Begins with a casual motor from Spokane to Stevenson, WA, in the the heart of the Columbia Gorge, on the heels of the devastating Eagle Creek fire just across the river in Oregon. Still smoldering as I pass thru, they’re actively mopping up, visible from the recently opened freeway. I spend the night with Frank, my regular crew aboard High Voltage, at his new vacation/retirement home he’s built as a sailing accessory for his skiff/sailboard addiction. We walk to the beach with the dog, and marvel at this magnificent wind machine that is the Gorge, and spend a pleasant evening on the deck appreciating where we are.
Post breakfast, I connect with Dave and Vicki from Bozeman, as they pass through town, and we caravan westward towards the coast. Which takes us through Portland, where we make a brief detour to visit Phil and Vicky’s beautiful Craftsman bungalow in a sweet old neighborhood. We get the VIP tour of not only the house, but the famed shop that has produced a long string of unique all aluminum land yachts that he and his father designed and constructed over the the last 30 plus years. Phil doesn’t quite make it home in time to join in the tour, and because the weather is spectacular and we’re itching to get to the beach. Another couple hours has us rolling into Fort Stevens State Park, which occupies the extreme northwestern tip of Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia, where it dumps into the Pacific. A huge jetty of giant boulders extends northward to define and protect the entrance, with 30 miles of super smooth, exceptionally flat, hard sand beach extending southward until interrupted by the great headlands and haystack rocks that characterize the OR coast. And it’s this beach that is the reason we’re there!
We score a couple campsites and head off to explore the park, eyeing the beaches for sailing suitability and access. At one marginal entrance point we chat up a ranger who points us to Sunset Beach six miles south. It’s perfect! We can, and do, drive onto the beach with our rigs, and as the sun seeks the horizon, we assemble the boats. No wind, and the tide is coming in, but the boats are ready for the morning. We get back to camp, and there’s Brooks, down from Port Townsend to check out this proposed new venue with us. The bullshit flows til dark, and we retire giddy with the promise of impending glee.
So landsailing is a fickle sport to begin with. You need a very flat, hard and preferably smooth, surface. Which in the USA is usually a desert dry lake bed. Europeans sail the beaches almost exclusively, being a bit shy on such desert locales. And then you need to survive on the edge of this playa until the wind arrives. To those essential criteria we now add tides. We need the it to be out for the beach to be wide enough to get long enough tacks and jibes to keep the boat speed up. So there’s maybe and hour to an hour and a half on either side of low tide when the beach is sailable. Now it’s also preferable that this period be during daylight hours. And when the wind is blowing. And it would be really nice if it wasn’t friggin’ cold and blowing too hard. And wasn’t foggy. All things Oregon beachs are (in)famous for.
But we, for reasons as yet to be revealed, are blessed with two days of sunny weather, temps in the eighties (yes, eighties on the Oregon coast!), and a useful mean low tide at a reasonable hour, with wind. Sails are rigged, and Dave is off instantly, with his superior light air skills and state of the art boat. Brooks and I fuss about for a while with the gentle offshore breeze that’s struggling to top the dunes and get down to beach level. Eventually it builds enough to get hooked up, and the delicate dance begins, trying to keep the speed up enough to stay connected, not getting too close to the undulating water’s edge, where the sand gets soft enough to slow one’s momentum, nor on the other tack, get too close to the dunes that are creating a wind shadow that drops the pressure below what’s needed to keep rolling. Dave’s fully powered up, and grinning maniacally, I’m having to get out occasionally for another push start, when my dancing skills fail me. But when we’re cruising it’s heaven, following the edge of each receding waves, driving away as the next one breaks and pushes inland. The beach is busy, with vehicles travelling north and south, and people wandering back and forth between surf and dry sand. So vigilance is the order of the day, and it adds to the challenge of maintaining speed while negotiating moving obstacles. But we’re sailing the beach, a new experience for us all!
Our three hours quickly expire, and we’re back exploring the park. The mouth of the Columbia was considered a strategic site for many years, and many bunkers and old gun placements are still in evidence. Enticing bike trail throughout the park beckon, but it never seems possible to bring all the correct toys on any particular adventure. Brooks and I do break out the motorcycles to continue the exploration, and stay out til sunset, and join the many tourists and Oregonians who are also mesmerized by the ritual dousing of the star.
The next day again dawns bright, and we can hear significant breeze in the tops of the very tall trees of our campsites. Oh, how I love coastal rain forests! Particularly when it’s not raining! Back to the beach at the appropriate hour, and we’re greeted with onshore breeze enough to induce giggles. Sails go up and we’re off! The wind is more perpendicular to the beach today, with a small northerly component, making for long reaches on port tack. The surface is so smooth, it’s a Cadillac ride, top down, hair figuratively blowing in the wind (helmets required!), Surf crashing just yards away, sunshine burnishing the sand and waves, it’s an experience to be savored.
Eventually, the beach narrows as the tide returns, and it becomes more difficult to keep up enough speed. We de-rig, and pack up the boats, as the weather service threatens us with a cold front and rain the following day. A relaxing dinner in camp winds things down, and the morning will find us embarking upon Phase Two of the adventure.