Sailing the Columbia River and Back Waters, From Astoria to Portland

Three days up the Columbia River

Solid off from Astoria, OR (river mile 15)

I’ve no must dream about far off unique ports that I’ll by no means see as a result of first I’ll discover my very own again yard, so to talk. We organized for our son to drive with us to the coast. The plan was to trailer the sailboat to Astoria and he would convey the trailer again empty, leaving the three of us to fend for ourselves and discover our manner upriver to our dwelling moorage. The boat ramp at Astoria is handy and effectively designed, however the pre-launch space is a component gravel car parking zone and half muddy discipline. We parked close to one other sailboat crew that was busy stepping their mast and rigging the boat. Due to the mud and gravel I made a decision we might get on off the boat as little as potential whereas preparing, so I advised my 10 yr previous to go play on the docks and attempt to keep away from the Sea Lions that had taken over one complete float. The Sea Lions are so huge and crowded that the float is itemizing and partially submerged. These are a few of the identical critters that may quickly swim the 130 or so miles up river to Bonneville Dam, the place they are going to feast on returning Salmon that pool beneath the dam.

Whereas rigging the boat, I can hear the group subsequent to us taking instruction from their skipper. I hope I do not sound like that. In a little bit over an hour had been able to again down the ramp and switch our boat unfastened. Launching goes off with no hitch, minutes later we’re on our manner, I flip and watch lengthy sufficient to see our son flip the proper manner in direction of dwelling. He is on his personal and so are we. We quietly float previous the Sea Lions; they ignore us as we motor out into the river. Not trace of wind as we level ourselves up stream. The river is easy and flat; we’re about ten miles from the ocean. Aside from the rising tide you would not know we on the fringe of the most important ocean on the earth. The Columbia is about 4 miles broad at Astoria, with a number of sand bars, and dust flats. There are two navigation channels going up river, one is the primary channel the place the ships going to Portland should function or run aground. The opposite is navigable by small boats and meanders behind grassy islands alongside the Oregon facet. We’re not oriented but; we now have our chart, however do not know the place we’re, so I level us in direction of what appears like a probable channel with some form of markers within the distance. We wave to the opposite sailboat as they go by heading for the primary channel. I’m wondering in the event that they assume had been misplaced. We journey about three of 4 miles and utilizing the binoculars attempt to spot a quantity someplace that we are able to find on the chart. I nonetheless do not know the place we ought to be heading however I’ve been learning the shore and do not assume we’re any the place close to the place the channel goes. Simply because the charts lists an Island and you’ll see an Island does not imply your boat belongs subsequent to an Island. I feel the river is extra like ten miles broad now, so it is simple to get confused. I am beginning to want we had not left the dock with no higher plan than head east and see the place you go. We lastly are close to sufficient to positively determine a marker and understand we’re heading right into a useless finish. I modify course and minimize throughout an space that the chart exhibits as having just one foot of water at imply low low tide. Our depth sounder says about eight toes are underneath us, however I am very nervous since our keel is down about six toes. Operating aground is not the one fear, operating right into a deadhead or submerged piling is a really actual chance, and a superb motive to go sluggish.

In brief order as we get near the Oregon shore we spot some markers that correspond to our chart and eventually know the place we’re. The wind picks up a little bit and we’re crusing, I kill the motor and benefit from the silence. I would not describe the view as spectacular however it is rather attention-grabbing and in no way boring. Birds in fact are in all places, the ever-present Herons are round every nook standing completely nonetheless attempting to look invisible, and after they take flight, they give the impression of being positively prehistoric. You’ll be able to’t sail the Columbia with out seeing tons of of Osprey and their nests, they appear to personal each piling or navigation support ever constructed. The squawking younger ones are as huge as their mother and father and demand to be fed non cease. We poke our bow into backwaters and coves that appear attention-grabbing, typically we spot deer however extra typically cows. It’s stunning that we uncover buildings out on this space that actually is just some toes above the water. Most are shacks left over from extra affluent occasions on the river, however some are fairly substantial and have rotten previous docks, a couple of are occupied. Once we get shut sufficient to see that somebody could also be dwelling there, you all of a sudden really feel like your trespassing and shortly flip away. The wind may be very spotty, typically we aren’t transferring in any respect. I feel we now have run aground and ask if anybody thinks we now have stopped transferring, Jaiden is certain we’re nonetheless transferring as a result of he can see the present flowing across the boat. I’ve lined up on shore two timber and might inform we’re stopped (caught within the mud) I play the guessing sport awhile longer and eventually announce that somebody must crank up the keel or we’ll be caught all day. Nobody strikes, Linda is studying, and Jaiden is out on the bow. I climb into the cabin and switch the winch deal with one full flip then watch the timber, nothing, one other full flip and had been free, crusing once more, one with the wind, charging in opposition to the present of the mighty Columbia river. Oops, somebody must steer quickly, or I will be cranking the keel up much more. We’ve got been steering by these slim waterways for a number of hours and due to occasional markers, we all know precisely the place we’re. We’ve got a GPS with us however utilizing the chart appears extra acceptable and satisfying. I keep in mind to crank the keel again down, it is reassuring realizing we are able to change our draft from six toes to 3 toes when wanted.

Because the solar is heading west the wind picks up and we’re crusing effectively. We clear the final of the islands and make for the primary channel, I feel the port of Cathlamet is simply across the subsequent nook and certain sufficient quickly a forest of boat masts and a breakwater come into sight.

Cathlamet, WA (river mile 40)

I hate to take the sails down, we actually have not had excellent crusing till the final hour and I do not wish to give up. Quickly we’re motoring into the moorage; there are fairly a couple of individuals round, a couple of wave, and lots of kayakers. Simply previous the fuel dock, I spot a bit of open dock, and well glide into an area proper behind the sailboat that adopted us out of Astoria. We change niceties as if had been previous mates, they point out they have been there for hours, what an ideal sail. What occurred to us? I inform them we went behind all of the islands, had a good time, did not use the motor till we wanted to drop sail and motor into the moorage. That jogs my memory, must test the fuel, and should need to replenish earlier than we depart tomorrow. Our new mates mentioned they had been staying the following evening on the Longview yacht membership. I assumed to myself, I did not know Longview had a marina or moorage, how can they’ve a membership. Cathlamet has an ideal little moorage, and a busy place. We bumped into an previous acquaintance kayak tenting. They provide tenting, transient moorage or yr round. The moorage may be very a lot protected against ship visitors, there is a boat ramp and gasoline dock. It is only a one block stroll into city the place there is a couple eating places and shops for procuring. We arrived early sufficient that we may tour city and get again to the boat to make dinner earlier than darkish. Within the morning after a leisurely espresso and breakfast, we motored right into a neat little channel behind an Island on the Washington facet. There was a number of proof of previous logging operations the place they dealt with log rafts. We smacked into one thing two toes beneath the floor and found a row or submerged pilings. After a brief manner the waterway shoaled all the way in which throughout and compelled us to show round, leaving the exploring to kayakers. The place we cleared into the primary river is Puget Island, the Island is served by bridge from the Washington facet and by ferryboat from the Oregon facet. As we proceeded up river the ferry got here throughout in entrance of us so we ducked into the slough the ferry got here out of and waited for its return journey. I do not know whom was extra amusing the ferry passengers us or us staring again at them. To this point at the moment we now have made virtually no progress up river and already killed three hours. No wind once more, identical to yesterday so we settle right into a monotonous four mph sleep inducing grind. On the Washington facet, we go by some lovely excessive cliffs. I test my maps and discover the names Eagle cliffs, Bunker Hill, Oak Level. In Oregon we see principally lowland and certain sufficient fairly quickly we come to a different doubtless island waterway to discover. After checking the chart I decide that there is sufficient depth right through and switch the bow in direction of Oregon as soon as once more. In minutes, the primary river is historical past and we’re once more surrounded by nature. Someway, 4mph looks like we’re racing by, even being disrespectful utilizing a loud outboard motor. I minimize the engine velocity to only a quick idle and watch the shoreline slip by. Finally we come to the proverbial fork in highway and after checking the chart head into the left passage. It is not very lengthy earlier than “bump”and we’re arduous aground, no warning in any respect. The depth went from fifteen toes to 3 toes in half a ship size. We free ourselves and transfer over about twenty toes and do it once more, and once more, and arrrrgain. About now, I see some individuals on shore over on the opposite channel. They’re waving at us to make use of the opposite channel over by them. I’m reluctant to heed their waves as a result of my updated present chart says to go this fashion if we ever count on to see the Columbia River once more. We free ourselves one final time and motor in direction of our saviors. They’re standing on their non-public dock a little bit amused. They inform us that the charts have been improper for twenty 5 years, and all we have to do is maintain to the fitting from right here on and we can have loads of depth all the way in which again to the primary river. Ah native information what would we do with out it.

The wind comes up once more and we aren’t transferring slowly anymore. With out the motor operating, I now not really feel disrespectful as we rip alongside virtually in silence. Though we’re going up river we’re crusing downwind, so we now have the movement of the boat slicing by the water and we’re transferring with the wind so it is rather calm with not a lot obvious wind on board. We’re nearing Longview and the wind has picked up loads. We’re crusing on a broad attain more often than not and now not crusing straight up the center of the river. I am selecting headings to maintain the boat underneath management and cozy, (not heeling toooo a lot) in any other case my crew could mutiny and by no means go crusing with me once more. We fly by Rainer and Longview. Rainer has a pleasant newer visitor dock we now have spent the evening at a number of occasions, and the city has a pizza place. I scan the shore at Longview. I nonetheless have not seen a moorage or marina or perhaps a river to cover in, not to mention a yacht membership. All I see is a giant mill of some kind. It’s beginning to get darkish and my hopes of creating it to St Helens are beginning to fade with the daylight. I’m actually torn proper now. Go on or flip again to Rainer? The wind is transferring us sooner than ever; but it surely’s getting darkish even sooner. If I push on and the wind dies, we’ll be in for a protracted motor trip. If we maintain going and hit one thing at this velocity, it may very well be a serious downside. At the hours of darkness I wont be capable to get close to shore for worry of grounding and my distance notion is sort of gone together with the sunshine. In fact, my crew does not know my ideas, they only wish to go within the cabin to get heat and discover dinner. I push on; one issue trumps all others tonight. I am having an ideal sail and don’t need it to finish. Once I gaze forward attempting to make out something that does not belong within the water, I see some industrial lights alongside shore.

Kalama, WA (river mile 75)

We’re approaching Kalama. In about 5 miles I drop the sails and we motor into the moorage. The boat basin is behind a excessive dyke, utterly protected against the wakes of passing ships.. I am hoping Kalama has transient moorage. The workplace is closed so its as much as us to discover a place to tie up for the evening. We’ve got been right here earlier than to get gasoline, however have by no means been past the doorway. I like the various boats. Powerboats are principally underneath cowl, every slip like a private storage. The sailboats all have tall masts so wont match underneath cowl, they’re principally on the finish of docks the place there are not any roofs. Every parking place has it personal mild and energy plug, shut by are water spigots. The foot ramps resulting in the docks have locking gates with safety methods. When you exit one in all these doorways and it slams behind you, getting again inside is not possible with out going for a swim. We want to ensure to not get ourselves locked out. It is darkish however with the marina lights we now have no downside making our manner safely. I spot what I have been on the lookout for, an indication with an arrow pointing to Visitor Moorage. The visitor spots are on the very finish, about 100 toes of open dock is designated for company so we pull in on the very finish attempting to get as near the foot ramp as potential. There may be a considerable amount of floating particles within the water subsequent to the dock, apparently the native wind and currents trigger all this flotsam to gather right here as a welcome mat for guests. Among the driftwood and logs are fifteen toes lengthy and twelve inches in diameter. I momentarily put a foot on one as I tie up the boat, huge mistake, I ought to know higher. In a heartbeat, I may very well be within the water and trapped underneath this mess. We’re all hungry and meals has been a serious matter of debate, so we head up the ramp and are on our technique to city. The visitor dock is outdoors the safety gate so we can come and go as we please.

Downtown Kalama is basically on the opposite facet of the interstate, so all we want do is stroll over the railroad mainline through a sky bridge walkway after which underneath the freeway through the highway tunnel after which we come out onto the primary road, stroll about one block to the native sizzling evening spot with an indication promoting pizza. It should be Saturday evening as a result of on the opposite facet of the door marked “NO MINORS” are many loud party-goers. We’re principally by ourselves within the household space. The stroll again to the boat is windy and chilly, sleep comes simple tonight. Breakfast and low within the sunshine, the wind is mild. It appears like the start of a pleasing day. Within the daylight we are able to see what a multitude we have parked in, the flotsam covers all the finish of the basin and the visitor docks, are being swallowed, one dock is totally ineffective. As we pull out, I should be cautious to not injury our propeller or rudder. As soon as away from the marina we are able to see the town park with its tall totem poles, a sight we missed at midnight. Kalama is at river mile 75, after the higher a part of two days on the water I am feeling at dwelling, however I feel my crew desires to be at dwelling. I recommend we make for St Helens and have Ice cream at a little bit store a brief stroll from the general public dock. Miraculously spirits are lifted. Motor crusing now, between mild winds and the quietly purring motor, the boat is making good velocity. We’re tacking backwards and forwards attempting to make finest use of shifty winds. The occasional ship chases us from mid channel and retains us alert. By no means just like the backwaters round islands the place the most important commotion is a juvenile Osprey demanding to be fed.

St Helens, OR (river mile 86)

Sand Island is immediately offshore of St Helens and (virtually) protects the group from passing ship wakes. The town has a powerful boating dedication and maintains free public docks on each the mainland and Sand Island. Throughout the summer time, there’s a free shuttle boat to the island, making it simple for a boater to tie up on the island and nonetheless go into city.

The passage between the mainland and Sand Island is slim and has a powerful present making docking on both facet a full consideration all crew on deck maneuver. On one go to, right here we found the arduous manner, an previous submerged piling proper subsequent to the dock. The docks are very nice, onshore is a small metropolis park full with gazebo and a small grassy amphitheater. Cold and warm showers within the bogs (every thing is free) make St Helens one in all my favourite cruising locations. We tromp up the ramp heading for the Ice cream and Gelato store. Not in any hurry to depart, we spend a while on the small park in entrance of metropolis corridor the place they’ve a pleasant foot path depicting Lewis and Clarks exploration. It is a very worthwhile place to go to.

Again on the waters edge I sit within the gazebo to learn whereas my crew discovers a river otter enjoying underneath the ramp float. A metropolis worker exhibits up wearing a spiffy uniform and shortly gathers what little litter there may be and simply as quick is gone. Finally we collect on the boat and forged off, the primary river is just some minutes away. At this level boaters have a serious selection of routes, the primary river is shortest and quickest little doubt, however extra picturesque, enjoyable, and off the crushed path is Multnomah Channel. Sauvies Island on the Oregon facet is about 15 miles lengthy, and following Multnomah Channel across the island to the Willamette River and again to the Columbia is about 24 miles. On this journey, I’ve been eager to discover a little bit slough on the Washington facet so we keep on the Columbia. Quickly we clear Warrior rock mild on Sauvie Island and proceed up river maintaining a pointy look ahead to industrial visitors, and infrequently glancing on the depth sounder. Operating aground just isn’t a serious downside and our swing keel may be very forgiving, however its not any extra seamanlike operating into issues in your boat than is being a superb driver and hitting parked automobiles with rubber bumpers.

Sauvie Island has a infamous and fashionable nude seashore and shortly we cruise by, it is arduous to see effectively with the binoculars bouncing round from the waves. Again on the Washington facet, I am on the lookout for the mouth of a slough that I discover on my chart however have by no means explored. Based on what I’ve learn there’s a houseboat group nestled behind a small island. I spot a small runabout coming from shore and alter course to analyze; certain sufficient, a small opening presents itself. Sails down and motoring very sluggish we cautiously method, I do know from previous expertise that islands prolong underwater for a protracted methods and we have to discover a channel to soundly enter. From tons of of years of economic use I count on the river to have rotten previous pilings nearly anyplace and in all places. I ask Jaiden to look at carefully from the bow. With one eye on the depth sounder, we bravely forge forward. A thousand toes in we go by a ship ramp, which I assume, is the place the runabout had come from. We’re right down to about six toes, so I crank up the keel a little bit and maintain transferring. We will see the houseboats now; it appears like a few dozen. A number of have boats tied up, one is a big sailboat. and we come to a cease once more. The gauge reads 4 toes, I’m reluctant to carry the keel anymore, we’re getting near the place the rudder would possibly hit and never solely do some injury however we may get caught. I carry the keel one other flip and reverse course, being certain to completely decrease the keel once we clear the island and proceed up the Columbia. I am not giving up, that huge sailboat needed to are available throughout greater water and so may we, or subsequent time we now have the dinghy with us, we are able to anchor and dinghy the final mile. That will likely be one other journey, one other day. There’s not a lot to see on both facet however low banks or sandy seashores, Sauvies Island sports activities the occasional million greenback property however Washington has some too.

As we method the Portland and Vancouver space boat visitors will increase, plus there are ships anchored. I discovered years in the past to keep away from parked ships after I tangled my mast with a fishing line a crewman had over the facet. As we speak safety is a giant situation, so we keep away from ships. The Willamette River flows into the Columbia on the high of Sauvies Island and creates a standing wave proper on the junction. Boaters have a tendency to chop this nook shut and typically are rewarded with a wall of water over their bow. We proceed on previous extra anchored ships and shortly are reverse Hayden Island, Residence to Jantzen Seashore procuring middle and the place interstate 5 crosses the Columbia River. Our moorage basin is carved out of Hayden Island and the doorway is on the Columbia facet of the island so we keep in the primary channel the remainder of our journey. The final problem we should overcome is the railroad bridge, at excessive water the draw span should swing open to permit our mast clearance. One journey I keep in mind ready two hours to cross by, we arrived within the daytime and eventually cleared the span after darkish. Today the water is low and our present boat blessed with a brief stick (measurement does matter) slips beneath, thirty minutes later we’re safely in our slip at Hayden Bay. Beforehand on our technique to Astoria, we had left our automobile within the car parking zone, so it was ready for us to drive dwelling. This was an ideal journey, I plan to do it once more sometime bringing my inflatable kayak or dinghy to discover the areas I missed.

Hayden Bay, Portland, OR (river mile 107)

John

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