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Off Beat Oregon Piece on Deaths of Salmon Fishermen, 1880’s…Columbia River Bar

“Now then, Pooh,” said Christopher Robin, “where’s your boat?”
“I ought to say,” explained Pooh as they walked down to the shore of the island, “that it isn’t just an ordinary sort of boat. Sometimes it’s a Boat, and sometimes it’s more of an Accident. It all depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“On whether I’m on the top of it or underneath it.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie~the~Pooh


“A man’s got to know his limitations”

Harry Callahan, Magnum Force

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When it comes to taking a boat out into a crowded venue, I know my limitations. Yes, I have putzed around on lakes and small rivers, but handling a boat in a safe manner and knowing the rules of the road, so to speak, are a foreign language to me. The State of Oregon requires a boating safety course, testing and a permit to operate a boat of a certain size on public waterways. For the most part, yesterday, the overwhelming majority of the boaters were courteous and seemingly aware of the rules and unwritten courtesies of operating a boat in heavy traffic, on the river.

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But, I found one aspect of the day most interesting from a safety awareness point of view. There is a commercial channel on the Columbia River in which large vessels (lower river) and tugs and barges ply the river. Yesterday, I observed a boat anchored in the shipping channel and the approaching tug/barge encounter reminded me of why one needs to know the rules and common sense that goes with operating a boat. Hundreds of boats had figured this out save the one boater, who decided to anchor in the shipping channel.

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 My brother-in-law, Richard had earlier remarked about the sounding of the horn from the tug/barge, in particular the sounding of 5 loud blasts indicating the tug is not turning, altering course, stopping (takes them over a mile to stop) and you better move or die.  Sure enough, here came a tug/barge heading upstream, cutting close to the fleet of boats, none of which, prompted a sound from the horn until reaching our point…then there it was: 5 large blasts from the tug/barge and a pleasure/fishing boat anchored in its path up ahead.

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 Every head turned toward the front of the barge; in front a smaller boat. Fortunately the ‘boater’ had, like most of the boaters, a break away anchoring system that allow one to separate the anchor/rope/float from the boat. The boater was able to start his motor and back out of the path of the tug/barge, but lost his anchor/rope/float system as the tug/barge, never breaking, chugged over the top of the whole set up….less the boat/anglers. This whole fiasco reminded me of my limitations and ignorance re that river’s protocols, shipping channel and the safety responses in the event of an emergency.

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Two men stand at the ready at the front end of the barge, rain or shine, as the barge pushes upriver. They coordinate with the bridge of the tug, which has a partially obstructed view. It must be interesting to be closing in on an oblivious boater, waiting for them to respond to the approaching tug/barge, the horn blasts etc.

Another good reason, I am thankful we were in the capable hands and conscientious minds of my brother and sister in law, who take great pride in not only showing you a memorable time, but keeping you comfortable and safe.