Saturday, October 6, 2012

Lake Powell Kokopelli

This event is on my "Must Do" list. My friend Tom Gale has suggested this trip for the last two years and it sounds absolutely fabulous.

The Kokopelli was conceived by Jim Thayer of Grand Mesa Boatworks. Some of you may have known Jim through this, or one of his many other legacies.

Kim Apel tells me:

"Jim moved from the Chesapeake Bay area to western Colorado decades ago, and he brought with him a deep understanding and love for small boats. He loved the intermountain west, to which he emigrated, and the Lake Powell region in particular. He was a science teacher and had a wide-ranging understanding of the natural world, and was quick to share that knowledge."

"The Kokopelli began about 20 years ago as a Thayer family outing, with a San Francisco Pelican sailboat as the flagship, and perhaps some other craft in support. The initial experiences must have been far from ideal, but on the other hand Jim must have been hooked, because he came back again and again for the rest of his life."

"The number of Kokopelli participants gradually expanded. They came from farther and farther away. It settled into a pattern of a weeklong event, close to the autumn equinox, when the weather was agreeable, but after the summer crowds on the lake had abated somewhat."

"One amusing detail that set Jim apart from most of the rest of us, and from other “gurus” of the small boat universe was his practical, down-to-earth approach to boats and boating.  He wasn’t fastidious about the boat itself.  He didn’t care about immaculate carpentry, or shiny paint or varnish, or the best sails or hardware, or traditional “correctness”, or clever features, or perfect maintenance, or a decent trailer to haul it around.  Quite a few of us, myself included, obsess on some or all of that.  Jim just focused on good design, durability, economy and seamanship."

Another Kokopellian, David Hahn, says:

"Jim was a great guy, and more than an able sailor.  He had a big tank of oxygen on Nina for most of the time that I knew him.  His heart wasn't so good at pumping the blood, but  it was big and generous and gentle.  He organized many sailing events for youth when he lived back east, and was a quietly dynamic leader and friend."

Chuck Leinweber echoes David:

"Jim would “talk” to Kokopelli to see what the most auspicious date was, then notify his friends. The event was always a week long but nothing concrete was decided outside of where we would meet. One year the direction of the cruise was changed the morning we took off. Jim was a great diplomat and would let everyone argue about what we should do or where we should go until a consensus was reached. He never preached or dictated but led in the most gentle way."

And Tom Gale:

 "I would add that he at one point figured he had produced over 400 hulls of varying styles. He used Howard Chapelle's book, "American Small Sailing Craft", taking designs and offsets for many of his plugs. I think there are about 12 different hulls he could produce, a few like the Nina were of his own design. I have one of his nicest molds, a stretched sailing whitehall, from which I hope to produce a Melonseed style boat in the future. Laying up the hulls was a family affair, getting help where he could. Then, he would offer the bare hull for a home builder to finish, or had varying states of completeness that he offered as well. Unlike many boat builders, he had an equal love of using them and promoting their enjoyment. I witnessed countless no-wind days of sailing when he simply pointed the boat where he wished to go, and willed it to take him there.
He was an extraordinary man."

The family atmosphere generated by Jim was evident a few weeks ago as friends from far and near gathered in the mesa country at Lake Powell, Colorado River, (Arizona/Utah), to remember Thayer in his favorite element. I could feel the goodwill all the way from here!
It's a long way from the Oregon coast to the Four Corners area but the stark beauty of this ancient desert has spiritual resonance.
Beside that, it's an opportunity for this old waterlogged denizen of the north Pacific rainforest to dry out and warm up. Hopefully next year.........

 Here are some links to stories from past Kokopelli trips and other Jim Thayer spinoffs:

Thanks to Tom Gale, Chuck Leinweber and Kellan Hatch for the excellent photos and along with David Hahn and Kim Apel for providing the background for one of the premier small craft sailing events in the world.

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