The great flood of 2011

In the middle of May, 2011 a record snowpack in Eastern Oregon, Washington and British Columbia began to melt. The Columbia River began to rise dramtically. People often ask us "what do you do in a flood?", which is a rather silly question, we float of course!

But there are other considerations. During high water large logs and other debris get freed up from the shores upstream and begin their journey to the ocean. Along the way they can hit us, get lodged under us, which could get really ugly once the water goes down, or cause a log jam, as happened in November 2006. In this shot Lloyd and Bev Kadow are fighting to clear the logjam that filled the channel with debris that year.

A logjam would block us in and traps us, so escape, if desired, is impossible. Also, with the high water comes high speed currents. Currents up to 3MPH were recorded during this flood, which sounds slow, but since water is much more dense than air, a 3MPH current puts a lot of stress on ropes, docks and pilings and any failure could be disasterous for us and our property. And finally, once the river floods Caterpillar Island, our stomping grounds are unusable, so it's a good time to move to safer and calmer water.

Since we had been trapped in the slip since October 2010, we were quite keen to get out and explore. It was obvious the only place to go was Vancouver Lake. A lake eliminates all the hazards, no current, no debris, and no chance of a log jam, and the only downside to Vancouver Lake is that it's usually shallow. Not a problem during a flood! And with the high water we had the option to explore newly inundated areas of the forest around the lake which turned out to be quite a lot of fun! Plus the lake has a marina, Felida Moorage, where we can park a car for a small daily fee. That way we can run for food, gasoline for generators and propane for heating, and mail. It was a perfect plan and it really worked out well. For over five weeks we lived off the grid, floating in one place or another on Vancouver Lake, exploring new areas, in want of nothing. Even water and sewer were not a problem. As you'll see, my water maker kept providing us as much water as we could use, despite regular hot showers, dishwashing, etc. We did laundry at a local laundromat while on shopping runs, which just made more sense than washing clothes with ultra-pure drinking water from our watermaker. And after I found and reclaimed a plastic 55 gallon barrel, we arranged pump outs at Felida, using the dinghy to transport the barrel full of black water to the marina where we pumped it into their sewage system.

It was a dream come true, the two of us alone, except for a few vistors, for weeks on end.

We pick up the Great Ambition photo-blog on May 18th 2011

The Columbia River is up to Action Stage (15 feet as measured at Vancouver), one foot away from Flood Stage, or 16 feet. Good thing there are two ramps, this one is not really usable at the moment.

Finally we decided to leave the safety of the slip and head out, over 7 months after we parked in the slip last year. We're headed up Lake River to Vancouver Lake. This shot was taken looking North.

A nice shot of Lake River, such a pretty place. We've anchored in this area before, but now that we know how and where to go on the lake to be safe, this area will remain a backup in case the lake is too dangerous due to high winds.

May 19th, 2011

Here is a look at our car, the Buick, parked in the lot at Felida. The lake has inundated the parking lot and flooded the boat ramp so bad it's hard to see where the ramp actually is! We're going to have to keep an eye on the river levels, we don't want the poor Buick flooded!

Here we are tucked into the Southeast cove of the island in the middle of Vancouver Lake. Although this is not the prettiest cove on this island, it's the only one that provides good protection from the daily Northwest winds that pipe up every afternoon. Being anchored in windy areas gets tiresome, which is why I am not a big fan of windpower for houseboats.

May 20th, 2011

Making a glass of fresh, pure water right from the lake. Look at that flow, that's 2 gallons an hour, which is far more than most families can use (unless they want to do the laundry with this beautiful stuff!)

I heard some "chittering" from somewhere out the back door and checked. We often see eagles hanging out on this side of the island, it's a great place to view them.

May 24th, 2011

Sunrise over Vancouver Lake looking toward Lakeshore Drive.

Eagle flying over Vancouver Lake.

May 25th, 2011

We set up the anchors to be ready for a storm forecast to bring Southwest Winds. On the morning of the 25th we awoke to Northeast winds! We suffered through most of the day with the winds slowly veering to the Southeast, then gave up and made a run around to the Northeast cove of the island. Here we are protected from everything except North and East winds. Plus it's much, much prettier! You'll see why I say that over the next few days.

The view out the back door during sunset.

I did a little photo editing, combining a picture of Great Ambition taken by a space satellite and a picture of the island in the middle (sort of) of Vancouver Lake. I pasted the pictures of our houseboat in the two places we like to be. Each cove has its own advantage, the Northeast cove is really beautiful and protects us from South and West winds, but the most common wind this time of year is from the North. So we usually end up moving to the Southeast cove which protects us from North and West winds, but leaves us wide open to East and South winds.

Here is a shot of the island from Bing Maps taken just a few weeks later. Notice how flooded the island is!

May 26th, 2011

A moonrise over Lakeshore Drive homes. Spectacular!

May 27th, 2011

A pair of Western Grebes. They are such loving birds, staying close all the time, diving together for fish, then reuniting immediately when they surface. If they had hands I suspect they would be holding hands together as they swim.

May 28th, 2011

We're so happy we chose to leave the slip and come to Vancouver Lake. The record snowpack in Eastern Oregon, Washington and British Columbia is melting raising the river to historic new levels. The lake is not immune to these changes in river level, but at least there is no current, which brings with it the threat of being wholloped by huge logs and other debris that gets torn away from the shore by high waters and currents approaching 3MPH. On the right side of this chart is the river level forecast. It looks like the river is still going to rise some. Click on the picture to get the latest river level at Vancouver.

My forays into the interior of the island yielded a find! A 55 gallon plastic barrel, with two good bung plugs! We are going to use this for our pumpouts, all I have to do is go get our black water pump from the marina.

May 30th, 2011

Back in the Northeast cove. We spent two days here, then got wholloped by strong North winds and spent an hour moving to the Southeast cove in the fading light of twilight.

The river is still rising, much more than the forecast predicted!

May 31st, 2011

We were treated to a sailboat race, 14 boats zipping around the lake while we watch from the front deck with music playing and the big Mr. Heater blasting away to keep us warm.

The sailboat race finishes just as the sun sets.

June 1st, 2011

Whoa! The river level is really rising! I'm really glad we decided to escape to Vancouver Lake!

A late day rainbow over Lakeshore Drive homes.

Through some fairly complex logistical juggling I was able to get to Kadow's Marina and drive Lil' Ambition around to Vancover Lake via Lake River. It was a rather risky venture, if I had a problem April was not in a position to come rescue me, and if she had a problem on anchor with the houseboat, I would not be in a position to help her. However, since we have towing insurance, it's not like we were taking foolish risks. We are always double or triple covered for most contingencies. On this trip I also brought the black water pump from out pumpout wagon, so we can do the pumpout soon.

June 3rd, 2011

We took a short cruise around the lake in Lil' Ambition and found what could be a new home on the lake for us. Having to be concerned about the wind all the time was starting to grate on our nerves, and this cove appeared to be protected on four sides. And since the river levels appeared to be holding at 17 feet (1 foot over flood stage) it was important to find someplace we could be comfortable for another few weeks. So Friday morning we pulled up anchors and cruised over to our new home, Somewhere Else, Vancouver Lake.

The forest surrounding us is flooded to a depth of at least 10 feet. It means I can explore the entire area from the comfort of my plastic (and nearly indestructable) dinghy. An inflatable boat could never handle bashing and crashing through the woods like this, but my Watertender 9.4 takes it in stride.

A couple of good shots of the area from Bing Maps. This shot was take just a few weeks later when the water was still up quite a bit. You can see all the flooded area that I have access to with my dinghy.

The black arrow shows where we were parked. This shot was taken just days after we left and went home to Kadow's.

June 4th, 2011

I took a cruise in the dinghy through the now flooded forest and found the power line road (which is now a canal!). I was able to drive the dinghy straight under the power towers to get these fabulous shots. This shot was take while underway, standing up in the dinghy looking straight up!

Driving straight through the tower legs.

While cuising though the flooded meadows I came across a Red Tailed Hawk. What a great shot!

While I am not a fan of photos with power lines going through them, these trees aren't at fault for their ugly neighbors! You can see Mount Saint Helens in the background though the trees.

Mount Hood and the new ponds (former meadows) next to Lower River Road.

While crusing I scared off this poor eagle. Such a beautiful bird.

Sunset time, golden hour in our snug little cove.

June 5th, 2011

I did some more bashing and crashing through the forest in my dinghy and popped out next to Lower River Road near the dump and the old VanAlco sign, which before that was Alcoa. A view rarely seen from a boat!

With the flood waters taking over the low areas around Vancouver Lake a whole new world opens up. In this video you can see how much fun we are having cruising around the forests. My little plastic dinghy does a great job handling this stuff. Try THAT in an inflatable boat!

June 6th, 2011

A really nice shot of the currently submerged forest here around Vancouver Lake. Nearly the whole shoreline is like this, you could just drive your boat to the shoreline and penetrate directly into the forest anywhere on the lake.

We've been here on Vancouver Lake nearly three weeks and we've solved all the logistical issues. One of the biggest is water. These three photos pretty much sum up our situation. We go from this (Vancouver Lake water)...

through this...

and in one hour produce this.

June 8th, 2011

Three weeks on the lake so far, and the river levels just now dropped below 17 feet. We really don't want to go back until the river level is closer to 14 feet so we're having to make runs into town for supplies (like Tillamook Udderly Chocolate Ice Cream!). Here's the wife making a run in Lil' Ambition

June 9th, 2011

Water level dropping. Notice the flat line over the weekend of June 4-5. Their equipment apparently malfuntioned but at least they got it working again!

We had a fantastic sunset, too bad I didn't see it coming and head out onto the lake to get a better shot! Oh well, this will do...

June 10th, 2011

As the water level slowly drops I'm taking as many Bullard-dozing trips through the forest as I can, this time back to the power towers. Soon the forest will be impassible by dinghy. I may never get a chance to do this again!

I created a 10 minute video showing one of my "Bullard-dozing" trips through the forest with my dinghy. It starts out slow, just stay with it!

Sunset June 10th.

June 11th, 2011

Another sunset across the choppy lake. We found a nice sheltered spot to take these shots from Lil' Ambition.

June 12th, 2011

Morning view from the front deck.

We had some visitors on Sunday, friends from my days at Maxim.

June 13th, 2011

Sunset taken across the lake. My little hidey-hole for taking sunset shots works great! The trees block the North wind yet don't block my shots of the sunset.

June 16th, 2011

The river level was dropping, but now it's fighting the forecast and going back up!

We've been in this cove nearly two weeks, time for a change. Now that we know the anchors are going to hold, we decided to spin ourselves 180 degrees and hug the trees a little closer. Now that we are facing Southeast we can get DirecTV, and have a nice cool place to hang out in the late afternoon when it starts to heat up next week.

Snake! Don't worry, just a Garter snake sunning himself on a log. There are not too many places for a snake to hang out now that this whole area is flooded!

I came across another Garter snake, this one was swimming. Probably out looking for a nice place to sun himself like the other snake.

I hiked around in the head high grass to get some shots of these lovely trees near Laframbrois Road.

Nice sunset.

From my little sunset viewing hidey-hole I can see traffic at the 30MPH curve on Lower River Road, near the flushing canal and the entrance to Vancouver Lake Park. They probably can't see me though!

June 17th, 2011

Sunset! I can't miss a single one. To paraphrase the hero of one of my favorite movies, Breaker Morant, "Watch every sunset, for one day it will be your last."

June 18th, 2011

The river level is high, but they are forecasting a drop.

June 19th, 2011

The river level is dropping, as forecast!

Another sunset! This one I caught from the upper deck back in our cove.

June 20th, 2011

The river level is coming down fast, it's almost like someone pulled the drain plug! Still, we're waiting till the water gets quite a bit lower before we go back to the slip. We're in no rush, we are loving it here! .

The lake went very calm so we grabbed our cameras, dished up our evening ice cream and cruised out onto the lake to enjoy the sunset with our ice cream!

The view to the Northwest, we used to be much closer to these hills when we were anchored near the island, but being in our cove is much nicer.

June 21st, 2011

Now that the water is a little lower we are seeing strange things. When the water was up algae mats grew between branches of the plants, but as the water drops, the algae is left "hanging." It looks like paper draped over every bush! April calls it "laundry day in the swamp."

The plants have no ground to grow on, so they are growing on floating logs in the flooded forest. Like a floating garden!

I took another stroll on terra firma near Laframbois Road. I just love these trees!

We noticed that the sunset was looking promising (you have no idea!) so we took Lil' Ambition out onto the lake to take pictures. We didn't even set an anchor, there was no wind, and unlike the river we are used to, no current. Yes, April is an Absenthe drinker.

Two mountains were visible, here is Mount Saint Helens. This shot is looking towards the island where we spent over two weeks.

And here is Mount Hood.

Now for the sunset. No need for any more jabberin'. Enjoy.

It was hard to quit shooting pictures. Even the trip back home yielded a beauty.

June 22nd, 2011

The guys at NOAA changed the scale on the river level plot when the level dropped below Action Stage. Now the river is holding around 14 feet, the level we had previously decided would trigger our return home. But, we're having a nice time, and 14 feet is still pretty high, the current is still over 2.2MPH, and we're in no hurry, so we'll probably stick it out for a while.

June 23rd, 2011

River level holding above 14 feet.

Went Bullard-dozing through a new section of the forest and found this curiosity. Obviously someone disposed of a tire and wheel. And in nature it becomes an impromtu floating garden. Gives me an idea for growing tomatoes on the water...

Four of our five anchor lines on the stern. There is another one on the other side, and three on the bow. In total we have eight lines holding us in place. When the wind comes up strong even that doesn't seem like enough!

Not a really impressive sunset, but not bad.

June 24th, 2011

Another nice sunset.

And I love how these clouds on the horizon cast a shadow into the sky!

June 25th, 2011

The view off the upper deck in the morning as the sunshine starts to hit the treetops.

We had started mentally preparing to leave on Monday (in two days) but now the water is coming back up! No big deal, we could stay here forever, but come Monday it will be 40 days and 40 nights away due to the flood. It had a nice biblical ring to it!

Sunset over the lake. Very pretty...

June 26th, 2011

The river peaked, now headed back into reasonable levels. Should we stay or go? It's a hard decision, it's been wonderful here!

June 27th, 2011

We decided to go back to the home slip, with the river level forecast to be below 13 feet it was time. As we found out later, the river current at 13 feet is still very strong, we probably should have stayed put! First, here I am doing a 180 in our cove after pulling up all our anchors. To execute this manuver I have the starboard engine in forward and the port engine in reverse, then I just adjust the throttle settings on each to make sure I don't pull forward too much, or drift back too much. I do love boating in zero current + zero wind!

April could take that photo of me doing my 180 because she was in Lil' Ambition. She was going to act as scout running ahead of me to make sure I didn't hit any deadheads in Lake River or the Columbia.

So now we spent most of the trip taking pictures of each other. Here I am on Vancouver Lake, towing the dinghy. So quiet and still. We'll miss you Vancouver Lake but it's time to go home.

And here is Lil' Ambition again on Vancouver Lake.

As we pass Felida we see that the water had gone down quite a bit, no longer do we have to worry about our car, the Buick, getting swamped.

There are some power lines that cross here around Knapp Washington, if the water is too high we can't clear these.

Here's Lil' Ambition heading down Lake River. You can see Woodland Washington in the background.

Here is Lil' Ambition about to go under the Ridgfield Wildlife Refuge access bridge.

And Great Ambition going under the same bridge. There was a period of time during the last month where passage under this bridge was impossible for Great Ambition.

A floating home that has been moved out of Ridgefield Moorage. This usually happens when someone is behind on their rent, very, very behind.

A final look at the river levels. They are pretty reasonable but the current is still strong enough that docking Great Ambition in its home slip would be treachorous. Next time we'll wait until the river level is 11 feet or less before coming home. If we did that we'd still be on the lake, but that would be fine!

The flood of 2011 is officially over, and we are back at the slip enjoying unlimited power and water. Still, it was a great way to spend 40 days and 40 nights and now we are looking forward to our next flood! Bring it on!!!

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