At Anchor

At Anchor
Whiskyjack at anchor in Garrison Bay, San Juan Island

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Trip Down the River, Part II (aka: the Beauty & the Beast)

A dingy on a boat at the Westport Marina
We left Anunde Island via Wallace Slough and found anchorage for the evening in Westport Slough above the power lines.  The following morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we again head down river, taking Cliffton Channel between the Oregon Shore and Tenasillahe Island, past the relics of the abandoned communities of Bradwood and Cliffton.  We are bound for, what for me, is one of the most peaceful, serine, and beautiful places in this world.  Is is the Lewis & Clarke National Wildlife Refuge which encompasses 35,000 acres of tideland, marshes, and sandbars in the Columbia River estuary about 25 miles upstream from the sea.

Looking west toward Tongue Point
We pass through the Devil's Elbow into Prairie Channel, following it between Karlson and Marsh Islands and anchor in a spot about 1 mile west of Blind Slough.  (See NOAA Chart 18523.)

Here, we are surrounded by water and low lying islands for a radius of over a mile with the western foothills of the Coast Range lying beyond that.  For 360 degrees a vista of nothing but water, trees, hills, and islands.  And no sound of man.  Nothing but the sound of the water lapping at the hull and a symphony from some of thousands of birds that occupy this place.  

Looking east.

While the sound of an individual bird may not be so very loud, when hundreds all sing together, it can be deafening.  I lay in the warm sun on my back on the trunk cabin, my eyes are closed, the warm breeze is blowing over my body and I am listening for the solo runs from the individual members of this avian choir.  What are they singing about?

Marsh Island
 This peace and beauty calms my soul.  This is my special place to unwind; to rejuvenate myself.  We spend the afternoon here but time has a different meaning in this place.  It doesn't pass fast, or slow.  There is so much to drink in, so many acts that pass over Nature's stage, that it seems surreal.  The setting and a breeze that has been picking up over the hours remind us that we need to seek a more sheltered anchorage and prepare our evening meal.  Reluctantly we leave, retiring to protected anchorage in Knappa Slough.  Tomorrow is going to be Karen's big day.  A day to poke around the shops in Astoria.

I awake early, it is just beginning to get light.  I go over the chart and plot a course through this maze of islands to Astoria.  For some still unknown reason, I think it is good to catch a ride on the ebb tide.  When you ride along in a vessel that makes only 5 knots, catching an additional 2 to 3 knots of current makes the trip to Astoria a 2 hour event, while have a 2 knot current "on you nose" makes the trip a 5 hour one.  Wouldn't it be nice to get Karen to Astoria in the early morning rather than in the afternoon?  Well, yes!

With Karen comfortably sleeping in the V-berth, I start the engine, weigh anchor, and head west in Prairie Channel, following the course that I have drawn on the chart and entered into the GPS.  I pass the place where we spent the previous afternoon and all of the memories of the day come flooding back.  I'm drunk with the serenity of it all.  I make the turn south, slowing because it has been years since I have been through here.  The water begins to shallow and I slow even more.  The channel is not where it is supposed to be.  (It might be well to mention here that these small channels are not sounded often meanin the data on the charts is often 20, 30, or 40 years old.)  The water continues to shallow and I am getting nervous.  Reluctantly, I turn around and follow my reciprocal course, deciding that another route to Astoria will need to be found.  I throttle up a bit to 3 knots, the all of a sudden it happened.

Not a happy camper!

I feel the boat rise slightly as it slows to a stop.  From the fore-cabin:  "What's wrong?  What just happened?" OMG!  We're aground!  Whose idea was it to explore on a falling tide?  I know that time is of the essence and I quickly put the anchor into the dingy and paddle astern hoping I can kedge off.  No luck!  In just the few minutes that it takes to row the anchor astern, the boat as already starting to list to starboard.  This is not good.  Thoughts are running through my mind.  I can let the boat go onto it's beam.  I quickly form a plan.  Again I get into the dingy, but this time I row the anchor out as far as I can toward the deepest water which is off the port beam.  I drop the anchor, row back to WhiskyJack, and get a purchase as high on the mast as I can reach from the deck.  I haul against the anchor and begin to pull the boat back upright, stopping when I get it to about 5 degrees heel to starboard.
Birds sitting on the anchor rode

Then we wait.  Any movement of us on the boat from one side to the other causes the boat to heel more or less.  We cannot let the vessel go to port, she must stay with a slight starboard heel because there is no line on the starboard side to prevent a roll to port.  For about 30 minutes it's a balancing act.  Stand slightly to starboard, if the boat starts to move to port, I move to starboard, and visa-versa.  I do not know just how much force it will take for the anchor to drag, and it if does we're done.  Finally, the boat settles slightly into the muddy bottom and becomes stable.

The tide fell, making bare some of the land around the boat.  When it does, the channel becomes apparent.  It is 50 yards to the west of where is was charted.  And, what about the First Mate.  To say she was not happy might be understating the emotions.  And I can understand her point of view.  How is it to be awakened from peaceful sleep into the chaos of a grounding.  How helpless we feel at the mercy of the tide.

Sunset, just east of Astoria near Tongue Point

  "And, what about my day in Astoria?", she asks.  Needless to say when I explain that high tide isn't until 1500 hrs, that we won't float until about 1300 hours, that the trip to Astoria against the flood tide is now estimated to about 5 hours, my mate's response was less than  joyful.  The best that I could offer as a "light at the end of the tunnel" was that we would be arriving about dinner time and that I would be happy to buy her dinner with wine and dessert (and anything else she wanted).  And it didn't hurt that I explained that we had an extra day in our itinerary and that it would be spend in Astoria.

So ends this story of the Beauty of the Estuary and the Beast of Grounding.


  1. Daniel: Great blog! Beautiful vessel. I will be following henceforth. Priming has begun on Ms. B's new top. Thanks again for your project-saving advice. J

    1. John: Thank you. This blog is another adventure that I've embarked upon, thanks to Hira's nudging. It appears that you're closer the finish line that the starting line.