June 9, 2010 – Portland, Oregon
By Herb McCormick
My favorite sportswriter these days is a guy called Bill Simmons, who writes exclusively for ESPN.com. Think of him as the Dave Barry of ball games; if you like sports, and appreciate wry observations, you should check him out. Before he launched himself onto the national stage and became known as “The Sports Guy,” Simmons was based in Beantown and was referred to as “TBSG”: The Boston Sports Guy. One of his longtime gags is to produce “running diaries” of games and TV programs, a device I’ve shamelessly stolen over the last several months for some of our crew logs. As we ramble the ninety miles up the Columbia River from Astoria to Portland today, it seemed like a perfect time to record a diary of the proceedings. Here goes:
0600: Dave Logan prefaces the action with his usual warning – “Loud noises” – and turns the key to engage our Lugger diesel and get Ocean Watch underway. We are definitely back in the Pacific Northwest: It started raining the minute we dropped the mainsail last evening and it’s raining still. If this keeps up, one thing this log is not going to be is a cavalcade of adjectives describing the shore-side scenery: in the mist and murk, it’s hard to make out the bow. It’s been said that a lack of direct sunshine and cool, misty skies are good for the complexion. If that’s true, by the end of today we should all have skin like Grace Kelly.
0730: In all the commotion of getting on the river, it’s become clear that no one has seen Bryan Reeves, our tireless, indefatigable shore manager, all morning. So, maybe Bryan is human after all. “Is he onboard?” wonders skipper Mark Schrader. I peek up in the forepeak in the upper berth to port, and there’s Bryan, flat on his back, doing a marvelous imitation of a coma patient. Bryan is a climber and mountaineer, and one of his stranger yet endearing qualities is his sleep talking and sleepwalking, the latter of which, by the way, is a terrible idea on a boat. David Thoreson, who shares a cabin with Bryan, recalled his latest episode, just the other night, during which Bryan must have imagined himself free climbing Half Dome or some other sheer wall. “Fist jam!” murmured Bryan, before returning to sweet slumber. “What a great move!”
0755: Bryan emerges, hair tousled, rubbing sleep from his eyes, but otherwise looking radiant and refreshed; perhaps he was dreaming about dreaming. “How you doin’, mate?” he is asked. “Fine,” he says. “I didn’t get wakened, so I kept sleeping.” What a great move.
0800: Ocean Watch is engineer and mate Dave Logan’s baby and pride of joy, and he will not rest easy until “he” (boats are generally referred to in feminine pronouns, but Logan insists OW is a dude) is safely tied up in Seattle. Though we’ve all sailed tens of thousands of miles, including “almost” 27,000 together, Logan considers the rest of us as novice, incompetent idiots who have a hard time distinguishing the front end of the boat from the back and who’ve conspired against him in uncountable ways to trash his girl, er, boy. “What should we do for watches?” wonders Thoreson. “Skip ‘em,” I reply. “Logan isn’t going to leave the helm anyway.” Logan smiles in agreement.
0830: There’s been a ton of rain in Oregon this summer – surprise! – and the Columbia River is high and swollen. Mark’s received reports that there’s flooding in the upper sections and yesterday said, “We dodged ice up north. Now we need to dodge logs.” Up on deck, just a few minutes ago, Logan was slaloming through branches and various other tree parts like a backcountry skier tearing through a forest. Moments later, down below, there’s an audible slam against Ocean Watch’s tough steel hull: we’ve nipped a little log. I glance topside at Logan, wincing and in obvious pain.
0918: When it comes to miles sailed, forget “almost.” At the stroke of 9:18 a.m., the trip log aboard Ocean Watch rolls over from 26,999 to 27,000, the distance not only around the planet via sailboat but also, apparently, Around the Americas. Teacher Zeta Strickland, who notched several thousand of those miles last summer in the Northwest Passage and who’s rejoined us here in Oregon, says, “That’s the last thousand-mile mark for you guys.” Hallea-stinking-luiah.
1000: In Boca Raton, Florida, lives a prince of a gentleman and a faithful reader of these logs named Richard “Frog” Myerly, and as there’s not much happening at this precise instant, we’d like to take this opportunity to say, “Brother Frog, keep hopping.” We’ll now return to our regularly scheduled report.
1012: It’s stopped raining! Look! Up in the sky! A patch of blue! A patch of blue! A patch of blue!
1013: Good-bye, patch of blue.
1043: All joking aside, the calm, glassy river – banked by Oregon to starboard, Washington to port – is enchanting and lovely, and the overall effect is enhanced, not diminished, by the low, wispy, momentous gray clouds (as well as the plump, ponderous, pregnant ones) hovering over it. We’re all anxious to get to Seattle, and frankly, at first this side trip seemed like a serious disruption, but the scenery is growing on everyone. It’s like motoring through some sort of three-dimensional landscape painting, only prettier. “I’m getting used to this river thing,” says Logan. “Maybe we should saw off the keel and rig and make this boat a river barge.” The idea has merit.
1102: We’re abeam of the ancient Georgia-Pacific paper mill (Zeta’s iPhone, embedded with Google Earth maps, told us so), a belching, smoking, sprawling facility that’s the opposite of idyllic. “Making paper isn’t pretty,” muses Logan. Nope.
1255: For the second time on our spin Around the Americas, we round Cape Horn. Or so I’m told: I’ve just snapped to after a snooze on the settee in the main cabin (though I woke briefly to see where we were on the TV on the central bulkhead, which is playing a live feed from our Spreader Cam…BTW, every boat should have a Spreader Cam). The previous Horn, in South America, is more famous. As I type, I realize I have a crucial question. “Hey Dave, is Cape Horn in Washington or Oregon?”
1342 (1:42 p.m.): Ocean Watch sidles by Fisher Island, perhaps named for Los Angeles Laker guard Derek Fisher, who singlehandedly demolished the Boston Celtics last night, in the process breaking the tender hearts of hundreds of young New England kids. Thanks, Derek! (We watched the second half of the game in a loud tavern in Astoria, Oregon, where the local yacht club passed out awards for the spring racing series and even gave a shout-out the Ocean Watch crew.) We mention Fisher Island because it seems to be about the halfway point of the trip from the Pacific to Portland. Long day, no?
1344: Yikes! I pop up on deck to see a face full of trees about a boatlength to starboard; we’re clearly well out of the marked channel. “We’re scraping Oregon,” says Logan. “We’re over here to stay out of the two-and-a-half knot current.” No speed records will be set this day.
1404 (2:04 p.m.): Forty-four tons of Ocean Watch is tossed and spun like a bathtub toy in a swirling countercurrent. “Honeymoon’s over,” says Logan. He then points at an elaborate osprey nest mounted atop a channel marker like a penthouse suite. “We’ve been seeing those all along,” he adds, displaying his warm, sensitive side.
1410: The skipper just glanced up from his computer and had a look at the chartplotter , where he saw the boat icon careening along outside the channel, nearly had a heart attack, and bounded up the companionway to see if Logan had, you know, lost his mind. No more phone calls, we have our winner for the most entertaining moment of the day so far.
1445: It’s raining again. Hard. The precipitation does nothing to enhance the looks of the industrial port of Longview, the central attraction of which is the suspension bridge, which permits people to get the hell out of there. Longview’s view is one of smokestacks and freighters; whoever named the place at least had a sense of humor.
1600 (4 p.m.): Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. Fog, fog, fog, fog, fog. Mist. Mist. Mist. Mist. Mist. Bad current. Bad current. Bad current. Bad current. Rain. Fog. Mist. Bad. Current.
1730 (5:30 p.m.): The rain stops, the sun makes the briefest of appearances, and the spectrum of colors forming the full, complete rainbow on the Washington shore is sharply defined and magnificent. People we haven’t seen all day join Logan in the cockpit. Everyone now has a memorable souvenir photo of our ongoing excursion along the Columbia River.
1830 (6:30 p.m.): As luck would have it, it’s my turn to make dinner, a chore we all share on a rotating basis. It occurs to me that this may be the Last Supper I cook on this expedition Around the Americas, and I know that somewhere in our big freezer are three big, beautiful salmon fillets we scored in southern Chile. Our top-loading freezer (we have a smaller one in the galley, too) is stationed in the back of the shop and it’s a gargantuan piece of furniture. Over a year ago, several of us made a shopping trip to the Seattle Costco, and on my hunt for the fish I decide to see exactly what still exists in the bottom of the freezer. I now know the thrills an Egyptian archaeologist must enjoy when unearthing a pharaoh’s tomb. In the interests of making a dent in our stores, I grab two big bags of spinach ravioli I distinctly remember tossing into the cart last May and a few bags of frozen vegetables procured in South America, the clue here being the Spanish labels. I also grab a bag of frozen blueberries that Zeta decides will make a fine crisp for desert. We’ve got a Red Sox game on the satellite radio but they’re getting destroyed in Cleveland. I start cooking.
1930: Diner is served. Everything tastes fine (especially the fish, which is hard to mess up), though the ravioli comes out the consistency of mashed potatoes. My greatest skill as a cook is waiting to serve food until everybody is ravenous. It works again.
2046 (8:46 p.m.): We come to a fork in the river and bear right from the Columbia to the Willamette River, the waterway leading into downtown Portland. Almost immediately, free at last from the contrary current, boat speed leaps from five knots to seven knots, the first time we’ve the seen the magic “7” all day long. It doesn’t take much to make us smile.
2230 (10:30 p.m.): Long story short: A few miles outside of downtown Portland, progress comes to a halt when we learn a railroad bridge just shy of our mooring is closed for construction, and we’ll need to address the situation tomorrow. We end up pulling off the Willamette in an industrial section of the city called Swan Basin, at the very end of which is a small dock next to a boat ramp where a few guys are fishing. As we pull alongside, a fisherman with a slack jaw watches in amazement as we sidle up and tie off; honestly, if a spaceship had landed he wouldn’t have been any more surprised. “You guys got a trailer for that thing?” he wonders. After watching our shenanigans for a few more moments, he follows up with what is perhaps the most insightful question we’ve heard in the last 27,000 miles. “Can I ask you something else?” he asks. “How many captains are on this boat?” So, here we are, up the river, in Portland. Sort of.
-Herb McCormick with photographs by David Thoreson
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