Columbia River: Warren Slough Cruise

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Columbia River: Warren Slough Cruise

Postby jeffd » Fri Nov 01, 2013 11:49 pm

Cathlamet to Warren Slough Cruise Report

I read about cruising to Warren Slough in "Boating Guide to the Lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers", published by the Oregon State Marine Board: ... aguide.pdf

Page 8 describes a suggested cruise through Prairie Channel to Warren Slough. The description uses phrases like "a serene and little known waterway", "leaving civilization behind", "ideal for a dinghy or shallow draft vessel", and "getting away from the hum of civilization". So no nice marinas, docks, restaurants, or services to be had here. But this sounds like a cruise for me! I've found the Columbia River has pretty good wind most of the time too, so I was ready to check this place out.

Looking at the charts, I decided to launch the boat at Elochoman Slough Marina, in Cathlamet WA ( ). The marina is pretty easy to drive to, and the marina and launching area is protected from the wind. The marina also has places to camp. It's about 12 nautical miles from this marina to the mouth of Warren Slough, and about a mile in Warren slough itself. So I'm figuring a 3 hour drive to the Marina, 1 hour to rig & launch, 3 hours to cruise to Warren Slough, 1 hour to cruise Warren Slough, 3 hours to cruise back to the marina. If there's time after that, I'll explore Elochoman Slough - right next to the Marina. I did this cruise on July 3, 2013, and it was a great day.

Here is a GPS track of the entire cruise:
The bright green track is motoring out of the marina, then sailing a bit on the Columbia River, then motoring up Clifton Channel and Prairie Channel. The Blue track is sailing into Warren Slough, then motoring out, and sailing most of the way back to the Marina.

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When I got to Cathlamet at about 11:30am, the wind on the Columbia was already blowing pretty hard out of the northwest, and whitecaps were forming. The marina and launch area are pretty sheltered.

I motored out of the marina and out of Cathlamet Channel. As the channel joined the Columbia River I raised the main and jib, and was able to sail on a beam reach down to Clifton Channel. The winds were great! Turning into Clifton Channel, the wind was on my nose and the channel was a bit narrow and shallow in spots, so I resorted to cruising mode and fired up the outboard. Good thing - the wind was pretty fierce and with a bit of chop, so I was taking on some spray. I resorted to an old cruising technique I learned a long time go - I let the autopilot steer the boat and went inside, out of the spray. I'd glance outside every once in a while, watch the depth sounder and make course corrections on the wireless remote. This is cruising! Here's a shot of the Oregon side, motoring up Clifton Channel.

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One thing I like about cruising this part of the Columbia river is it has a very remote, natural feel to it. Lots of wildlife, very green, and even lots of wind - except now, it is on the nose. This is a shot looking north - the Washington side.

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Looking North toward Washington, these float houses are tucked in between the islands. There are lots of shallows and marshy areas to explore in this area, although the winds in the afternoon can be pretty fierce, and I am glad I have a reliable outboard.

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Prairie Channel has a lot of shallow spots, so I am diligent to watch the depth sounder and the chart. Yes, I do have Navionics running on the iPhone running as a track recorder and chart plotter, but it is good practice to know where I am on the chart, and check against the depth sounder. Looking back south, the marshy areas host a few interesting trees with nests:

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I try to get good shots of wildlife, and every once in a while, I get a reasonable shot. But it is enjoyable just motoring by and enjoying the remoteness and beauty of the area. There's not much boat traffic in this area. Most of the big ship and barge traffic stay on the Columbia River.

Looking south up Blind Slough, here's a view of the railroad swing bridge. The Chart shows most of Prairie Channel has depths of 10-20 feet at the deepest, with a lot of bars and shallow areas to watch out for. Blind Slough has a 10' contour line that does't go in very far, so it looks more like kayak exploring territory - maybe for another time. Warren Slough, my destination is just up ahead.

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Here is a Google Earth bird's eye (ok satellite eye) view of Warren Slough, with my track shown. I entered the slough and took the northern most part of the channel, noticing the wind was now a tailwind, and this area is pretty sheltered, so the wind is light.

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A tailwind, so up goes the jib! The first part of the slough is pretty wide and open, but as I sailed in, the trees got taller, and the feeling more remote. I'm not in a hurry so sailing in on Jib alone is about right - I'm making maybe 1 - 2 knots, which is perfect - gives me time to take in all of the great scenery and take a few photos.

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Going deeper into Warren Slough, I'm passing one of the little inlet arms that fork off the main slough. If I had more time, it would be fun to explore these by kayak.

Another shot, looking into the inlet. Looks pretty shallow in there, but it is very peaceful and quiet. It is great to be sailing in.

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Several eagles fly over. It is a great place to watch them and other birds and wildlife.

Approaching another little inlet, again, very shallow and remote - A great place to gunk hole and explore, but this is a day trip so, sigh, I need to keep moving.

The winds are light, and starting to get a bit flukey now. We are still moving slowly ahead - the faithful autopilot steering downwind, allowing me to try to take some photos and enjoy the natural environment.

One last look astern, to the serene, peaceful, natural part of the slough. Most of the first part of Warren Slough is about 12-14 feet deep, and very wooded. Lots of birds too.

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Hmm, it's getting a bit shallow now! Depth sounder shows 6ft. We are nearing the 'big bend', where I am thinking the wind will shift and it will be on my nose.

Looks like it is time to take down the jib, unpin the keel, and slowly put put my way around the rest of the slough. Here is a view, just before the bend, where the wind suddenly shifts, and it gets quite shallow!

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Now I'm motoring past the float houses - no one home, and no signs of life, but these are in pretty good shape. These are on the Oregon mainland side.

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Hmm, now it gets quite shallow -3ft! I guess I'd really better pay attention! Yes, the swing keel is all the way up now.

After passing most of the float houses, the slough's feel returns to that very remote feeling . . .

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. . . until I pass these derelict float houses on the island side. Looks like someone needs to mow their docks!

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As I leave the slough, here is a view of the last inlet to the south. Looks very shallow in there, although there are some houses and docks in there.

As I leave Warren Slough, I catch the nice stiff westerly breeze blowing down Prairie Channel. I'm still treated to the very natural serene feel of the area, and I am looking forward to the run back to Cathlamet.

The wind is still blowing pretty hard, and Prairie Channel has enough shallow spots in it that I decide to sail back on a reefed main and jib. The spinnaker will have to wait for another time.

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Sailing downwind through Prairie Channel is a pleasure: I'm making about 4-5 knots. But I am more absentminded in my navigation, figuring I've been through this earlier in the day. I run aground in the shallow mud in the wide area off Horseshoe Island. I pull the keel up a bit, and motor off, only to run aground again! Hmm, I need to be more careful. I manage to clear myself and sail on. The wind is great, and I am able to sail down Clifton Channel, around Tenasillahe Island and rejoin the Columbia River. Now the wind is really blowing! I sail back to Cathlamet and it is getting late, so I'll have to gunk hole Elochoman Slough another time. I pull out around dark and get the boat unrigged before it is pitch dark, and drive home. Even with the unexpected groundings, it was a great cruise, and I hope to get the opportunity to return again.

Cruise Statistics:

Distance: 26.4 NM
Total time: 7 Hrs 12 min (12:39pm-7:51pm)
Average Speed: 3.7 kts
Max Speed: 7.6 kts (motoring with the current)
Last edited by jeffd on Thu Nov 05, 2015 9:13 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Columbia River: Warren Slough Cruise

Postby cklamp » Mon Nov 04, 2013 4:17 pm

Jeff, did you use the electric, or outboard for this place?

I have a nice little 8' inflatable, this looks like it'd be a lot of fun to go down and motor around at:)

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Re: Columbia River: Warren Slough Cruise

Postby jeffd » Mon Nov 04, 2013 11:41 pm

For this cruise, I used my gas motor - 8hp Honda, and motored most of the way upwind. Yes, it's kind of overkill, but the wind can blow pretty fierce on the Columbia - whitecaps, and current too, depending on the tides. The Warren Slough part could easily be done with an electric, or even a kayak. I think there is closer access to Warren Slough on the Oregon side, but I wanted to cruise Prairie Channel too. If I had more time, Warren Slough would be a great place to anchor out overnight, although it is quite 'natural', meaning I'll bet once the wind dies down, the bugs come out in droves!
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Re: Columbia River: Warren Slough Cruise

Postby cklamp » Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:03 pm

Very neat... might have to add it to my list of places J and I need to go "camping" at... Take the TC down with my raft, and do some sploring!

As always, great pics, great write up Jeff!

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Re: Columbia River: Warren Slough Cruise

Postby kuriti » Tue Nov 12, 2013 7:57 am


what kind of autopilot do you use? not sure i need one, but you do make it sound convenient.


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Re: Columbia River: Warren Slough Cruise

Postby jeffd » Thu Nov 14, 2013 1:03 am


I have a Raymarine Autohelm ST1000 Plus. Here is a photo of it in action:

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West Marine has them for around $440. I bought mine about 5 years ago after my original Autohelm 2000 autopilot finally gave up the ghost after about 15 years of service (it was $1000). I single hand most of the time, so for me, an autopilot is a must-have. I've found the ST1000+ to be a pretty good unit. I don't have the wind vane sensor so it only steers to a compass course (won't follow wind shifts). The photo above is the autopilot steering on a run, with the spinnaker up. For beating, the autopilot isn't as useful since I don't have the wind vane so it just steers a compass course, and most of the places I sail don't have consistent winds. For motoring, the autopilot is really nice! It steers a steady compass course, and allows you to enjoy the ride, take care of chores, enjoy the sights, eat lunch, hit the head, etc. It does require 12v power, but not a lot. The ST1000+ has a slower drive unit so when things get rough, it won't keep up, and ends up steering all over the place. I've heard the ST2000+ has a lot faster response, and it is "only" $100 more - I've heard it is worth the extra $$$ (I heard that after I bought mine!). I heard this advice from a Catalina 22 owner, who has experience with both. The SJ21 is much lighter, but I can see his point - I've found in rough seas, the ST1000+ does not move the helm quick enough to react to wind and seas, so it does a lot of 'hunting' back and forth. Still, I am very happy with mine. I even bought the wireless remote (another $400!) so I can steer the boat from the foredeck. Of course, we all know using an autopilot has risks - they just steer. They don't see what's up ahead. And they don't know when the single hander has fallen overboard - it just keeps steering its compass course!
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