School takes on ‘mystery boatbuilding adventure’ for BBC

Story by Deborah Bach from Three Sheets Northwest

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Master boatbuilder Jeff Hammond, second from right, oversees students as they frame a replica of the 16-foot Emma Dean, one of the Whitehalls used by John Wesley Powell in his 1869 descent of the Colorado River. Photos courtesy of the Northwest School

The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding recently wrapped up work on three of its more unusual boats — replicas of the Whitehall rowboats used in John Wesley Powell’s groundbreaking 1869 expedition on the Colorado River.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) commissioned the school to build the boats, one 16 feet and two 21-footers, for a reenactment of the voyage that it plans to film in August.

It was a plum gig for the nonprofit school but also a challenging one, since there are no complete descriptions or photos of the boats available, and only a few references about them in the surviving journals and records from the expedition.

“There are no plans,” said Pete Leenhouts, the school’s executive director. “Nobody had plans in these times. That’s not unusual.”

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