A Mad Idea Fueled By Gin: A riverboat steam tub or....

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It started with Camp Tipsy. We started talking about what we could build, what kind of floating contraption would excite us. We were unequivocally unanimous in wanting something like a tiny cabin that floats. Something that we could escape to.

Or maybe it started earlier. Maybe it started with the river floats. For years, I’d built homemade rafts and floated down major American rivers with friends.

On that first trip, when I was trying to rustle up friends to join the adventure, here’s what I wrote “This is not white water rafting. We’re talking rivers with class zero rapids. A floating river. A lazy hot summer day eating found apples sort of river. These adventures remain low on specifics, high on general concept, mood, and emotion. Part of an experiment and a belief in the power of boredom to inspire.”

In 2005, a few of us set out on a punk rafting adventure, building a raft out of found and scavenged materials and floating for a week, Huck Finn-style, on one of the largest fastest rivers on the continent, the Missouri.

We lived to tell the tale (barely), and so year after year, we took longer and longer adventures, floating a handful of rivers on completely ridiculous homemade rafts. Subsequent rafts were more commodious, a study in minimalist luxury with couches, canvas walls, well-stocked book shelves, house plants swaying back and forth, fermenting apple cider, musical instruments, a galley.  We invited others, launching whole punk raft flotillas.  The experience has been life changing.


So here we are at Camp Tipsy and it was Happy Hour at our camp and we were drinking gin and tonics and maybe the alcohol contributed to our grandiose and ambitious scheming, or maybe, honestly, I’ve always been that way.

We were looking at all the bizzaro floating contraptions and nautical imagining. We didn’t want to go fast or swing or be propelled by some Rube Goldberg propulsion system or even soak in a wood-fired hot tub, so much, at that moment, as we wanted to sit peacefully on our own floating front porch and watch the madness of the rest of the world.

We decided to make a floating cabin, a shanty boat.

The shantyboat nears completion and we are readying it for the Secret History of American River People expedition on the Upper Mississippi starting in a few days.

This is a research journey to gather and present the lost stories of people living on or adjacent to the river. You can read all about it at the project website.

You can follow our progress on our voyage. You may want to hear about our triumphs and travails and the cool people we meet. If so, you can get automatic updates via email (or Twitter or Instagram and so on) right here: http://peoplesriverhistory.us/contact/

I also hope you will keep in touch with us and send us contacts of amazing people we want to talk to on the Upper Mississippi.

Thanks for all your support that has made this project possible.

Originally posted 2012-04-02 13:19:49.

Wes Modes

Wes Modes' irrepressible sense of adventure has lead him to decades of train hopping and DIY rafting on a half dozen major American rivers. In various lives, he is a sculptor, writer, performer, adventurer, comic artist, and most recently a shanty boat maker. The chronicles of his ongoing personal journey to build a shanty boat can be found at littleshantyboat.blogspot.com

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