04-Oct-2003 -- I departed Ilwaco, Washington in my 17' boat, Snafu, for the confluence at 46°N 124°W at 10:10. Ilwaco is one of the nearest ports to the mouth of the Columbia River. It's about 4 nautical miles from the Ilwaco harbor to the sometimes treacherous Columbia River bar, where the 1200 mile long river empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia is the border between the states of Washington and Oregon.
Leading up to the run to the confluence, I monitored the National Weather Service forecasts, and the wind and wave observations of the Columbia River Weather Buoy on the internet. The predominent northwest wind had prevented me from visiting the confluence all summer. The forecast for Saturday looked good all week. Friday and Saturday morning the buoy observations showed little wind and relatively calm seas.
As I motored across the mouth of the river, there was virtually no wind and I had about 4 miles of visibility with very low clouds. I knew that any photos I took at the confluence were not going to do justice to the rugged beauty of the Oregon coast in the area of the confluence, but the ocean conditions were too perfect to pass up the opportunity to bag my first confluence.
By 10:30 I was across the bar and passing the buoy that marks the seaward end of the south jetty. I slowed and took the picture of the seals resting on the buoy. From here it's about 16 nautical miles on the ocean to the confluence. The GPS plotted a course to the waypoint I programmed at 46N 124W. About 5 miles from the confluence, the visibility dropped to about one nautical mile.
I arrived in the area of the confluence at about 11:25, and I was able to maneuver within about 20 feet of the exact confluence. After about 15 minutes of zigging, zagging, and circling while snapping photos of the GPS, I decided to shut off the engine and wait to see if the fog would lift since I could see only the base of 1300 foot Tillamook Head.
Although there were no other boats or humans in sight, I was not alone; I could hear hundreds of sea birds around me. Mostly, I could hear the raucus call of the female common murre as each tried to locate her "chick". The chick replies to its mother's call by whistling a tune of three notes repeated several times. These diving mother and baby bird teams dive and "fly" underwater to catch herring, anchovies, and candlefish, and have been fishing together since July when the fledglings first took to the ocean. I was surprised to see the mothers and babies still together in October since the youngsters are the same size as the adults.
I could also hear the constant roar of the surf on the sand beach that extends north from Tillamook Head past the towns of Seaside and Gearhart. Even though it was three miles away, it sounded like a freight train passing in the distance. I attributed the surf to the long 5 to 6 foot swells rolling in from the west signalling the approach of a storm that was still about two days out to sea.
After about 30 minutes of drifting, the visibility did improve somewhat. I could now see about 3 to 4 miles. In that time, I had drifted about 500 feet to the northwest. My drift was due to the ocean current and an almost imperceptable breeze.
I started the engine and motored to the southeast. I stopped a few feet southeast of the confluence and again shut of the engine. I drifted to the northwest again, and the GPS showed me closing in on the confluence point. I thought I might get within +/- 0.002 minutes of the latitude and longitude this way. But as the latitude and longitude increased, I found myself right on the confluence point! I quickly snapped a photo of the GPS and took some photos of the view toward shore and of the long-abandoned light house on Tillamook Rock.
On the run back to port, the tide was ebbing. This is the most dangerous time to cross the Columbia River bar; however, on this day because of the calm winds and relatively small difference between the high and low tides, the bar was not too dangerous to cross. I would estimate the swells were between 7 and 10 feet on the bar. I arrived back at Ilwaco at about 1:30 safe and sound.
I hope that someone else visits the confluence on a clear day to capture the beauty of the area.