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Jim H 08-08-2006 01:26 PM

Three Day Cruise on Columbia River

At the end of last week, we slipped the lines on our C&C 27 for a three day cruise on the Columbia River.

On Friday, we motored down the Columbia to St. Helens. This was a surprisingly harsh trip, because there were strong up-river winds almost all the way, directly counter to the current, making for some hobby-horse bashing to windward. We wanted to sail even a short distance, but the swells and on-the-nose wind would have had us going 90 degrees to our destination.

On Friday night, we tied up at the City Dock in St. Helens, walked downtown to an Art Gallery for a berry smoothie, and then bbq'ed chops back at the boat. A classic wood troller tied up across the dock from us and played 1950s movie tunes until about 11 p.m. The kids loved it, but we found it odd to hear "Some Enchanted Evening" over and over, along with swashbuckling movie scores. We could imagine unplanned conceptions happening all over the marina.

On Saturday morning, we had a "heavy" breakfast at the famous St. Helens cafe, which is reported closing on December 31st. I glad we were able to eat there at least once. There was a strong swell from down river, and all the boats were bouncing and being blown about in the marina when we pulled out.

We entered the Multonomah Channel and raised the jib, thinking we could sail down wind for some distance. Turned out to be about 100 yards. The strong wind at St. Helens disappeared as soon as we went up the channel. We'd motor for the rest of the day to Coon Island.

On Saturday at Coon Island, we hiked the 1.5 mile trail around the preserve, read, and kicked our feet in the water at the dock. My son borrowed a fishing pole from a neighboring boat and landed two carp for fun. We all slept well, since there was zero swell or wind at the dock (we were on the east side of the Island).

On Sunday, we motored the rest of the way down Multnomah Channel, past floating homes and beneath the Sauvie Island bridge. In the Willamette River, there was a strong North wind, and we raised sails only to find that we we couldn't beat into the wind because of the swarms of river traffic (powerboaters, tugs, etc.). We motored to the Columbia, excited by the idea of a beam reach home, only to find zero wind there. Ugh!

Right at the intersection with the Columbia, a large tug doing around 12 knots passed us and cut right across our bow, dropping us into a major wake. All of us felt weightless as we dropped in and climbed out. Other boats nearby who were hit broadside even had it worse. Hmmm.

Last fun part-- calling for a "swing" of the railroad bridge to get home. We passed through with three other small sailboats, and motored back to our slip to unload on a hot Sunday. We covered 52 nm, but pretty much none under sail.

We had a great time seeing more of the river and all of the Multnomah Channel, but next time we'll do the trip in reverse-- the channel to Coon Island the first day, and then to St. Helens the second day, and then back up the Columbia on the third day. That way, we could run with the strong up river wind instead of fighting it all the way down.

Good trip-- our boat and crew did well. A photo gallery is here.

Jim H

sailor12 08-08-2006 08:02 PM

Thanks for sharing Jim! It looks as if you all had a great time!

WesAllen 08-08-2006 08:35 PM

Nice pictures too. Thanks for sharing with us.

Jim H 08-10-2006 11:24 AM

Thanks for the kind comments. Some local sailors have told me that they share the pics with their families, as proof that small family cruises can be a good time for all involved.

We're planning a simple overnighter to Government Island this Saturday, so we can walk the beaches while my son fishes. Some friends might join us on their own boats, and we'll set up camp chairs and wine on the dock for after-dinner "cruiser talk."

Jim H

sailingdog 08-10-2006 11:44 AM

Looks like you had some beautiful weather for the trip. :D Nice photos btw.

jerryrlitton 08-10-2006 11:52 AM

Great pictures, I can see you all had a great time. Thank you for sharing.

NeoSailor 08-25-2006 07:11 PM

Thanks for sharing the trip with pics and notes. My wife and I were wondering what to do this weekend or a later one (we've got two 3 day ones coming up). I had no idea the Multnomah Channel was that navigable. We want to try a trip to St.Helens soon. The Channel looks relaxing to motor on. Maybe we'll get lucky and get some actual sailing in.

Jim H 08-25-2006 09:48 PM


I hope you get to go soon-- it's a fun trip. Note that the channel takes a while to motor. There's a few places where we followed the chart to stay in deeper water, but not many. It's worth a trip to the St. Helen's Cafe if you dock, especially if it's going to close at the end of the year.

We're planning two day sails this weekend, and I hope we have some wind on the river. Give us a wave if you see Bailiwick on the river.

Jim H
Bailiwick, a C&C 27

NeoSailor 09-07-2006 07:13 PM

Not fond of motoring

Thanks for the info. I'll try to keep an eye out for you. The wife and I are novice sailors and have been learning a lot this summer. I do my sailing on a Hunter 23, so we're kinda easy to spot (small boat, huge mains'l). While I'm thinking about it, where do you moor?

As my title suggests, I'm not a big fan of running the 5 HP outboard. It's much too noisy, but I'm hoping the downstream trip won't require much push and I can keep the thing just putting along. That is, if we don't get some wind to help us along. I also hope 5 gallons of gas mix is enough to get to St.Helens. Are there any marinas with fuel on the channel?


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