Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Portland to the Sea

I must remind anyone who is interested that I will be speaking tonight at the Capital Hill branch of the Multnomah County Library, 7 pm, in the meeting room. I was a little worried last week when I did the first of this series of talks. "Why would anyone bother to come hear me?" I wondered. Then the little room filled up with about 30, very nice, people; and it was enjoyable. I only got through a portion of my prepared material, but I think I got a few ideas across.


Principal anchorage points, from a 1919 Pacific Marine Review


Someone labeled these talks "Salty Dogs and Shanghai Tunnels," and maybe that was a good idea, judging by the turnout for the first one. I don't feel that I can talk about shanghaiing without laying some ground work about the port itself. In my mind, the biggest "porky" (fib) told about the waterfront is that it was some magical "head of navigation" destined to become a leading port because of its serendipitous location, "where railroads and sea lanes meet." The fact that Captain Couch had a ship that drew 11 feet, fully loaded, seems lost on most historians. 


From the Oregonian's Handbook of the Pacific Northwest


The city, and later, the Port of Portland, spent 30 some years digging a channel to the sea that would handle the 20 foot draught of late 19th century maritime trade. Then they had to continue to dig to arrive at a channel fit for vessels that need the 43 feet that is currently there. Recently a river pilot was telling me that they still have to wait for the right tide to take vessels from deep anchorage to anchorage on the river. Look up at your ceiling, be it 8 ft, 10 ft, or the nice 12 ft of an old Portland house. Now imagine what 30 feet looks like, and imagine the expense, the stamina, and the determination it took to dig that deep channel from Portland to the sea. 

"From Portland to the Sea" was a common phrase back in old Portland. I read somewhere that even the county dog catcher ran for office using that as his platform. The story of from "Portland to the Sea" is a gallant, ecologically unsound, and little known story that still has no ending. The EPA superfund sites along the Willamette mean that the channel will not be getting any deeper in my lifetime. Looking forward, the Panama Canal will be opening a 50 foot deep channel next year that will add a new chapter to this story. Someday someone else will notice that they put the seaport 113 miles from the sea, then had to dig a channel deep enough for the ships