Raft rehabilitation

Last year I acquired an old raft from Roman, identical to the Sherpa pictured below, but hand-made by Roman himself. Beyond a cheap option to get others out packrafting, this boat was used on the Alaska range bike traverse whose write-up in National Geographic was so influential on me as a high schooler.  It’s a totem, a piece of history (sorry Roman).

Photo by Roman, courtesy Luc.

The boat was truthfully advertised as being leaky, though it came fairly serviceable.  I wanted better, though efforts to seal microleaks from the outside with aquaseal proved unsuccessful.  It got stored away at the end of the last summer and placed mostly out of mind until last month, when in the course of buying replacement wrist gaskets for my drysuit I stumbled upon this stuff, which sounded perfect.

The old boat now holds air flawlessly, thought the process of using the sealant was not the simplest thing I’ve ever done.

Read the instructions well, and put the stuff in outside on a warm day.  The fumes are vile, making Clifton boat adhesive seam friendly by comparison.  The Sherpa-like has two mouth valves, one on each side, with a simple flap at the bottom which when the boat is moderately pressurized turn them into functional one way valves.  I made a funnel from a cut-down shampoo bottle to get the stuff inside.  In true Dave-overkill fashion, I used the entire mixture on the tiny little boat, which was excessive.  Half would have been adequate, though it needed a lot to get the job done.  I spent the better part of an hour out in the yard shaking and massaging the goop around once I got it inside the tubes, and once I found one particular spot where the actual liquid was leaking though the seam hung it on the clothesline such that the puddle within was positioned right over the problem area.  4-5 hours after application the goop had almost entirely dried enough to adhere all over the tubes, and I hung it mostly deflated from a nail in a basement rafter overnight.

Going down the next morning, I discovered why the directions had you inflate the boat fully at this point (or a bit earlier).  The not-yet-cured adhesive was incredibly sticky, and the tubes had ferociously stuck together in a few places.  Trying to get them apart by hand made it worse.  Inflating by mouth was not yet practical, as the fumes were still emphatically in the brain-cell killing range.  I managed to screw the Alpacka inflation bag into the valves and, with a lot of concerted effort, blast the tubes back apart and put the boat in a position to cure in peace.  There were a few moments that morning when I was sure I had fucked it for good.  It still took 3-4 warm days sitting out back all day in the sunshine before almost all the tackiness was gone enough that I felt comfortable rolling up the boat.

The saga wasn’t quite over, as despite my efforts a bit of sealant had gotten on the valves, gummed them up, and ultimately caused them to tear a bit such that they wouldn’t hold air, which made proper inflation impossible.  Fortunately Roman included extras, and a simple valve replacement with aquaseal had the boat at full strength.

It works great now, though it also gives me plenty of reasons to think of how good Alpackas are by comparison.  I like the close fit and especially the huge 12″ tubes keeping me dry and bobbing over waves and such.  My 210 cm paddle really isn’t wide enough to do well in the Sherpa.  In any case, I imagine there are some leaky old Alpackas which might get a new lease on life with this raft sealant.  Application of the whole mixture added 8-9 oz to the weight of the boat.

On another note, while floating the full Camas Creek from Roger Lake to the inside road last weekend, I noted a very gradual leak.  Fortunately it turned out to be what I thought it was; the UV-cure aquaseal I had put on the elbow valve back in early April had grown brittle.  Something about whatever solvent is in that stuff to make it cure fast renders it a good short term, but poor long term solution to repair problems.  A coat of normal aquaseal sorted this out easily.  I’ll still carry a tiny tube of the UV-cure for field repairs, but will reinforce it once back at the ranch.

Happy boating.

Photo by Dial, of a place we’ll be this July!


2 responses to “Raft rehabilitation”

  1. Way to go Dave!

  2. Hey Dave! I’m writing a book about bikerafting, including the history of the sport. I have been bugging Roman a ton for information and photos and everything. He doesn’t have a digital copy of the second photo above that you posted above and doesn’t have time to dig through his slides to make one. Would you be able to share your digital version with me? Thanks for considering! -Lizzy Scully info @fourcornersguides.com.

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