Ever since we started visiting the Columbia Gorge, Tara has wanted to paddle across the river from Oregon to Washington (visiting different states is a bit of an obsession for people from Hawaii). Last spring we packed up our Sea Eagle inflatable kayak and brought it to our cottage on the Columbia River. I was excited to be able to take it out on the water this summer but the boat was going on ten years old and it had not been inflated in over a year so I decided to start small and work up to an interstate adventure.
For our first paddle we headed out on a still and sunny morning to a nearby lake. I hoped to safely determine if the boat was sea-worthy and also to start our vacation off with a couple of fly caught carp.
The carp fishing was a success but the boat displayed some alarming behavior. After a couple of hours one pontoon was significantly deflated. Back at home we inflated the boat in the backyard and found the small leak right at the bow where the pontoon was sealed to a hard plastic cap. It was a weekend so I waited until Monday morning to call Sea Eagle and ask for advice. Jerry was not optimistic. “It might be time for a new boat” he said. “Don’t say that Jerry, it’s just a tiny leak”, I replied. Jerry sighed and told me to order some Airstop glue for the leak, and a bottle of HH-66 vinyl cement to put the nose of the boat back together.
After a week or so of carefully drying the boat, applying many coats of glue and several test inflations in the backyard, we were ready to hit the water again. I chose another spot where we could stay close to shore in case things went wrong. The water level was low and the conditions were calm, with a clear blue sky. Before long I spotted a couple of carp, but they were cruising deep through the tall weeds growing along shore. Still, it was a hopeful sign.
As we picked our way upriver, stopping frequently to explore some small island or bit of shoreline, the fishing looked better and better, though the fish were not where I had expected them to be. Instead of cruising the back waters and weed beds, I found lots of big fish in the current, mauling gravel bars in search of clams.
The best fish of the day required some chess-like strategy to hook, and then put up one of the most exciting fights I have ever had. After a long run into deep water, it turned and almost wrapped me around a small, rocky island. I had to splash through waist deep water to the island and then scramble along the rocks as the fish made a complete circumnavigation before charging out into the current again.
At the end of the day, the boat pontoons were still firm; it appeared that my patch job had worked. After checking the weather forecast, I told Tara that the Paddle to Washington was a “go” for the next morning.
We launched from Hood River, where the Columbia is about 3/4 of a mile wide, and paddled easily across to Washington where we took a couple of photos from a small beach and watched the boats fishing for salmon at the mouth of the White Salmon River.
About one third of the way back I began to notice that one pontoon was a little squishy. The boat started leaning and I struggled to keep us moving in a straight line. Pretty soon I had scooted so far left I was practically sitting on the opposite pontoon. “Paddle harder” I urged Tara. She obliged but soon I feared that too much stress would cause the leak to blow out completely. “Don’t move so much” I implored her, “but keep paddling hard!” Suddenly the river looked really wide.
It was a tense twenty or so minutes, but we made it back in one piece. The boat, sadly, was in bad shape, never to soar again.
The demise of the Sea Eagle threw a serious wrench into my plans of carp fishing from the boat. All was not lost, however. We re-grouped and formulated a plan “B” and within a few hours I was hard into some nice, shore-caught carp.