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Old 26-09-2016, 13:21   #1
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Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

I've been a powerboater on the Columbia for about 5 years near the confluence of the Snake, Walla Walla, and Yakima rivers. This Saturday I'll be heading down to Portland to look over a 28' motor-sailer. If I strike a deal (which seems likely if the boat is as described) I'll be sailing the boat (no trailer) back up the Columbia to my future marina in Pasco, Washington. I have some concerns and am looking to arm myself with information from those who sail the lower Columbia.

1) I have never sailed. I've been studying and watching videos and went out with a friend on his boat, so I know the difference between a sheet and a halyard, how to work the winches, and understand the basic aerodynamics of the thing, but that is literally it. I have no practical experience and just the bare-bones knowledge of how things are supposed to work. Is what I'm considering insane? Keep in mind the boat has a molded lead, shoal-draft keel that one could literally park her on, so I'm not really too worried about grounding. Also, pretty low sq-foot sail area, so I don't think sail-handling would be too much of an issue, and being a motorsailer, I can crank up the diesel if I get in trouble with the sails.

2) I don't know the area or the conditions. I believe the mast is 32' and am unsure about what the lowest bridges I might encounter might be, both in Portland and on the trip back up. Have also never locked through a dam before, but I'm frankly not overly concerned about the dams. I figure it'll be nerve-wracking, but there's gotta be a first time.

3) I'm disabled. I've got emphysema and use supplemental oxygen, especially with heavy exertion. This is probably right at the limit of my physical capabilities. Pushing myself to those limits is part of the reason for the trip. With COPD it's important to stay physically active to maintain as much lung function as possible. It's also very important for me to test my mental limits. This is an old boat. I rate the chances of something breaking on the return trip as "very possible." The boat has redundant propulsion (motor/sail) and redundant steering (wheel/tiller). If something goes catastrophically wrong, will I struggle to find mooring or safe anchorage?

I welcome any feedback, criticism, information, or questions.
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Old 26-09-2016, 13:27   #2
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

If it's a true motor sailer, maybe motor it home. Sailing takes a little learning and it can be very physical. You could find yourself in a bit of trouble if conditions get bad.
You are used to power. If I were you I'd motor the boat home and get some sailing lessons.
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Old 26-09-2016, 14:13   #3
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

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.
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Old 26-09-2016, 15:21   #4
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

Well, hopefully we'll hear from folks in Portland, but you are going to be in a very exclusive group, Columbia River cruisers! As you may know the Columbia Gorge is famous for good winds so you'll have plenty behind you there. As for the rest, less so. I used to work every summer up in Lewiston and Clarkston and would often go over to Portland, but by car. I have not tried the sailing trip you have in mind. Hopefully someone will chime in here who has. There was a thread a while back about this, can't remember exactly.... try a search for it here. Yeah it is quite a ways to Pasco! Sailing is not so complicated, and you'll likely have winds behind you, no big waves and plenty of places to stop along the way. I am more concerned, as you say, about the engine. If it is not up to it you may end up anchored somewhere for a long time. And then there is a bit of current too. No chance for trucking it up? It is not too big or heavy. Any chance to get someone to go with you who knows how to sail?
Good luck!
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Old 26-09-2016, 15:46   #5
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

The river level is way down now so there is a lot of sand showing - Keep an eye on your depth sounder and your brain on your charts. We have been hitting -0.5'.

Winds are east at 12 at the entrance to the gorge and north around hood river. Expect this to change. An east wind (more common in winter) will be on the nose and create some impressive waves.

Quite a few dams between Portland and the Snake. Currents approaching the dams can be quite strong and make your speed over ground tiny. These currents make your approach to the lock take a long time as you make 1/2 knot over the ground at full throttle. You can do some timing to get lower currents.

Plan out your over night anchorages to take advantages of docks. Beacon Rock comes to mind.

Oh, watch out for the shallows around the Sandy River. It goes most of the way north to Washington. Keep in the channel there.

Just some random thoughts....
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Old 26-09-2016, 16:09   #6
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

Thanks so much for the suggestions and information! EVM, that's super useful to know. I'd heard that the prevailing wind has a tendency to reverse in the winter months but am sorta hoping that since we're still having solid Spring temps over here, the hotter desert will keep drawing through the Gorge west to east the majority of the next week to ten days. I figure with the dams I can try to time with the schedule so I'm not fighting more open spillways than I need to. Time isn't really a problem for me. I'm retired with no commitments, so I can wait for things to improve. I'd rather take it slow and not push untested equipment.
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Old 26-09-2016, 17:44   #7
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

Sunday morning toasters and the need to generate power....

With a west wind the wind and current are in opposition and can make for a short steep chop. Low flow and low wind would be best and with time you can pick and choose.
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Old 26-09-2016, 20:41   #8
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

Looks like the Hood River forecast for the next week is 5-10 out of the west. I've spent many summer weekends in the gorge windsurfing. It seemed like it never blew 5, it was either 0 or 15+. If the forecast wasn't 15+ it seemed like it was typically dead calm.

Your motorsailor has an SA/D ratio of 11.3. This is like a horsepower to weight ratio for sailing. This means in the forecast winds of 5-10 you will not be going anywhere near hull speed while sailing. I'm guessing 2 to 3 knots of speed, with the wind behind you. I think your boat is going to need close to 15 knots of windspeed to make respectable speed under sail.
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Old 26-09-2016, 21:57   #9
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

Hey, thanks for the info, John! I'm fine with making 2-3 knots. I'm absolutely in no hurry. The thing I'm most worried about is loosing propulsion and being pushed back downriver into conditions either I or the boat can't handle. That said, I think that that's a remote possibility as long as I'm diligent both in checking the boat and planning the return trip. Slow forward is fine, though If the trip takes me two weeks (at least twice what I expect) I'll still be OK.
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Old 26-09-2016, 22:55   #10
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

I lived in the Gorge. Wind direction can change 180 in a few hours. I'd suggest you power home and practice sailing when you get home. If the wind is against you, you'll do lots of tacking and make little headway. I have a private dock on the lower Columbia. When sailboats go buy, they are usually under power. I have a powerboat because my arthritis won't take the constant line handling in sailing.
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Old 26-09-2016, 22:58   #11
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

If the wind is behind you, use ONLY the jib. Much easier on you.

Safe journey, good luck.
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Old 27-09-2016, 09:05   #12
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

You should have the engine totally serviced and if you have the time have the diesel tank polished. That is, they run the diesel fuel in the tank threw a filter and clean the tank at the same time. Very important on older boats as a lot of stuff in the tank can plug the filters and there you drift. Even then carry extra filters as the chop on river will stir everything up. That's a trip I have always wanted to go on. I used to live in West Pasco and worked at Hanford. Do you have a dingy? Do you need crew? Any sailing will be problematic.
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Old 27-09-2016, 09:13   #13
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

I grew up in Pasco and spent many years boating on both the Snake and Columbia.

As most people have suggested I'd recommend planning on motoring back to Pasco. Prior to leaving Portland I'd either go through the engine myself or hire a mechanic to check the engine out before departing. You don't want to be approaching your first set of locks and find the engine can't sustain maximum power without overheating or dies due to a clogged fuel filter. Spend some time before you depart running the engine hard to make sure of it's capabilities and limitations. Also make sure you have spare filters. Oh, an anchor! Seems obvious but in the excitement of buying a boat sometimes I've forgotten what should be obvious. Radio, cell phone, etc. etc.

As for bridge clearance I looked into making the trip in my boat and I think there's a rail bridge at mile 323.5 and 328 that when opened were too low for our boat's mast (65') but might work for you.

Good luck, it sounds like a great trip!
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Old 27-09-2016, 10:01   #14
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

I looked at doing the same trip, I have a son in Pasco, I lived there for 22 years, Walla Walla for 3 then moved back to the Oly Pen. My boat is 30' 15hp yanmar diesel, it makes just 6 knt full power. My boat can't make enough power to negotiate the locks if there is even moderate dam flow, not safely. I would require tow boat. Also consider the commercial tug/barge traffic, the tight fast flowing sections of river, in a boat you describe as "if'y" at best? I would really reconsider. But if you do decide to do it, I would really love to hear of the adventure, hell if you make it, it might inspire me to try!

p.s. are you at the marina in Pasco by the Cable Bridge? Nice little marina!
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Old 27-09-2016, 10:53   #15
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Re: Sailing the Columbia River, Portland to Pasco

As a test of condition, see if the PO is willing to accompany you for the first few days of the journey. Might work.
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