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Columbia River Cruise on Chantey V - Part 2

Daragh Nagle

Chantey V
Moody 376 Sloop
November 26th, 2023

[Editors Note: In Part 1, the crew of Chantey V recount their voyage from Victoria, BC to Portland, Oregon buddy boating with the crew of Nimue. They have just met up with local friends on Tango, and plan to continue traveling up the Columbia River.]

The Voyage Upriver Continues

After bidding adieu to crew member John, who flew back to Victoria from the nearby Portland Airport, it was time to move on upriver. The steady 2 knot adverse current kept our engines busy, but we also had many head sailing opportunities when the wind picked up in the afternoons. Tango shared some local knowledge, using back eddies on the shoreline, which saved us some time. 17 NM east of Portland, we passed Corbett Station – the original hailing port of Chantey V. Alas, all that remains are a few abandoned pilings – apparently the upgrading of the adjacent highway restricted access to the point where the docks were no longer viable. By late afternoon, we docked at Beacon Rock State Park – a most picturesque scene. It was too late in the day to attempt a climb of the wonderful rock formations, but we resolved that it was a must-do on the return trip. We rounded out the day with a salmon plank BBQ on Nimue, followed by socializing until sunset.

Beacon Rock State Park put us within 5 NM of the Bonneville Dam and Locks. Surprisingly, we were advised to allow at least two hours for this short trip and once under way, we realized why. The river flows faster as you approach the dam overflow discharge, and we struggled to make 3 knots against the current. We made it handily for the 9 am lock opening. They employ a system of sliding wall bollards, which simplifies the process of tending lines for the 80 ft rise in the lock. Onward to Hood River and past the disused Cascade Locks, which we noted for a potential stop on the way back. We had a strong westerly wind, which allowed us to sail most of the way. There was a lot of activity on the water in the vicinity of Hood River, which is a Mecca for kite boarding and wind surfing. All this, in addition to the tugs, barges and river cruise ship requires a sharp look out. This part of the Columbia Gorge is famous for its dependable winds and today was no exception. We were fortunate to have Vicky Austen at the dock to catch our lines, with the 20 knot wind gusts upon arrival. Steve and Vicky took us to their beautiful home for dinner and we enjoyed a few days of shore life there. We hiked several trails and visited the very impressive Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum at the airport. The town itself is charming with coffee shops and interesting stores throughout.

Wind-sports off Hood River

There was one final leg upriver to our final destination of The Dalles, which is situated below another dam and set of locks. The landscape had now changed to desert, with very high temperatures to go with it. We had been advised that further upriver would be more of the same except hotter! There was plenty of room at the city docks and some members of the adjoining Dalles Yacht Club kindly invited us to use their clubhouse while we were there. It was a half hour walk into the city and we soon regretted the decision in the sweltering heat. We resolved we would definitely be taking a taxi back to the boat later! Meanwhile there was plenty of sightseeing in the old city of The Dalles. We visited a veterans museum in the old fire station and later had a fascinating tour of a neon sign museum.

Homeward Bound from The Dalles

Turning downstream, the current was with us, but we were forced to sail into the prevailing westerlies. Anything above 10 knots and the whitecaps started; conditions got quite rough at 20 knots. These conditions were usually short-lived and often moderated around the next bend in the river. Fortunately, making an early start and getting to our destination by noon each day was an effective strategy. As we were making great progress in the benign conditions, we decided to continue on to Cascade Locks. This worked out well and we got a side tie on the 200 ft of guest docks. This is a great place, with the area surrounding the old locks turned into a museum park. There was a dinghy regatta taking place that weekend, so a very festive atmosphere prevailed. The crews of Tango and Nimue drove down the next day for a farewell lunch in the town, followed by sundowners on Chantey V. Nimue had a replacement radar being shipped in, so would now be a few days behind us. We decided to stay on another day, which turned out just as well when we discovered 2 ft of dodger stitching had failed, requiring a repair. It also gave us time to check out and hike a little of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Bridge of the Gods that pass by Cascade Locks. This famous trail is 2,653 miles long and runs all along the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada.

The down-locking through Bonneville Lock the next day was uneventful and we were back into Beacon Rock State Park quite early. Perfect for our plan to climb the 850 ft high rock before it got too hot. It is steep but quite safe, with a metal railing all the way as it meanders back and forth across the face of the huge rock. We were rewarded with a panoramic view at the top. A highlight was seeing clearly the 5 knot current flowing from the Bonneville Dam. We stayed a couple of nights at the park, discovering new trails and swimming in the fresh water. We then slipped our lines and rejoined the flow downstream. Although the SOG was an excellent 8 knots, we had very low boat speed. I suspect that docking with our stern into the current was a mistake and we likely had caught bits of debris that accumulated around our rudder and prop. Our speed gradually improved and when I dove on the boat at our next stop, everything was clear. A little risky swimming in the 2 knot current, but trailing floating line was a good idea. There was lots of dock space at Government Island, but not much else. We had a nice walk ashore where we saw some deer.

Cate at Bonneville Lock

From there we had a pleasant one hour run down to the Portland Yacht Club (PYC), where we refueled and were given the same slip again. A delicious lunch was served and afterwards we walked down to the nearest grocery store to re-provision for the journey home. My RVYC friend, Doug Taylor Lee, had offered to sign on for the sail home and Cate readily agreed. This would give Cate and Doug’s wife Jane (and Bridey) a couple of days to meander home by road and check out the charms of Tacoma and Port Townsend on the way. The leg from Astoria to the Juan de Fuca Strait is considered an uphill battle, with opposing wind and current all the way. Doug and Jane arrived in time for the Tropical Party at PYC that Saturday night, and a good time was had by all.

Be Careful What You Wish For!

An analysis of the weather forecast on PredictWind indicated that a rare southerly wind would be in effect some 2 days hence. Great! Could we get there in time? With a first light start at 5 am, perhaps we could do the 85 NM directly to Astoria in one day instead of the usual two or three. We decided to go for it. It was an early start, only to waste 20 minutes waiting for the railway bridge to open, which was not helpful. We pressed on, motoring hard all the way and boosted by the long ebb. Alas, the tide turned and it was a slow, final 3 hours into Astoria. Still, we made it before dark and also in time to go ashore for a few pints to celebrate at a waterfront bar.

No rest for the wicked, and another first light departure was called for to make another kind of bar at Clatsop Spit, with slack at 0600. This timing worked out well and we crossed with full main and headsail into a gradually increasing southerly wind. We were delighted to be sailing fast, but not so much with the building sea – another classic case of wind opposing current. We hadn’t bargained for the rain either and soon the cockpit was a damp affair, with rain driving over the stern. So much so that the rain hitting the screen of my binnacle-mounted iPad began to give errors. Fortunately, I keep a second iPad as a backup and put it in position – this time with a large zip lock bag over it, which solved the problem. We got in a good 12 hours of sailing before the wind veered and eased, so that we were back to motor sailing by evening and through the night. Dawn had us approaching Neah Bay from the south. We could see that it was shrouded in rain and fog. We decided it had insufficient appeal compared to continuing on home. Arriving at RVYC in Victoria 10 hours later, we were tired but glad to be home safely, for a total leg time of 34 hours. Cate and Jane were most surprised that we had arrived before them!

Homeward Bound WA coast

All in all, it was a great finish to the voyage. We had travelled 750 NM in 15 legs over 24 days. Once again, Chantey V had taken us safely and efficiently on a memorable voyage. With its offshore section and needed bar crossing planning, I would recommend this as another shakedown cruise option for prospective Bluewater Cruisers.

Comments


  1. Don says:

    Thank you for a very descriptive account of your river trip. Brave of you to turn the ladies loose in Port Townsend and Tacoma.

  2. Blake Williams says:

    Thanks very much Chantey V for your vivid account of a long way up the Columbia River and sharing your experiences of currents, tidal, and wind over wave patterns plus the extra tips on pubs up river!

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