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Old 27-09-2016, 10:57   #16
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Location: Cap Sante Marina Anacortes, WA
Boat: Kettenburg 1977 32 ft.
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

One thing I just remembered about some people that made that trip. This was years ago. It seems what while they were in one on the locks the lady had wrapped her dock line around a cleat on the boat. As the water drained out and the boat was being lowered the line jammed ripping the cleat out and it struck her in the forehead and killed her like instantly. I am sure there will be other people here that remember more details but it caused quite a stir. This was like 30-35 years ago. Does anyone else remember this accident?

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Old 27-09-2016, 11:13   #17
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Location: Hailing Port: Portland, Oregon
Boat: Norseman 400
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

We have years of both power boat and sailboat experience on the Columbia River around Portland, Oregon (and all the way to the Pacific, but that's not relevant here.)

Given everything you wrote, our advice is:
  1. Get a complete survey of the boat and engine before you take off.
  2. Fix anything wrong with the engine before you leave Portland. Change the oil. Check the coolant level. Etc. Etc. Etc.
  3. Make sure the windlass works. (We learned that lesson the hard way. lol) Make sure you can deploy and retrieve the anchor if the windlass should fail.
  4. Don't even think about sailing. The wind is constantly shifting on the river. The current is flowing the opposite direction you want to go. We spent may days tacking and jibing between the I-5 and I-204 bridges without making ANY forward progress. We were just "sailing" for the fun of it.
  5. If the boat is in downtown Portland, there will be a LOT of bridge lifts required. There is a protocol for this. You'll need to know and follow the rules. If the boat is already on the Columbia River, you may need to radio the railroad bridge operator to have it opened. (Depending on where you start.) If the river is low, you should be able to fit under the I-5 bridge without having it lifted. You will fit easily under the I-205 bridge.
  6. There is a LOT of river traffic in and around Portland and upriver. You MUST understand and obey the rules of the road. In some areas you will be forced to share the narrow channel with the ships. Know how to navigate properly.
  7. Make sure the vessel is properly lit for night navigation. Other vessels will need to see you in order to avoid a collision.
  8. Get a complete set of charts for the sections of river you will be traveling. You do NOT want to risk running aground - regardless how strong you feel the keel is. And, you will need to know where the channel is.
  9. Make sure you have all the required safety equipment on board. You will need a sounding device to signal in the event you are motoring through fog.
  10. Take plenty of fowl weather gear with you. It rains. A lot. You will get really cold.
  11. Hire Captain Nat Powning to make the trip with you. He is an awesomely nice guy and a licensed captain with many, many hours of Columbia River experience on sailboats and boats powered by diesel engines. You can reach him by contacting Island Sailing in Portland. Sailing School & Club | Island Sailing

Oh! And don't forget to enjoy the scenery! The Columbia River Gorge is one of the prettiest places in the United States.

Best of luck to you!
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Old 27-09-2016, 11:22   #18
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

Bridges: shouldn't be a problem if your boat is upstream of the I-5 bridge; otherwise the railroad bridge just below the I-5 bridge will need to open.

Engine: Don't leave until you are confident in it; if you lose the engine in the strong currents just below the dams you could get swept somewhere you don't want to be. Buy a spare impeller for the raw water cooling system and know how to replace it quickly, because you might have to. The one that is inside now could be old and taken a set (might be a good idea to check it). Also, when you find a sandbar and try to back off you will suck sand into the water intake which quickly damages the impeller.

River state: Water levels have been at yearly lows, and sandbars extend in some places half way across the river. If you want to avoid groundings you should motor up the edge of the main channel. This time of year is a mixed bag for sailing, as the current is down for faster trips upriver but the lower water means lots of short tacks to avoid the shallows. You might enjoy some sailing if the wind is at your back but otherwise stick to the engine - and keep a sharp lookout for the tugs with tows that appear very quickly.

Either buy a river atlas or have a good chart display in front of you for avoiding shallows.

Have the anchor ready to deploy quickly. And have a marine VHF handy in case you have a problem and are unable to clear the channel for oncoming tugs.

You will have a great experience - it is quite beautiful. Just stay alert.

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Old 27-09-2016, 11:30   #19
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

Gold Falcon
That will be a memorable trip. Years ago I went from Pasco to Lewiston and back in a 24' I/O. The wind and current in combination often make interesting wave patterns.
You have received very good advice on this forum. I would emphasize the following:
Engine tune w/fuel polish and change all filters, and take some spares
Take a crew member with you. Or maybe two, could board along the trip
Have a good readily deployable anchor
Dock & lock lines - Read up on locking procedures esp. at Bonneville & John Day.
Charts and cruising guides of the rivers
Make sure your nav lights are working (spare bulbs - always good idea)
Sailing may be doable upstream from Portland, but you need to watch out for commercial barge traffic, particularly when they are headed down river.
Be sure to let us know about the trip - it will be a great adventure.
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Old 27-09-2016, 18:05   #20
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

I made the trip in the other direction Pasco to Portland 20 or so years ago and have fished from below Bonneville dam to the Dalles. It was a good trip we motored the complete trip down the river. The current below the Dams can be strong if they are spilling water. Additionally, Cascade locks area can have some strong currents. I think you can find the flows online. Also, the water in place can be deep which will require good ground tackle and lots of anchor rode. The channel is well marked with range markers provided in critical areas. The river has lots of barge traffic at times. You need to understand you will be the give-way boat when passing or being passed by tugs and barges. The locks at the dams now operate on a schedule that you will need follow. check out this link Summer Recreational Vessel Lockage Schedule Begins May 15 > Portland District > Portland District News Releases .
I do not think you should have trouble with bridge clearance, but you need to study the carts to make sure. If you have an issue you will need to contact the bridge tender to have them open up. A VHS radio would be a good idea.

You may get to sail part of the way if the wind is blowing the right direction, but you will need to motor into and out of the locks and below and above dams.

Hope this helps and have a great trip.
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Old 27-09-2016, 19:22   #21
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

I live in Hood River, Oregon, on the eastern end of the Gorge.

This is a very doable trip, but you're going to have to play it smart.

This is a good time of year to do this trip. River currents are much less (generally average about 1.5 knots) than in the spring and early summer, when they are closer to 3 kn, or even 6 for the mile leading up to Bonneville Dam.

evm is right about the current leading into the locks. Expect a 4+ knot current. The other locks are not nearly as bad.

This time of year the winds are highly variable, so you can't depend on the consistent westerlies we get in the summer. If there are westerlies, they will start around Beacon Rock, consistently build as you head east, peaking around The Dalles to Arlington. Today they were 20-25 knots in Hood River, which is pretty normal this time of year (they are 25-30 in summer).

Occasionally an easterly will come through this time of year, but they are more common in winter. They are strongest around the western end of the Gorge, then steadily diminish as you go east. By the time you get to Hood River they are rarely over 10 knots. In the winter they can be truly epic. 60+ knots out of the east is not uncommon at Crown Point. If you wait too long (until November), you really need to watch out for these.

So, watch the forecasts and take advantage of the westerlies. Hole up for the easterlies.

The river constantly shifts, so shallow spots come and go, especially below Bonneville. Fortunately, the bottom is usually soft mud in this stretch, so you're likely to just scrape bottom paint. East of the Sandy the river is much more stable and the charts start matching reality: it becomes a matter of following the charts. That's the good news. The bad news is that above Bonneville the bottom is unforgiving: it's almost always hard basalt and not the mud and sand of the lower Columbia.

Once you get past The Dalles, the river becomes very ditch-like and is easy to follow, but there are few anchorages. Watch out for the gill nets along the shore, which are everywhere this time of year.

As for motoring: because there are still a lot of westerlies this time of year, you may be able to sail a surprising amount of it. Follow the advice to use your foresail where you can. The boat will be more stable (less likely to round up), and it is easier to depower: just let go of the jib sheets!

There is an abundance of anchorages downstream from Bonneville, but they get less and less as you go upstream. Still, they are around. Try Government Cove just upstream of Cascade Locks. Or, behind Walker Island just downstream of Hood River. Or, behind Miller Island off of the Deschutes. or Three Mile Canyon above Arlington. You've got a small boat so you can squeeze into some of the small coves that I can only dream about.

Then, of course, there are the marinas: Camas, Cascade Locks, Hood River, The Dalles, Arlington, Crow Butte, Boardman, Umatilla come to mind.

The recreational lockage schedule ceases to apply after 15 September, so you don't need to worry about that until next May.

Unless you are starting on the Willamette (of which I know nothing) there are only two bridges that you will have to worry about. First is the "Vancouver Railroad Bridge" just downstream of the I-5 bridge. Call on Channel 13 and ask them to open it.

The other is the BNSF bridge just downstream of the Deschutes. Fortunately, this one is almost always open. Indeed, I have no idea how to ask for an opening because I've never had to!

You'll find the lockmaster and harbormasters get friendlier and friendlier as you go upstream. It is almost guaranteed it will be warm and sunny as you go east, at least through the next couple of weeks.

There's something spectacular about sailing through the desert on this ribbon of water, one of the worlds' great rivers! Have a blast!
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Old 27-09-2016, 22:11   #22
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

Captain Ken snow will be sailing up the Columbia river from Portland on Saturday Oct 1.They will try to get as far as the Snake river. He is looking for additional crew. He will be sailing on the S/V Aquilla, a 40' Hunter. If you can not make it on Saturday because you are buying the boat than you can meet them at the Port of Camas-Washougal on Sunday. Ken is a friendly and outgoing guy and would like to have you aboard for some or all of the trip. I strongly recommend you go for at least a few days to a week. You can learn some basic sailing as well as direct experience navigating some pretty tricky parts of this river. There are many things you will see on this part of the river that are not are not on charts and can be difficult without local knowledge. Go to the website below for more info.
Sailing in Portland (Portland, OR) | Meetup
Go to the calendar of events after signing up.
If you have problems getting a hold of him then PM me if you are interested.
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Old 28-09-2016, 11:17   #23
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

Motored up to Hood River 2 yrs ago. At Beacon Rock picked up Capt. Bart for the next part of the trip. He is a great sailor and knows the Columbia River. He would be who I would want on board as you get an experienced Capt. who loves to teach and will get you home to Pasco safely. He also has a trailer for your sized boat and could haul your boat to Pasco. his number is 541-490-6131 He has made the trip up and down to Portland a half dozen times just this year.
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Old 28-09-2016, 17:30   #24
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

Originally Posted by GoldFalcon View Post
Thanks for the reply! She's a real motorsailer, just pocket-sized. My only concern about motoring her all the way back is that it would give the diesel that many more opportunities to break. 3-5 days of motoring up-current (gotta be close to 200 miles of river between there and here) is a lot of stress on an engine I know very little about. I get that sailing is complicated and physically strenuous, but I think I'll have the wind in my favor most of the way, so I'd really like to take advantage of some of it, both to get experience and save strain on unfamiliar parts. For learning to sail, this boat seems about as safe as one could get (while still acknowledging that what I'm proposing is very risky to the point of potentially fatal) all the running rigging and sails seem easy to set and manage. Roller furling jib, forward set, deck-stepped mast with a boom so short an accidental gybe couldn't really knock me overboard. Wide, trawler-style stern is gonna keep her from being tender. I would have to work very, very hard to broach this boat. My biggest concern is having to deal with multiple emergencies at once. I can do anything anyone else can do, just not nearly as quickly.
Any chance I could get a better copy of that boat ad? I regularly help with updates and corrections and Randy doesn't have the cabin layout drawings and I bet he'd like them

A house is but a boat so poorly built and so firmly run aground no one would think to try and refloat it.
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Old 29-09-2016, 21:24   #25
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

Wow! I had a busy couple of days, wasn't expecting this response! Thanks so much for all of the information. I'm still combing through the posts, but thought I'd let everyone know that the deal on that particular boat fell through, though I'm currently looking at another, also in Portland. Already based on having read about half of the responses, I'd changed my mind about the other boat and was intending to trailer it. The prospect of getting sucked back into a dam due to engine failure is less than appealing. The boat I'm currently looking at is far better maintained, newer engine, all around better shape. If I make a deal for it, I'll likely have it trailered up then make this trip next year, down and back when I have more practical experience. They taught us in Airborne school that the sea is unforgiving of the slightest mistakes, So I think I'll get some practice in on a more forgiving stretch of the river. Thanks again for all of the info, it's a treasure trove of information that I intend to use to my advantage ... just a bit further down the road.

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