Thursday, October 21, 2010

Navigating the Lower Snake River

We are sitting in the Tri Cities area, where the Snake River joins  into the Columbia; having returned from our trip up the Lower Snake to Clarkston/Lewiston area and thought would post a bit about our travels.

1st off, I really liked the Snake.    Now part of this it likely due to the timing we did the trip in (fall, hence NOT hot), but overall what I liked about the Snake is there IS an ability to get away from things.  It is along the lines of why Kristi and I prefer the upper San Juan’s vs. the more populated area.   Some nights we stopped and did not hear a Train (or perhaps only one at the night).  Little to no cars as well.  And not too many boats on the river, though that did change the last 4 days during our return trip when the river was re-opened for Fishing (and Hunting season started as well).  In running this river we relied mostly on the Electronic Chart Plotter – backed up by a flip book of Charts.  We did notice that the charts were not totally up to date in terms of local features, meaning docks and other land features that had been added might not be on the charts.  We also noticed that some of the depths had changed - especially towards the Clarkston / Lewiston area.  And despite what the current version of the Pilot Chart says, the Blue bridge will NOT be raised for you – even with 24 hours notice 

Ok, here are a few  navigation notes from our travels on the Lower Snake River.

1. There is noticeable shoaling from about River Mile (RM) 130 all the way to the end.  Some of the ledges come out a bit further than noted, and most of the depths are now around 20-25’ as opposed to the 70-80’ as shown on the charts.  We never had an issue,  the main ‘channels’ are still plenty deep, but be mindful for areas that might have a tendency to build up – and note that the charted depths might be less . . .

2. Cell Phones stopped working around RM 15, and did not start until RM134 for both T-mobile and AT&T.  Verizon was a LITTLE better but still during those times inside the canyon walls their phones worked perhaps 5% of the time.

3. Hailing the Dams – All the dams have names, but also Call Signs.  We noticed the several would use a combination of their call sign  with their name.  We also noticed that the locks are not manned full time, but instead you 1st talk to an operator I suspect located in the dam’s control room.  Once contact is made, someone drives out to the lock booth and operates the locks.   Names seems to be:
     a.  “42 Ice Harbor”
     b. “43 Lower Monumental”
     c. “44 Little Goose”
     d. “45 Granite”

4. During the summer there is a posted Recreational Lock Schedule - it is the same for the Columbia and the Snake.  We traveled during the times when this was not in effect, so hailed them on Channel 14  -  30 minutes before our arrival – looking back I think 45 minutes would have been better – giving them time to drive out to the lock station and turn the locks around if needed.  We never had an issue getting through, though we did have to wait for a lock to be turned around a couple of times.

5. The motion in the locks on the Snake can be harsh when filling.  We especially noticed on the Drop Gate Dams (Ice Harbor and Monumental, John Day on the Columbia as well) that a wicked rotating current sets up while the lock is filling (from about 30% to 80%).  This would grab the full length keel of Viking Star (and Maxine, our companion boat) pressing them into the lock wall with great force.  A call to the lock master got them to slow the fill rate to about ½ speed and all was fine.  In timing it, we noticed the wall segments were 5’ high.  If the fill rate was around 15 seconds for one of the wall segments (e.g. 3 seconds a foot), we had trouble.  At 25 seconds a segment (5 seconds a foot) we were OK.  I never talked to a Lock Master to see if asking for a ‘5 seconds a foot fill rate’ would have any meaning to them, but it might be worth a try.

6. Locking Down, no issues.

7. Not sure the Big Ball Fender will forgive me – it had is poor neck about pulled off a few times before we could ask for a slower fill rate.

You can take the Snake up to the Blue Bridge just after RM 139.  We asked about this bridge and were told the last time it was raised was about 5 years ago, and it got stuck up.  So no, they will not raise it for you   No worries, there is not too much more one can do anyway without a Jet Boat.

The Clearwater River takes off at this same place.   We went  through the RR bridge there (it is left up unless needed) for about 1 more mile until we were stopped by a 21’ Fixed bridge.  About a mile after that it again gets shallow. (According to the charts).

TriCities Area (I know this is not the Snake, but talking about it here anyway).

There are three railroad bridges in the area – two on the Columbia and one on the Snake.  Two of them are left in the UP position, and will ‘automatically’ lower when a train arrives.  These two are the one on the Snake, and the lower Railroad bridge on the Columbia (RM 323).   These bridges will call out on VHF 13 when they are about to close (like 5-10 minutes before they close), and the one on the Columbia  will continue to announce every 5 minutes it is ‘Closed to Navigation’.  Once the trains pass and they reopen, they will announce they are ‘Open to Navigation’ on the VHF 13.

The other bridge on the Colombia is above where the Snake joins in - at RM 328.  This is manned and can be hailed on VHF 13 using the call “KQ 9046 Upper Columba River Railroad bridge”.  Or “KQ 9046’ for short.

The Columbia is charted up to the beginning of the Hanford area, and locals tell me it is still navigable about 1-2 miles after that.  But then it turns into a free-flowing river (as opposed to the Lake behind the McNary Dam) and quickly gets into 4-5 foot depths with shifting channels. . . .

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