Tale of Terrapin


“I thought you loved that boat,” my wife said when I mentioned that I was thinking of selling Terrapin.

“When I looked in her log book, I realized that I haven’t rowed her since April.”

My wife looked on, still surprised.

“And, Terrapin is a great boat, but she’s not the most comfortable thing to sit in for long periods of time,” I noted. 

Then I stared at my feet, thinking of all the great adventures we’d been on together: the class 1 rapids on the Middle Willamette River, my first solo expedition in the South Salish Sea, and an exciting passage near Cape Foulweather. I felt like a traitor.

And then I thought, maybe I need to give her another chance. I added some awkward, but comfy foam pads to the back rest, I adjusted the foot rest, greased the rowlocks, and off we went to a part of the Columbia River I hadn’t been to in years: McGuire Island (pictured above).

I wanted to make a loop from the mainstem of the river into some backwaters around McGuire. I knew the space between Government Island and McGuire could dry out during a long summer, so my expectations were low.


Rowing along the monotonous shore of Government Island, I searched for the cut between the islands.


Then I saw the fabled floating potty, and if a potty can be nice, this one was. And best of all, it was floating in a full channel between the islands.


The Corps of Engineers has installed rows of pilings along the Columbia called wing dams, which keep the majority of current in the main channel. They can also block boat access to areas like this. My chart wasn’t clear if I could get through the far end or not, but since the tide was rising, I got a nice push, so off I went.

mcguire-loop-5And before I knew it, I’d reached the end of the channel, only to find it was blocked by a whole lot of tropical-looking sand.


That wasn’t really a problem, in fact it was a fine opportunity to make a portage with my paddle cart- the best small boat cart ever. Its pneumatic BMX wheels will roll over almost anything. Now the only problem was whether I could make it through the hole in the wing dam or not.


After the portage I studied the situation. The current looked modest, the water deep enough, and the opening, probably wide enough. Then being an enemy of sand, I put Terrapin in the water and started dutifully cleaning the sand off the cart’s wheels. I guess I got pretty involved, because when I looked up Terrapin was adrift, at least 20 feet away. I charged into the water and grabbed the boat; let’s just say that my pants got a little damp.


We skimmed through the gap in about four inches of water and hit the mainstem of the Columbia again. A hundred feet or so off shore, the current boiled up to the surface, making Terrapin wiggle a bit, but we pulled away easily.


And now I’m starting to think that I just may keep Terrapin after all.


  1. A good rowboat is a ticket to freedom. The drop of a hat usability beats the heavier, more able, and more versatile boats for all those no planning spur of the moment trips to improbable locations. Some people keep a canoe, some a kayak I like to row. (wait no I like to use all of those…. something wrong with me)

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