FEATURES: Lightly wooded or grassy fields. Few houses.
TIME: I launched from Bay Center and spent three hours. I didn’t finish the river as I might have if I launched from the Highway 101 ramp.
EXPENSE & PASSES REQUIRED: A Discover Pass is required at the public launch.
DIRECTIONS: Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife boat ramp on U.S. Route 101: Just south of the Bay Center turnoff and north of the Rose Ranch.
August 5, 2017, I launched the Hobie sailboat from Bay Center and follower the South Fork of the Palix until I stopped a low bridge at Trask Lane. The map shows another mile that maybe could be paddled:
30 July 2017: From Bay Center partly down the South Fork of the Palix River (and a peek at the Middle Fork)
The destination for today was the Niawiakum River that runs in front of Goose Point Oysters, just north of the Bay Center turn off. It’s one of three rivers accessible from Bay Center that also includes the Bone and the Palix. Here’s a map to give a general idea. The Bone River is north, just below Bruceport. The larger Niawiakum River is east of Bay Center and the larger Palix River system is southeast of Bay Center.
In the early 1850’s James Swan lived just north at the mouth of the Bone River. A trip to that site is here. He sketched and wrote extensively of the area and included this sketch of a camp he visited on the Palix.
The tide was low at only 1.5 feet, which meant most of Willapa Bay was mudflats. It seems to stay that way until it rises to about 3 feet. It would be rising until dark so I planned to stick to the river channel after leaving the dredged port entrance. There is a launch in Bay Center amongst the oyster boats, next to one of the shellfish processors, but first I drove by the picturesque wreck of the R/V Hero. To the owner, it must look nightmarish. Last year it was afloat but in need of work, but now that it’s sunk, it’s going to cost more. There is a Facebook page for the R/V Hero that includes many photos of its work as an Antarctic research vessel and its demise located here. It was built in 1968.
At Bay Center, just uphill from the dock, I ran across the Chinook Tribe’s Office.
Near the launch is an area washed by the tide that supports Salicornia (Sea Beans). Here is a site with better ID and seven ways to eat them.
I headed for the channel marker tower to look for the Naiwaikum River and turn upstream. From the shore, the start of my adventure looked like somebody’s first-time sail trip. I put up the sail and then headed nearly straight out. Then, if they were watching, onlookers saw me get tangled in the eelgrass, beach the boat, take down the sail and slowly paddle away. I didn’t see another boat out on the water today which speaks to how remote we are.
Here’s my excuse for missing the entrance to the Niawiakum on this google map. The river’s entrance was actually further downstream from the channel tower. There was no Niawiakum that I could see.
I chose the Palix River channel and headed upstream hoping the Niawiakum River channel would appear later. As Rat said in The Wind in the Willows “…there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” Either river would be a good day.
Within sight of the empty house (called ‘Frank’s Castle’ Homestay on Google Maps) was a low bridge. It was 3 PM, an hour and a half out from Bay Center. It would be upwind most of the way back so I turned around. I had come 5.7 miles but it ended up being 10.5 miles back. That included a lot of tacking and a short side trip up the middle branch of the Palix. I read there is a falls upstream. That trip will have to wait for another day.
I’ve since heard a rumor that it’s possible to park a car and launch adjacent to this bridge to paddle upstream.
The wind gauge shows I’m making progress upwind (if the daggerboard is doing its job). Another sailing dingy my dad gave me would usually put me on the same shore locations at each tack, with no upwind progress. It’s made of styrofoam and sits so high off the water I think the wind just overwhelms the daggerboard and rudder.