Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Inches and Seconds

For years I've said "life changes in inches and seconds" and my good friend, Todd Hirano learned that the hard way this past week on a float trip in his driftboat on the upper Willamette. Every year, winter rains and changing flow regimes from the dams on the upper river make changes to the river.  New channels, braids around islands and large cottonwoods fall into the river creating big hazards to boaters.  Luckily, Todd and his fishing partner weren't injured and thanks to another driftboater that came along, Todd and his friend were safely plucked from the massive mid-channel log and root wad that held his aluminum driftboat hostage, pinned on its side - with the raging waters keeping it locked there all weekend.  When I got the call from Todd about the accident, he sounded a little shook-up (who wouldn't be!) but thankful that no one was hurt. I agreed to bring my power boat, some rope, come-a-longs, pulley's, power saws and anything else I could think of that might be helpful getting his boat recovered.   Todd also recruited fellow Willamette river guide, Ty Holloway to join us.
Ty (on the left) and Todd assessing our strategy for getting the boat back from the waters of the upper Willamette.  The boat is laying on its side, pinned by the heavy current against the root-wad and log in the upper portion of this photo.  The log in this photo has been moved and swung downstream from the rootwad so this channel is opened up a bit.  Still a VERY dangerous place below the Pengra boat launch.  
This is the boat, looking down on it while standing on the root wad.
Ty attaches the first rope to the bottom bow ring.
We discovered that one line and come-a-long was no match for the current, so we set a second line to the lower bow ring and used one of my large pulley's to increase the pull of the second come-a-long.
In the above photo, you can see water cascading over the log that ran underwater back to the lower end of the island.  This log became very problematic for us as we continued to try and drag the boat away from the massive obstruction. 

We would crank on one come-a-long until we ran out of cable.  Then we would release the first come-a-long and pull out all the cable, re-attached the rope and pull in all that cable and repeat the process, each time gaining a few inches on the boat. 
At one point, we noticed we weren't able to move the boat another inch.  We hoped back in my powerboat and ran out to the root wad to figure out what was going on.  We discovered a large limb at the base of the log running underwater was preventing the boat from any movement.  We were stuck. We weighed our options and kicked around some ideas.  We could use a portion of rope to keep the boat tied securely to the root wad until the Corps of Engineers lowered the flows on the river, likely to happen in the coming weeks and give it another try in less powerful current.  We could perhaps cut the log on the end of the island and use the combined force of the current and our powerboats to pull the log and root wad out of the way...  Since it involved using chainsaws and powerboats... and not having to wait, that was the obvious "new" strategy.  Like all guys, if we can blow it up, cut logs with a power saw or drag something with a motorized vehicle of some sort, that's always our preference.  This plan included several of these fundamental impulses.  We're dudes..Duh!

Once this log was cut (just below where Todd is working) and moved (pivoted) downstream and out of the channel and driftboats way, the war was over! A few more minutes of cranking by Todd and...

The boat really started to move towards us.

Once the boat was free of the root wad and log, we were actually able to pull it around on the current by hand.  It was amazingly easy to move even full of water until we brought it up on the end of the island.  It was still sunk and full of water that we  had to get out of it. 
Anyone got a bucket?
So what we did is attach a line to the bow of Todd's boat, ran the line through my pulley that was attached to a big log up the bank.  We attached the other end of the rope to Ty's boat.

We drug the boat up the bank until the sides were out of the water and used buckets to remove the rest of the water.
A very happy dry-line steelheader is back on the water!
The boat survived fine.  It received some scratches in the paint and one broken oar.  The only gear lost was a bench seat and a few life jackets.
Be careful out there!