Astoria to Portland

As our regular readers may recall, at this point Duet had arrived in Astoria, OR, after an overnight journey from Neah Bay, WA. We had dropped the hook in a nice little bay a few miles up river from Astoria, had a glass of wine and taken a nap.

Upon awakening from a nice nap, Nancy went, as she usually does, to the pilothouse to look out the window. All looked pastoral and calm, until she chanced to notice a sandbar, off Duet’s stern, which she would swear hadn’t been there when we went to sleep. So she told Ron, who had just woken up, that we appeared to be in danger of running aground.

At this point, an aside on Duet’s depth sounder might be in order. Readers of our prior blog on the Nordhavn 46, Duet will recall that, on our first journey south, we ran aground more frequently than one might expect, even given our inexperience and the random nature of the bottom of the ICW. Eventually we figured out how to use the previous Duet’s depth sounder correctly so we didn’t run aground quite so often. So how did we get into this predicament again, you might ask?

When we first got this Duet, Ron began to work his way through the manuals on all the gear. N50 Duet has two Furuno depth sounders, both the same model. One is in the pilothouse and the other is in the aft cockpit. She doesn’t, however, have two transducers, namely the gear in the hull which measures actual depth. So both sounders should show the same depth at any point in time. The cockpit sounder, however, is on the injured list and doesn’t show anything at all.

But that’s OK, the one in the pilothouse works fine. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, we got the idea that the pilothouse depth sounder was offset by Duet’s draft. So, when it showed 6 feet, that really meant we were in 12 feet of water, since it showed the depth under Duet’s keel, not the water depth.

We wanted to change this, as we like to see water depth, rather than depth under the keel. We realize that many folks prefer depth under the keel, but we have always had water depth. So we are more used to doing the calculation of 6 feet, oops, not enough water, than seeing 6 feet and realizing that’s OK.

Anyway, to make an interminable story slightly shorter, when we pulled into the anchorage and saw about 12 feet under Duet, at the top of a 5 high tide, we figured that we would end up with about 7 feet under the keel. We were right about one thing, the depth sounder did read 7 feet. However, it meant 7 feet of water, not 7 feet under the keel. We confirmed this with our hand held depth sounder (a useful item) from Duet’s stern. So we weren’t aground, but that was only due to the lucky fact that we hadn’t swung any closer to the emerging sand dune.

We obviously had to move. Our chart showed there should be 15 feet of water at low tide where we were. At that moment the proverbial light bulb went on, the dredge! Dredges take sand from the channel and dump it somewhere to keep the channel clear. They use pipes to dump it. So the upstream dredge had obviously been dumping sand in the anchorage. It wasn’t doing so now, as it’s active pipes were going elsewhere, but it must have done so in the past, based on the pipes still laying around on the beach.

We discussed, while the main was warming up, whether to continue up river. It was around 6PM, we were both tired, despite the nap, and it was low tide. Not a great option, even assuming we could pick our way out of the anchorage the same way we came in. We could stay put and run aground. Also, not a great option, as there is a chance of tearing off a stabilizer or damaging the main prop, if we run aground from the side or astern as she swings around her hook.

While she would probably survive this, as at least one other Nordhavn has, as shown in the photo below, it was not something we wanted to test. The Nordhavn below floated off just fine once the tide returned, with no damage to the boat or the fin, which gives you an idea of how strong these little ships really are. The name of the vessel below has been withheld, as this kind of thing can happen to anyone. Boaters who say they have never run aground have either never left the dock or are lying. 

We knew the bottom was pretty soft, both based on the dredge evidence and the charts. So we figured in for a penny in for a pound, and decided to move further into the center of the anchorage. Perhaps we would get lucky and the dredge had only been dumping at the entrance.

Worst case we would run aground wile moving, via the bow, thereby reducing the chance of damage. Once the tide came in we’d be fine. We would be running aground at low tide, which, if you have to run aground, is the way to do it. If you run aground at high tide, and it’s a big tide, there is a chance the boat may literally fall over as the supporting water around it runs out. 

So we gingerly picked our way further into the anchorage, away from the sand bar. The water got gradually deeper. We went carefully around in a large circle, to sound out an area big enough for Duet’s swinging circle when she was on the hook. After some time, we realized that the anchorage did return to what it looked like on the charts, we just needed to get further from the entrance, where the dredge had been dumping. So we anchored again, and spent a pleasant, quiet evening.

This story is a classic example of why, on a boat, you must always be prepared to be disturbed at inopportune times, such as when you are tired, it is cold, the weather is bad, whatever. It is something that we don’t mind, much, but can get old, particularly after months of living with it. It is really about control over your environment, which we take for granted when living on land. On the boat you don’t have any control over your environment whatsoever.

Once you gain experience, the smaller inconveniences aren’t even noticeable and the larger ones become less stressful, because you have seen them, or something like them, before. To paraphrase Scott Flanders on N46 Egret, you build experience and find yourself doing things that would have scared the pants off you several years previously, without overdue stress.

The next morning, after a good nights sleep, we set off up river. We passed the dredge without incident, after chatting with it on the radio. In our experience, trying to talk to other vessels is a better answer than not, even if sometimes they do not respond. On Duet, Nancy handles the radio. We have found that a female voice will sometimes elicit a response, whereas no one wants to talk to Captain Ron.

Our upriver trip was uneventful and we arrived at our next anchorage without incident. This anchorage was a little more interesting than our first, in that the entrance was surrounded by what we later learned (from our buddy Sean) were wing damns. These damns, made of upright logs pounded into the river bottom, are designed to keep sand from washing back into the river and causing it to shallow. Our anchorage had two of these damns, reaching out from either side at the entrance. Ron carefully picked his way between them with a wary eye on the depth sounder, while Nancy kept watch for other underwater obstacles.

This anchorage proved true to the chart once we got past the damns, and we spent a pleasure evening and the following day there. We put the dinghy in the water and did a little reconnoitering to see what the damns looked like close up. We slept well and felt much refreshed after our day’s rest.

The following day we thought we would move about half of the remaining 50 statute miles to Portland, thereby positioning ourselves for an easy cruise the next day and an early afternoon arrival. Alas, this was not to be. We arrived at our chosen anchorage around 2PM, but someone had parked a dredge smack in the middle of it. As you may have gathered by now, team Duet doesn’t have a great history with dredges, so we decided to give this one a wide berth.

So we moved on to our back up anchorage. Part of Nancy’s job as trip planner is to provide alternatives, in the form of anchorages, marinas, river entrances, etc. So we had a back up all ready to go. On the positive side, this anchorage didn’t have a dredge in it. Unfortunately, there were quite a few boats in it and we were worried that Duet wouldn’t fit.

By this time it was after 3PM. Ron checked sunset and we had plenty of daylight to cover the remaining 35 or so statute miles to the city. What we didn’t have was an extra hour or so to see if Duet would fit in the anchorage. If she did, great, but if she didn’t we would be arriving in Portland in the dark. So on we went.

Before we arrived, however, we had a chance to experience commercial traffic close up. We had seen several freighters and other large vessels on the river before, but this was the first time that one passed us. We saw her coming a long way off, she looked like an office building on her side, proceeding at a stately 15 knots or so, right up Duet’s stern.

Ron remained quite calm, and Nancy did her best, which meant trying to keep her mouth shut. She has gotten a lot better at this over the years, but still suffers from the occasional babbling problem, which Ron finds quite distracting. In this case, she figured she could swim to shore, so the danger wasn’t all that great, but the freighter really looked big out the aft salon door.

The freighter passed without incident, except possibly to Nancy’s blood pressure. Every experience like this adds to Nancy’s comfort level, and, not incidentally, Ron’s, as he slowed down as the freighter passed and then turned into the wake while advancing the throttle to push Duet through it. This was a trick we learned long ago on the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW) but this freighter was the biggest vessel he had ever tried it with. Also, of course, we had never done it with this Duet. It worked like a charm, Duet bumped through the wake, the stabilizers did their job, we returned to our course and all was well.

The freighter passed us about 20 miles downriver from Portland. Funnily enough, after that, the river banks became pastoral, with many families out on small boats enjoying the beautiful summer weather or indulging in picnics on the shore line. Sailboats sailed about, which is a pretty interesting activity in a river, as it is a restricted space to begin with, but sailors are sailors so they can sail, not motor, so sail they did.

Duet chugged majestically through the middle of all this, avoiding paddle boards, row boats, fishing boats, jet skis and other smaller water craft, while carefully yielding the right of way to any vessel under sail. We saw other motor vessels too, but nothing Duet’s size until we reached Portland proper. Actually we had seen only about half a dozen motor vessels Duet’s size or larger, since we crossed the Bar.

Just prior to reaching Portland, in the last of the undeveloped stretches we had one of those sailboat encounters which we find difficult. We were bound upriver, maintaining a steady 8 knots, as a sailboat of about 40 feet in length, under full sail came downriver. The sail boat was traveling from left to right across Duet’s nose to stay on the wind. At some point the captain would have to turn into Duet’s path or run smack into the shoreline, but he appeared completely oblivious to us bearing down on him.

The sail boat in this example definitely has the right of way. That said, there are some basic seamanship skills that are part of captaining a vessel on a waterway as busy as the Columbia River on a Sunday afternoon. Those include not taking big risks while under sail power alone. The wind is fickle, particularly on a river, where the banks affect both wind speed and direction. Should it fail at the wrong time, you may end up in the wrong place with little ability to do much about it.

Fortunately for our sailboat, both Nancy and Ron know this. So Nancy began to watch the sail boat closely, for any sign she was about to turn, or in sailboat lingo, tack. When she tacked she would probably be heading directly at Duet, and there wasn’t much room on river for us to get out the way. But, when sailboats tack, they go into irons, namely the sails flap, briefly, which causes them to almost stop. That should give Duet enough time to decide how to get out of this sailboat’s way, once we knew when she was going to tack.

About 25 feet from the shoreline, level with Duet’s bow and slightly off our starboard side, the captain gave the order to tack. Nancy called to Ron “tacking”, Ron evaluated the sail boat’s position relatively to Duet and stepped smartly on the gas. Duet surged forward and the sailboat passed 20 feet aft of us, gradually picking up speed as the wind filled her sails.

This sailboat captain might have been thinking a number of things. First, he he had seen us, judged our course and figured he could lay in irons off to the side if we were too close when he tacked. That is what we hope he was thinking. As an alternative, he had seen us, dismissed us as a power boat able to maneuver out of his way at will, and just continued with what worked best for him to maintain his course and speed. This is what we guess he was thinking.

The problem with this is that we can’t maneuver out of his way very well. Duet is heavy, slow, and has no brakes. She has some ability to turn, speed up or slow down, but not nearly as much as most people think.

So what could we have done differently to reduce the risk of this situation? We could slow down, but frankly, if we slowed down every time a sail boat passed across our bow, we would never get to Portland. We could speed up, but there was no way to tell if this would help, as we didn’t know when the sail boat was going to tack. Or we could maintain our course and speed until matters clarified themselves, and assume we would have an option which didn’t involve cutting the sailboat in half or running Duet into the shoreline. That is what we did.

We don’t mean this as a diatribe against sailboaters. Some of them, like some power boat captains, haven’t the slightest idea of the rules of the road, but most of them do. Many of them, however, seem to grant power boats maneuvering abilities that Duet, at least, does not possess.

Anyway, after this little excitement, we arrived in Portland. Downtown Portland actually lies on the Willamette River, not the Columbia. The two rivers meet just downriver from Portland proper. We continued on up the Columbia, while much of the recreational traffic headed into the mouth of the Willamette. Commercial traffic went every which way.

The Columbia is crossed by several bridges in the Portland area. Fortunately, Duet can make her way under these without having to ask for an opening. We did decide, after studying the height board at the Interstate 5 bridge, that we should drop our SSB and WeatherFax aerials. Ron held Duet in front of the bridge while Nancy went up onto the boat deck, dropped and tied down the respective ariels, and then we proceeded under the bridge. For those not in the know, bridge heights are available in cruising guides and charts, but sometimes the clearance height shown on a gauge at the base of the bridge is quite different, because of the tide or construction or shoaling.

Now came the tricky part, namely where was Salpare Bay Marina? Both Ron and Nancy had studied the marina on Google Earth, on Google Maps and on the paper and electronic charts. Nancy had even put a mark on the electronic chart, so we could figure it out. Looking at it on a chart, however, is very different from trying to find it from the water.

As you can see in the photo below, which is facing down river (the Columbia is to the right in the photo), there are a lot of marinas in the same area. Salpare is the one in the middle, with no boats in it, but from the River they all look the same, all you can see is some masts sticking up.

So we slowed right down on the other side of the Interstate 5 bridge and Nancy began studying the shoreline with binoculars. Ron kept Duet out of the way of the heavy recreational traffic, including what appeared to be an upriver sailboat race. This is a bit of an oxymoron, as the Columbia is flowing down river at several knots and there was little wind. So some of the sailboats were actually going backwards. This would have been more entertaining if we hadn’t been trying to find Salpare Bay.

When in doubt, see what other boats are doing. That’s a good principle in many cases, and it worked here too. Nancy watched various boats disappearing into what appeared to be a bank of trees, about where the marina should be. There are several marinas, right next to one another, according to the map. We figured, worst case, we would go into the wrong one but at least then we would know where we were vis-a-vis Salpare Bay.

The picture below shows Salpare Bay looking up river, which is the way Duet was approaching. The key was finding the entrance, in the middle of the photo. The Columbia, where Duet was, is on the left in the photo. The channel to the right leads around Hayden Island and back to the Columbia several miles down river. It is quite shallow and requires some local knowledge. 

When Nancy had spoken to Justin, the marina manager, he had said don’t cut the corners of the channel. After watching several boats gently bump on the edges of the channel, Ron lined Duet up carefully and in we went. Nancy kept an eye on the emerging marina landscape.

It turned out there were two marinas off the narrow entrance, Salpare Bay down river and Columbia Crossings up river. Nancy recognized Salpare Bay from the pictures and so was able to give Ron good directions. Ron turned Duet slowly in while Nancy identified G Dock. Duet slipped neatly into the only open slip on G Dock. We had arrived.

The picture below shows the entrance to Salpare Bay, upper center. Duet is berthed in the big boat berths right at the entrance. 

By this time it was about 7:30PM, but fortunately still light. As soon as we tied up a helpful slip neighbor came over to tell us that the marina power was misbehaving. Not an auspicious start. Ron checked said power and it was indeed out of whack. So we started up the generator, got Duet settled and said Hello to various folks who stopped by. Power was restored about an hour later, so Duet’s generator powered down, we plugged in and spent a pleasant evening.

Salpare Bay is a nice marina. It’s relatively new, having been built as part of a condo development on the river. The condos fell victim to the recession but the marina is in fine shape. Now that the economy is recovering, the condos have been restarted, so there is quite a bit of activity ashore.

The marina has floating docks, which are common on the west coast due to the big tides. But these docks had some of the highest pilings Ron and Nancy had ever seen. Chatting with Dock master Justin clarified that the Columbia can surge up to 20 feet when the upstream damns are opened in the spring. The marina has never floated off the pilings but it has been near the top, which is impressive considering the pilings are at least 25 feet above where Duet is now. This conversation got Ron thinking about chafe gear for Duet’s lines, as well as fender placement.

The picture below shows the marina just before it opened, it is now almost full. 

Two slips down from us is a new Krogen 53, owned by a couple from Bend, OR. It is their second Krogen, they previously had a KK48, which they also kept at Salpare Bay. Rich is a great source of info, and we plan to copy his line and chain set up for Duet’s dock lines when we return in October.

Th epicture below shows Duet in her new slip.

We also took great care to protect the flopper pole. Normally Duet would be tied up starboard side to, as it’s easier to get on and off. Having her port side to makes more sense here though, as the wakes from the Columbia come from the port. If she was tied up on her starboard side, she would be pushed down on the dock. This way she is pushed off the dock, which spares her fenders and, potentially, her get coat. It isn’t necessarily very good for her starboard slip neighbor, however, so we did a lot of our own pushing and shoving to make sure she stayed within the bounds of her own slip. 

The next day Nancy’s brother Tom, his boss Trevor, and his girlfriend Jill came to visit. It’s been too long since we have seen Tom and Jill, and Trevor is also a boater, so a great time was had by all. Nancy also picked up a rental car, found the local market, and life settled into the usual dock routine. We established an exercise route, as Hayden Island, where the marina is located, has some nice developments for Nancy to walk and Ron to run through.

Since we had a week or so before we had to return home, Ron started on repairing the leak at the aft end of the anchor pulpit. This has been identified at survey and he had already re-bedded the bolts to see if that would fix it. Alas, it had not, so he was faced with coring out the area around the bolts until he could access dry wood and then filling it with epoxy. Duet’s deck is composed of a layer of end grain balsa, sandwiched between two layers of fiberglass. When hardware is installed into this kind of material it can leak into the surrounding deck, as the bedding material decays. This is what happened here.

First, Ron removed the bolts, again. This time they stayed out, while he crawled into the anchor locker to access the area from underneath. He carefully gouged out the wet balsa wood from around each bolt hole. In one case, he had to gouge out the entire area between two bolt holes. Obviously, these bolts had been leaking for some time.

Ron is a pretty compact guy, which comes in handy when working in tight places.

The picture below shows the core he removed.

And here’s the hole he made from below.

Finally, he reached solid wood on all sides of all four bolts. Then he set up a fan to dry the area, before filling it with epoxy. In went the epoxy, over several days, to ensure that all the air holes were empty. On the next trip, he will drill new holes for the bolts through the epoxy plugs, bed it all down, and presto, no leaks. Ron had done this kind of project many times before, as have most boaters, so it was easy, just time consuming.

Ron also decided on a boat monitoring system, from Siren Marine, to install on our next trip. The system will text us when the bilge pump runs, when the dock power goes off when the temperature gets low inside the boat. In addition, Ron is adding some custom features which will allow him to turn the main water pump and the water maker on and off, so he can flush the water maker remotely.

All too soon our two weeks were over and we were headed back to Tahoe. Duet was as settled into her new slip as we could make her. We removed her storm plates, as she won’t need them for some time, and we recovered the jack and the life raft lines. We also stored all the offshore gear away, until the next time.

Nancy planned a one day visit in three or four weeks, to check on the boat. She also hunted down a boat washing team to come on our next visit and will be looking for a diver to check Duet’s zincs. Finally, she covered all the pilothouse windows in foil, which, while it’s not exactly beautiful, will reduce the sun exposure and heat inside the boat until we get around to getting window covers made.

We arrived home without incident, the house was intact and we got back to the daily routine of work, exercise, and planning for our next boat visit.