Launched and underway

First day’s destination

Monday, July 6, 2020

Departure day, at anchor near Hell Gate Canyon

5 miles cruised

Not quite 7am and we’re in the truck, easing down the driveway, boat in tow. Beautiful sunny day, and the extended 10 day forecast for Lake Roosevelt is my favorite: sunny and pleasant. Hope that forecast holds. It’s a 2 + hour drive, down the Wenatchee River Valley, then up the Columbia’s east side to Orondo, next pulling up the long, curvy, uphill Pine Canyon grade to Waterville on US Highway 2. We then travel eastward, across the rolling wheatfield country of the Waterville Plateau, crossing Moses Coulee, passing Banks Lake, which is a key part of the great Columbia Basin Irrigation project, it being filled with Columbia River water, pumped up by the great turbines of the Grand Coulee Dam. About 18 miles beyond Banks Lake we reach the town of Wilbur, where we turn north, toward Keller Ferry, at Lake Roosevelt. The final 3 miles of this drive is extremely steep and twisted, with several switchback turns posted at 15 mph. The blue expanse of Lake Roosevelt is in clear view during this descent.

We reach the boat ramp parking by 9:30 and begin the work of rigging the boat. Despite the fact that I’ve rigged the boat a hundred or more times, I’ve never yet done it perfectly. I come really close today, and get the mast raised, boom installed, and all gear set up, even launch and tie to the dock. It’s only when I start the engine and turn the GPS on that I realize I’ve forgotten to lower the transducer. It’s really long, so I stow it in the upright position, but it doesn’t work a darn in measuring depth when pointed parallel to the water’s surface. This oversight is easily corrected, and shortly after noon we’re underway. Sandy has prepared lunch in advance, so we enjoy our first meal aboard while lazily motoring up Lake Roosevelt.

All is not perfectly well, however. Before leaving the dock I tried to lower the centerboard and, to my consternation, it refused to drop. Stuck tight. Ironically, this problem has been a topic of the MacGregor internet forum just last week, and I’d even offered a post of how this had happened to me once before, while cruising on a large lake in the British Columbia interior. That time I got under the boat with my shorty wet suit, face mask, and weight belt and, using a chunk of moose antler I found on the beach, managed to pry it free. It seems that good old Chinook was eavesdropping on this exchange, and decided to replay that trick.

We pick out an inviting cove about 5 miles uplake from the ramp and drop anchor. I tie a long line to the stern of the boat and dinghy ashore. While Sandy pays out anchor rode, I pull on the stern line, and secure the boat in 3 feet of water, just off the shore. No moose antlers around here, so I grab a piece of steel rebar which I keep on board for knocking the bottom out of wine bottles when we’re out in deep salt water. Bottle sinks to the bottom and provides habitat for crabs and such. Right now, my rebar is ideal for popping the centerboard free, and after going under a couple of times, I find the hole in the end of the board and pop it free. It took very little persuasion, but I’ll be careful to not slam it up hard, just in case some debris has found its way up into the trunk.

Ready to pry centerboard loose

Since I’m already in the water, Sandy decides to come ashore and we go on a walk/wade along the shoreline. Lots of interesting driftwood, curious items such as oyster shells, and way too much plastic. Even here.

The evening brings an challenge to my attention. Stove lights right up and is cooking away, but abruptly quits. I don’t know what to think about the stove. I’ll give it a try in the morning and see what happens. And to think, just 2 weeks ago we went out on a 4 day shakedown cruise and everything worked perfectly.

After dinner we watch 4 deer browse their way across the little island which gives our anchorage its protection. After munching away for a while, they wade out into the water and swim to the mainland. This place feels very different from our usual Salish Sea cruising grounds. No tide, no currents, very different birds, very different boats. Instead of cruising sailboats and large motor yachts, here we have aluminum fishing boats, pontoon party boats, speed boats and jet skis. The traffic is fairly light. Most are intent on playing highly amplified music on their sound systems. Music of amazing clarity and volume travels across the water. Fortunately they tend to stay well out in the lake, and don’t linger for long. The long twilight has finally given way to darkness. It’s very quiet and peaceful here.

Swimming back to the mainland

Bighorns and birds

Hells Gate to Hawk Creek Harbor

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

19 miles cruised today; 24 miles cruised for trip

Whitestone Rock

In the middle of the night I find myself thinking about that bogus voltmeter reading issue. It occurs to me that a setting button might have gotten accidentally bumped. First thing this morning I try pushing some buttons, and to my amazement, the house battery shows up on the amp meter display. It takes a while for me to recall that, after installing a second device, it’s actually working the way I originally installed it. I just forgot what I’d done last year.

We take our time with breakfast, and get underway around 8:30am. The centerboard is once again reluctant to drop, but once we’re going, it slowly falls into position. I’ll just have to be careful to not raise it up too hard.

Colville Reservation bighorns

Scenery is impressive on both sides of the lake for several miles to the east of Hells Gate Creek. Rugged, steep rocky slopes descend dramatically into the water. On the south shore we admire Whitestone Rock, a massive whitish monolith, which stands in stark contrast with the dark basalt rocks behind it. We put in at Sterling Point, which offers a small dock and 2 camping sites. It’s a nice spot, and we eat our lunch there. After lunch we walk up a dirt road to the top of a hill. Isolated homes are scattered throughout this area on the south side of the lake. When we return to the dock we find a pontoon boat tied up across from us. A guy from the pontoon says he thinks he can see a bunch of big horn sheep across the lake, on the Colville Tribal Reservation side. I put the binocs on them and, sure enough, about 30 bighorns are out in the open, grazing in a large, open meadow. We hop in the boat and motor across the lake for a closer look, with the pontoon doing the same. We both ease in, keeping a respectful distance from the shore. The sheep don’t seem to mind us being there, and we get great looks at them. They’re mostly lambs and ewes, but we do see one young ram, about ¾ curl, in the bunch.

Peaceful cove on Hawk Creek arm

The sky is clouding up as we continue uplake, with a blustery wind kicking up small white caps. I try sailing with the jib but it’s difficult, since the wind keeps shifting. I’m looking for a place to stay the night. I’ve spotted a likely candidate, called Welsh Creek Cove, and we poke in there. However, it’s fairly small, with steep shorelines and deep water until right near the bank. Half a dozen houses surround the bay. Bottom looks sketchy too. We pass on Welsh Creek and continue on our way. The next possibility is near the mouth of Hawk Creek, a little cove at Moonshine Canyon. No development there, but it’s also steep, with deep water until right on shore. Not a good option. We continue up Hawk Creek. I see an interesting little inlet on the map. The water appears quite shallow, but I love poking into shallow places. When we reach the cove we find a power boat pulled up on the beach at its mouth. A couple of young families are enjoying the small beach. However, I see no camping gear and figure they’ll soon be leaving. We ease our way over a shallow bar at the mouth of the cove, reading 1.9 feet of water under the transducer at one point. Once inside, though, it deepens to about 15 feet, a perfect little hole for our anchor. I drop as close to the center as I can, and let out 50 feet of rode. We have just enough room to swing in all directions. As soon as we get settled, we realize that this place is simply alive with birds. We see goldfinches, orioles, buntings, waxwings, sparrows, swallows, robins, kingbirds, phoebes, and quail, all clustered around this little cove. I can’t think of another place I’ve visited which has such an amazing variety of birds.

Limboing under the Spokane Arm Bridge

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Hawk Creek to Blue Creek, Spokane Arm

21 miles cruised today; 45 miles for the trip

Approaching the head of Hawk Creek Arm

Wind blew in the middle of the night. Overcast sky first thing. After breakfast I take off in the dinghy for a little fishing. I try trolling a plug for small mouth, and get a few hits but no hookups. Around 10am it’s time to raise anchor and head out. Before leaving Hawk Creek we run a couple miles further up the arm, to its head. We enter a narrow, twisting channel with a thousand foot high cliff defining its southerly boundary. Coming out of the final turn we enter a lovely little lake. A boat ramp and nice looking campground are situated on the northern shore.

Final corner to head of Hawk Creek Arm

On our way out I examine the route up to the Spokane Arm. I notice a bridge which crosses the Arm a short distance above the Two Rivers Casino, which is a development of the Spokane Indian Tribe. Their reservation lies on the north shore of this Arm. A notation which I hadn’t previously caught strikes my attention. Vertical clearance of the bridge is 29 feet. The distance from my mast tip to water line is 35 feet. If we are to stay with plans to explore this arm of Lake Roosevelt, we’ll need to lower the mast. I’ve done this before, while out on the water, and so decide to do it again. I install the mast raising pole and the baby stays, which keep the mast straight when being raised and lowered. The jib halyard gets tied to the mast raising pole, and I tension it with the winch. I think I can leave the boom attached, if I disconnect the starboard side of the dodger. I unpin the forestay, and while Sandy steers us in a lazy circle, I gently lower the mast. It’s difficult to judge how much angle is needed to reduce our clearance by 6 or 7 feet, and I try for a margin of safety. We slowly approach the bridge and, until the last possible moment, our clearance looks questionable. But at dead slow, it finally becomes apparent that we’ll clear the bridge with a good 5 or 6 feet to spare. Once on the upriver side of the bridge, everything goes back together and we’re on our way, most likely the largest sailboat in the Spokane Arm; maybe the only sailboat here.

Nearing Spokane Arm bridge with mast partially lowered

We eat lunch while underway, and shortly after 1pm we turn into the little cove at Blue Creek, on the northerly reservation side. There’s a little campground at the mouth of the cove, but the area at the head of the cove is very private, quiet, and with no development in sight. I give the fishing another try in the late afternoon, trolling a walleye rig. One bite but no hookup. By the time I return to the boat it’s time to fix dinner. Barbqued steak is on the menu, along with mashed potatoes and gravy. We dine in the cockpit, enjoying the use of our new teak cockpit table, which I built and installed shortly before this trip. While relaxing after dinner and cleanup, we’re startled by a loud smack on the water, a short distance away. A beaver has taken offense to our presence. We see him cruising across the cove, gazing over his shoulder at us with a distinctly unhappy look.

To the head of navigation on Spokane Arm

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Blue Creek to Little Falls, Return to Porcupine Bay Campground

36 miles cruised today; 85 mile total for the trip

Houseboat with speedboat in tow, on fire damaged Spokane Arm
Bank swallow nest cavities, Spokane Arm

Bright sun greets us first thing. We watch 3 deer cross the hillside while we take breakfast. Anchor is up at 9am, and we’re off for a sightseeing excursion to the head of navigation on the Spokane Arm, 17 miles uplake to the Little Falls dam and power station. The expansive waters of Porcupine Bay soon constrict into a fairly narrow, straight channel. A steeply sloping sand bluff forms the south shore, in contrast with the steep, rocky hills on the north side. The scattered pines show evidence of having experienced fire within the past 15 or 20 years, and as we travel further up the arm, fire impact of varying intensity on both sides of the water becomes apparent. A colorful bunch of wild turkeys climbs the hillside, and large colonies of bank swallows pockhole the sheer sand banks, whenever they’re suitable for next excavation. The water widens

Nearing the head of Spokane Arm

out and narrows a couple of times before pinching down into a narrow canyon for the last 5 or 6 miles. As we near the head of navigation we start encountering a bit of current. Rounding a bend, the powerhouse finally comes into view. We ease over into a shallow bay just off the main channel and I lower the anchor, in 10 feet of water. The bottom is bouldery, so I gently set the anchor onto the bottom and let out all of my chain. I make no attempt to set the anchor, relying instead on just the weight of anchor and chain, along with vigilance while we relax and eat our lunch.

Little Falls powerhouse, head of navigation on Spokane Arm

After lunch I try a few casts, with no luck. Time to pull in the anchor and return the way we came. I’m surprised to see the effect of current last for several miles, as evidenced in the speed we make at the same rpm used going up. Around 4pm we reach Porcupine Bay campground, which is nicely served with a boat ramp and tie up docks. The finger piers are only 20 feet in length, so we stick out a bit, but nonetheless, I’m able to get the boat securely tied up. Just enough time for a rum and coke and a quick dip at the swimming beach before we fix dinner. After cleanup, we go for an hour long walk, out on the main road. Our turn around point is the site of a major landslide. The reconstructed retaining wall and highway affords a nice view.

Overview of Spokane Arm near Porcupine Bay

We plan to stay the night at the dock. Boaters here don’t seem to understand reducing wakes near docks, so we get rocked by the few boats returning to the ramp or passing by. Fortunately, boating traffic is way down, and I expect that things will completely die down as dusk settles in.

Northbound on Lake Roosevelt

Friday, July 10, 2020

Porcupine Bay to Six Mile Creek

14 miles cruised today; 99 miles for the trip

It’s a busy scene at the Porcupine Bay boat launch, with fishing boats arriving as early as 6am. By 8 o’clock, the parking lot is more than half full. We watch them launch while eating breakfast in the cockpit. My favorite is the young guy, who is walking along the dock, pulling the boat with a 3 year old sitting in the front seat, asking the tot if they should wait for daddy. Finally dad shows up and off they go. We get underway around 9am, taking some time along the way to troll for walleye along the shore of Crystal Cove. With Sandy driving the boat and shifting between neutral and idle speed forward, we’re able to maintain a speed of around 1 mph, and I think that is where I need to be with my “bottom walker” walleye rig. The walleye remain elusive, however, I finally break through and catch a little small mouth. It’s way to little to keep, so I let him go and we go as well. After an hour’s run we near the Spokane Arm highway bridge, and I prepare to lower the mast. The process goes better on the second try, and we ease our way past the bridge with a good 5 feet of clearance.

The Two Rivers Marina is located just beyond the bridge, on the Spokane Reservation side. We head for the fuel dock, with plans of picking a few items up in the little marina store. It’s a busy scene at the fuel dock, with a huge houseboat just pulling in, so I tie up at an empty finger pier. It’s marked with a “reserved” sign. So considerate of them to reserve a slip for our short term tie up needs. I put my Covid mask on before entering the store and then cruise around the merchandise, looking for propane canisters. I don’t see any and ask one of the girls working there if they have any that I missed seeing. She gives me a big smile and says they have 2. I tell her she just made my day, because I have need for exactly 2. I purchase them, along with a bag of ice and 2 ice cream bars. We’re running the Engel frig as a freezer, so I toss them in, stow the ice, and we exit the marina. Once out on the main lake, Sandy brings lunch up on deck. I have the jib set on a reach in light air. Bimini is up for shade. Auto pilot keeps us on course, and lunch is great. After lunch I get the main up and shut the engine down. We only have 4 miles to go to our day’s destination, so I can afford to play with the light and fickle breeze, which regularly switches from SW to SE. Around 2:30 we enter the Six Mile Creek cove. It’s a peaceful place, well off the main lake, and an attractive looking anchorage. We’ll spend the night here.

Good shelter at Sixmile Creek

The remainder of the afternoon consists of a bit of reading, a nap, and then a shore excursion for a little exercise. We’re quite close to a gravel road, which makes for a good walking route. We come across a little band of wild turkeys while near the lake, and later on, 3 deer run across the road ahead of us. Back on the boat, dinner consists of pork chops grilled on the barbque, flavored rice, apple sauce, garden tomatoes, and a dessert of pudding cups. Pretty good living on this boat. After dinner I go out for some evening fishing. No fish caught, but I did get a terrific strike. The fish exploded from the water, and then threw the hook. Maybe tomorrow I’ll come up with the fixins of a fish dinner.

Uplake to scenic Nez Perce Creek

Saturday – July 11, 2020

Six Mile Creek to Nez Perce Creek

17 miles cruised today; 116 miles for the trip

Chalk cliffs near Nez Perce Creek

Beautiful, sunny morning. We change the breakfast routine of cereal by fixing up french toast and sausages. Yum. I try sailing off the anchor, but the wind is too variable, and the cove too narrow for it to work. With a little assist from the outboard, we jib sail in light air out of the cove, pausing for a little walleye trolling. Tug on rod, heavy pull. I know walleye are light biters and poor fighters, so figure I’ve finally got one one. I reel in a nice wad of twigs. Darn.

Entrance to backwater cove at Nez Perce Creek

We motor up and continue our passage up lake. The hills are beginning to show a little more green in the understory. Grasses aren’t yet completely cured out. Lots of sheer chalk bluffs along the eastern shore. We eat lunch while underway, and arrive in the vicinity of Nez Perce Creek around 1pm. This looked like a good place to spend a night when I was studying the map back at home. Attractive pair of coves, one fairly deep and straight, and the smaller one with an interesting, curved entrance. I head for the smaller one, and find a large houseboat beached at the mouth. However, the little cove hooks around, and there may be just enough swinging room in the inner bay. Sure enough, it’s a pretty, intimate place, very calm, and far enough in that we can’t see the houseboat. Lots of interesting birdlife, including several Lewis’s woodpeckers. I drop the anchor in the center of the pond, not bothering to set with the motor. I rely on the weight of anchor and chain, and the ability of the Rochna to reset, in the very unlikely event of a strong blow. This place is so protected, that we have little to be concerned with on that score.

Quiet backwater pool near Nez Perce Creek

I set up the reflective awning, which drapes over the boom. It provides excellent shade in the cockpit. We follow our now established pattern of relaxing with book and a nap, followed by a nice hour long walk. We are favored by a dirt road which starts at our pond and leads us up a gentle draw. It’s nice walking, with just enough shade to be comfortable. After returning to the boat, I put my swim suit on and go for a dip. Water temp is 66 degrees, and it feels very refreshing following our warm walk.

Scarlet gilia

While getting ready for dinner we hear the sound of chain saws and see a couple of guys cutting out deadfall along the little road we walked. I row over to chat. They’re tribal members, and they’re improving access to this spot. They use it as a camping place, and the fallen pines have made driving to the camp area difficult. I bring them a couple of cans of ice cold lemonade, which is appreciated. I learn that they have good luck fishing in this little pond. I give it a try after dinner. They have also grabbed rods, and they cast from shore while I fish from the dinghy. I have no luck casting plastic baits for bass, so switch to my walleye rig and try dragging it behind while I row. I catch a little walleye, my first. It’s only about 10 inches long, so I toss it back. Next fish is a bit bigger, around 15 inches, and I put him on the stringer. I hook a third, but it throws the hook close to the dinghy. I’ve finally broken through, and we now have two small fillets in the freezer. It would be nice to get 2 more. That would make for a nice fish fry.

Sailing breeze to Kettle Falls

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Nez Perce Creek to Kettle Falls

35 miles cruised today; 151 miles for the trip

Chalk cliffs, west shore of Lake Roosevelt

We both slept well last night, not awakening until after 8am, very unusual for us. This in spite of something thrashing in the water near the boat in the middle of the night. It woke us both. I grabbed the spotlight, expecting to see a deer or elk wading along the shore. All I could see was a wake on the water and occasional vigorous splashing. Nothing like a beaver’s behavior. This morning we both agree that our midnight visitor was most likely a group of otters, out for some nighttime fishing. I eat a quick oatmeal breakfast and then hop into the dinghy to see if the otters left any fish for me. I troll back and forth a couple of times with no strikes, so climb back aboard and make ready to depart. I keep my walleye rig in the water as we exit our little cove, and finally manage to hook a walleye but, alas, it is a mere baby and so I release it to swim another day.

Assist from a south wind

This is a traveling day. I’d initially planned on a short run to the vicinity of Inchilium, followed on the next day by an equally modest run to Kettle Falls. Instead, we’ll go all the way to Kettle Falls today, which will give us a bonus day on the upper waters. By lunch time a light breeze out of the south kicks up, so I pay out the jib. This breeze soon builds to a nice, steady wind of 15 to 18 mph, almost dead astern. I stabilize the jib with the whisker pole and we motor sail, averaging 7.5 mph at 2800 rpm. Above Inchilium the lake widens out and we enjoy a nice 11 mile long straight run. We’re in moderate whitecaps, with 2 to 3 foot seas. As the seas build I begin to notice cavitation with the prop from time to time. I attribute it to the following seas, and occasional strong steering corrections by the auto pilot when we get slewed off course. However, after seeing that my depth sounder loses the bottom I look down, over the stern, at the transducer. I discover that we’ve picked up a piece of driftwood. It’s been snagged by the port side rudder and has tipped the transducer up. It’s also likely responsible for that cavitation I’ve been noticing. I shift into neutral and raise the rudder. My hitchhiking stick immediately floats free. I reset the transducer with the boat hook and we’re back in business. Before throttling up, though, I glance at our speed on the GPS and see that we’re doing 5.5 mph just with the sail. The heck with motor sailing. I shut down the outboard, tilt it up, and enjoy the silence. We end up sailing with the jib for 15 to 20 miles, with only occasional help from the motor when our speed drops below 4. It’s a great run, and we reach the Kettle Falls Marina shortly after 3pm.

Rare sight – another sailboat

We tie up at the fuel dock to fill gas tanks, buy ice, and arrange for a night’s slip. We take on 18.4 gallons, which works out to 8.2 miles per gallon. This is very impressive, helped a lot by the sailing we were able to do today, and also aided by a fair amount of lower speed operation. The repair of those 2 burnt exhaust valves from last summer also played a big role.

In the process of tying up, we discover that we are “across the dock” neighbors with another MacGregor 26X. The owners are aboard, and we quickly get acquainted. Their boat was made same year as ours (2002), and being newer owners, they are very interested in seeing how we’ve got ours set up. Jim and Cara tell us they have new cockpit cushions on order from a local fabricator. I’m quite interested in seeing how theirs turn out, since ours are original equipment and definitely showing their age.

Scenic slip at Kettle Falls Marina

After squaring the boat away in the slip, we return to the store, which has a small grill. We order burgers, fries and drinks, and enjoy eating out for a change. After dinner we go for a nice hour long walk on an attractive trail which leads to a lovely community park. By the time we get back to the boat, our new friends have gone home, but they’ve left their card at our boat. Maybe we’ll see them again.

Feeling the power of the Columbia

Monday, July 13, 2020

Kettle Falls Marina to Little Sheep Creek (above Northport)

34 miles cruised today; 185 miles for the trip

Railroad and highway bridges at Kettle Falls

This promises to be a special day. We’re going all the way up to Northport, where Lake Roosevelt transitions to the free flowing Columbia River. We eat a hearty breakfast of omelet and toast before heading out. Sky is a deep blue, with nary a cloud in sight. We swing out of the marina around 9:30 onto the glassy surface of Lake Roosevelt. We pass a few fishing boats as we approach the highway and railroad bridges. The railroad bridge is the lowest, at 45 feet vertical clearance. We should clear it by 8 feet. I’m always nervous going under bridges with clearance in this range. It looks like we’ll never make it. To be on the cautious side I slow the engine as we approach the span, and I swing into a shallow angle of approach, so that if our radio antenna or the top of the mast should touch, I can quickly veer off. Worries were uncalled for as we clear the bridge with, you guessed it, about 8 feet of clearance.

Waters narrow on Upper Lake Roosevelt

As we proceed uplake, the hills keep getting greener, with lush timber on both sides of the river and fascinating rock formations of various colors, including bright white. We conclude that the white formations are marble, and with a place name of Marble along the lake, and also evidence of quarrying, we’re sure we’re right. Poofy white clouds begin to appear, and they simply add to the quality of the panoramas which unfold as we make our way up. We have the water virtually to ourselves, and only see a few fishing boats in the vicinity of the 2 or 3 boat ramps along this stretch.

Scanning for wildlife
Approaching the narrows in strengthening current

We had noticed current while going under the bridges, and the strength of flow steadily increases with every mile. I’m running at 3000 rpm and most of the time only moving at 5.5 mph. A little while after lunch we reach China Bar and, above there, the current really gets strong. We’re definitely in an actively flowing river from here on. Just above Rattlesnake Creek the river dramatically pinches down, to less than half its previous width at the narrowest. It flows between steep rocky cliffs on both sides, and the current increases dramatically. The river boils and eddies, and I advance the throttle to nearly 4000 rpm. It’s like going against a full ebb at Deception Pass. I rapidly counter the lateral force of the eddies with sudden steering corrections. At times the boat threatens to turn sideways and I struggle to

Challenging whitewater on the Columbia

turn her back upstream. The boils rock us from side to side. Sandy goes below and puts her life jacket on. I’m already wearing mine. Our forward

progress is painfully slow. Despite the aggressive throttle, our forward speed drops, at times, to below 2 mph. Current here must be close to 10 mph. After a battle of 30 minutes, we get above the narrows and the waters smooth, and our speed begins to increase. We’re still in strong current

Halfway through the rapids

though, making around 5 mph at 3800 rpm. It seems like it takes forever for us to reach Northport, but we finally pass under the highway bridge at this little border town. I’ve got my eye on an interesting creek mouth, called Little Sheep Creek, which is less than a mile above Northport. It’s just around the next point on the left. However, I can see white water riffles coming off that point, and off to the right, another stretch of white water stands guard. Between these two shallow, rapid patches of water is a smooth but extremely fast flowing way through. I advance the throttle to 5000 rpm and start to fight my way through. About half way up the run I must turn to the left, to avoid being swept into the white water shoal on the right. I get into a good line, but before clearing the hazard zone I see 8 kayaks rounding the point of the island, setting up for a run down the rapids. I now must navigate the rushing water and, at the same time, avoid running a herd of kayaks down. I can’t imagine what they’re thinking as they witness a sailboat fighting its way up the swift water. They all pass securely on our left, getting a good bounce from our wake as they do. I can’t tell if they’re delighted with the additional challenge, or mad at me for throwing wake at them.

As they bob through the rapids we finally ease above the fast water and into a placid little bay, bounded by lush meadow grass. I drop anchor in the center, in about 5 feet. The bottom is hard and cobbly, however there is no current here, and the weather is fair. I let out 50 feet of rode and count on a scope of 10:1 to take care of us. It’s close to 4pm, so we decide to go walking on shore before the bugs get too bad. We row over to a little sloping bank, with an abandoned little house at its top. We climb up to it, but can find no good road

Abandoned cottage at Little Sheep Creek

or path through the lush vegetation which surrounds the structure. We retreat to the dinghy and row over to the meadow side. There we find an interesting dirt road which winds its way through the bottomland woods, toward the main highway. We turn around before getting to the highway. It’s just long enough to give our legs a good stretch. On the way back we encounter a local who’s out walking his dogs. He’s lived here much of his life, and his wife’s family homesteaded here and owns 2200 acres. He seems happy to be living here.

Colorful vetch

Back on the boat Sandy fixes up a stroganoff dinner, which we eat at the cockpit table. It’s a beautiful evening. Entertainment is provided by a beaver, who cruises by our boat twice, affording us good looks both times.

Resident beaver
Placid waters just off the main flow of the Columbia

Starting back downlake

Wednesday, July 14, 2020

Little Sheep Creek to Summer Island

26 miles cruised today; 211 miles for the trip

Looking upriver toward Steamboat Rock, limit of lake influence

From a few miles above Northport to its mouth just west of Ilwaco, the mighty Columbia flows for 750 miles across the height and length of Washington State. For all but 120 of those miles, the Columbia is a working river, impounded by 11 major dams which generate an incredible amount of hydroelectric energy. This storied river flows freely in just 3 sections. Below the first dam, Bonneville, the Columbia follows its natural course to the Pacific Ocean. The next freely flowing stretch is known as the Hanford Reach, nearly 50 miles of true river which was only saved from also being dammed up (the intended but never built Ben Franklin Dam) because of fears of elevated groundwater levels reaching contaminated nuclear storage areas at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The free flowing Hanford Reach is one of the most important and productive chinook salmon spawning areas remaining in the entire Columbia drainage, below Chief Joseph Dam. The last free flowing segment of the Columbia River in Washington State extends from the upper reach of Lake Roosevelt to Keenleyside Dam, just north of Castlegar BC, a distance of over 40 miles. When we raise the anchor to begin today’s run we peek around a small island, gazing beyond Steamboat Rock and Deadman’s Eddy, where this uppermost free stretch of the Columbia begins. Alas, the strength of the Columbia, even in mid-summer and well after the higher volumes of spring runoff, is beyond the prudent reach of our boat, so we simply gaze admiringly upriver and then swing out into the current, making an easy descent of the swift water which gave us such challenge yesterday. We’re on our way back down Lake Roosevelt and toward our starting point.

Summer Island wildflowers

I run the boat at under 2000 rpm and still make 8 miles per hour to start. Over the next couple of miles our speed drops, first to 7 and then to 6 mph. I decide to let out a fishing line, using a diver to get the line down 15 or 20 feet. I slow the engine to just over 1000 rpm, and we run a couple miles per hour faster than the current. The rig fishes well, however the fish aren’t impressed. After running too close to a shallow area I pull the line in and motor up, toward Summer Island, our day’s destination. We arrive around 2:30pm, and find an inviting dock and group of picnic tables at the downstream end of the island. A small boat is docked there, but the opposite side is open, so we land and tie up. The couple on shore are locals, out for a day on the water, and we enjoy visiting with

Wild turkey on Summer Island

them. We go for a walk up the island. It’s a nice walk with good views of the lake, some pretty wildflowers, and a large band of wild turkeys for interest, however there is no established path and we return with shoes and socks filled with cheat grass. After cleaning shoes I go for a brief dip in the chilly waters. Dinner features our second steak dinner of the trip, and thanks to our Engel freezer, the steaks have remained frozen for the entire time, until I took them out to thaw this morning. It’s completely calm out here as evening sets in. A couple of boats are way out in the middle of the lake, fishing. We can clearly hear the fishermen chatting at a distance of ½ mile. An eagle must have a nest nearby. We hear him chittering occasionally. Canadian geese and wild turkeys also add to the background music.

At the dock on Summer Island

Walleye at last

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Summer Island to Colville River

15 miles cruised today; 226 miles for the trip

Houseboat arriving at Summer Island

We sleep in till after 8 o’clock. When I step out into the cockpit it’s clear, calm and warm. This promises to be the warmest day of the trip. While we’re eating breakfast, one of those 60 foot houseboats out of Kettle Falls looms around the point and heads our way. There’s a nice landing shore right next to our dock, and they pull in. Moorage for them is simple. Dad goes ashore with a pair of 4 foot long spikes – they look like giant nails. He pounds them into the ground with a sledge hammer, at angles from the front corners of the houseboat. Bow and stern spring lines on each side go to their respective spikes, and they’re done. He slides a ramp out of the front and everyone on board can easily step ashore. It’s mom and dad plus a pair of teen age boys and a teen age girl. They seem to be having a good time.

First Lake Roosevelt walleye

As we prepare to depart, they worry that we’re leaving because of their arrival. We assure them that’s not the case. I rig up for walleye fishing, and we give the shelf out in front of camp a try, but no luck. I leave the rig out and we troll our way downlake, toward Kettle Falls. It’s a lovely, lazy day, with no hassles caused by biting fish to disturb our leisurely pace. Somewhere around Marcus I give up on the fishing and we increase speed. I take pains to follow the historic channel of the river when we go over the drowned Kettle Falls. Great boulders and drop offs show on the depth sounder, and it’s hard to not feel saddened that the great salmon runs which once leaped past the imposing barrier of Kettle Falls is no more.

Right at noon we put in at Kettle Falls Marina, to fill the gas tank, buy ice, and tend to a few other chores. I take on 10.3 gallons of gas, and calculate my mileage for the run up to Northport and back to be nearly 7 miles per gallon. That’s pretty amazing, considering the hard running into strong current. We submit to temptation and have lunch at their grill, complete with milkshakes. I dump trash and empty the liquid tank from the composting toilet, and we’re ready to go. We’re gassed, lunched, iced, trashed and urinated.

70 degree water at last

We plan on spending the night in one of the bays at the mouth of the Colville River, which is just around the corner from Kettle Falls. I thread a fresh worm onto my walleye rig and we troll our way into the Colville River. Almost immediately I get a strong bite, but the fish fails to get hooked. I let the line back out and continue trolling. Another bite, and this time the fish is on. I reel in a nice 17 inch walleye, just what we needed to go with the one I caught earlier. Perfect for a fish fry dinner. I land the fish with the new little net I bought at Keller Ferry at the start of the trip, clip it onto the stringer, and we fish our way around the next corner, to the head of navigation on the Colville River. I get one more bite before hauling the line in. Time to look for a place to spend the night. I head for a nice looking open bay, surrounded by grassy marsh, which I’d noticed on the way in. I could see picnic tables on shore, and a couple of trucks parked. This means that there is a road where we can go walking later, when it cools off. I lower the anchor and chain into the 5 foot deep water, again not bothering to give it a set. With this weather the chance of wind seems non existent, and I have great confidence in the Rochna. I looked down at it while securing the deck for the night, and it was lying right beneath the boat, with the chain lying loosely in the submerged grass.

Anchorage at mouth of Colville River

The afternoon is hot, right at 90 degrees, and water temp in this shallow bay is up to 70. It doesn’t take me long to slip in. It feels great, and I paddle around, sitting on my throw cushion, for 15 or 20 minutes. There’s still time to read, while Sandy takes a nap. It’s 5:30 and neither of us are hungry yet, so we row ashore and go for a walk. We find a trail and, to our surprise, it leads us to that park we walked out to a couple days ago, while staying at the marina. The mosquitoes are very pesky, though, so we return to the dinghy with a spring in our step. Dinner sounds good now. Sandy prepares an egg batter and dips our walleye fillets in it, then coats them with Panko. Lightly seasoned with onion sald and dill, fried in oil, they turn out golden. A few drops of lemon juice is the perfect touch. We keep things simple and light, accompanying the fish with sun chips, our version of fish and chips. Cups of chilled mandarin oranges completes the meal.

Walleye for dinner