Friday, August 30, 2019

Graveyard of the Pacific: Crossing the Columbia Bar

Crossing the Columbia Bar, Graveyard of the Pacific is not a navigational stretch to trifle with.
(Photo credit Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay)
Despite sailing halfway around the world relatively unscathed, today's passage in our own backyard is one the fills most well-informed sailors with a sense of dread -- crossing the Columbia Bar. The Bar is the point where the Columbia River enters the Pacific Ocean. It's considered one of the most dangerous places to navigate in the world.
File:Peter iredale sunset edited1.jpg
Peter Iredale wreck, it skeleton marking the Graveyard of the Pacific
Robert Bradshaw [CC BY 2.5 (]
"Since 1792, approximately 2,000 large ships have sunk in and around the Columbia Bar, and because of the danger and the numerous shipwrecks the mouth of the Columbia River acquired a reputation worldwide as the Graveyard of the Pacific." -- Wikipedia
Valiant I crewed on in 2012 and crossed the Columbia Bar in rough conditions.
The first time I crossed the bar, in 2012, it was a nightmare. I crewed for a delivery from Neah Bay Washington, to Warrenton, Oregon, a tad past the mouth of the Columbia River. Long story somewhat short, the captain got sick. Left largely to our own devices, the other crewmate and I were pretty clueless. We took an ill-advised shortcut to approach the Bar -- the equivalent of swimming against rather than with a wicked riptide. Right before the Bar, the captain came to. He tuned in the Coast Guard reports on the VHF radio. They sounded not great, but passable. The options were
  1. Heave to and wait until morning, or 
  2. Push on through the Bar. 
With great misgivings, we pushed. The conditions were worse that forecast. Winds were 25 knots. The water very choppy. Amidst the sea spray, around midnight we flailed, bumped and ground our way through. It was a surreal experience, and not in a good way. Eventually, we made it into Warrenton.
Bathymetric map of the Columbia River mouth: isobaths at five-foot intervals, 15-310 feet. Sandbars in yellow.
Source: Wikimedia
The last time I crossed the Bar it was two years ago, with Wayne. The stars aligned. The sun was shining. The water surface was calm as a lake on a windless day. I just got off watch before we crossed and it was so calm, I slept right through it -- hence no photos of that passage to show!

This time, we stalled for a day, for a better forecast, first anchoring in Astoria's Tongue Point, then spending the next night at Astoria Marina, which gave us a bit of a jump start on the Bar.
Seaweed surrounding our anchor at Tongue Point, Astoria.
Muddy anchor roller at Tongue Point, Astoria. One more reason to go to Astoria Marina - to use their hose to clean this up!
We were not expecting this passage to be as smooth as our last. A nasty ebb tide was predicted, with 6 foot swells, and breaking waves. We dutifully downed our pre-passage Bonine (motion sickness tablets, less drowsy-making than Dramamine and IMHO every bit as or more effective) with our morning coffee and tea.
Astoria-Ilwaco bridge as we pushed out of Astoria Marina for our Bar crossing this morning.
We turned our motor on at 7:15 am under gray cloudy skies, casting everything in a dull pewter glow.
The line at the left is one of the jetties marking the Columbia Bar. Note the flat smooth water? That's good for a crossing.
Wayne spotted dolphins off our bow as we approached the Bar. A flock of pelican scattered in our wake a little after that. We decided that was a good omen for our crossing. We love pelicans!

The swells were far more benign than forecast; mostly only about 2 feet. 
M/V Serendipity crossing the bar. Photo courtesy Sholei. The Ropes in the upper right are her sailboat's lines.

Our biggest challenge was the fishing boat that cut us off just as we were crossing the bar, their propeller-snagging line trailing behind them. Fortunately nothing "caught" our propeller. I did have to hold steady on the skillet handle for our breakfast grits as we passed the Bar, or the pan would've flown off our ungimballed* stove.

*A gimballed stove sits on a hinge system that keeps the stove level even when the boat tilts. Our stove is a standard, fixed camping stove, which can make for some exciting cooking adventures when we get rocked and rolled. (Ask me how I know🙄.)

All in all - a good crossing!
Our friend Sholei, at Neah Bay, stoked after completing her first solo Bar crossing.
We also happy to that our friend Sholei was also making the crossing that morning in her boat. It's always nice when you can keep tabs on each other. Sholei got an earlier start than us and crossed the Bar before we did.
View from Sholei's cockpit of our boats crossing the Bar. Photo courtesy Sholei.
Location Location
We arrived in Neah Bay (N48 22.224 W124 37.084) and anchored out this morning at 8 am, after going nonstop for 24 and 3/4 hours, 144 miles from Astoria. Tomorrow we head for Port Angeles, then on to the San Juans and British Columbia.
Sea lion, one finger away from Sholei's slip in Makah Marina. Note the mohawk on this dude!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Toward the Mighty Columbia River's Mouth

Sunset, from Tongue Point Channel, Astoria Oregon. View from tonight's anchorage.
Monday morning we'd planned to begin our trek North, despite my arriving near midnight from the Bay Area the night before. Instead we decided to wait, as the best day to cross the sometimes deadly Columbia bar was Thursday from Astoria. I put our provisions in order for our two-month trip and we enjoyed a rare date night -- watching the movie "Yesterday" at St. Helens old time Columbia Theater.
Our Columbia River passage this morning; St. HElens Oregon to the outskirts of Astoria Oregon.
Our journey was 62 miles from St. Helens to the well-sheltered Tongue Point, Astoria, where we planned to anchor for the night. Our typical boat speed is 7 knots, so we anticipated an 8 hour or so trip.
Boat kitty Tennessee, paying us a visit from m.v Serenity at St. Helens Oregon.
Before we left St. Helens, e enjoyed meeting Tennessee, our neighbor's boat kitty. It appeared the feeling was mutual. We are a sucker for kitties. When we figure out where we'll stay a while, we'd like to add some furballs to our home. In the interim. we live vicariously through other's pets, and pet-sitting when we get a chance.
Alaska gillnetters at St. Helens Oregon docks.
Gillnetters season on the Columbia River is a short one; four days one of these two boaters told me. They'd arrive late afternoon, head out for the eve to drop their nets, then return in the morning.
Otter and its sibling, about to devour fish stranded at low tide. St Helens, Oregon.
We got a kick out watching these otters fish on the banks of the Columbia across from St. Helens city docks.
Choppy Exit from St. Helens, Oregon. Note the spray on our windshield?
The wind and chop rocked and rolled us pretty good as we took off from St. Helens. It take some serious chop to soak our windows!
Fishermen near Longview Washington.
Gillnetters and otters weren't the only fishermen plying the river in force. The boats were practically everywhere, even though it was a Tuesday morning.
The town of Rainier hosts a number of tugs on the  Columbia river.
While Lewis and Clark tootled past Rainier in 1805, it wasn't until the mid 1850s Rainier became a settlement.
There were a number of fascinating, ramshackle buildings barely still standing on the Columbia, This one was past Longview WA, on the Oregon side of the Columbia river.
Other more rusty than rustic towns make traveling this stretch of river interesting.
Sternwheeler, passed along the way.
The water settled down as we approached Longview Washington, to the point of glassiness.
One of a number of tankers we passed along the way.
We pondered about why one of the bulk freighters we passed was called the African Buzzard. We were amused by the name but couldn't find out what inspired it, though we did find the boat listed on Google.
Serendipity at anchor, Tongue Point Channel, Astoria Oregon.
Location Location
We are anchored in Tongue Point Channel, Astoria Oregon N48 11.522 W123 44.333. The spiders outside our boat are having a field day with the local insect population; prevalent enough to keep us from continuing out stargazing.

Up Next
Tomorrow we'll head to Astoria's marina to be closer to town and enjoy it for the day. If Thursday's forecast holds, we'll head out that morning and pull an all-nighter for the 144 miles to Neah Bay. 

The plan is to hit the San Juans and British Columbia Canada after the Labor Day crowds are gone, but there's still nice weather. Unless we come up with another idea, the plan is to return to Portland Oregon by November.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Savoring Summer's Sweetness at Sauvies Island

Sturgeon Moom rising over the Columbia River
across from Sauvies Island, Portland Oregon.
Tonight's Sturgeon Moon shone orange as a chunk of aged cheddar cheese. Each morning we've noticed the sun peaking up a little later and each eve sliding behind the cottonwoods a little earlier. By the time it tucks more earnestly into its shy fall habit, we'll be gone.
Ridgefield, bathed in a golden glow a little before the moonrise.
The quality of light at dusk seems just a little more golden, as if to leave us with a little extra touch of amber glow to carry us through summer's end.
Morning dragonfly on Serendipity's rail.
As August heralds summer's wane, even the warmest weekdays are mostly quiet at Sauvies.
Set up for a nearly full moon and a starry night on Serendipity's top deck.
The wind normally whips up afternoons and eves. Yet this Monday was an unusually calm night and the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. We knew despite the clear skies, the nearly full moon and Portland's overly bright lights ~12 miles upriver would make for a lackluster show. Nonetheless, why not spend our first ever night sleeping under the stars on Serendipity's upper deck? I managed to spot a shooting star on the horizon... And Wayne spotted another last night.
One last Sauvies beach holdout under cotton-candy colored clouds.
We're savoring these final Sauvie's sunsets all the more as the countdown to bid this sweet spot goodbye approaches all too soon.
Sauvie's view of Serendipity's starboard deck.
Scooter's boat "Time Out" anchored slightly downriver from Serendipity.
Much as I wax poetic about Sauvie's serenity, what also makes this spot special is the easy congeniality of the many friendly folks we meet here. We will truly miss those whose paths no may longer cross ours. Yet we've learned from cruising to trust we will find ways to stay in touch and hopefully share a smile and some sunshine together again.
Fog shrouded the mouth of Multnomah Channel at St. Helens this Monday morning. We expect to see more if this soon.
Our current plan is to head North for a bit, to take in the San Juans and a bit of British Columbia. If we're lucky, there's still some good cruising weather left in the wake of the Labor Day crowd departures. 

Meanwhile, if you're in the area, we're still here for another week or so, happy for some hearty hellos before push off. Then we'll be back... Or at least that's the plan for now.

Location Location
We're anchored off Sauvies Island, about 5 miles upriver from St. Helens Oregon, N45 47.473 W122. 47.199.