November / December 2022

A Cult of Personality

Connecting the Grand Canyon’s past and future at Fretwater Boatworks
Brad , Cricket, and Justin


Just before launching JOSHUA TREE and RAINDOG, Justin stopped by Fretwater, where Cricket helped paint the boats’ lettering and finishing touches. Brad said that seeing Justin and the boats was like having his grandkids come to visit.

Even though this section of the Gunnison River was nearly flat calm, I found myself white-knuckling the oars of the river-running dory JOSHUA TREE as I held them for the first time. It’s not that I feared for my life. What made this run through an otherwise mellow stretch of water in Colorado so daunting was the pressure of guiding this boatshop’s showpiece through a low-water minefield of rocks just days before her designer and builder, Justin Gallen, was scheduled to take her on the road as a display. But Justin, sitting in the bow of his creation, placed nearly blind trust in me—a coastal sailor transplanted into the Rocky Mountains—offering only occasional encouragement and coaching.

After a few oar strokes, we were through the first riffles of the river, and after a few more my shoulders relaxed. And then, just as I started to admire the confidence Justin had in the resilience of his craft, I remembered this was river-running. It’s a philosophy among guides and boatbuilders that boats are built to be run—and after taking a hit, they’re meant to be fixed and run again. It’s something that Justin, like so many of today’s young river-runners, learned at Fretwater Boatworks.

Fretwater Boatworks in Flagstaff, Arizona, is a shop born out of a man’s house that has somehow managed to attract all the odd souls that run the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and the people who have never touched an oar but dream of adventure. When you enter the shop, you’re greeted by a technicolor sign that says, “You can’t beat this place for fun,” a phrase that, if you spend even a few hours there, you’ll be hard-pressed to deny. Then you’re greeted by Brad Dimock, Fretwater’s founder, and Cricket Rust, an absolute stick of dynamite and Brad’s “right-hand man,” and then by the citronella scent coming from the shavings of the Port Orford cedar that these builders favor for frames. The shop is set up in a way that’s somehow both eccentric and ergonomic. A drawer for pliers and Vise-Grips is labeled “Squeeze”; the drawer for hammers and mallets is labeled “Whack.” There are the signs on the tablesaw and bandsaw that declare, “Do not dumb here” and “Any machine is a smoke machine if you operate it wrong enough.”

Purchase this issue from Woodenboat Store

From This Issue

Issue No. 289

ST. LOUIS is a 36' Elco fantail electric launch from 1896. She has her original

Issue No. 289
Greg Hatten in the replica PORTOLA

At the rim of the Grand Canyon, the overlook of multicolored canyon walls and

Issue No. 289

There is sometimes a defining moment at a regatta when you know it’s going to

Issue No. 289

My first visit to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in the mid-1970s

From the Community

Boat Launchings

Boat Launchings


The build was started in 2009 by Dr. David Likely of Dorn Ridge N.B.




Ace 14 day sailor designed by Arch Davis. Completed 2024.


2019 Bartender Boat

George Calkins design, owner built from plans and patterns, 20'6" double ended rough water inboar