Ben Hayes is building a modified Grand Canyon dory boat — it’s two feet shorter than the standard size, perfect for the Salmon, Grande Ronde and Deschutes rivers. (KATY NESBITT/The Observer)
Wallowa County man has deep love for acquiring boats
by KATY NESBITT / The Observer
JOSEPH — A Wallowa County man suffers from an ailment known to a few beleaguered souls. Ben Hayes has “boat acquisition disorder” and there may be no cure.
There are a variety of acquisition disorders, but acquiring boats takes up a lot of room.
For the last year, Hayes has rented a small brick building in Joseph that works perfectly as a shop, complete with a wood stove and a lot of foam caulking. On a warm day, he can open up two, wide, west-facing doors while he works.
It’s important to try and keep the shop warm, because Hayes uses glue to put his boats together and glue doesn’t like cold.
In fact, when it is less than 65 degrees, it freezes. He said he mixes two kinds of epoxy with “wood flour” or sawdust to make “a super strong glue.”
“It’s scary when it’s really cold because I never know if it will set up,” Hayes said.
Right now, he’s in the middle of working on a modified Grand Canyon dory boat.
“There’s not a piece of metal on it,” Hayes said.
Hayes owns a full-sized, aluminum Grand Canyon dory boat and he’s run the canyon twice. Last year, he spent 23 days on the Colorado River.
“The first time was absolutely terrifying. No one knew the lines. The second time was so much more fun,” Hayes said.
His Northwest rivers-size boat is 2-feet shorter than a true Grand Canyon-style dory. It’s built out of Meranti plywood, a type of mahogany from Southeast Asia. He said he would prefer using marine-grade fir, but it’s not available.
Every piece of wood has fiberglass fabric adhered to it, Hayes said, except the gunnels. This makes the hatches, or storage areas of the boat, waterproof.
“The whole boat is essentially a big, dry box,” Hayes said.
The dory boat differs from McKenzie boats, popular for fishing, in that they have flat bottoms, whereas the McKenzie boats are curved all the way through, Hayes said.
“It tracks straighter, takes a heavier load and is faster,” Hayes said.
Boat fever hit Hayes as a young boy, and boat acquisition disorder is a family trait.
“My great-grandfather was an absolute boat nut as well,” Hayes said.
When he was a kid, his family spent a year sailing along the Pacific coast, south to Mexico and on to Hawaii. As they traveled, Hayes collected bits of driftwood and carved tiny Northwest coast- style sailboats, complete with masts.
At the age of 12, he tackled his first restoration project when he was given a rowboat that needed the planks replaced.
More recently he acquired a 1978 Olympic rowing scull built for the 1980 Olympics. Because of growing tensions with the USSR during the Cold War, the U.S. Olympic team didn’t attend the Moscow games, so the boat never got to realize its full glory.
It sat unused for decades and for 20 years under a porch.
Hayes got it from a friend who works on boats, but didn’t want to spend the time restoring it.
Hayes said he spent a winter bringing the 26 foot, 14 inch beauty back to life.
From a standing western red cedar on his family’s forest land, he built a canoe.
He cut it down, milled it down to strips, and glued them together. The ash used for the trim came from a friend’s forest land that he milled as well.
He said he’s had it on Wallowa Lake and loaned it to friends for summertime, full moon paddles.
A lot of the wood he uses comes from the family’s forest lands, but it’s still an expensive hobby and/or business. He has plenty of wood working tools, but sometimes he can’t find the specific router he needs easily. To help pay for his acquisition and boat building disorder he said he builds American and Japanese style furniture.
Growing up in Oregon’s coast range, Hayes’ family kept a boat in Anacortes, Wash., and would sail to British Columbia and Southeast Alaska.
“I had to like boats,” said Hayes.
As a kid, he also grew to love Wallowa County where his family ran the Grande Ronde. Many who float the Wallowa and Grande Ronde rivers start in Minam and take out at Troy. One of the ways to drive out of the canyon is up the Redmond Grade and through Flora to Highway 3.
Hayes said, “When I was 6 years old I knew I was going to live in Flora.”
He’s getting closer. After graduating from Whitman College in Walla Walla with a degree in environmental humanities and politics, he took a job at Fishtrap, Wallowa County’s literary nonprofit. When he’s not planning lectures and workshops, he’s either in his shop, running a river or fishing.
“I fly fish quite obsessively,” said Hayes. “I love rivers; either I’m fishing or building boats to run down them.”