When we landed in Astoria and the sun broke through, our limited sleep over the past few nights seemed to wash away in the shower at West Basin and the excitement of being in the river took hold.
The four of us promptly made for the Riverfront trail, and with a little pep in our steps, didn’t even need to hop on the trolly. We had lunch at the Buoy Brewery where we watched sea lions through the glass floor and then continued on the trail past the Columbia River Maritime Museum before meandering our way back through the heart of downtown Astoria to the marina.
The following morning, “Take Me to the River” by the Talking Heads thumped loudly on Yahtzee’s speakers as the attendant greeted us at the fuel dock. Porter danced with the tune and we were all energized to move on as diesel filled the tanks. All told, it was a great first stop, but we were itching to get up the river and knew that we’d have time to explore the city again prior the Oregon Offshore Race in May.
Acting on a tip from a loyal reader and Three Sheets contributor, we pointed Yahtzee’s bow upriver towards the low slung islands of the lower Columbia. Weaving our way through narrow, shallow channels reminded me of so many miles spent on the Intracoastal Waterway from Maryland to the west coast of Florida. The difference between those mostly featureless waterways and this one, though, was the beautiful green coastal mountains flanking each side of the river.
Bald eagles soared overhead in untold quantities as we picked our way through the brackish backwater searching for a suitable spot to drop the hook for the night. With one decided upon and the anchor set, the boys went down for naps and Jill and I set about with some boat chores before relaxing in the cockpit to soak in the setting. Besides a few small fishing boats zipping by, the scene was one of perfect tranquility: birds sang in the trees, the current churned beneath us and a slight breeze kicked up from the west.
Sunday morning dawned sunny but with a fair bit of breeze and we were off through the shallow channels for the town of Cathlamet, Washington. After about an hour of motoring, we found ourselves at an impasse where the depth of the water simply wouldn’t let us through. How do we know that? We went aground of course. But with many groundings in the shallows of the ICW under my keel, this one was done with the dexterous touch of braille and only told us that our end was right there. I spun Yahtzee 180-degrees and we hightailed it many miles back towards the deeper water of the Columbia.
With the wind blowing a full on hooley when we reached the river, the sails went up and Jill turned Yahtzee off the breeze for a sleigh ride up the river. Soon the outgoing current was kicking up good sized waves and if it wasn’t for that, we’d have been topping out at some impressive speeds. Nonetheless, we reached and ran our way past rock cliffs, sandy beaches, leafy-green trees and tall conifers. A giant car carrier approached from astern and we moved just to the edge of the channel like a slow moving vehicle in the right lane to let it pass.
As the river snaked westward, we trimmed sails and delighted in an afternoon of fresh breeze. Even though our earlier attempt at getting to Cathlemet was thwarted by the shallows, we’d found a better way to spend the day — sailing.
In Cathlamet we got a slip along with many fisherman enjoying the spring salmon season at Elochoman Slough Marina and attended to the business of eating pizza, taking showers, doing laundry and topping up on provisions. The following morning happened to be the start to Porter’s third birthday, which would turn into one that I’ll probably never forget.
When we left Cathlamet at noon to resume our upriver wanderings, we didn’t really have a set destination in mind. There were two or three that we kicked around and as can be our custom aboard Yahtzee, we just decided to roll with it and figure it out as we went along.
About 20 miles upriver and hemming and hawing between places to stop, we re-read the many reader tips we received and found one that piqued our interest. It was a private retreat along the river open to boaters that looked quite intriguing. And as we rounded Crims Island, we made the quick decision to pay a visit to Batwater Station…