Corvallis to Portland Row (CPR): part 2

Navigating Backwards
The previous CPR post mentioned some of the hazards one might encounter on the Willamette river between Corvallis and Portland, including docks, rocks, and locks. 

CPR rowers face a number of potential hazards

Some of these are well-known and documented by the Oregon State Marine Board here. Race organizers also issue a list of hazards by river mile. 

The Willamette Falls Locks: It's not a good idea to be next to the sides when they let the water out.

The Google map below lists many of the hazards and indicates aid stops and other "features." Of course, hazards like moving craft and wakes can't be mapped.

                                              View Corvallis to Portland Row (CPR) Route in a larger map

GPS: We're the Fagawi (Again)
A mounted GPS comes in handy for traveling backwards. For the 2007 CPR, I mapped the route in Google Earth and then derived the GPS coordinates for all the various hazards along the route. As we rowed,  the hazzard markers appeared on the GPS screen just before we reached the hazzards on the river. I used green markers to indicate that we should row to starboard and red markers to indicate when we should row to port. This can get confusing, but after awhile we got used to it. Being rafters and kayakers, my doubles partner and I would lapse into "river right" and "river left" directions occasionally.

Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear
A hat-mounted rear-view mirror comes in handy too. Fashion statement aside, these mirrors are really helpful. They, too, take awhile to get used to and they are no substitute for looking around. I imagine I looked like Stevie Wonder, rocking my head side to side to capture the full view of things.

I used both a mirror and a GPS in the 2007 CPR, while rowing in a double. We managed to avoid hitting anything. Just in case, though, we carried some duct tape and a spare skeg for the boat and a small first-aid kit for us.

Willamette Falls: The "mother of all hazards" according to the CPR landmark guide. (photo by Susan Parkman)

Rowing With the Flow
Rowing with a current is a different experience. My friend Robert and I rowed on the Willamette in January last year (2010) when the current was quite strong. Just launching off the dock was a bit daunting. Rowing first upstream we battled the current and found eddies and protected areas. Then turning around we found ourselves just zipping right along. On the first weekend after Memorial Day (when CPR is scheduled), the flow is not usually that substantial, but there is considerable variability.

In 2007, the flow registered 3 feet on the scale (see bottom), and while the current was a few knots per hour, by the time we reached mile 60, there was almost no current to speak of. Last year (2010), the river rose to near flood levels, the flow approached "flood action stage" and CPR XII was canceled.

100-foot tree floating down an engorged Willamette in 2010 (photo by Susan Parkman)

This year, the flow is already too high and the projected levels don't offer much solace. The CPR website stipulates a flow between 2 and 6 feet on the gauge. The flow is currently over 15' and projected to rise to nearly 17' (over 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfs)). Around race time (June 4 and 5), the flow looks to be around 15,000 cfs. This would make for an expeditious trip down the river!

Willamette current flow and projected.

The Willamette river snow water content is ~200% of normal for this date and as soon as it rains or warms up significantly, the river is likely to approach the "action" or flooding stage. The Columbia river, in which the Willamette flows, has been at the flood warning stage for several days already.

The snow melt, rain and river flow projections don't bode well for those of us who have a lot invested in the CPR event. More on that in the next post.

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