By Doug Tims
Chris’s eyes switch from the monstrous hole stretching from the center of the river to the right bank back to the narrow slot between the top of the hole and a truck-sized boulder on the left guarding the only possible route through the maelstrom. Right, left, right…back and forth pulling the oars, head on a swivel, adjusting…sensing the back tube of his Maravia Zephyr raft’s closeness to the boulder. Miss the boulder by inches and his back ferry maneuver puts him at the head of a clean chute to the left of the hole. Hit the boulder with the raft and the bounce pushes raft, gear and occupants into the maw of the gaping hole.
This is Velvet Falls, a major rapid on Idaho’s famous Middle Fork of the Salmon. The name comes from the soft, quiet nature of the approach. The sharpness of the drop into the hole hides the sound from rafters approaching from upstream. Only when poised at the brink does a rising roar tell you it’s too late. You are either in position moving left toward the sweet spot, or your day is about to take a very bad turn.
At 15 feet in length and 7 feet wide, the Zephyr is known for its versatility and performance. Big enough to haul the gear for his six-day journey on the Middle Fork, but also the perfect size with four thwarts for a day of paddle rafting with friends and a cooler. Chris’s heart is thumping. If running Velvet doesn’t increase your hear rate you have no business being here. His raft’s flat, inflated self-bailing floor built with Maravia’s unique drop-stitch construction gives him an advantage. With no ridges on the bottom to catch the multiple, churning currents trying to pull the raft into the hole, each pull of the oar prompts an instant response, a sports car-like feel to these experienced hands.
A couple of hard pulls, then a light stroke, or two and the craft slides downstream of the boulder into the clean slick, a slide of water moving past the hole. Looking back with a smile, Chris thinks back on the decades of experience and design that created the Zephyr.
Maravia began in 1972 as a spin-off of Holcombe Industries, an east bay California company with a business supplying inflatable evacuation slides to the commercial aircraft industry. The company faced a challenge when the first jumbo jet, the DC10 arrived. Much larger with a fuselage higher above the ground, the jumbo jet required a slide that would curve up at the bottom to safely slow the passengers as they exited. Ivan Swickard, the company’s pattern expert, looked at the new tubes and commented that they looked like a raft tube. So began the search for the perfect raft built by a company named MAR for marine and AVIA for aviation.
The Zephyr evolved from Maravia’s popular Williwaw series of rafts. It is named, like many of the Maravia line after a wind. Customers asked the company for a raft with tubes that diminished in size at each end. The advantage is more cargo room front and back, and a lower profile in those inevitable afternoon upstream winds. The entire raft is coated in a continuous seamless coating of abrasion resistant urethane with a glass slick bottom and textured surface on top. With no seams maintenance is minimal – no edges to lift or catch, unlike the cut and glued fabric rafts from the early days of rafting. The biggest problem Chris will have is which grandchild will someday own his Zephyr.
Today Maravia is run by President Chris Frazee. A product of Salmon, Idaho, Chris worked Idaho’s Salmon River as a guide, then signed on as a sales rep for Maravia while finishing up a degree from Boise State University, later moving into management. It is a good fit – born with an oar in his hand next to Idaho’s Salmon River, now leading a company with a third of a century’s experience building dream boats for America’s river runners. For your boating dreams in 2015 give Chris a call at 800-TOP-RAFT (867-7238) or contact him via Maravia.com