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Old 20-06-2006, 08:18   #1
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Sailing Big Rivers

anybody had any experience sailing big rivers? how practical is it? If it is at all, I'd think a catboat would be idea - wide, shallow draft, simple rig - but that's just a guess. any thoughts?
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Old 20-06-2006, 13:10   #2
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The only boats we put on rivers here in NZ are jet boats. And we don't cruise, we go like a stuck cat.
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Old 20-06-2006, 16:19   #3
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Having sailed quite a bit on the Mississippi and St Croix rivers in Minnesota and Wisconsin I can say it can be quite practical and fun. Not every river may be practical for sailing as it all depends on current, tides, depths and width. I think a smaller easy to handle boat is a good idea, we use our 22 ft monohull. A centerboard or some type of retractable keel is best and something not to be overlooked is good windward ability. I don't know about the windward ability of catboats but in other reguards they would seem to be a good choice. I guess there is always the motor.
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Old 20-06-2006, 16:41   #4
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Sailing Rivers

Obviously it depends on the river. We sail the tidal portions of the Chesapeake Bay area rivers all the time. The lower Potomac, Pautuxent, West, Rhode, Magothy, Elk, Tred Avon, Chester, Sasafrass and others are all great sailing areas.

In my previous boat (Catalina 22) I have been in rocky freshwater portions of the Susquehanna. In the very rocky part with stronger currents it was under power though rather than sailing. I wouldn't go that far upstream in our Alberg 30. Actually a low bridge would prevent it anyway, there wasn't that much clearance in the C22.

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Old 20-06-2006, 19:59   #5
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Thanks Steve. How far up the Miss is it navigable? Can one reasonably put in at the twin cities?
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Old 20-06-2006, 20:20   #6
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Having live 3 blocks from US Lock and Dam #1 I would say you can start in Minneapolis. It's a 9 ft channel all the way to the Ohio River. I have canoed about 150 miles farther up but the sailing would be poor. Mostly canoes and small power boats and few spots have rapids. From Minnneapolus to the Ohio River are 28 lock and dams then the very dull long and boring haul to the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the river is very wide. Any river wider than about a mile can be sailed to some extent though not all of them are fun. From Minneapolis to the Ohio would be a very nice trip. Lots to see and very scenic. Best done late May through October.
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Old 20-06-2006, 23:05   #7
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Minneapolis is the upstream limit for commercial navigation but the river is navigable by small craft for hundreds of miles above Minneapolis. This is mainly by powerboats as it narrows down to a couple of hundred feet or less and the current picks up. Below Minneapolis the lock and dam system begins and the river widens and slows with extensive backwaters. Lake Pepin starts about 60 miles south of Minneapolis and IMO has the best sailing conditions anywhere in Minnesota. The river widens to a large lake about 20 miles long and several wide. The surrounding river bluffs seem to funnel the wind and create reliable sailing breezes. I have seldom had to motor any distance here. Fall is a favorite time as the sandstone bluffs are ablaze with color from the oak and maple trees. I would say that Pepin has more sailboats than anywhere else on the river. There are a few other areas that the river widens into a lake like area but Pepin is the big one. I remember the area above St Louis was quite wide for many miles too. With a small easy to handle boat one could sail extensive sections of the river but there will also be long stretches of motoring so a reliable motor is essential.

I have traveled upstream from St Louis to Minneapolis under power and have a friend who traveled downstream to St Louis on a 23 ft sailboat. He sailed about 25% of the time but admitted he was in a hurry it being late October and getting a little cool. I would say that the best scenery is the first 300 miles south of Minneapolis but the whole trip is quite nice.

Wing dams line the banks on large portions of the river and force one to stay in the navigation channel which can be quite narrow at times. These are rock or concrete structures that jut out from the bank and channel the flow of water. They are usually underwater and not visable but are marked on the river charts. I think there are 24 locks from Minneapolis to St Louis. Below St Louis there are no more locks so the river picks up speed and gets very wide and much less interesting. When headed south most recreational traffic hangs a left into the Ohio River below St Louis and then into the Tenn Tom Waterway on the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Kentucky Lake is on this section and is another popular sailing area.
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Old 21-06-2006, 05:58   #8
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The only big river I sailed in was to cross the mouth of the Amazon. It was muddy and about 200+ miles wide and took more than a day to cross. You don't feel that you are in a river though!

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Old 05-11-2009, 17:56   #9
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have sailed the hudson in 10' dingy many days and camped on shore.plenty of seamanship required that will serve you in good stead when you are ready to cross oceans.
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Old 05-11-2009, 18:03   #10
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We do it all the time out here in SF Bay. In the past several months I've sailed the Sacramento, the San Joaquin and the Petaluma. Have also sailed the Napa and American, but not this past year.
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Old 05-11-2009, 18:55   #11
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I have never cruised the Columbia River. I've windsurfed in many places there and have done Hobie regattas at the west end of the Gorge (Cascade Locks) and at Skamakawa, where on Sunday we would do a 10 mile race down to where Astoria Bay starts to open up and back.

Cascade Locks is working on turning itself into a world class racing center. Many high end regattas have been held there.

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There's locks every 20-30 miles to deal with. When you get close to the dams on the downriver side it's probably more of a motor than a sailing venue. The farthest up river I've been is on the Snake River behind Ice harbor Dam. There's a small yacht club there as well.
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I don't think anyone at Hood River (name of a town) owns a jib bigger than a blade, as even on light air days that's all I saw the keelboats sail with. The winds blow pretty strong. Summer time in the Gorge must be some interesting keelboat sailing. The prevailing wind in the summer is up river, so when you beat upwind (downriver) the current is carrying you down river. Probably the fastest upwind sailing you'll ever do.
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I've heard from people that sail in the Portland area that it's primarily a light wind area.

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Old 05-11-2009, 19:18   #12
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As with Pblais and Steve Rust I have sailed both the Missisippi and St Croix and currently have my 33ft sailboat there. St Croix is sailable from Stillwater,MN. Have a friend that sailed/powered his 26ft from St Paul to Mobile Bay. A year later his boat escaped damage from Katrina with just a scratch or two. The rest of the boats in the Bay were all heavily damaged. I will be making the the trip from St Paul to Florida and beyond...in a year or two as soon as I can get out of this stinkin' desert!
So, any low-draft sailboat with a good powerplant can sail most rivers safely.
Pblais...when did you move from Mpls? I have been at SPYC for about 13 years now.
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Old 05-11-2009, 19:53   #13
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In the SF Bay Area, most sailors I see sail up the Delta with the wind and motor back to the Bay. There really is not a river specific sail boat....its whatever you have.
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Old 22-11-2009, 11:31   #14
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As I sit here on the Columbia River... 15-30kt winds and pouring rain. Typical for winter months, but summer winds can be light or none at all early in the mornings, afternoons is when you'll get some wind, and of course there's always the current and tide (We are at River Mile Marker 110 from the mouth of the Columbia River and live aboard). With big rivers you have BIG SHIPS to contend with, always look ahead AND BEHIND when sailing. Upriver we've only sailed to Bonneville Dam (30 miles further up river), and of course over the Columbia River Bar with 15' seas (Oh what fun that was)...it's not called the Graveyard of the Pacific for nothing...2000 shipwrecks! Still want to come and sail big rivers?? But, I can say summer & fall sailing in Oregon is spectacular, especially in the scenic Columbia River Gorge area.
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Old 22-11-2009, 11:44   #15
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Sailed? No!

Motor yes!

I guess it would depend on the river. I keep my boat a ways up the Snohomish River and one really has to deal with tides and underwater trash (logs, rocks, mud shoals & etc.). And one definitely needs to watch their charts.
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