For a River Heritage Museum at Grand Canyon National Park

SportYak

In the spring of 1963 the newly built Glen Canyon Dam pinched the Colorado River’s flow to 1,000 cubic feet per second—a mere trickle compared to its normal flow of 10,000 to 20,000 cfs. River running photographer Bill Belknap proposed to his friend Otis “Dock” Marston a trip down this tiny “new” river. Belknap pitched his idea to several magazines, got a contract from the National Park Service to take photographs of the ultra-low river, and sought the ideal boat for the expedition.

In a marine supply house Belknap spotted a small foam-cored plastic boat. Designed primarily as a flatwater toy and harbor tender, the Sportyak II looked to be the perfect craft for the steep rocky rapids Belknap anticipated. He talked the manufacturer into donating seven of them, and on August 5, 1963 left Lee’s Ferry with his son Buzz, Dock Marston, former ranger Mack Miller, and a good friend, painter Cliff Segerblom, who brought his daughter Robin and son Tick. Each person rowed a Sportyak with about eighty pounds of gear on board.

The river’s current had slowed to a near standstill and they struggled across one long flat pool after another to each rapid, falling increasingly behind schedule. “With the low water in the Colorado many of the rapids become cascades which are not runnable by any type of boat,” wrote Belknap. “In such spots we either ‘lined’ the boats down with ropes along the shore or, if the situation was bad enough, actually dragged them, loads and all—over jagged rocks above the water and down to the foot of the rapid.”

At Phantom Ranch the Segerblom family hiked out, sending their boats up to the rim on mules. On August 31 the remaining four floated out the end of Grand Canyon.

Marston, who was on the first motor trip through Grand Canyon in 1949 and the first and only uprun of the canyon by jetboat in 1960, could now add two more firsts to his list: first trip on the dammed Colorado, and first trip in a boat that small.

His SportYak is now in the Grand Canyon collection.

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