After the Fall Equinox Messabout had dispersed Sunday, the rain had almost stopped. The sky was getting lighter and more clear. My boat was tied up at the dock. I had never been up the Elochoman River that flows under Highway 4 just east of Cathlamet. If I were at home with a gleam in my eye and a hankering to explore this river, it would take almost three hours to be standing at this spot and this ready to go.
I don’t remember even checking the weather report. I donned my rain gear, gave Allen (organizer of the Messabout event) my float plan (always good to tell someone where you are going) and began pedaling down a mostly protected route to Skamokawa. I had once come upriver from Skamokawa and started up the Elochoman River while lost. Today I would complete the link. This time I was prepared with nautical charts loaded in a GPS, which is handy when winding around islands on a cloudy day.
Docks extend a mile along the waterway until the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge.
During the Cathlamet Wooden & Classic Boat Festival August 3, a participant with an electric motored kayak made it about this far before turning back due to the excessive vegetation. I think this route may be more clear in the spring before the summer growth. I often had to backtrack and go around large masses. The tide was 4.4 feet and falling but the stuff floats, and in a higher tide wouldn’t be much better.
The map on the GPS showed an entrance to the Elochoman River here. This fallen tree with its vertical branches said I shouldn’t go that way.
I continued up the slough as there was second outlet to the Elochoman. The slough was blocked. This would have been discouraging if I had been coming from Skamokawa as there would have been no choice other than to return the same way and maybe not reach Cathlamet.
Below is a screen shot from that old post. Looking for the Columbia, I had first gone up the Elochoman River, then started back the way I had come before finally finding my way west using my phone’s GPS.
Today as I was fortunate enough to be on the right side of the blockage. Then the GPS’s batteries died. The route was familiar so it was off to to the big river.
The Elochoman River had defeated me today. There were probably just trees and stuff, maybe some birds, and the Highway 4 bridge. Not sure though. I’ll have to try again early in the year after the cold has reduced the weeds and on a high tide.
It was still seven hours until sunset so it was off across the Columbia to Ryan Island a mile away and the lower part of Birnie Slough. The map function on the phone worked OK for this. The freighters don’t use this side of the river as they stay close to the Oregon shore.
Someone yesterday at the messabout who is currently rereading The Wind in the Willows brilliantly suggested I find a small Ratty and Mole to ride the wind vane boat that I made and had mounted on my bow.
This little guy was accidentally swimming the big channel.
This last summer, while on a paddle trip up the Welcome Slough on Puget Island, I met a couple of guys working on a sailboat. They were fitting a bimini one of them had fiberglassed together. We admired boats, shared travels, and also where I soon might see sunbathing turtles if I pedaled further. It was entertaining enough to keep all of us from our tasks for a while. These two were part of the crew that help put together the annual Cathlamet Wooden & Classic Boat Festival every August. I went away with an email address and a high priority to attend and help with the festival. Their facebook page is here.
While unpacking I saw one of the participants arriving. Harvey’s boat is silent with its electric outboard. Meanwhile, Allen was setting up a welcoming table, apparently unaware of the new arrival. I called out to him to look up and then a proper hailing and directions of where to dock were exchanged.
I have attended one of Harvey’s lectures at the Maritime Museum about the variety and history of kayaks. He curates The Lincoln Street Kayak & Canoe Museum in Portland and has built a small fleet of various boats.
Mark had already arrived and soon took Allen and Julius out while I was unpacking. What he has built is small enough to trailer but big enough for sleeping and cooking in.
After I had my boat docked and camp set up, I discovered I had forgotten the cooking pot. I messaged home and found the only place serving food would be closing soon at 9 (small town hours). I passed a gardener raking fresh soil in the dark as I walked to the Pizza Mill for a generous and yummy hot pizza for $10 including tip.
Saturday morning Kim trailered in from Portland. He sculled his way around the docks to join the other boats.
Tom dropped by. Later obligations and the lack of wind kept his sailer on its trailer.
We admired Tom’s dog.
A slight breeze came up, the chatting stopped, I broke the cobwebs on my boat, and we all powered out onto the Columbia River in the early afternoon.
With the jib set, the air flow and vacuum is increased behind the mainsail.
Allen took out members Wayne and Cherrie while we slowly sailed about. I averaged 2.7 mph for a very relaxing ride.
The wind died and we we motored back.
The bollard wasn’t used today, but a side tow works well, too. I recently figured out how to use the side tow to bring a third person on a second kayak.
Here’s a good view of the rigging of the Thor, a San Francisco Pelican.
Back at the dock I let Allen and Harvey try out the finned pedal drive Hobie installed on my sailing kayak. On John’s test ride, Charlie the dog also hopped aboard and was nervously planning to use John’s lap. The kayak wasn’t so steady and the seating was cramped. Charlie reconsidered and made to jump back to the safety of the dock to reappraise. He almost made it. We pulled him onto the dock and decided that Charlie would watch instead. The sea dog and I watched the boat leave. John almost cut his ride short for Charlie’s sake but I convinced him that Charlie and I were fine. John pedaled off around the point.
There was a potluck dinner and sea stories as the poster had listed. Allen loaned me a cook pot. Even the scheduled ‘lighted night cruise’ happened as a random boat returned later with its cabin lights on.
Sunday morning was wet, windless but not too cold.
My boat with its scuppers lets the water out and in. The test riders all walked away with wet behinds. A proper boat holds the water until it is pumped out.
Fortunately there was the covered pavilion where we gathered for Mark’s hot coffee, made plans, talked, and watched the weather.
We could have been wetter.
They had started at the Canadian border and were headed for Mexico.
Harvey got up and said, “Got to go, the tide doesn’t wait.” and we dispersed. Soon some boats were hauled up on their trailers. The locals left theirs tied up.
The SkyWater Gallery is a shop just east of Jessie’s fish processing plant on the west end of the Port of Ilwaco. The owners, Larry and Cindy, sell a wide range of locally crafted art. Larry had previously been in the Merchant Marines and also worked dredging the lower Columbia River. This background and his acute observations give Larry a deep understanding of the local river.
Part of SkyWater’s business is offering boat tours. Our friend Marlene had booked a tour for five members of her family as part of her thank you for all their help settling her in during her recent move to Ilwaco. Only three could come. Skyler and I were offered the two remaining empty seats. I accepted the kind invitation.
We assembled at the SkyWater Gallery and discussed what we wanted to see that day. The tide was good but the weather was windy. It was so windy that the Coast Guard would not allow our boat past Buoy 10 to the Pacific coast and the cliffs under the North Head Lighthouse. Instead, it was up the Columbia River today.
Larry asked the ten year old if he could find our boat today, named the Maiden Heaven.
Close though; it was on the same dock.
Larry explained later that the faster boats allow more fishing time when the fishing is far away. Today we would be powered by a couple of diesel inboards totaling 260hp. For all the rumble and power needed to push this boat through the water, I was surprised to learn later that it takes only about five gallons per hour at ten mph.
We gathered together for a safety rundown and got comfortable.
Soon we were weaving through the docks on the way out to Baker Bay. We passed several vessels returning to port.
Staying near the shore, the channel took us past Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment. I’ve taken this route before when I was a guest on the old Tall Ships and once again for the annual The Blessing of the Fleet. Here is 18 seconds of the sound and view from the rear deck of the Maiden Heaven as we pass between the Coast Guard Station and West Sand Island.
We passed Ruby Island, the site of the first garden planted by europeans in the northwest by the crew of the Ruby in 1793.
Soon the North Head Lighthouse came into view..
When I asked, Larry explained the jetty we were passing was called Jetty A, built to protect the Port of Ilwaco and was not one of the two large jetties that define the entrance to the Columbia River.
We turned and headed upriver. Marlene’s kids and grandson all took a spell riding the bow. I thought about it.
The waters became more calm as we continued up the Columbia.
We turned around and headed back to Ilwaco.
In past blogs I have called these lines of pilings weirs. Larry explained how after the logs are driven into the river bed rocks are piled around them for support. The current then accelerates around the end, similar to a hose nozzle, which helps keep the channel deep.
Larry later pointed out a patch of dark water near the shore. There was also one ahead.
Apparently algae blooms help attract anchovies which has recently attracted a humpback whale. One was recently sighted around the bridge. We were watching but didn’t spot a whale today. Here’s a video taken a few weeks earlier of a humpback whale that was taken from the Maiden Heaven. It’s about 3.5 minutes long. You have to be a little patient as you watch as real life isn’t staged quickly like a television show.
Back in the marina the wind was currently gusting to 13 mph according to my phone. It tended to push the boat but practice and experience soon put us safely at the dock.
I felt something called land sickness after we left the boat. I felt sure the dock, then the shore, and finally the car were all rolling back and forth on swells of water.
2 September 2019: Bringing friends to Come and Play on Labor Day
Once again the end of the summer was here and Skyler remembered to ask if I was going to attend the big kayak event in South Bend WA again. It’s called Come and Play on Labor Day 2019. I found a small blurb about it posted August 27.
Meanwhile, Sarah from Seaview and her partner Matt were one of the lucky ones who had kayaked in Fort Clatsop’s Lewis and Clark River Paddle Tour this summer. They were intrigued by the hybrid kayak-sailboat I had been using for some of my trips. They might be boatless but they do have their own life jackets. I invited them along to South Bend, promising them they could sail, and they accepted. I now had two competent paddlers so I could confirm if I could take a second person, or two, on future trips. Last time I tried this in 2016, it resulted in a hitchhike back to the car at the end of the day.
My planning was running fifteen minutes slow, but they had both craft in the water and next to the dock quickly.
Now, onto South Bend, only a third of a mile ahead.
Here is a picture of the three of us arriving taken by Larry Bale.
I ‘captained’ the boat for this part as I could probably maneuver better and was more willing to hit the dock.
The orientation emphasized that “This is not a race!” but still, the volunteers could leave on time if we didn’t dawdle.
This event is great because it is oriented to all paddle craft, not just the very nice ones. I attended the 2014 Poker Paddle without a boat to see the people and boats. After I learned basic paddling at Skamakowa WA in a very fine kayak at Columbia River Kayaking, I later bought a boat with ‘training wheels.’ I used those outriggers for my first solo paddle at the local lake. The second trip was to this South Bend dock partly for the safety of a populated shoreline and for the local beauty. Later we acquired the ‘MaryBeth’ kayak from a local friend after I was more sure of my balance and had found a need for a second short and nimble paddleboat.
We met CJ who was gathering up her poker hand(s?) too.
“This is NOT a race!” was emphasized in the program, three times. We kept moving, paddling, and chatting against the incoming tide. It can feel like you’re moving well, until you notice the shore only slowly passing by, but, this was more fun than a walk.
Sarah’s poker cards almost won her $25. The odds were good. We also purchased several raffle tickets to a new kayak donated by Dennis Company, all to support Kiwanis local scholarships.
We toured the Riverside Gallery next to the Elixir Coffee shop.
I was unexpectedly treated to lunch at the the popular Elixir Coffee shop overlooking the Willapa River. Kids were gathering for the upcoming Pole Walk and enjoying the warmish water. We ‘sailed’ a water bottle across the table as I explained tacking.
One of the Pole Walk contestants about to go for a swim.
After we did practice run of depowering the sail (reefing) and pulling up stuff when the water got shallow, Sara boarded and off we went with me clinging on in the small kayak.
The wind and an even stronger tide were moving upstream from where we had parked our cars so we lost ground at first until we got the knack
Here is the new system. We can tie one kayak to an outrigger giving the third person an armrest. This is better than simply towing as the kayak should be able to help with the paddling. Downside was the slow turns.
Here’s a half minute of Sarah and Matt bringing us home
To be fair, here is a short clip of Matt doing the same.
We saw seals swimming and diving and hawks overhead.
Matt suggested I untie and head back to the ramp. We were almost there and I had rather enjoyed the free ride. He could sail the boat just fine.
After waiting for the power boats, it was their turn to use the ramp.
Larry Bale has posted over a hundred pictures of this event, taken from the docks, with an excellent eye for framing and a better camera to boot.They can be found here.
Today I didn’t sail at all, Matt and Sarah had brought both boats back to the launch upwind and against the tide.
The Garmin showed that we were faster paddling downwind with the current than sailing back. Much less effort was expended after we deployed the sail even if we were piloting a single person boat carrying a passenger and towing a second boat.
The local paper’s entertainment section featured a two page article about a free Paddle Quest at the Lewis & Clark National Park from 5 to 7 PM Saturday evening.
It was also listed on the park’s event page. This weekend they were celebrating the National Park Service’s Founder’s Day and their 103rd birthday.
A large charity relay footrace, Hood to Coast, was also assembling for its finish at the ocean just south of the fort, making the traffic unusually heavy.
Arriving at the Netul Landing just upstream of Fort Clatsop with few minutes to spare, I signed the release and was given a map of The Quest.
Henry was just finishing the orientation of the first group. Any chance of getting good pictures of people’s faces and front sides to share later was turning into a scramble to avoid taking pictures of people’s backsides as the group launched their boats.
A clue to The Quest’s purpose was that after the paddle, Dr. Tara Chestnut would be giving a talk about bats. Henry described for us an animal and we were to figure out what it was in order to receive our wooden token.
On the way we spotted Lauren of checkpoint five.
He offered us ten different language’s word for bat. We were game. Among the ten, a local Chinook would say: polakle kulakula and a German would say: fledermaus.
Turned out we had read one of the same local history books and he recommended I buy an excellent book available at the fort’s gift shop about the Chinook language.
Lauren was easier to spot from the other side of the piling. I learned even more about bats and was successful in earning another token.
Meanwhile additional staff had been paddling around filling in where needed.
For those who remembered Izzy’s lesson, the tokens were also marked on the back.
Dr. Tara Chestnut, an ecologist with Mount Rainier National Park, talked with us about bats. One of her interests is tracking and locating their populations. This is urgent in helping reduce the spread of white-nose syndrome. The bats’ small size allows them to sleep in trees, buildings or even the siding of a house. It is now possible to implant a small device (PIT) that records the bat’s past travels once it is removed later.
Within the box was a special microphone that identifies which bat is in the area as each species has a unique sound. It is used around sunrise and sunset.
I saw only a few of the large group of staff and volunteers that put this event together of which I was able to personally thank only a few. The Park also offers the use their tandem kayaks during the summer if you are participating in their Lewis and Clark River Paddle Tour.
There were not a lot of miles covered today but it was with friendly people and I learned a lot.
About halfway between the Longview bridge and the Astoria bridge there is a ferry that crosses the Columbia River. Cathlamet and Puget Island are on the Washington side, Westport, today’s paddle, is on the Oregon side. Today I was returning from a trip with the PNW Hobie Island club at Yale Lake and I wanted to explore one of the many sloughs on the southern shore of the Columbia River.
The visitors I usually see on the water are there for recreational fishing.
A couple of guys were fishing off the docks when I arrived.
Before I could get my last snaps snapped and my last clips clipped, a young man politely offered to help me. He was going fishing, the sooner the better.
I headed inland on the Westport Slough. It is quiet with no buildings to be seen.
The left channel ahead ends at an impassable dirt bridge.
Since getting almost lost several times I found a small GPS that has maritime maps. It has shown me dead end bays where I thought there were channels and shows a blue line to find my way home.
It indicated that there was a pier ahead.
The marina was quiet this sunny Sunday, also quiet was this boat garage upstream. I used the camera to see if there would be something interesting inside after I ‘developed the film’.
The Magruder Bridge was ahead. So far it has 7 reviews on google maps giving it 4 stars out of 5. “Just a bridge” says Tracy, a Local Guide. Here and only here will you see it photographed from the water.
The Westport Slough is not a river, just a dead end channel from the Columbia Channel. It was a +7.5′ tide with supposedly very little flow rate as it was just turning towards a low tide but this short stretch must have been extra shallow as it swirled and whirl pooled toward the bridge. The reason was the tide chart I used was for a station 23 miles downstream.
The slough continued under the low bridge but it was getting late, the current and wind were against me and the mast was tall.
With a high tide, there appears to be another three miles of navigable water above the bridge. I headed back.
I met a man walking the bank. He told me he’d never seen any kayaks up this way, hadn’t yet seen the marina and was interested in getting a boat. His arms didn’t work so well and he was very interested in this foot and sail powered boat. Thinking about it later, a person can easily explore a lot with an aluminum boat, a trailer and an outboard.
Two hours before dark and this group was headed out onto the Columbia River. Pretty tempting, sounded like locals. I stayed out of the way as they quickly launched.
It’s not always fisherfolk out there on the river.
I can’t really improve on the introduction that Seth wrote. “The third event in the PNW Hobie Island Club series for 2019 will be at Yale Lake. This lake is a PNW sailing staple, and we’re really excited to get a group of Island owners out there to enjoy it with us! We’ll be camping overnight at Beaver Bay Campground, which also hosts to the boat launch we’ll be using to access the lake as well. The lake has some great parks to explore and offers great views while cruising. Be sure to book a campsite in advance if you intend to join us both days!”
Its north-south alignment apparently helps make it a very popular sailing lake and the scenery certainly is beautiful.
It would be longer than a reasonable day trip so I splurged for a couple of nights of camping.
From Woodland on Interstate 5, it’s a 30 mile winding road up the Lewis River and its series of dams. I asked an employee about PacifiCorp and learned that providing public recreational sites is part of the deal that’s made with the government in exchange for use of the river to generate power.
The lake’s level is currently low and a couple of our boats hit submerged stumps. I was told about how that ((mass of a tandem boat) x (7 mph)) can break a paddle drive.
Liz, from the shop, was also there with her co-sailer June.
Adriel and his daughter showed up, and later there would be a fourth boat due about noon. With no phone signal to confirm we waited and visited the old fashioned way, catching up since we had last sailed together at Portland in July. The wind grew stronger as the day progressed. Someone compared Yale Lake to the Columbia Gorge but without so many people.
The wind was now strong. There was little boat traffic to watch for, and unusually for me, I didn’t have to turn away from the shore every few minutes. It would be a great day to learn sailing.
Here is half a minute of noise and splash watching Liz, Shane and Adriel’s boats…
After a couple of hours, we sailed back to the launch to find two more boats had arrived.
I beached onto the rocks a second time today to see if I could help. The wind was moving the boats vigorously, even without unfurling the sail.
Meanwhile, a fifth boat was launching behind Chase.
That hadn’t stopped me from beaching to see what I could do.
After a wet push, we now had five boats out on the water. Off we went like feral cats in a barnyard.
After beaching to check out a campsite and to tighten something on the boat, I got stuck. The wind wanted me to stay against the rocks. Liz and June beached too in support. We watched as four small kayaks paddled out and blew right back in. Not good weather for little boats. It was half an hour wading and pushing before Liz, June and I were out again.
After another two and a half hours we all called it quits.
Christine cooked up a superb egg and sausage fry with left overs to share. I also had brought extra to share but my meals demonstrated a lack of sophistication.
The next day Shane headed off down the lake again. It truly is a wonderful lake to sail. The others had gone home or were going to visit the nearby Ape Caves. Instead, I had an itch to see more of the Columbia River as I was already so far east. See Sunday’s trip from Westport Oregon in the next post.