Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bachelor Island

Bachelor Island

Yes. Kayaking again. But my arms are getting buff.
Good thing too, because this paddle had a bit of weather that made for some challenge.

But First: Bachelor Island.

View Bachelor Island in a larger map

This is one of the low lying essentially old sandbar islands that litter the tidal confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers. I am sure Lewis and Clark and something interesting and misspelled to say about them. In more recent times, Bachelor was put to agricultural use, but today it is a “Natural Preserve”. I am beginning to think that a Natural Preserve is any piece of land that has had all of the tree's cut down and the ground ruined by over farming. But perhaps I am jaundiced. Perhaps these farm lands were abandoned because the clean water act made them stop using pesticides on land that could only run off into the river. Shall I look it up?

OK, Lewis and Clark called it “Green Bryor Isd” on their way west. They probably meant Green Briar Island. On their way back east they changed the name to Quathlahpotle Island. (This is clearly a misspelling of Quathlahpotel). Either they didn't like the name Green Bryor anymore, they had forgotten they named it, or they were completely aware that everything they were naming had already had a name for centuries and so re-naming something every time you passed it was just a part of the natural course of events.

In any regard, we started our journey today at the public landing of Ridgefield, Washington. This is a nice little town right down on the banks of the columbia floodplain. The Amtrak line from Portland to Seattle goes right past the town and the landing. I saw 3 trains go by (2 Amtrak, 1 Freight) just in the little time that we were loading and unloading. One of the trains may have been local commuter, I guess I need to look into this, because riding the train up to Bellingham for the weekend would be a blast. Did I get distracted again?

Ok. So. We are launching at the ramp on Lake River. Curiously named Lake River because it is a tidal slough that flows out (and in) to Vancouver lake. So you can paddle all of the way from Vancouver lake to Richfield if you have that kind of time.

But today we are headed to the mighty Columbia.

A few fishing boats power by us. The shallow water seems to be on the south side (river side) of the channel, so we stayed over there to keep away from the wake makers. About a quarter of a mile along we took a left turn down a side channel called “Bachelor Island Slough”. Lewis and Clark called it something like Pigeon creek, which I like more.

Entrance to the Slough

What are all of these piling for?

My Kayak partner (who was leading this trip) told me that the last time she had been on this paddle, the slough was very narrow and difficult to navigate. The water was only around 18 inches deep for the entire length. Today we have a 50 foot wide channel and plenty deep enough in the center for some kayak dump and rescue practice (which we did).

I have been wanting to try out a Tempest, which my partner just happens to have, and so we did a deep water boat switch. Now that was interesting. It gave me a good chance to see the difference in stability in a boat with soft chines and hard chines. Not sure which I like best. I was having a hard time keeping the Tempest going in a straight line, but that may have been because I didn't have the skeg down. Will have to try again sometime.

When we finally viewed the Columbia, there were breakers coming down the slough at us. I was worried that the wind that had sprung up on our backs could be churning that up, but it was just a few waves so we figured it must be the wake of some passing giant.

Then a pair of eagles flew over our heads. Cool. These guys come back later in the story, so keep an eye on them while we paddle. Right at the entrance to the Columbia river, we pulled over on a handy sandy beach to switch back into our own kayaks and have a snack. (And to stretch and see what the wind was doing!). Some dark clouds are blowing in form the North, but they don't really look like storm clouds. Just sun blocking. It quickly got a few degrees colder as the sun winked out for the day.

Journey on the Beach

I looked up river and there was a very large commercial freighter headed down river with a substantial bow wave.

The boat is maybe half a mile away and I know the wake is going to be interesting when it gets to us. So I watched (but I forgot to have my camera ready). With no particular sign of the waves coming, the river lapping at the stern of our beached boats suddenly disappeared. It.... sucked back. And I thought, “oh Shit, just like a tsunami”. And then the wave came up and I had to walk briskly to one boat and pull it up the beach a couple more feet. That was really cool. I could see the waves breaking to our left up the slough. That is exactly what we saw when we were arriving. Must have been 2 freighters.

Before we started down the main river my partner gave me a safety talk. She warned me to stay outside (in the deep water) away from the lines of pilings that we would be passing. The currents can be wicked running between them and you can get flipped over and sucked under. Well, OK, scare the crap out of me why don't you. It can be hard to feel manly when your female kayaking buddy has to keep asking you if you are doing ok. Good thing I rate safety over manly. I must be mature.

Even though we were going down river, the tide was coming in and the wind was picking up right in our faces, so it felt like we were paddling up hill the entire way. There was a little current down stream, but I don't think it was nearly what it would have been if the tide was fully on the ebb. So watch for that. Even with this light current, the 50 years downstream of each of those pilling lines was salted with upflow eddies and whirlpools. Not a big deal, though it did push me around a bit and made me wander what it would have been like with a real current running.

We tried to stay over close to the shore of Bachelor Island when we were not dodging (what I now knew were) death trap pilling lines. But still the wind pushed waves were getting larger and the paddling was a slow slugging.

We did get rewarded with an Osprey making a fish dive right in front of us. Dammit Osprey, give me a 10 second warning to deploy my camera, will ya? I also learned the number one rule of instablity. What is the first thing you do when you feel that you are loosing your balance? Sit up straight? Arms under you? Low Brace? No, take a forward paddle stroke. Get moving. You are more stable when you are moving. Forward Paddle. Forward Paddle.

And so we Forward Paddle all the way down the length of Bachelor Island (named for 3 bachelors that moved there in the 1800's. What would we call an island today if a bunch of unmarried guys went out to live there?)(Not that there is anything wrong with that).

Just at the tip of the island, we come back to Lake River, and the beach that we intend to use as our picnic location. As we approach, there is this large aluminum sport's fishing boat coming in from the river. He is several hundred yards out and we should have time to cross the little Lake River channel and he can pass behind us. But as we paddle, he doesn't turn. In fact, if anything he is aiming more and more right at us. And he isn't slowing down either. Does he not see us? Hell, I am wearing a bright red PFD, Dry Suit, and Spay Skirt. He is blind or a fraking asshole. Finally, not 50 feet from the shore, I yell “He isn't turning, backwater.”

And we stop. And he wasn't turning. Or slowing. And he goes zipping past us about 20 feet away. What an ASSHOLE. Or as NPR would say it , “What an ASS<bleep>”. (You can't say “hole” on the radio, you know). So, some bigger wake over my bow and then the last 30 feet up onto our beach for lunch and some follow up cursing.

So, at least in these weather conditions, this was a sheltered beach. And there is a large tree log to hid behind if the wind whips up. It was getting ever cooler, however, and we both put on fleeces and had some hot tea. After lunch we quickly packed up and headed east for the last little push back to Ridgefield.

But, time for one more little show. Up ahead I saw an Osprey doing something strange. I thought he was hovering and fishing, but he seems to be dive bombing a tree. Over and over again. We get closer and I see that in the tree is a bald eagle. The osprey is very upset with this eagle and spends a lot of time and energy making passes at the much larger bird. The eagle is nonplussed on his branch.
I have pictures.

Though not great pictures....... sigh......


We continue on, and after a bit the osprey comes winging over our head. Then the Osprey heals and dives and plummets into the creek ahead, to come up with a fish !! so cool. Then the Osprey flies away from you us and now, close over our heads, comes the Eagle. “He is chasing him” says my partner. Oh, she is so right. That eagle just powers after that Osprey, and catches him, and (now things a far away, so what I think happens), the eagle takes the fish from the Osprey. Now the osprey is chasing the eagle, but I don't get to see what happens. Well, that certainly explains why the osprey was so upset with the eagle earlier. What is up here? Is the eagle not capable of fishing? Are they fighting each other for territory? Are Bald Eagles just big bullies? Hmm.

We ended up back at the landing. Easy pull-out here either on the actual concrete landing or the mud too the side.

Animal life seen: Bald Eagle, Osprey, Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, sea gull. Some trees.

Some Adventure !!

We got off the river around 7:00. So we were paddling for....... 6 hours? That sounds a bit long somehow.

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