Boating: Wes Modes, Artist/Doc­u­men­tar­ian/ Shanty Boater

Armed with a home­made shanty boat and a video cam­era, Wes Modes has spent the last few years float­ing down rivers big and small, all for his unique project: “A Secret History of Amer­i­can River Peo­ple.”

by Garrett Cortese

How did you de­cide to tour Amer­ica via shanty boat?

A friend told me about a bunch of boat punk types who were build­ing their own boats and float­ing down the Mis­sis­sippi. I built a raft out of old truck tubes and ply­wood, and floated down the Mis­souri with some friends for a cou­ple of weeks. It was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and we made it an an­nual thing.

De­scribe the con­struc­tion of your boat.

It’s a barge-bot­tom, wooden-hull built out of ply­wood and fiber­glass. Ev­ery­thing above-decks is from re­claimed ma­te­ri­als. The boat is 20 feet long and 8 feet wide. The cabin it­self is 10 feet. In­side, there’s a comfy leather couch, a work­table, a full gal­ley, and a sleep­ing loft up in the gable. The head, which is a com­post­ing toi­let, is on the back deck.

What’s the re­cep­tion been like?

It’s pretty amaz­ing. There are peo­ple along these rivers who are so wel­com­ing and gen­uine. This has def­i­nitely re­newed my faith in hu­man­ity. (You can follow Wes’ jour­ney at peo­plesriver­his­

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