Sand to the Snake and return to the sea | Along the Waterfront

The little Isuzu hummed, “I’m good to go,” after receiving a drink of Delo 400, so off we went. Midstream the current was running 8 knots, but by hugging the left bank, and working every back eddy with the engine maxed at 2600 RPM for a half hour we finally made it past buoy C-91. Following protocol, I called the lock tender on channel 14 requesting lockage and immediately received a “come right on in skipper”.

It should be noted that the Corps of Engineers’ regulations give commercial traffic preference in locking priority and vessels with hazardous cargo are only locked singly.

We were locked several times when no other traffic was near. Bonneville Dam lock at 86 feet wide, 675 feet long with a 90 foot lift is cavernous. The sun is blocked except at high noon. It takes about 30 minutes for a commercial transit; longer for small craft because the flow of water in or out of the lock is reduced to minimize turbulence. You’re in for a wild ride if locking through with barges. This is with the concurrence of the tug Captain. One lockage discharges 39,079,260 gallons of water.

Five miles down river from the town of Hood River we were sailing running about 7 knots with 30 knots from astern when I sighted what appeared to be white water like a rapid ahead. A quick check of the chart showed nothing.

As we drew closer –wind surfers – must have been at least a hundred of them flying back and forth across the river. There was no way I could maneuver around them so I invoked the “Tonnage Rule”, as in the biggest vessel has the right of way, and sailed right through them. Theses sailors were fantastic: using the chop of the river current against the wind to leap into the air and scoot off at 20 knots.

Once above Bonneville Dam we were in the “lakes” with about a 1-1.5 knot current against us. The scenery is now changing from coastal forests to sage brush, rocky bluffs 500-1000 feet high, orchards, vineyards and sand. Stark, big, but beautiful in a way.

We prefer to anchor out, but this is not often possible. The river bottom seems to be rock or gravel. My plow or Danforth anchor would just dig a furrow. You could hear the gravel rolling downstream from inside the hull. There are, however, numerous sloughs where good holding can be obtained. We stopped at several small marinas, usually yacht clubs, where we were made most welcome. Maybe because we were a bit of an oddity coming from salt water. The river flow and consequently its height is controlled by the Corps with no notice to mariners, so when looking for a suitable anchorage one must be sure to have a fathom under the keel. You are on your own here as there is no ready assistance available. Stay on the ranges.

Bridges if manned are on Ch. 13. Most remain open except for scheduled trains. Lots of trains along the river carrying grain to Portland. The engineers usually returned a wave with a hoot on their horn.

At Tri-Cities we decided to go up the Snake River to Lewiston, ID, but a fixed bridge two miles above the Palouse River with a vertical clearance of 52 feet (we needed 57) made this our return point, and so we reluctantly reversed our course and headed down river to Astoria. We were 15 days from Astoria to the Palouse River and 11 days down river.

— Next week: The passage home.

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