The 120-mile upstream run along the Rogue River to Grants Pass from Gold Beach on the Oregon coast is no place for a conventional outboard motor when the river is low. Winding against the current through the canyons of the Siskiyou Mountains, the course is beset with rapids, shallow-water riffles, roaring waterfalls and riverbed boulders that would tear the propeller off a normal outboard. But a few months ago, along with four other men, I cruised upstream on the obstreperous Rogue in front of a pair of jet-driven outboards that pushed easily along over water only three inches deep.
The experience was something like riding a high-pressure fire hose up a waterfall, but it sold me on Dick Stallman's outboard jets. Dick, a young mechanical genius from San Carlos, Calif., has developed a jet attachment, costing around $300, that can be fastened to most conventional 25-to-40-horsepower outboards in place of the regular gearbox-and-propeller assembly, enabling a fully laden hull to plane over shallow water as easily as a canoe. The unit consists of an intake scoop that sucks water into a snail-shaped housing where it is spun around and finally shot out into the air at the stern at the rate of 1,000 gallons a minute.
This "explosion" of water in the jet outboard drives the boat forward just as the explosion of gases in the jet engine of a Boeing 707 drives that plane through the air.
Steering is accomplished with conventional controls, and two motors are as simple to handle as one. To reverse you simply flip the control handle and an arm pivots the jet nozzles 180�. There is nothing new to learn about a jet outboard.
The key feature of the outboard jet is that the forward part of the intake scoop mounts flush with the bottom of the boat and the trailing edge lies only an inch and a half lower.
Our party consisted of John Inkrote and Oldtime Riverman Glen Wooldridge in one boat pushed by a single 35-hp Evinrude and, in a second boat, pushed by two 25-hp Johnsons, Dick Stallman, his father Ralph and myself. By right of 40 years of experience as a Rogue River guide, Wooldridge, the first man ever to power up the river, led the way.
A grueling voyage like ours requires not only the right kind of power and the right guide to lead it; it needs the right boats. Ours were built by Wooldridge himself specifically for negotiating the Rogue. He knew what the river demanded of a craft. The lead boat was 16 feet long and the other 18 feet. Both were about six and a half feet wide on deck and had about five feet of beam at the waterline.
When Wooldridge first powered up the Rogue, piloting a prop-driven craft, the water was comfortably high. (Sometimes the capricious Rogue gets uncomfortably high, as in 1955, when it flooded towns on its banks.) The significant fact about our journey, aside from the self-imposed ordeal of running against the current, is that we elected to traverse the river when the Rogue was at a record low. No prop-driven outboard, or inboard for that matter, could possibly have made the passage upstream under those conditions.
Our journey was divided into four one-day runs of about 30 miles each. With the current running against us in smooth water at three or four miles an hour, we averaged speeds of 22 miles an hour. But in narrow passages framed by boulders the water rushed against our craft at the rate of 18 miles an hour, we estimated.