting up the Latrine with Elias- we found an ideal location and it filled us with pride.
October 6: Day 40
Today was another transit day to our layover spot at Santa Fe Beach (River Mile 539.5). We had oatmeal for breakfast and then packed up the boats and set off. We got to paddle and sail a bit today and set up camp and prepare for rain in the coming days. We made chimichangas and brownies to enjoy by the fire.
Tonight was a new moon, and we celebrated by sitting around our fire and taking time to reflect on the past month and think about the next one. We each got a piece of paper and wrote on one side what we would like to keep or take into the next month. On the other side, we wrote down things to let go of or give up while entering the next moon phase. Then when we were ready, we threw the papers into the fire and burned them together. We ended the night with some guitar playing and singing before hitting the hay.[Sarah]
October 4: Day 38
Massey Marina greeted the crew with a lovely campsite and the cool fall breeze. The relaxed pace of the day helped the crew reset, reflect, restock, and revel in the beauty of the day. This layover day was sent catching up on readings and exploring Dubuque Iowa.
On this day I have been reflecting on this prompt “My life is a miracle that cannot be recreated. Each day should be lived on purpose. Shifting intentionality about being with others as well as getting in touch with my body and emotions in real time and learning to express them” – adrienne maree brown[Zoe]
October 3: Day 37
September 29: Day 33
Today was a paddling day. We left Prairie Du Chien yesterday morning and have had two full days of paddling since (~25 miles!!). We are getting very strong. After a strenuous few hours of paddling and class in the sun there is nothing like jumping off the boat into the Sippi!
This afternoon, we arrived at an awesome island where we will lay over for a couple days in order to get a tailwind and wait out expected rain.
Stargazing has been amazing on this island. Joe gave us an enlightening tour of the galaxy this evening using a light laser to point out constellations including Arcturus, Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Corona Borealis, Delphinius, North Star, a couple astrological constellations like Libra and Cancer, and the Summer Triangle (and Swan).
All in all, we are in our #growthzone. Yesterday, we had a group check in and collectively determined that it was a good time for students to start taking on more tasks. This will help us develop a sense of agency and competence and take weight off of our guide’s shoulders!
After about 30 days on the river, I’m already feeling like I have more confidence and mental fortitude. Things like setting up latrines, paddling all day, and having group check-ins seem to be making us a more trusting and cohesive group. Excited to see where we go from here and watch everybody grow, vibe and thrive <3
Water Strider Watercolor art by me too, sunset photo by Joe Underhill
September 27: Day 31
River Mile: 636
Today was another full layover day in Prairie du Chien. As the morning started, we made banana pancakes and split off to work on our respective plans. Some of us went to revisit Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harpers Ferry and others went into town to continue our readings and studying for our courses.
Later in the day we got to shower, thanks to the kindness of Cindy, who lent their time to drive us.
We then ate dinner in a spare tent to escape the mosquitoes together to end the day!
Day 30: Sept. 26
The generosity of river people is something special – as the famous song Proud Mary goes “people on the river are happy to give” is no joke. In the morning we were greeted by Prairie Du Chien local named Wendy. She worked at the town’s only fair trade organic coffee shop and offered to bring us all hand crafted drinks. We sipped coffee and shared stories over a delicious omelette breakfast bar. Next in the day was our Sunday water blessing. We shared a land acknowledgment, history of the land and thanks for the water. We then played a riveting game of soccer where the crew worked make shift a field and goal post with possessions around camp. The day concluded with some relaxation and time to catch up on class readings.
Day 29: Sept. 25
Reading a copy of Emergent Strategy at the local coffee shop, I want to share with you some of the teaching from adrienne maree brown
Ways in which western contents are socialized to work against respecting the emergent process of the world and each other:
- We learn to disrespect indigenous and direct ties to land
- We learn the testing deadlines are the reason to take action
- We learn to deny our skills and longing to do work that occupies hours without inspiring our greatness
- We learned that the natural world is to be manicured, control and pillaged to support our consumer lives
People keep asking “why did you choose to do river semester?” I would answer in response to the text stated above. It is one thing to read these words, put the book away and go back to life as we know it. It is another to live with these ideas and how they shape how we move and present ourselves in the word. As I young person I want to be challenged and unlearn these ways in which we disrespect the natural process. I want to feel rewarded by intentional community and time in outdoor spaces. I want to pay closer attention to how the natural world solves problems and how that can transform the world I grow up, and the world my children will one day live in.
Day 28: Sept. 24
Day 25: Sept. 21
Today was a transit day so we got started early. After our big rainstorm and water blessing from the night before, on the night of the full moon, we were ready to go. Later in the day, we spotted several bald eagles while on the water. We ate homemade hummus, tabouli, and yogurt sauce for lunch “on deck” and a delicious papaya salad and tea for dinner on shore that night.
As we were paddling through, we touched on the violent histories and current realities of Victory Wisconsin and surrounding areas. We offered some blessings to the spirits here. This led to a bigger discussion about how to talk about and process historical traumas together as our journey continues.
That night as we slept, we encountered the sounds of coyotes howling and what we believe to be a screech owl.
Day 23: Sept. 19
Today was another layover day in La Crosse which is around river mile 697. There was a south wind so instead of paddling into a headwind we had some time for class where we began to talk and learn about sediment along the river. As a semester-long project in partnership with Catherine Russell at the University of Leicester we will be taking samples of sediment to look at its plastic content. Later in the afternoon we reviewed for our first exam and became more familiar with our remapping project in partnership with Brian Holmes. You can find the project here and look into the many features including following our personal entries about the sites we stay at or other geographic information like indigenous lands, pipeline systems in the Mississippi river watershed, Army Corps navigational charts and more.
Day 22: Sept. 18
River Mile: 697
Today was our first full day in La Crosse, WI. After many days of transit, we dedicated the day to be able to relax, study, and explore the town. We were excited to replenish our travel necessities and be on land for a while.
We also took advantage of having our full crew here to take pictures with our hats and outfits! We were inspired by the movie The Life Aquatic to dress as the sailors in it.
We were sad to say goodbye to our guide, Emily, as they went back home today.
While in the town, a few of us went to coffee shops to study, or shopped around in bookstores, thrift shops, and restaurants. All in all, it was another great day on the journey!
Day 20: Sept. 16
Today started with a stunning sunrise and chocolate chip pancakes. After this we enjoyed class under the big pin oak tree. Part of class is learning different sailing knots so our creative wilderness guides set up a thrilling obstacle course that had the crew running up and down the beach (all while becoming faster and more efficient at our knots). After class we trekked through the woods to forage for mushrooms. While exploring through the woods we found signs of beavers along the shore, bones of different animals in the underbrush and dry signs of vegetation from the drought we are currently experiencing. Foraging mushrooms required a sharp focus on location and identification. From our readings we learned about the honorable harvest and held these points close to our hearts while completing this tasks. We were able to bring chicken of the woods and oyster mushrooms back to be cooked and thrown in our pasta dinner.
Much love, Zoe
Day 19: Sept. 15
Location: River mile 712, “Richmond Island”, located outside Trempealeau, Wisconsin.
Conditions and Surrounding: Beautiful sunny day with minimal cloud coverage across the sky. The large pin-oak tree provides shade and cooler temperatures to those who hang in hammocks, sit around the tree trunk, or sit on top of the wide and welcoming branches.
Today we welcomed several guests to our camp set-up on what is now known as “Richmond’s Island”. In the morning, we heard from our guest, Natalie Warren, who spoke all about her expedition to Hudson Bay and how it has impacted her life ever since. After Natalie spoke to us all, and we discussed some of the themes that paralleled to our own expedition, we met two new guests who arrived on the shores of the island in a curious form of why there were two catamarans tied up to an island off the Mississippi river. Our first curious guest, Cathy, paddled in her kayak to our shores, and timidly approached us all. As we were talking with Cathy, and were beginning to cook our lunch, we had another guest arrive on the shoreline. Fritz arrived in their self-made vessel and was kind enough to help us with shuttle services for our guests. Natalie and Richard left our crew with the gracious help of Fritz, as Nell and Emily made their way to the mainland to pick up our remaining guide for the semester, Steven! As all these shuttle services were occurring, we had the opportunity for the rest of our crew to clean and organize both Water Striders while the lunch crew continued to make a delicious pasta salad. After a fulfilling meal, we began our class session on knots and boat terminology, with our favorite professor and captain, Joe. All of us students began practicing the bowline knot, from all different angles, how to tie a line in a hanked coil as well as making it off on a cleat. These are the three basic skills that we will soon be evaluated on to have a successful and safe journey south. For the remainder of our class, we did a writing exercise to practice our field note entries. These field notes are a baseline for one of our courses, in which we will each have a unique approach to recording the things around us. We then went around and shared a bit about what each of us wrote about for the 15-minute duration. It was so intriguing to see how each of us took our individual approach to recording the place we are in, and how it relates to what we are doing at this moment. Later in the evening, we welcomed our guides back, and noticed that we now have our full crew for the duration of the semester! As the dinner crew was cooking, and a group was sitting around the campfire singing the “rhyme real good” tune, we were approached again by our friend Fritz from earlier in the day! Fritz informed us that as they were passing through lock and dam 5A, our group was remembered by the lock master and they graciously gave us two books to add to our traveling library. What a day to appreciate all our river friends that we have made in our expedition so far!! The day turned into night as we ate a meal in community with one another around the campfire, which was filled with stories, connection, songs, and laughter as the stars began to appear in the clear night sky.
Day 16: September 12th:
Day 14: September 10th
Today we woke up at our campsite in Hok Si-La and for breakfast we had a delicious egg bake then we had our first official class session of the year and learned about each of our independent study projects. We have a wide range of topics from studying the sediment of the shores to an examination of environmental topics in science fiction literature. Class ended and we had some cheese and crackers for lunch which was delicious! We had the afternoon off to relax and enjoy our lovely campground where we found a giant puffball mushroom which we unfortunately couldn’t eat. The dinner crew made us some delicious personal pizzas which were a crowd favorite and for dessert they made peach banana cobbler over the fire which we put candles in for a late birthday celebration for one of our guides Emily!
Day 13: September 9th:
Today we spent another day at our campsite in Hok Si La. We dedicated the day to be unstructured to help us get some more rest as a break from the fast-paced nature of the trip so far.
In the afternoon, some of us visited a local mussel propagation center. We met Bernard, who graciously showed us around the facility and taught us a lot about the mussel populations in the Minnesota rivers.
We got to ask questions and learn about how mussel propagation works and understand the amount of time and work it takes to grow baby mussels to recover the populations that are suffering in the river regions.
During dinner we got to chat with our Hok Si La friend, Joanne, and eat together with her. She has shown us a lot of kindness and generosity in the past few days and we loved getting to talk to her more.
We also had a campfire and enjoyed the use of all of our instruments, which have now accounted to a fiddle, mandolin, guitar, maraca, mouth harp, harmonica, and everyone’s oh-so-talented voices.
Today we discussed the importance of self-advocating, and doing it sooner rather than later. Poor mental state and being overall worn out is less than ideal for learning and teaching. School should not be stressful to the point where the idea of learning causes turmoil.
“Seems pretty counterproductive if you ask me…” –Joe Underhill[Dylan Garbow]
Day 11: September 7th
The wind was favorable yet again for our crew! We packed up from our river island and set sail early in the morning.
We stopped for a lunch break in Red Wing and continued sailing into the afternoon while wearing funny glasses, getting lost in conversations, reading books and signing a song that goes like this:
Day 10: SEPTEMBER 6th:
Happy Layover Day! Today our river crew took time for self-care, as we stayed on an island from the night before located south of Prescott, Wisconsin. We had nothing on the agenda right away in the morning, and simply woke when our bodies told us too. We then took time to have our weekly water blessing, followed by a swim in the channel to immerse ourselves in the joy that the water brings us. The afternoon consisted of a variety of activities and discussions led by members of our crew that highlighted our gifts and passions, and individuals selected which activity they wanted to partake in. As the sun began to set, we gathered together again for a meal. The dinner crew utilized our ¨rocket stove,¨ loaned to us by John Kim for the semester, to cook a vegetable coconut curry dish. The ¨rocket stove¨ provides us with the opportunity to use firewood to cook with a single burner and not rely on any fossil fuels. After the delicious meal, we continued to immerse ourselves in each other’s company around a campfire and slowly moved back into our tents for the night.
Pictured below is an in-progress photo of the vegetables cooking in the wok on the ¨rocket stove.”
Drawing by Nial from the Day:
Day 9: Sept. 5
This was our third day traveling on the river and it feels like we’re starting to get into the rhythm of traveling. After the long day of sailing yesterday, we had a more leisurely morning and less than ten miles to cover to the island where we set up camp. Four lovely folk who traveled the first leg of the journey with us (three people and a dog) left the group today.
With a more relaxed travel day we were able to spend a bit more time discussing the things we were seeing. In the morning Joe read to us about the mayflies and the confluence of the St. Croix and the Mississippi. The mayflies we saw a few days ago in St. Paul. We learned that they had lived almost their entire lives in the water- all but the say that we saw them. The mouth of the St. Croix, we learned, is a very important place to the Dakota people. At the confluence there is a sand bar which we read about in Mni Sota Makoce by Gwen Westerman and Bruce M. White. In the Dakota tradition it was created by a man who turned into a fish.
With a wind from the north, it was a great day to sail down the river. I’ve sailed quite a bit before, and I am so happy to be traveling by boat this term. A few different folks in my boat took turns at the tiller and it’s really fun to see them getting a feel for sailing.
We set up camp on an island that we are planning to stay on for two nights. Despite some poison ivy, it’s a lovely place.[Nial Howley]
Day 8: Sept. 4 (St. Paul to south of Prescott, WI)
[Angelica Bello Ayapantecatl]
Day 7: September 3 (St. Paul, MN)
Day 6: Thursday, September 2: Day Before Launch Day (The Final Push)
I would describe today as stressful, taxing and exciting.
My first activity of the day was going to the Augsburg Campus and making some screen printed bandanas for our trip!
After that it was another hot day of packing and assembling the boats at the marina. A lot of physical work had to be done today. I kept morale high today by meeting many river dogs and their people at the Watergate marina, doing the daily “wake up shake up” with my river comrades, and sharing laughs and maybe a couple tears.
The group was somewhat separated today as we prepared for our journey. For me, the day ended with eating some delicious celebratory pizza after a long days work, buying a last-minute cold weather sleeping bag at 8:30pm at Cabellas (a fascinating experience :-P), and doing some late night packing and water jug filling at Camp Knudson (Emily’s house that they have been generously sharing with a few of us), in preparation before the big day tomorrow.
Already, I feel I am learning and growing a lot. I am excited and curious about this beautiful project we are co-creating. Although we are all bringing knowledge, experience, and other gifts along with us, we are embarking on something completely new. I look forward to seeing where we go together.
Day 5: September 1
Happy September! Today started off with silliness. We showed up to the marina singing tunes and dressed as the characters from Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (all blue clothes and red beanies). This set the tone for our day of work together.
We got back to priming the boats and finishing up the rigging for the mast. After working for a bit, naturally we got thirsty and were pleasantly surprised with a cooler full of ice cold lemonade, sparkling water, soda, and fresh fruit from Joe! This held us over to late afternoon when we finished putting together the first boat which was a moment of pure joy!
Finally, we ended the day with an opportunity to connect with past river semester students at a bonfire on the shores of the Mississippi.[Kelly Shono]
Day 4: August 31
River Dan here, reportin’ the exciting events and encounters of our river semester. Today started off with a rendition of Happy Birthday for Elias, who turned 21! We then packed up our things from Big Sandy Camp and headed on the road towards Minneapolis.
Once we got to the Marina, we got to see our (deconstructed) boats and start touching up their exteriors. We sanded and painted and started the rigging process on the masts. After a hot few hours of work, we called it a day and packed up our things to prepare for the next few days in Minneapolis.
In some relevant news, River Dan has started an Instagram account (managed generously by MJ). It will update our encounters with many of the dogs (and possibly other animals) that we will see.
Follow us on Instagram to see it all: @riverdanriverdawgs[Sarah Egertson]
Day 3: August 30
- Met Alan (at the Line 3 Protest Welcome Center near Palisade)
- Talked about work they were doing with Line 3
- Talked about puppets
Learned about the work environmental activists such as Alan were doing in relation to Line 3. Told us about lawsuits that unfortunately did not proceed. Talked about working with Winona LaDuke, being at the forefront of much of the operation.[Dylan Garbow]
Day 2: August 29
Today we centered ourselves around the water. We sang to nibi, we wished our intentions into it, and we prayed for its protection. We offered it Copan and Angelica sang to it in a language of her ancestors. The wild rice danced and a bald eagle circled overhead. We have been told that an eagle’s presence is a sign that we are going in the right direction.
We visited the place where the water first pours from Lake Itasca into the Mississippi River, and discussed how this space is completely constructed and artificial. The start of the river was originally a wetland swamp, but gravel and stones were brought in so that tourists could visit a neatly defined start of the river.
We walked over the iconic stones and one by one returned a gift to the lake – a jar of water collected by river Semester 2019 at the Gulf of Mexico after their own 100 day journey. Each 2021 student pored a bit of the gulf water into Itasca, and afterwards each student scooped up some Lake water back into the bottle, to begin the cycle anew and to have something to return to the river at the end of our own 100 day journey. We baptized ourselves in the water, took a family picture on the iconic log crossing, and waded down the stream until the riverbed became too muddy to comfortably continue.
Swimming at the outflow from Lake Itasca, in water that within about 100 days will be at the Gulf of Mexico. We hope to join it there.
We returned to camp to rest, draw, journal, discuss class work, and look over architectural blueprints of our water strider boats. Joe told us that six months ago these boats didn’t even exist as an idea, but dreaming, teamwork, and hard work brought them into reality and brought this river semester into reality. Joe has put an insane amount of energy and dreaming into all of this and for that we are all thankful. He told us that he wants us to think about what kind of boat we would like to build – what seemingly impossible dreams we would like to bring to reality through our own incessant dedication and hard work.
Day two has been filled with laughter, deep discussions, and the delirious joy of being able to come together after such a long time of pandemic isolation. We walked down to the lake to catch the sunset, and ended up taking canoes out just in time to catch the view from the water. When dark fell we gazed at the stars while we chatted until we were too tried to stay awake any longer. We are thankful for the incredible beauty of this natural space on earth, of this new community, and of this incredible journey that we are about to embark upon.
Day 1: August 28
Looked like- new smiling faces
Smelled like- fresh pine surrounding camp
Sounded like- the first zipper of a new tent
Felt like- connecting with fellow crew mates
Tasted like- spiced vegetables over hot rice
Excitement was in the air as the 2021 river semester crew took off on the first day of their grand adventure. The day started off at Augsburg University where they gathered their gear and got to know each other. Later in the afternoon they made it up to Lake Itasca (despite the strong winds and heavy downpour). This location had a biological field station where the crew talked about science, land and place based work. They conversed and connected with river semester alumni about what to prepare for and expect on the journey ahead. The crew wrapped up the night and enjoyed their first camp dinner of curry and fresh vegetables.
We’re pleased to report that the shakedown cruise or “river trials” of the first Water Strider went really well. We had great luck with the weather and were able to sail most of the time, and the boat really exceeded expectations. It carries plenty of weight, scoots right along under sail, is maneuverable, and has “nice lines,” as they say in the business. The students will be helping with final painting, modifications, minor repairs, and improvements during the course of the semester, but we are very close to ready now. Students arrive in two days, and we leave for the headwaters in three days!
The past two weeks have been a blur. The weather has been hot and the skies full of smoke from the wildfires in Manitoba. The reddish glow of the sun and the record-breaking levels of particulate matter have lent an apocalyptic air to scene, are are further evidence of how climate change is increasing. We have been working nonstop to get the boats done in time for the August 10th shakedown cruise, and it has been a frantic pace. We are on the verge of overdoing, with machines breaking down, the table saw blowing blue sparks (had to buy a new table saw!), muscles cramping up, and the floor (and bottoms of our shoes) covered with epoxy drips. We’ve thankfully had various folks stopping by to help out–Steven and Audrey from the 2019 River Semester, John Kim, Alicia and Mark have all been a great help. And Hannah has been consistently amazing. It’s safe to say the boats would not have happened without her!
Alicia, Mark, and Hannah getting ready to apply the epoxy resin to hull # 3. The fiberglass cloth starts out white but becomes translucent once it is saturated with the resin.
Working the epoxy resin into the fiberglass.
This photo by Claire Pentecost shows Hannah and Joe on the assembled (but unfinished hull parts) in the black box theater. Floating in the void.
With a little less than seven weeks until the launch of the expedition, we have the first mast glued up, using “birds mouth” joints to make a tapered, hollow octagonal spar (one could say we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel!) These are the most complicated part of the boats, but this design makes for a light, strong mast. We will use the same technique for making the two “sprits” that hold up the “peak” (the upper, back corner) of the sail.
The main pieces of one catamaran: the two hulls, the central cargo hull, and the mast.
Trying out the mast in place–it just fits in the shop’s 20-foot height.
After a few weeks off for some travel and visiting with family, we are back to work with a certain sense of urgency. We are scheduled to depart in 50 days, so the clock is ticking. As a result, we’re doing more building than blogging these days, but I will try to post more photos as we go. In the past two weeks Hannah and Joe have been busy, and John Kim has stopped by several times to lend a hand, and things are moving along. All four hulls are now planked, and we have disassembled the molds to make space for the next phase, which is building the central cargo hulls. The first of those is now almost complete, and is starting to look good, with plenty of room to carry all the gear and supplies we’ll have with us. It took a little doing to bend the frames and plywood for the bow, but this rig with the pipe clamps did the trick.
Another very hot day and we are confined to working inside. Hannah and I finished the second hull and wrangled it off the molds. The hulls are definitely heavy (and sturdy) and are not made for portaging. These are boats, not canoes, meant to stay in the water, where the amazing power of water’s hydrogen bonds will do the heavy lifting for us. With two hulls completed we needed to see what the boats would look and feel like when assembled, so, despite the heat, we wheeled them out into the parking lot and set them up temporarily with the two cross beams. They begin to feel like something substantial. There is a deep and undeniable pleasure in seeing an idea come into being in the material world, and this is certainly part of the motivation for this project.
Elias stopped by in the afternoon and helped with the start of the third hull, and then in getting the first two hulls back into the shop and stacked up. The space is filling up with boat parts and it’s getting a bit cramped in the space. There will be a bit of a break now, while I am visit family. Construction will resume on June 28th.
Date: June 8, 2021
Weather: high 90s (heat advisory and air quality alert) We’re in the middle of a heat wave here in Minnesota with some record heat for this time of year (more signs of a changing climate).
Observations, events, encounters: After a two-week break for a little travel and rest, we are back in the shop and making good progress on the second hull. We are getting into the grove with the building, having worked out some of the processes and techniques for making the plywood scarf joints and the frames and stringers. The heat is an issue, and we’re glad to be inside for now.
Date: May 18, 2021
Location: Augsburg University (Scene Shop)
Weather: 80 F, clouds and rain moving in from the South with wind at 10-15 knots
Observations, events, encounters: We are now moved in to the Scene Shop at Augsburg and appreciating the space and ability to work indoors. It’s also nice to have folks stopping by. Arlie from our Facilities Department came by to check out the project today and talked about how he used to watch his uncle build skin-on-frame kayaks on the coast of Oregon.
Entered by: Joe Underhill
Date: May 15, 2021
Weather: Sunny, 71 F, North wind at 5 knots
Observations, events, encounters: The first hull is now roughed out. Hannah and I finished the frames yesterday and glued and screwed the three hull panels on. This morning I managed to raise it up off the molds, turn it right side up, and trim the sheer. The hull has a nice shape, I think, with lots of rocker (curve) and plenty of volume, so it will have plenty of buoyancy to support all the weight of our gear and supplies.
Entered by: Joe Underhill
First hull with panels on, being removed from the molds.
Seeing what the seats look like in the hull, and putting on a bit of the “fairing compound” to smooth out the rough spots in the plywood.
Date: May 9, 2021
Weather: Sunny, continued cool
Observations, events, encounters: I’m working on making the stringers, which entails scarfing (joining) together several lengths to create the 24-foot long pieces. The cool weather is making the gluing & epoxying difficult, but we’re getting the system worked out. I’m getting to know the wood, and the glue, and the form of the boat. It takes some trial and error each time, and getting back into “carpentry mode.” It is getting crowded in the garage & driveway, so it will be good to be moving into the Scene shop this coming weekend (and nice to be able to store stuff inside).
Entered by: Joe Underhill
Date: May 6, 2021
Location: South Minneapolis, near Minnehaha Creek
Weather: still cool but bright sun and a nice breeze from the NW.
Observations, events, encounters: The ash lumber and more plywood was delivered on the 5th, and we have begun milling that up for the cross beams, hull stringers, frames, mast, and sprits. It is nice wood–one of the strongest native hardwoods, but also heavy! The 500 board feet of it weights close to a ton. Hannah Conner (the intern from Macalester College) worked today and we got the first of the cross beams glued up. It is quite a process to get the 6 layers of ash all glued up, but we got it clamped and trued up and will be very strong.
Entered by: Joe Underhill
Date: May 4, 2021
Weather: Clear skies, 50s, north wind.
Observations, events, encounters: Trees are mostly leafed out, the fruit trees are in full bloom, but there is risk of frost this evening. Robins are nesting, cardinals are singing, and along the river the pelicans are heading north. The Water Strider molds and forms are taking shape in my driveway. It’s nice to work on creating a nice looking hull, that will hold four paddlers comfortably, stand up to some heavy use on the river, and carry somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds (for each catamaran). Today the aim is to work on “fairing” the hull’s lines, meaning that we want nice, clean lines at the sheer (the top edge of the hull) and along the bilge (bottom) chine (corner). The new flags for the River Semester arrived today–two of the new images of the Mississippi watershed as the tree of life, one of the original River Semester “badge” and one Augsburg University. I like the new logo as a symbol that is intrinsically about this natural space, and which recognizes the archetypal significance of these fractal, branching forms (the tree and the watershed).
Days until Sept. 3 launch: 122
Entered by: Joe Underhill