Author and local high school teacher Scott Sadil rode light winds and gentle currents across the mouth of the Columbia River Thursday, Aug. 15, rowing and sailing his home-built stitch-and glue dory from Cape Disappointment to Astoria, a stretch of river he skipped when beginning his 472-mile voyage this summer to Lewiston, Idaho.
“It was a different beast Thursday than what I saw in June,” says Sadil.
Hoping to ride the push of big tides against a river swollen with snowmelt, Sadil had planned the start of his voyage to coincide with the solstice full moon.
“Bad idea,” says Sadil. “There were pilings in the current that looked like tree stumps standing in the Deschutes River. My son and I camped the night at Cape Disappointment, and in the morning I said, ‘Let’s go have breakfast in Astoria. I’ll launch there.”
Sadil made the crossing Thursday in just over five hours, his time split between rowing and sailing. Despite the mild conditions, he was impressed again by the magnitude of the mouth of the Columbia.
“It’s still a big treacherous river. There’s a reason you don’t see crowds of sailboats out there, even on a mild August afternoon.”
Sadil began his journey in hopes of increasing awareness of the health of both the Columbia and Snake rivers and their dwindling runs of native anadromous fish.
“The mouth of the Columbia is the closest thing you still have to a wild river,” says Sadil. “You come out of the Ilwaco Channel and feel those ocean swells under your boat, you realize why salmon and steelhead are the kind of fish they are and why we want them swimming in our rivers.”
Author of four books and countless stories, essays, and feature articles in which the sport of fly fishing often plays a significant role, Sadil was asked last week to write about his impressions of the lower Columbia and Snake rivers for Stonefly, a magazine distributed each year to audiences attending the Fly Fishing Film Tour.
“That was my first opportunity to sit down and write about the trip,” said Sadil. “Adventures like this are sort of a blur until I begin to recreate them in words.”
Sadil wrote about building his dory, Tia, and the challenges he faced learning to sail in the Gorge, in a two-part feature he sold to Small Craft Advisor.
“Part one ends after the first day of my maiden voyage, when I’m right back where I launched after heading the opposite direction I was supposed to go,” said Sadil. “You have to get used to doing things like that if you’re going to try to learn anything entirely new.”
Having never owned, sailed, rowed, or built a boat before Tia, Sadil says he still can’t figure out why he’s suddenly captivated by boats.
“Growing up surfing and fishing,” he says, “I always thought boats were a pain in the butt – something you had to deal with when you could have been out in the water. Now, dealing with boats – building them and learning to use them – seems just as interesting to me as paddling into a wave or getting a good fish to rise to the fly.”
Upon returning from Lewiston, Sadil immediately ordered plans for a traditional rowing and sailing double ender designed by Iain Oughtred in Scotland.
“Stitch-and-glue construction is kindergarten boatbuilding,” says Sadil, who worked as a finish carpenter for two decades before falling from a two-story building and breaking his back. “That’s still a couple levels above, say, building cabinets for a home. I’m eager to build a traditional wooden boat that demands the same centuries-old skills whether you’re building a 10-foot dinghy or a 75-foot ocean cruiser.”
Sadil hopes to trailer his next boat down the west coast of Baja California and circumnavigate Isla Magdalena, bringing awareness to the fragile ecology of Bahía Magdalena, under threat, he says, by developers catering to Americans.
“Life’s too short to understand why any of this captures the imagination,” says Sadil. “Writers just get ideas and run with them.”