If there’s one thing you’re guaranteed to see on the Lower Columbia- it’s ships. ROROs, grainers, tankers, tugs, barges… They steam steadily along day and night. Although you can get an app to track their comings and goings, I like the surprise of seeing them plowing down the channel unannounced.
My wife and I often banter about the likelihood of getting crushed by a ship. I respect, but don’t fear them. Kate worries that a sleepy captain will run me down or a giant wake will swamp me. A guidebook on my shelf sides with my wife: “A wake from a large ship can toss your boat around like a toothpick.”
But really, the rule for coexisting with ships is straight forward; stay out of their way. Having a small boat, my friends and I can easily scoot out of the channel into safer, relatively shallow water.
Still, there’s always a strange feeling in the air when a ship comes on a narrower section of river. If the wind isn’t in your favor and you have to heave to while it passes, everything around you seems just a little more menacing than when you’re alone.
The biggest ships don’t really take up the whole horizon, but there are times when it sure seems that way.
In the end though, ships are a human invention, controlled by people. And I don’t think they want to run me down any more than I want to have a brush with death.
The crews are often invisible, whether doing tasks or just bored is hard to say, but when I do see someone on deck, I wave and hope they are as surprised to see me, as I am to see them.