Our Columbia River Passage Part 1, Tomahawk Island to Cathlamet, Washington

It is now December 2019 as I write this. This picture was taken on December 15th, 2018. Les and I were at a delightful little Bistro in Astoria named the Bridgewater.  We’d taken the day off from stocking up our new boat and drove through a driving rain along highway 30 from Saint Helens to Astoria.  Charlie, the previous owner of Great Northern, had mentioned that the Bridgewater would be a place that we would enjoy.  He was spot on.  It was alongside the Astoria bridge that carries traffic between Oregon and Washington and had a welcoming, warm, cozy, wood fired atmosphere with great food and a fine selection of craft beer. I had a nicely hoppy locally brewed IPA, fish chowder and Caesar salad. Les enjoyed the same.  We’d just accomplished a road trip from Portland to Astoria to scope out different parts of the river that we would soon be transiting. If you get to Astoria some day, be sure to stop at the Maritime Museum and spend some time there.

12 short months. Our lives have changed in so many ways…

Never a dull moment preparing a boat for a voyage. And speaking of changes… Les is soldering new LED lights into the standard bulb light fixtures. Oh yes! Les can solder with the best of them All of her tools are there. So far she’s done 20 fixtures and has 10 or so more to go.

The fat tire IPA is mine…

From the rain drenched windows of the Bistro, we saw one of Charlie’s pusher tugs motoring under the Astoria Bridge. The company he worked for the greater part of his professional career, built tugs, barges, and railroad cars. I have a picture of a similar tug in our engine room… I know what a pusher tug is now. Immensely powerful and an essential workhorse on the Columbia.

Since last December, so much water has passed under our collective keels. I’ve fully retired. We moved to Portland to put the finishing touches on Great Northern, and by June 2019 the boat was ready and we left Portland to start our cruising journey. I’ve broken the passages from Portland to Port Angeles, Washington into 3 parts.

Part 1, covers our passage from Salpare Marina on Tomahawk Island to St. Helens to top of our fuel tanks, then on to Cathlamet Washington.

Part 2 will cover the ongoing trip downstream from Cathlamet to Warrington.

Part 3 will cover Warrington, near the mouth of the Colombia to Port Angeles, Washington

Our very first Columbia River passage took place on February 1st 2019. If you want to read about that, it is covered in the post titled The Beginning. It describes moving Great Northern from its pampered boathouse home of 13 years up to the cold and open air Salpare Marina on Tomahawk Island near Portland. How rude of us… But since we were spending time between San Diego and Salpare outfitting the boat, we wanted to be close to the airport and it served its purpose well.

Get on with the story you say? I agree, eh?

The overall picture: Tomahawk – Hayden Island (between Portland and Vancouver on the Columbia River) to Astoria via Saint Helens and Cathlamet. We actually skipped Astoria and went on to Warrington. More on that later.

June 19th, 2019. We cast off the lines at Salpare marina and headed out on the Columbia. Our starting point at Salpare is 100 nautical miles upriver from the Pacific Ocean. We plan on 3 stops on the way: Saint Helens for a fuel topoff. The best fuel price on the Columbia is at the fuel dock there. The second stop will be Cathlamet, Washington, another 45 miles further downriver. Our final stop is Warrington, another 26 miles downriver. The total mileage will be 91 miles or so.

This picture shows us just about to transit under the Burlington Northern Railway Bridge which links Portland via Hayden Island to Vancouver, Washington. The game is afoot…

Car transport ship on the Vancouver, Washington side of the Columbia
Waving good buy to Hayden Island (on the right) and the railroad tressle bridge. We are on our way to Saint Helens
Tis a big girl, the Columbia…
A typical pusher tug and grain / gravel / ripwrap / sand / etc. barge making way upriver. Via the lock system, this type of craft can go all the way to Lewiston, Idaho..
Back at the Saint Helens fuel dock to top off the tanks.

The fuel dock has hotdogs etc in the summer. For us, we had to settle for the comic art…

Oil tanker at grainery? Good a place as any to tie up.
What the? Nothing more than Essayons, an Army Corps of Engineers Columbia River dredge.
Many abandoned craft can be seen along the waterway
Another frequent presence: The ghostly remains of an old pier, wharf, dock. Old pilings signifying a past endeavor that slipped into the mists of time.
An abandoned wharf that is slowly slipping into the mist…
The port of Rainier, Oregon… errr…. Longview, Washington… Hmmm… One or ta other?
Another wharf that is no longer occupied by a commercial concern. A ghost of business past…
Barge in silent watery repose with pilings that used to be…
A gigantor ships anchor just a’sittin there mindin it’s own business. Who left it there and why?
Industrial endeavor at Wauna, Oregon… getting close to Cathamet now…

The Cathlamet Slough leading to the Elochoman Marina at Cathlamet, Washington. If Charlie hadn’t assured us that the slough was deep enough for us to pass from the Colombia into the marina, we probably would not have attempted it. That being said, Tony Fleming’s boat, Venture, a 65 foot Fleming, made it in there a couple of years ago. If you get a chance you should look at his video of transiting the Columbia River all the way to Lewiston Idaho at: Venture to Idaho

Slough on the right, Marina on the left… with little stumpy things in the middle. Columbia boating…
Great Northern finds her place amongst the craft that ply Columbian waters out of the Elochoman Marina

Part of the Cathlamet waterfront. One of the things we found so interesting about many towns that have been part of the ebb and flow along the Columbia is the waterfront, the town epicenter of commerce. In California for instance, every speck of waterfront has been shanghaied for restaurants, hotels and their ilk. Along the Columbia that is not the case. There is so much of it and commerce has been its story from the beginning when First Nation tribes plied the waters. The backwaters on the river’s banks bloom and fade., left to collect the odd sunken boat, the seldom used barge, and lots of old pilings

More of the Cathlamet waterfront
The view gazing downriver

The town is a combination of restoration and lapse, new businesses and crumbling businesses. Transplanted immigrants from many other places and old timers whose families arrived during the heyday of the pioneers meld into a garden salad of belief systems, old and new. Craft breweries and old saloons, Galleries and churches, mom and pop groceries, and old time hardware stores that have just about everything you can imagine… make up this little town. And… you can stand in the middle of Main Street for a bit and not be too worried about becoming road kill.

Main Street, Cathlamet
The Cathlamet Hotel. Pretty much the same when built in the late 1800s
A nice pine bench outside a gallery with a carboard box to keep it company.
An old church that is now “The Pioneer Center”, a museum and place to gather
Old abandoned machinery and cars. I used to have a VW fastback just like this one… It wasn’t in much better shape. I had to rebuild the engine twice and the steering box was a bit loose…
“Totem”, a fish buying boat built in 1933. According to the history statement on the sign, many, many young men learned to fish aboard Totem. No mention of how many women may have learned to fish on Totem…
A pleasant old road alongside the slough and marina that beckons for refection and birding…
A craft brewery across the street from the marina. Great beer and simple pub food. A hang out for the younger townspeople and a way for them to make a living and stay in Cathamet.

Cathlamet is old and new, fading and developing, living and dying, like many small towns along the Columbia. The townspeople we talked to love to live there. They like the old and new and the creative ways the town keeps moving along through time, along the Columbia River that forms the backdrop for everything.

Part 2: Cathlamet to Warrington

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