The Columbia River

On these rapidly shortening, often freezing winter days, Aurora is safely moored at a lovely spot at the south end of Port Townsend Bay. Bald eagles soar overhead and at night it’s hard to identify constellations because the sky is so crowded with bright stars. But to get here, we start by driving down the Mighty Columbia.
What a river! It starts in the Canadian Rockies and 2000 km later emerges at Astoria, Oregon. Columbia sailors know their stuff. They contend with relentless current, bridges that must open to let them pass, ferocious winds out of the Gorge, commercial shipping, and The Bar. And yet hundreds of Columbia River sailors, including OWSA women, cross The Bar every summer, navigate blue water along the unfriendly coast of Washington State and sail into the Juan de Fuca Strait just to get to where Aurora starts her northerly voyages.
We were reminded of this on the day after Thanksgiving when Selena and Brian joined us for a pilgrimage to Astoria to visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum. We stood awestruck before the huge map of the shipwrecks strewn upon The Bar, deservedly known as the Graveyard of the Pacific We lived through dramatic Coast Guard rescues. We toured the light ship that was moored at the mouth of the river, endlessly tossing its crew. We saw how a small band of bar pilots guide thousand foot ships over The Bar.


Then we came upon a modest display on the USS Constitution, which had visited Astoria following its restoration earlier in the century. The USS Constitution was my first experience with a sailing vessel. It was the 1950s and Mom, Dad, Barbara and I took a road trip through Massachusetts. We got an essential civic education following the dotted yellow line of the Freedom Trail through Boston’s old streets, imagining Paul Revere tearing off on his horse, putting the Minutemen on high alert. But the whole while, Mom kept talking about the USS Constitution, and getting us mentally prepared by reading Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous poem “Old Ironsides”.

A remarkably impressive ship, indeed, but it was only last week that I understood why it meant so much to Mom. Although it had been saved from destruction in the 1830s by earlier patriots like Oliver Wendell Holmes, it fell into utter disrepair by the turn of the century and the US Navy decided to scrap it. Again the public stepped up. And the restoration of the USS Constitution would not have been possible, I learned standing in front of that display in Astoria, without the contributions of thousands of school children in the early 1920s. Mom would have been part of all that! Of course she was excited to show us “her” ship.

Mom passed away in February, the first weekend we spent on Aurora, where we were with Selena and Brian when we learned of her stroke and death the next morning. Thinking she would have wanted us to, we took a short memorial sail that same day. But now I see it was the right thing to do.

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1 Response to “The Columbia River”


  1. 1 Barbara December 4, 2007 at 2:00 am

    That is so lovely a story about our mother and the USS Constitution!


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