June 12, 2010 – Astoria, Oregon
By Herb McCormick
As it turned out, it was a lot easier getting out of Portland than getting in. At 0600 today, the crew of Ocean Watch untied the dock lines and set forth down the Willamette River en route to, in turn, the Columbia River, the town of Astoria, the Pacific Ocean, the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Port Townsend, Washington, the penultimate stop before returning to Seattle in the middle of next week. The Around the Americas voyage is almost around.
First off, we had to get out of Portland, an exercise that is accomplished by negotiating a dizzying and very rapid sequence of bridges. Last Wednesday night, we were stopped just short of our ultimate goal – the docks at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in the heart of the city – due to construction on the Broadway bridge, which supposedly required a 24-hour advance warning to open for waterborne traffic. In the actual event, we made it through the phalanx of bridges at 6 p.m. on Thursday after a day tied up to a boat-ramp dock in a blighted patch of water called Swan Basin, which will remind nobody of the Garden of Eden.
Today, Saturday, was the annual Rose Festival in Portland, complete with the Grand Floral Parade, a carnival and all sorts of related shenanigans, and we were told in no uncertain terms that if we wanted out from the labyrinth of bridges before the onslaught of vehicular traffic rolling into the city, we’d have one chance, at 6 a.m., which made for an early morning onboard.
For the run to Astoria, along with the regular crew which for the last several months has included oceanographer Michael Reynolds, we had a boatload of passengers, including educator Zeta Strickland, local yachting writer Peter Marsh, scientist Axel Schweiger and Stephanie Anderson, who developed the K-8 curriculum in ocean studies for our website. Also aboard was our beloved sailmaker, Carol Hasse, whose sail loft, Port Townsend Sails, built the working sail inventory for Ocean Watch’s spin around the continents. At one point, Carol, who with Axel is crewing on to Port Townsend, mentioned that Portland is sometimes called the Paris of the Northwest because of the preponderance of bridges. I’d have to agree: Portland is exactly like France but without all the French stuff, including the attitude.
Honestly, the people of Portland greeted us with wide-open arms, and our open house on Friday, as well as our presentation that evening in the OMSI auditorium, drew the largest and arguably the most enthusiastic crowds, both several hundred strong, that we’ve enjoyed during our entire series of shore-side tours. (A big article in Friday’s paper, The Oregonian, clearly primed the pump.) In any event, anxious to get back to Seattle, a few of us were kind of dreading the detour up the river, but our reception in the lovely city made it very much worthwhile. From all of us, thank you, Portland.
What comes up the river, however, usually must do down, and that included Ocean Watch. Happily, the bridge tenders were wide awake and we zipped on through without a hitch, passing, in order, the Marquam, Hawthorne, Morrison, Burnside, Steel (“They couldn’t think up a name,” quipped skipper Mark Schrader), Broadway, Burlington-Northern and St. John’s bridges.
We then had a fantastic day rolling down the river. We stopped briefly in the small Oregonian town of St. Helens for fuel, where kindly souls Toni and Tami, managers at St. Helens Marina, drove us to the store while some of the crew topped off the tanks, another posse hit the grocery store for provisions (and Peter Marsh hopped on his bike, which we’d carried from Portland, and pedaled back!). With the chores addressed, we kept on streaming down the Columbia, this time riding the fair current rather than bucking a contrary flow.
Speaking of St. Helens, not long after we’d purchased our diesel, the famous “mount” of the same name hove into view, of course still missing the pointy peak that the mighty volcano sawed off a quarter century ago. Still, its snow-capped steeps remained gleaming against the backdrop of the brilliant blue sky. Via satellite radio, we caught the U.S.-England World Cup soccer match and the Red Sox-Phillies game back in rainy New England; not everywhere, of course, can be as sunny as Oregon.
By late afternoon, it was decision time: pull in to Astoria for the evening after dropping off Zeta and Stephanie, or carry on over the bar and into the Pacific. The forecast for the next few days calls for strong north winds, so Captain Mark made the call to stop for the night, have a nice dinner and a good sleep, and regroup and carry on for Port Townsend on Sunday.
We’d been up and down the grand Columbia. For now, the last Pacific leg awaits.
-Herb McCormick with photographs by David Thoreson
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