By Zachary Fowler
Appleton and Union, Maine
Our story so far: Zackary Fowler (who prefers to be called simply “Fowler”) competed against 9 other contestants on the History Channel reality show, “Alone.” Participants were given 10 tools of their choice, and dropped in the cold wilderness of Patagonia, a region of Argentina and Chile that includes the southern Andes Mountains.
Fowler, a boat-builder by trade, found that he could catch trout by sending baited hooks out into the middle of the nearby lake using a small model boat with a paddle wheel, powered by the spare rubber band off his slingshot.
At the lake in Patagonia where my bamboo camp was located, I discovered three types of trout: rainbow, brook, and then the oh-so-coveted pink-fleshed trout. The pink ones were the best-tasting – reminiscent of salmon.
Half the trout were filled with fish eggs, and those were a treat – Patagonia caviar.
My three-foot long, rubber band-powered boat (“Duck Hunter 3000”), originally intended to hook and capture waterfowl, worked much better when used to transport baited hooks out into deeper water where the big fish swam.
Modifications to “Duck Hunter 3000”
As time went on, the Duck Hunter was modified to increase its efficiency. I constructed a dock to service it and to provide a launching platform that got it farther out into the water.
Unassisted, the paddle wheel would take the boat out about 20 feet. However, launching it from the end of my 15-foot dock, I was able to get it out 35 feet into the lake.
Remembering how my first fish had caused the boat to overturn, I ran the fish line through an eye on the deck so the boat would not capsize when a fish took the bait.
I made special outriggers to keep the trailing line I used to retrieve the boat out of the propulsion system, so it wouldn’t get tangled.
It was choppy on the lake more often than not – sometimes when I sent the small boat out, the waves would push it right back in. But when it was calm, it would just sit out there fishing. Sometimes I would come down from my camp in the morning and find the Duck Hunter 3000 motoring back-and-forth, powered by the fish that were on the end of the lines.
Salvaging and Improving “Duck Hunter 3000”
About Day 60, I found my beloved craft washed ashore and damaged after a night wind storm. The paddle wheel was missing.
I had a new idea, and decided to take her back to my shelter for a major refit.
I had been playing around with the idea of removing the paddle wheel and replacing it with a propeller, driven by a single elastic slingshot band from my slingshot. The refit took me more than a week.
With my multi-tool, I carved a propeller approximately four inches in diameter. Then I heat-straightened a bamboo shaft, mounted the propeller, and made couplings and shaft guides out of bamboo.
I also had to make a rudder to keep the boat’s course straight, since the propeller was off-center. And because the propeller was not as durable as the paddlewheel, I made big bamboo cage to protect the prop when the boat washed ashore on windy nights.
When it was all finished, I had to wait to launch until day 76 because of continuing bad weather.
“A Thing of Beauty”
It was a thing of beauty. I made it so I could wind up the shaft and set a trigger attached to the trailing line. When I pushed it out, just before it would stop I pulled the trailing line, and the propeller would fire up and take the bait out to deeper water to fish.
However, when I re-launched her on day 76, she went three feet and stopped! The power stored up in the coiled elastic band was not released because friction caused all the moving parts to lock up.
I needed grease, but I had none. (Heck, if I’d had any sort of fat available, I would have eaten it myself to slow down my weight loss, which in the end totaled 73 lbs.)
Then I had an idea for a lubricant – “bush wax” (a/k/a ear wax). Ear wax has many survival applications, from treating wounds to my intended use – working as a friction-reducer on the Duck Hunter 3000.
It worked perfectly, and she was propelled out to her farthest distance yet.
I used the re-fitted Duck Hunter for the final 11 days of my stay in Patagonia. Although the weather was cold and windy, I managed to catch five or six fish. Those fish provided the sustenance to allow me to survive 87 days, and it was very satisfying seeing my idea of a self-propelled boat come to life.
It’s been a year now since the adventure, and six months since the rest of the world saw the moment on TV when I prevailed over the competition, won $500,000, and was reunited with my family.
Using the prize money, my wife Jami and I said good-bye to the off-grid yurt in Appleton, and bought a conventional house in Union, Maine.
Here in Union, we have set up a whole new life for ourselves. The prize winnings enabled me to pursue my life-long dream of making things.
Becoming a Video Producer
After 87 days of filming myself making stuff for the Alone show, it seemed natural to start producing YouTube films as a full time job. Now I make whatever I want and share it with the world, inspiring others to get out there and pursue their big adventure.
I’d completed a few YouTube videos before I left for Patagonia, but it was a big step to leave the world of building wooden boats, something I had been doing for 19 years, to be a full-time YouTube creator.
Just because you are TV-famous does not directly correlate to YouTube views.
After the airing of Alone Season 3 and the revealing of my win, I was able to purchase all the equipment needed to make a fully-professional production.
However, there were a lot of obligations involved in being the winner of such a show. For the first three months, my time was fully consumed by interviews and appearances.
I wanted to get outdoors and show in greater detail all the things I’d made on the TV show that caught so many viewers’ interest. I put out on average a video a week with the “vlog” (video blog), covering everything from my family’s life as it was out in a 12-foot yurt up a mile-long driveway, to the receiving of the ½-million dollars into my bank account and the new mansion we bought. (It’s not really a mansion, but when you’ve been living in a 12-foot yurt, anything feels like a mansion!)
New Show – “87 Days”
Now that things have settled down a bit, I have been getting back out in the woods and started a new series on my YouTube channel, “Fowler’s Makery and Mischief,” titled “87 Days.” It’s a re-enactment of my time on Alone, except it’s as if I did it here in Maine.
After all the vlogging, it has taken me a few episodes to really find my voice and produce something everyone can enjoy.
As I am writing this for the Maine Sportsman, I’m up to Episode 6. I put out new episodes every Sunday morning, as well as videos on other things that interest me throughout the week. But the two most recent episodes are my favorites.
Episodes 5 and 6 in my “87 Days” series focus on making and catching fish with a new Duck Hunter 3000, this time christened the S.S. Sparrow in honor of my daughter Sparrow.
In the future on my YouTube Channel, I will remake all the contraptions that people saw on the show. I will also continue to Vlog about my slingshot shooting, adventures, life, and my family.