Weather reports are hard to find at ‘Cape D’ | Along the Waterfront

This column is a continuation of a series on a Columbia River cruise.

Home and dry. Prior to departing on this Columbia River cruise, several friends said they would like to help crew Mariana on the passage home.

It was agreed that John Bailey, Howard Lewis, and Ken Campbell would drive our car from Friday Harbor to Astoria and Peg would drive it home. The weather forecast for our planned departure on 23 Aug. was high winds of 25-30 knots from the northwest, so we decided to call it a lay day and do some sightseeing in Astoria.

The next day, the radio forecast was for more of the same. We were anxious to get going. In the Navy, this is know as “destination fixation” — the real, implied order or desire to be at a destination at a prescribed time. Not good, as it may lead to an unwise decision.

We needed a better forecast, so the idea came to go to the Coast Guard Station at the river mouth — they would have good weather information. So, we rented a car and drove to the station.

This was Saturday morning. No one in the office except the duty yeoman who said he had no weather information but suggested we go up to the light at Cape Disappointment and talk with the watch. Two seamen who were watching the channel through 40-power binoculars said they had no weather.

The trip to the light was not in vain, however, as we enjoyed touring the outstanding adjacent Lewis and Clark museum.

Ah! The Coast Guard Air Station. They would certainly have good weather information, so off we went. Saturday afternoon. No one in the office. All hands out playing ball.

Oh, the bar pilots — back to town. Walked in through the open door. No one in the lounge. TV playing, coffee on the stove and off-duty pilots sleeping. Next door is the local radio broadcast station that puts out bar conditions every hour. Again, no one in the front office. Peeking further in, we see the operator sound asleep; the programming is all on tape. We wake him up. He has no weather, but gives us the NOAA weather forecaster’s phone number.

We call and tell him our need for good weather information. He responds most enthusiastically — here are some people who understand the technicalities of forecasting. No laymen had ever consulted with him before.

He said there was a front coming in from the southwest, but at this time they did not have enough data and would have to stay with their forecast of strong NW winds. We thanked him and returned to the boat to plan our next move.

Option 1: Hang tough until we get a good forecast. Option 2: Proceed down river to the mouth and take a look. If not too bad, continue up the coast or if bad turn back to Ilwaco. After a short discussion and several rums, Option 2. We would get underway at first light.

Clearing Astoria at 0530 on Sunday 25 August, we ran in heavy fog to the mouth where the fog lifted and we met moderate sea conditions.

Northbound about two hours after giving infamous Peacock Spit a wide berth, we noticed a dark wind patch on the water approaching from the south. An hour later, we were logging 6-7 knots on a broad reach. We set the cruising watch, and 24 hours 20 minutes later we raised Duntze Rock off Cape Flattery close aboard to port.

Then the wind died, but shortly came in from the northwest giving us a nice run to Port Angeles where we dropped John off. Mariana’s clock chimed eight bells in the evening watch as we secured to her berth in Mitchell Bay.

The Columbia River is most interesting and a great cruise. It lends itself to allowing guests to join along the river if you choose and gives the experience of an ocean passage. I would be happy to go into more detail with anyone interested in making the voyage.

“Couldn’t be better, but most unlikely to happen again.”

— Fred Hoeppner is a competitive sailor and a retired Navy captain. E-mail him at

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