Passage to Oregon
Arrival Home After 18 Day Passage from Hawaii
We expected the last few days of our passage from Hawaii to be relatively calm and flat, and we expected to motor most, if not all, of the way. It was just as expected, until about 24 hours before we arrived at the Columbia River bar. Then the wind came up, and we were soon close hauled in big, lumpy, confused seas. Nice to have the engine off, but we were soon rolling, banging and slapping, and meal preparation once again became that familiar exercise of athleticism and paranoia. I was doing a dive to the bottom of the refrigerator, which involves removing everything from the top layer, and finding someplace stable to put each removed thing. I’ve gotten used to using the stovetop, because the stove is on gimbals, so stays relatively level all the time – although it does swing a bit as the boat rolls back and forth. One of the items in the refrigerator’s top layer was a tall half-gallon container of orange juice. I put it on the front of the stove, and in a particularly violent lurch, while I wasn’t paying close enough attention, it tipped off the stove, hit the floor, and dumped its entire contents into the bilge, the beverage locker, onto the carpets, into the head (bathroom) and onto the floor of Mark’s cabin. Expletives were heard. Loud expletives.
Ultimately, we just decided to clean up the hard surfaces and throw towels down over the wet sticky carpeting. After all, weren’t we just 24 hours from home? The lumpy seas (we started to call it “the washing machine”) continued, and we all had difficulty sleeping. I’m sure it wasn’t helped by the knowledge that first light would bring us within sight of land.
At this point we were surrounded by lots of fishing boats. Craig had caught an albacore in the afternoon (that was dinner – YUM!) so it was not surprising that there were lots of fishing boats in the vicinity. We were using the radar almost constantly, because the boats were hard to see in the mists. At night it became much easier, both because the mists lifted, and because the fishers all seem to light up their decks and surrounding sea with big mercury vapor lamps. Even when a fishing boat is over the horizon, you can still see the loom of light above it. (The astronomers – the low light guys – must hate that practice of the fishing boats). At one point, just after I went off watch at midnight, Mark called me to come up, saying he had a boat in sight that he was having trouble identifying – it didn’t appear on the radar. The putative boat appeared to be a sailboat, with spinnaker out, strangely luminescent with a yellow-orange color. But it couldn’t be, because a spinnaker couldn’t possibly be out in that direction – into the wind. Light-bulb moment: it was the moon, just coming up over the horizon. No wonder it didn’t appear on the radar!
For the last few days, we had been adjusting our speed to time our arrival for (relatively) slack water at 5:00 am at the Columbia River bar. That’s the current stage when waves are least likely to be a problem. Of course we knew from friends that the Columbia River is extraordinarily full for this time of year, with a current of 2.5 knots running for most of its length at least up to the Portland area. Thus there really is no slack water at the bar—it’s always flowing out. We arrived about 20 minutes late (not bad for an 18 day passage!) and the bar was a complete non-event. We took pictures at the moment of crossing the bar, and there are no significant waves showing in the background (see photo, right). The sun was shining brilliantly, and the fog we could see just inland from Astoria dissipated before we reached it. We decided not to touch land at all in Astoria, but just bomb up the river as fast as we could, hoping to reach St. Helens by 5:00 or 6:00 pm. We had plenty of fuel left, and we pushed the throttle up to 2500 rpm, which yielded 8 knots of speed. (Speed through water: 5.8 knots, because of the adverse current).
We hooked up the wash down pump, and using river water, washed all the salt off the boat. We stowed lines, inflated fenders, vacuumed the interior, and ate leftovers out of the refrigerator. We were passed by a lot of commercial traffic heading upriver. At one point, we were being passed by a tug towing a barge that was carrying two other smaller barges. A giant Honda car-carrier came up behind him, and passed us both. I didn't know the river was wide enough for that!
The sunshine was quite lovely – apparently coming out just for our arrival. We reached St. Helens at about 6:00 and then had a lovely dinner with a welcoming committee of friends. Glad to be home!
Now, it’s back to the mountains of mildewed laundry and the piles of mail that have accumulated over the past year. We’ll alternate working on that with removing every mildewed thing from the boat, cleaning all with bleach, dousing the carpets with buckets of water, and then – hopefully – finding several days of hot sunshine in a row to dry everything out. Next we’ll try to tackle the overgrown garden, figure out how to scare off the deer, and then we’ll be off to California for the wedding of our son, David, to the lovely Tara Hernandez. I’m hoping that somewhere in there will be the opportunity for me to get together with old or new chamber music friends, and resume the life of a musician!
Here's a photo taken by our friend, Sid Blachford, as we arrived in St. Helens.