Boat Restoration gives new life to the last active Cataract river boat in the Grand Canyon.
Photo: Stephen J. Krieg
Greg Reiff, grandson of Sandra’s designer and builder Norm Nevills, reports on the boat restoration project:
It is with extreme gratitude and pleasure that I offer my huge thanks to Phil Riise of Seaview Boatyard and the staff of System Three Resins, Inc. for their assistance in helping to repair my 1947 Cataract boat.
My grandfather, Norm Nevills, was the first commercial river outfitter in the Grand Canyon, guiding river trips down the Colorado River as early as 1936. He built six different Cataract boats in the course his career. The now restored Sandra was the last Cataract boat he built (1947) before being killed in a plane crash in 1949. Three of the original six Cataract boats currently sit in museums around the southwestern United States with the Sandra being the only one that has been restored and is in active use. For the past seven seasons our river company Canyoneers Inc. used the Sandra on 14-day trips along the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
The Sandra was the last boat built by legendary river runner Norman Nevills of Mexican Hat, Utah. Nevills was the first commercial river runner in Grand Canyon, and he called his design a cataract boat, built to be quick in the whitewater rapids. The Sandra was built in 1947 and named after his younger daughter, Sandy.
In 2000 the Sandra was restored by Colorado River dory boat builder Andy Hutchison. And After 500 plus loving hours the Sandra as brought back to her original 1947 beauty, design, and style.
Currently, I row the Sandra on the three Grand Canyon trips each summer – June, July , and August. Sandra is the only remaining wooden Cataract boat still in use in the Grand Canyon from the 1930’s – 1940’s wooden boat era. Canyoneers Inc. passengers and fellow Grand Canyon Colorado River boatmen often seem intrigued by the Sandra’s classic boat design, her exhilarating ride, and her historic place in Grand Canyon history – that of being one of the first commercial river boats used in the Grand Canyon during the 1930’s – 40’s.
The river wear and tear on the Sandra since her original boat restoration in 2000 has been significant. Sandra had seen the effects of her rigorous river schedule as the 65 year old wood in the boat started leaking along her chine and stern areas and she was in bad need of a major overhaul.
As a passenger on my July 20112 canyon trip, Phil Riise was immediately intrigued by Sandra’s unique hull design, the exciting ride that she offers, and her historical significance. Being a water person through and through, Phil Riise helped me make some minor repairs on Sandra during our river trip. After the trip he mentioned that he wanted to help repair her further and mentor me on the boat repair during the upcoming off season. Phil mentioned that he knew of the finest epoxy and repair products available to do the needed repairs. Phil spoke confidently and firmly about System three’s products and how they could fully help restore Sandra’s old and punky wood without losing her historical significance and hull lines. Phil is not only an interesting, fun, and great man; he also has become a mentor in historic boat repair – all the while teaching me how to use the quality products of System Three Silver Tip Epoxy, GelMagic, QuikFair and pigments, etc.
Phil Riise was 100% correct about System Three’s quality products and ease of use for historic boat repair and restoration. Thank you very much for developing such fine, user-friendly, and handsome products. These products certainly will help to keep the Sandra beautiful, functional and ready for the 2012 Grand Canyon boating season.
I look forward to sharing with fellow river men about System Three’s quality epoxies, resins, hardeners, gels and simply overall top notch wood boat restoration products.
Sandra Cataract boatman
Canyoneers Inc. river guide