FOLLOWING LEWIS & CLARK
Fleming Explores the Columbia 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