Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Narrows

The Narrows

Yes, Yes, I know, I have already taken you to the narrows, but this was an emergency “The Sun Is Out And I Have To Go Kayaking” trip and my kayaking partner insisted on something a little more challenging than a water jog around Ross Island. Besides, she had never been to the Narrows.

View The Narrows in a larger map

So we put in, right around 6:00pm, at the public boat landing in West Linn. This is on the North shore of the Willamette about a half mile up stream from the falls in Oregon City. The sun was out, but it would be down by the time we got back, and the water is still cold this time of year, so we were both wearing farmer john (jane) wetsuits and had jackets in our hatches in case we took a tumble.

It turns out that different people prefer to launch in different ways. I like to launch from the shore. I like the water to be about a 6 to 10 inches deep. Then I can straddle the boat and easily lower my but onto the top of my seat, swing one leg in, and then balance with the paddle on the bottom while I swing in the other leg and lower myself into the boat.

My partner likes to enter from a dock. I think this is tricker and requires better balance and stronger knees, but you don't have to get your feet wet.

West Linn has a boat ramp AND a dock, so you can enter and exit anyway you choose. Luxury. We headed up the river. The Willamette is maybe a quarter mile wide at this point and the current is very slow; perhaps a knot. We headed up the west shore only slightly harassed by the 3 or 4 super big expensive ski boats that were jockeying for open water out in the center of the river. I don't know if this is a really good place to ski or if it is just close to the big expensive houses where all of the super big expensive ski boats like to live.

At any rate, we paddled without incident or subsequent loss of life to the start of the narrows and started up the west side of the little islands there. At the Narrows, the Willamette creates 3 channels. The central channel has by far the most of the water and current and is where the main boating channel is (when the lock at Oregon City was open you could probably see some pretty big barges through there) the East channel (where we are headed eventually) is very low current and shallow, but has some fun rock formations and places to play. The West channel, where we are right now, has some faster moving current, but no big deal. It mainly has a place where the rocks come up and the water gets shallow and you have to paddle a little faster to get around the bend.


In this area you will see some Madras trees. Also called Manzanita. I guess they don't grow in very many places inland (you see them a lot on the coast). You may also see a few Eagle, Osprey, or Heron. The actual lay of the land here is very dependent on the height of the river. But it is mainly made of rocks somewhat scoured clean by the river at flood. Today we are at medium flood. We paddled up to a cute little cut between the islands where a 2-3 knot current pulled us through a 15 foot wide slough over to the central main channel. I was a little hesitant about crossing the main channel. The current was running pretty hard through there because the Narrows are... well... narrow. The big lazy river is suddenly a much smaller much less lazy thing. Lots of up swirls and eddylines and whirlpools. I also suspected sea monsters. So my partner and I stopped on the little rock of a central island and looked at the flowers.

Some sort of wild Onion

Scoured Rocks and Moving Water. There be Monsters.

It turns out that paddling with an experienced kayaker and therapist can be a good thing. She explained the eddylines and currents to me, talked me through my fears, and convinced me that we could go out on the river and she could defend me from the sea monsters.

An Eddyline (besides being the kind of kayak I have) is the cross over between two opposite or different currents. It is a place you can definitely see on the water, and when you cross it, you fell it, and things happen. The moving water will hit your boat and do 2 things: 1) push the bow of your boat quickly along in the direction of the current (as one would expect) and 2) Grab the bottom of your boat and try to throw your right over in a direction that would be toward the current (which I certainly didn't expect). You counteract this by leaning away from the current, doing a brace turn on the low side and turning your boat to be going WITH the current. “You can't fight a real eddy current. They are just too strong. You have to enter the current, become one with it, and then cross it”. And as I understand it, it is better to become one with the current while still right-side up in your kayak.

Today it was sort of a joke. The current really wasn't that strong and the sea monsters don't come out on sunny days, so we just went into the current, got gently spun around a little and then edged over to the east side of the river and entered the east channel.

Here we paddled upstream to a favorite little place of mine where there is a mini-whitewater of current from the main to the east channel. I paddled up that and waited for my partner to follow. The secret to this is to get into the center of the flow an GO STRAIGHT and hard. Just paddle up it. If you drift to the side, you risk getting turned side-on to the current and rolled. In which case, you might smack your head on a rock. So don't do that. When my partner caught up with me she pointed out that she found that much more challenging that crossing the big river. Well good, I feel less like a wuss. Later we found another little restricted-space-current area did some more fake white water. I sort of liked it.

A little circle Eddy. You can just see the little "white water" current ahead of us.

But now it was starting to get cool and the sun was starting to go down. Must be after 8:00pm. Time to head home. We just exited the narrows on the east side, and crossed with the current over to the west. I was only scared shitless one time. This was when my partner, who was behind me, said “See Jon, the current isn't that bad. Oh oh.” (turns out she was having trouble with my camera that she had borrowed, not with the current. Still, avoid saying “oh oh” when you are behind someone and they cannot turn around to see you without being gobbled up by sea monsters).

Back at the dock once again time to answer that perennial question, “do we do rolling practice?”. Since we were not wearing our skits, a roll really meant a half roll and wet exit. I decided no, but I wanted to test my new electric bilge pump setup, so I went shallow to get out and flood the boat by hand whilst standing. My partner was made of sterner stuff and when I looked up, she was upside down 30 feet off shore. And back in the boat in less than 2 minutes. A boat full of water.

Now the funny part. The watching citizens of West Linn came flooding down onto the dock to make sure she was OK. Why did she flip over? Was it on purpose? I was taking your picture and you flipped over? Why didn't your partner help you? Wow your really rescued yourself fast? What kind of boat is that? Why didn't that guy help you? Are you really with him?

Oops, look at the time. Better get out of here........
Sun Set on Kayak

Sunset on Tualtin River

Got to Love A Subaru with Yakima Racks

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