Flem­ing Ex­plores the Columbia Ge­orge Sass, Sr.

Passage Maker - - Contents - STORY & PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY GE­ORGE SASS SR.

On Oc­to­ber 18, 1805,

Lieutenant William Clark wrote in his jour­nal that he had sighted spec­tac­u­lar Mt. Hood while trav­el­ing down the Columbia River with his fel­low ex­plorer, Cap­tain Meri­wether Lewis. Re­trac­ing parts of the fa­mous Lewis & Clark Ex­pe­di­tion more than 200 years later, Tony Flem­ing and his crew were sim­i­larly awestruck by the raw beauty of snow-capped Mt. Hood and the sur­round­ing Columbia River Gorge. Flem­ing’s 65-foot Ven­ture was un­der­way on a 360mile ex­plo­ration of the Pa­cific North­west’s Columbia and Snake Rivers from Port­land, Ore­gon, to Lewis­ton, Idaho.

While a num­ber of small cruise lines fol­low this leg­endary route, pro­mot­ing its ma­jes­tic scenery and his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, Flem­ing found few pri­vate cruis­ing boats ven­tur­ing past Hood River, the pic­turesque, wind-blown town lo­cated 65 miles east of Port­land. Even fewer boats cruised be­yond The Dalles, a small town sit­u­ated 20 miles far­ther east. Known for his ad­ven­tur­ous, off­shore voy­ages, Flem­ing would soon dis­cover a dif­fer­ent set of chal­lenges that would make this river cruise no less ex­cit­ing.

In­deed, with the ex­cep­tion of one at­las of river charts and only rudi­men­tary info about locks and mari­nas, there were no cruis­ing guides to help Flem­ing’s cap­tain, Chris Con­klin, plan the voy­age. But Flem­ing—the re­tired boat­builder and ac­com­plished doc­u­men­tary film­maker—was in­trigued by the ge­o­log­i­cal his­tory of the area. He not only wanted to cap­ture the sheer beauty of the area but also to wit­ness the signs of how it was cre­ated 15,000 years ago by gi­gan­tic floods and mas­sive land­slides.


The Columbia River Gorge, a Na­tional Scenic Area to­talling nearly 300,000 acres, mea­sures 80 miles long and cuts a river canyon 4,000 feet deep. It be­gins 15 miles east of Port­land, Ore­gon, at the mouth of the Sandy River, a trib­u­tary of the Columbia. Ar­riv­ing in Port­land in time for its month-long Rose Fes­ti­val, Con­klin found space along the city docks, giv­ing Ven­ture front-row seats to many of the down­town fes­tiv­i­ties. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of easy-to-ac­cess pub­lic trans­porta­tion, the crew also en­joyed a num­ber of at­trac­tions through­out the city, in­clud­ing its beau­ti­ful Rose Gar­den, serene Ja­panese Gar­den, and pop­u­lar Satur­day Farm­ers Mar­ket. With a pop­u­la­tion of over 600,000 and sit­u­ated be­tween the Columbia and Wil­lamette Rivers, Port­land has much to of­fer vis­it­ing boaters. Port­land’s one short­com­ing, how­ever, is that the num­ber of down­town mari­nas is ex­tremely lim­ited, and the one most con­ve­niently lo­cated, River Place Ma­rina, of­fers lit­tle, if any, tran­sient space.


Hop­ing to gain some lo­cal knowl­edge of his planned route, Flem­ing ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion of overnight dock­age at the Columbia River Yacht Club on Hay­den Is­land, just off the north­ern side of Port­land. One of the few club mem­bers to have made the trip all the way to Lewis­ton briefed Ven­ture’s crew on the route’s var­i­ous chal­lenges, but al­ways adding a re­as­sur­ing, “You’re go­ing to have a great time.” Among the noted chal­lenges were strong river cur­rents, high winds, and the need for recre­ational ves­sels to fol­low strict sched­ules for tran­sit­ing the eight locks be­tween Port­land and Lewis­ton.

Adding to these chal­lenges, a num­ber of the fa­cil­i­ties and per­son­nel along the way seemed in­dif­fer­ent, or at least un­used to, serv­ing larger cruis­ing boats. To be­gin with, there were few mari­nas east of The Dalles that could eas­ily ac­com­mo­date Ven­ture’s 70-foot over­all length. Even those with deep enough wa­ter and avail­able dock space were manned by part-time or hard-to-con­tact

As Ven­ture heads east to­ward Lewis­ton, Idaho, the scenery changes from lush to sparse veg­e­ta­tion.

The Ja­panese Gar­den in Port­land of­fers a va­ri­ety of beau­ti­ful gar­dens, ponds, and tran­quil walk­ing paths; A dare­devil shows his stuff in Hood River, the kite surf­ing cap­i­tal of the world.

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