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Crods Cruise to Bonneville

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The "CRODS" Cruise to Bonneville

by Dr. Gordon B. Leitch, October, 1936

(Ed. Note:  This article is reproduced from the October 1936 issue of Pacific Motor Boat magazine.  Efforts to reach the publisher and its successors for reprint permission have been unsuccessful.  Author Dr. Gordon B. Leitch was the founding President of the Columbia River Yachting Association which commissioned the Columbia River One Design from naval architect Joseph Dyer.  We had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Gordon B. Leitch, Jr. recently, who provided us with the images of his father found in this section.)

Dr. Gordon B. Leitch, Sr. (charcoal portrait dating from about 1950)

Dr. Gordon B. Leitch, Jr., March, 2004

Yachtsmen of the Columbia River in both power and sail have been increasingly observant of two developments which promise to influence the future course of activity on the river.  One of these is the increasing popularity of the fleet of "Crods", and the second is the rapidly growing Bonneville Dam.  In a sense, the two are inter-related.

When Joseph M. Dyer of the Astoria Marine Construction Company and Dr. A. Holmes Johnson of the Portland Yacht Club first put their heads together to  concoct the cruising and racing one-design class sponsored by the Columbia River Yachting Association, there was not much that was definite about Bonneville Dam.  But with a canny eye to the future they considered the water conditions both below and above any possible dam in evolving the design.  The wisdom of their choosing is becoming more apparent as the completion of Bonneville Dam approaches.  It is the possibilities of the resulting pool which intrigue the yachting fraternity of the river in general, and the Crod skippers in particular.

Author Dr. Gordon B. Leitch, Sr. sailing Crod #4, Terry, in the late 1930s.

To those unfamiliar with the region of the Columbia River it should be related that the river is divided roughly into three portions by natural barriers.  The lower river is commonly said to be that portion below the Cascades; the middle river extends from the Cascades to Big Eddy, or the falls just above The Dalles; the upper river extends beyond this barrier.  It is the middle and upper lower portions which traverse the Cascade range of mountains by means of the world famous Columbia river gorge, and this will be chiefly affected when the dam is finished.

An early aerial view of the Bonneville Dam

The distance of the gorge from Portland, the swift currents to be negotiated from Warrendale to Cascade Locks, and the more easily accessible quiet waters in our front yard have conspired to keep the middle stretch of the river relatively unfamiliar to most local yachtsmen, though well-known to commercial boatmen and fishermen.  It has been the writer's good fortune over a period of years to make several expeditions over this stretch on both workboat and pleasure craft, but the occasions which stand out in memory are those in which the trip from Portland was made in the Crods.

Some months ago several of these ambitious Crod skippers (motor boaters occasionally refer to them as pests) decided they should have an auxiliary cruise, but when the destination was reached it was found a goodly number of powerboat men had somehow or other become attached to the party, which made some of the sailors feel the aim of a 100% auxiliary cruise had not been attained.  Accordingly, some weeks later, when days were becoming short and nippy, and foggy in the morning, the word was quietly passed around that the Crods were going to Bonneville.

Selection of Bonneville as the destination was not merely accidental.  In addition to being the site of the famous dam, the presence of swift water upstream from Warrendale virtually assured the absence of powerboats, as only a few of the boats at the Portland Yacht Club were suitable for negotiating this passage.  At the same time there was considerable doubt that the Crods would make it, but an appointment had been made to see the dam with the U.S. engineers, so there was nothing for it but to go.

To take full advantage of the flood tide, which is felt as far as the dam, but loses its effect at Multnomah Falls a few miles below, the Crods nosed out from their home dock shortly after dawn and pointed prows upstream into the early morning fog.  Of necessity it was a compass run under power; stragglers and late starters were left behind.  Presently, with Government Island abeam, the sun broke through the fog and before the early morning fleet majestically ahead, lay snow-covered Mount Hood, with the gorge of the river seemingly cutting from its base. Continuing, the boats ahead kept watch astern for the second division, while those astern strained eyes ahead, cut the corners of the channel and slid over an occasional sand bank in order to catch up with the leaders.

The main spillway of Bonneville Dam

At the lower end of Lady Island, while Steve Wilcox's Susan was chugging along at an easy six knots, a flock of ducks soared overhead and came to rest in the water at the edge of a bar some seventy-five yards away.  This proved too much for Cliff Eastman, who came on the trip fortified with a .22 caliber target pistol and a marvelous array of photographic paraphernalia.  Disregarding the movement of the boat he loosed a pistol shot in the general direction of a  duck, and believe it or not, picked it clean through the head!  Susan stopped dead.  The shot assured fresh meat for lunch.

(l-r) A. Holmes Johnson, Cliff Eastman, Gordon Leitch, Sr.

Now although Eastman is highly rated as a shot with pistol or camera, he makes no bones about his aversion to cold water.  Into the breach stepped Captain Dean Webster.  There being no swimming suits handy, Webster did the next best thing while the Susan carefully approached the duck, which was by now lying precariously close to the sand bar.  Over the side went Dean, soon to return holding aloft the duck in one hand and--well, let it pass.  About this time Eastman managed to hide his camera, but not quite quickly enough.  The duck came aboard propelled with full force and landed right in the Eastman amidships.

The voyage was thereupon resumed, and the tricky passage past Ione and Ough reefs negotiated without incident, then the easy stretch alongside Reed Island likewise run.  With Corbett landing abeam, and the Columbia Gorge a quarter of a mile ahead, it was decided to call a halt while lunch--including the duck--was served.  Likewise it would afford an opportunity for the trailers, including the rapids pilot, to catch up.  This transpired in due course at about the time the duck disappeared with much lip-smacking.

As a result of shifts in the crews, the writer welcomed aboard Terry the previously mentioned Cliff Eastman, gun and camera included, when we pulled away from Corbett landing.  Cliff is a competent helmsman, so as we proceeded upstream ye scribe sought forty winks below, thoroughly confident his relief would hit without trouble the middle of the channel between treacherous Fashion Reef abeam Multnomah Falls, and the bar toward the Washington shore.  While the river is wide at this point, the channel at low water is narrow.

 

W.G. Elliott, Don Jaxtheimer, Russ Sells, Gordon B. Leitch (from Pacific Motor Boat article)

As was expected, Eastman negotiated the passage without difficulty, but this must have given him a false sense of security and laid the groundwork for some entertainment for the other boats following.  Capt. Elliott, aboard Don Jaxtheimer's Aeolus called all hands to witness the impending disaster.  In fairness be it stated he was about to shout a timely warning when Dean Webster, from the boat running to port, hastily prevented him--the duck, remember--but called the attention of all the other crews to the lead boat, where serene and unconcerned Eastman stood with the tiller between his knees, squinting through his sights to get a series of pictures of the gorge.  Bets were laid as to how long it would take the writer to show head on deck after Terry rubbed the bar, but before the odds were settled the strike was made.  They claim that Eastman's pitching forward and my emergence from the cabin was simultaneous, but be that as it may, we certainly came in for a round of raucous applause as we sheered back into the main channel without damage.  Underneath a couple of red faces we laid a plot for revenge; and boy, was it sweet!

Motoring in a Crod (this shot from the early '50s)

From this point upstream the water began to run more swiftly.  It also found all hands on deck as the much described beauties of the gorge, doubly beautiful when viewed from the water, surrounded us.  As the current increased we took to "working the eddies," a trick of those familiar with the river, and made substantial progress upstream, now skirting one fish wheel after another.  In the middle of the river the water swirled and boiled in whirlpools of various sizes, while the  speed increased the further we went.  Eastman and I were just about ready for revenge.

Two CRODs "work the eddies" on the way to Bonneville, 1936 (from Pacific Motor Boat article)

Skippers from the Portland Yacht Club are of necessity at home in thin waters, as well as deep.  As an adjunct of this necessity they have developed a technique of sounding in shallow spots much quicker than any hand line I have seen.  A sounding pole, or in a pinch, a boat hook, does the trick.  Since the other boats happened to be closely following our track the plot was easy.  Eastman got out the pole and proceeded to "tap" the water.  No bottom at ten feet.  After making sure he had caught the eyes of the other boats, he went through all the motions to perfection, and on the fifth or sixth swing "struck" with startling suddenness.  There was no necessity to cry an alarm. By the time Eastman looked back the other boats were half way into mid-channel and fully a quarter of a mile down-stream.  Nearly doubled with laughter at the success of our plan, we merrily continued our unchanged course upstream with no hope that the others could regain the ground suddenly lost to the current by their wild dash for "safety."

Having made our way upstream to the foot of Bradford's Island, across which the dam is being thrown, we gradually worked into the middle of the swift water, taking advantage of every little eddy possible, until eventually we shot into the back eddies on the opposite side of the channel; almost immediately we entered the lake-like expanse of water below the lower cofferdam on the Oregon side of the island.  Our anchorage was the remnant of Bradford's slough, a perfect spot, as placid as a millpond in contrast to the white swirls outside the spit of the island.  Soon we were made fast, with the other boats alongside, while a setting sun, such as is seen only in the Columbia River Gorge, added to the natural beauty of the location.  From the other side of the cofferdam came the intense sounds of the industry we were to see a few hours later.

With nightfall a sudden drop in temperature precipitated the thickest fog of the year, but undaunted we proceeded to enjoy ourselves with tasty dinners, including all the essential trimmings not overlooking an abundance of poker at which Commodore A. Holmes Johnson made the killing.

While the above portion of this particular trip was made under power it should be noted that such conditions are unusual along the middle river.  On the return trip the following day there was enough wind to fill any sailor's heart with joy and cause him to don oilskins.  As a result the boats abandoned formation and free-lanced, some stopping at Warrendale to see the plaque set into the wall of the old cannery there to indicate the height reached by the freshet of 1894, the great grandfather of all Columbia River floods within history of man.  Noon found the boats still scattered, with several anchored or hove to in the vicinity of Phoca Rock (Lone Rock to you who may have observed it from the Vista House atop Crown Point), but soon continuing downstream.  Once out of the gorge the breeze dropped and the water became glassy calm, forcing the finish of the cruise under power.

Bonneville Dam under construction, 1936 (from Pacific Motor Boat article)

Wind in relation to the gorge is no mystery when it is realized the gorge provides the lowest and easiest route between two regions of different temperatures, the low, cool western regions, and the high, hot eastern plateau.  Thus is assured an almost constant wind blowing through this gorge.  In summer months it blows upstream and in the winter downstream, and in both instances with sufficient force to offset any tendency to cut corners into side canyons.  Weather bureau records show that during the sailing months of the year there are only two hours of the day when a calm can be expected.  Since these hours are usually between three and five in the morning it should not inconvenience any but nighthawk sailors.  From this time the wind increases in force until about ten a.m., then remains steady in the vicinity of fifteen to eighteen miles per hour until about four or five in the afternoon at which time it may blow as much as twenty-five or even better, gradually dropping until the morning hours to complete the cycle.  It is the force, steadiness and dependability of these summer winds which caused sailors of the Columbia River to look forward with keen anticipation to the sailing possibilities offered by the creation of the pool above the mighty dam.

The dam itself is now considerably more than half completed.  Straddling Bradford's Island, the Oregon portion of the structure is composed of the ship lock and powerhouse, while the portion in the main channel is the spillway dam proper.  In going through the dam, under the guidance of the engineers, we all felt beforehand we knew it must require a structure of mighty proportions to control the Columbia.  In spite of this, when face to face with the concrete and steel dam extending from 85 feet below sea level to a hundred feet above, the immensity of the operation was appalling, awe-inspiring, and conducive to a respectful silence.

First page of CROD article by Gordon B. Leitch in the October, 1936 Pacific Motor Boat magazine

During the construction of the dam navigation by steamboats and smaller boats has been necessarily impossible or interfered with.  Although the engineers have tried to maintain an open channel, first on the Washington side, and now through the ship lock on the Oregon side, only the most powerful boats have been able to stem the increased current flowing through the bottle neck restrictions.  On another Crod expedition, which was made both ways under sail--including a near-knockdown just above the Portland Yacht Club in a portion of the lower river considered unusually safe--the river steamboat "The Dalles" provided an interesting diversion for river and land tourists, as well as the builders of the dam, as she laboriously ploughed upstream in an effort to reach the lock.  After three or four failures she retired several miles downstream, idled about until forced draft sent steam pressure upward, then made one last attempt.  Snorting upstream like a prehistoric monster she finally worked an eddy into the lock passage.  Even boats as powerful as the twin-screw "Bonneville" and the tug "Warco," the latter especially designed for work in the Cascade rapids, have found difficulty in negotiating the constricted passages while the dam is being built.  Recently a powerful winch was set up above the lock to line boats through a dangerous eddy just above the lock, but when this proved a complicated and difficult maneuver the engineers placed several stop logs in the powerhouse openings, thus eliminating the eddy, and slowing down the current so river craft again can pass the dam without too much trouble and hazard.

Located at a spot rich in geologic and historic lore, the dam is re-creating the Bridge of the Gods, that structure in Indian legend said to have been a mighty rock arch spanning the gorge, but which in geologic record clearly evident today was the mighty slide from Table mountain which blocked the river and backed it to Tumwater falls.  In overflowing this sudden barrier the river scoured the present channel, leaving the Cascades of the Columbia as the residue.  One of the effects was also to create a "sunken forest" among the snags of which the writer has inadvertently anchored on a couple of visits to the middle river.

With the submergence of the cascades by the pool being created, one of the most picturesque chapters will be definitely a thing of the past.  No longer will boats of various types be able to shoot the cascades, the highlight of steamboat days.  Of recent years there has been no necessity to go over the cascades as there are ample locks at Cascade Locks.  Yet two years ago the tug "Warco" negotiated the passage, and a few days afterward the "Bonneville" became the first boat in history to go over the cascades upstream.  Several skippers of my acquaintance have had the urge to do that stunt for years, but the "Bonneville" will probably be the one and only boat to achieve that goal unless freshet conditions should happen to be suitable in 1937.

The Cascade Yacht Club is on the ground, and clubs are likely to follow in both Hood River and The Dalles.  The Portland Yacht Club has been interested in the sailing possibilities of the pool, but with the establishment of other clubs on the lake will probably not be faced with the necessity of developing its own yachting facilities, though unquestionably some provisions will be available and the lake will come in for its share of recreational activity.  Occasionally we hear rumors of a huge dedicatory regatta in 1938, in which event the committee in charge should make it clear that lovers of drifting matches should not enter unless they are prepared to "take it" as well.