Friday, May 29, 2015

The Raysark, Lily White and Portland's "Aquatic Awakening"

My neighbor Mary, knowing what a magazine junkie I am, gave me a stack of hers that she'd read. Among them were a few issues of a magazine I'd not seen, called 1859: Oregon's Magazine. The May/June 2014 issue's cover and lead story were titled, "The Life Aquatic" featuring three different Portland area houseboats in different locales.

Writer Melissa Dalton also penned an accompanying story called "The Legacy of Lily White and The Raysark." Lily White, born in Oregon City in 1866, was an amateur photographer who designed a houseboat and had it built to her specifications. "It would be 80 feet long, contain six rooms furnished in natural wood, and have amenities such as a three-ton ice chest, running water, and an up-to-date darkroom."

The story goes on to say, "The Raysark was part of a larger 'aquatic awakening" happening in Portland at the turn of the century. Portland's first houseboat was completed in 1901, when F.S. Morris shelled out $1,500 to bring the East Coast houseboating trend to the West. Before then, Portland had only seen houseboats in the form of 'scows.' These were essentially shacks upon log rafts, populated by the city's poor who needed the cheapest plot available--the river. The more extravagant houseboats such as White's and Morris' started a trend for the ultimate 'temporary summer abode,' the ideal weekend getaway for the office worker who had to be downtown on Monday morning. Mentions of houseboat parties frequently populated The Oregonian's society pages.

Our houseboats aren't travelling up and down the rivers and I don't believe any of us are making the society pages--is there even such a thing any more?-- but I was enchanted by the idea that as a writer I'm here as part of a continued artistic awakening, another houseboat-dwelling woman inspired by the beauty of the river.

Kathy Reilly's en plein air painting on my deck

Artist Kathy Reilly, a long-time friend, was visiting from Colorado with her husband Dale Lanan. We've been friends since the 70s when we both lived in Pittsburgh. I have her art in probably every room of my house. Over the past few years she has focused on en plein air (French for "in the open air") outdoor painting.
She travels with a fold-up easel and a kit she made up of oil paints and brushes. One of the days of their visit she set up her easel on the back deck and made this painting of my neighbors' deck filled with spring-blooming flowers. 

Her talent constantly amazes me. I can recall years ago when we took a watercolor class together. We were at a picnic table with a vase of orange nasturtiums in front of us. I sat there, perplexed with my tubes of paint, unable to figure out how to even mix the colors of the flowers. In the meantime, she painted a frame-able work of art.

Here is the finished painting, which she put in a special folder she created so that the oil paint would dry untouched over the following few days.

This week a packaged arrived for me from Kathy - it was this original painting, in a brown wood frame. I hung it in my living room where you can look the painting and simultaneously look out to this view. You can see Kathy's work at and

Close encounters of the sea lion kind

This is my fourth year of living on the water and I think up to this point I had seen sea lions only twice. Then here I was paddling saw a large lump floating in the river a few yards away from me. I thought it was a log. But then its head rose and with a snort it dove underwater. A sea lion! As you can see from the photo, I was just upriver of the Sauvie Island bridge.

One does not want to get to close to a sea lion, so I followed the trajectory of where I was near shore and floated downriver parallel to the marine mammal. It was huge. It must have been sleeping because its head would come up and breathe in a rhythmic pattern. If I recall correctly, I would count six seconds and then the head would go back down. Eventually it woke up, turned and looked at me, dove, and I didn't see it again. Once it disappeared and I didn't know where it was, I paddled all the way over to the shore, just in case.


A week later when I was paddling I came across two sea lions, downriver ahead of me. They were barking loudly with a sound I'd never heard before. I tried to paddle really fast to keep them in my purview but they were moving along at a good clip and not long afterwards I lost sight of them.

Harrowing installation of purple martin boxes, Series 2

Don and Carolyn Vinton are long-time fans of purple martins and have gourds on their houseboat, too. After Dave Fouts, aka The Purple Martin Man, passed away, his sister Judith and friends including Rita Price have been trying to figure out how to carry on his work. One current big problem has been the sorry state of the wooden houses Dave installed on pilings along the channel. Don Vinton volunteered to work on replacements this year.

But oh! what a harrowing and magnificent thing he has done. The river is low, and, wearing a GoPro camera, Don climbed high up a ladder from a boat below to install these two-story "townhouse" purple martin houses that were built by (a group of children?-- I have to check) whose names are on the bottom of the nest box. 

You can see the whole 10-minute YouTube video at:

I helped Dave years ago do a similar thing, but the river was much higher then and the pilings weren't so decrepit, so even though I thought what Dave did was scary, what Don did is much more so. Afterwards I asked him about it and he said the guy in the boat below was keeping the engine revved up just enough so that the nose would stay steady 'held" by the pilings. At one point the engine conked out and the guy in the boat hurriedly got it started again so that the boat with the ladder and Don high on it would not start to drift away.

In the video Don describes how he is using plastic straps to attach the houses because the pilings are so old he feared they wouldn't hold nails or screws. Below are photos I took when I paddled beneath the new houses -- I think he put up four of them. The other day when I went by I saw a purple martin at one of the houses. Success!


Flotsam float from The Kaisha Lenae

This day-glo orange and green float is one of my more exciting flotsam finds. It was stuck back behind logs in an eddy. It's about 15 inches long and was attached to a lot of rope. There's a green plastic tag attached to the bottom that says "059. Kaisha Lenae. 96263. 2014-15 ODFW."

What does that mean? ODFW must be the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2014-15 must mean it belongs to some research project for those years. I thought maybe 96263 was the project number, 059 was this float number and Kaisha Lenae was perhaps a research scientist.

But upon some googling, I discovered that The F/V Kaisha Lenae is a 48-foot commercial fishing vessel. It was built in 1988 by LeClercq Marine Construction and its Port of Call is Ilwaco, Washington (more than an hour away on the Pacific Coast of Washington's Long Beach Peninsula and north of the Columbia River). I found the name of the current owner and saw that he purchased it from where it had been used previously in Seward, Alaska. I also came across on LinkedIn the name of a fellow who is a deckhand on this ship. I looked up the address and phone number of the owner and called and left a message, asking if he wanted this back and mentioning my blog and writing a story about it. He never returned the call.

  This is not The Kaisha Lenae but it's an image I found on the web of what a 48-foot fiberglass commercial fishing vessel looks like.

So the story of The Kaisha Lenae and the ODFW float is still a mystery. Where was the boat, what was it doing and why and how did this float end up along the Multnomah Channel?  For now the float makes a very colorful addition to the wall of art on my tenderhouse.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Alder Creek paddle flotsam

February, 2015

On my lucky-find flotsam day, I came across this paddle embedded in the eroded shoreline of the channel. I tugged and jimmied to get it out and saw that it was a rental paddle from Alder Creek Kayak, a shop I know well.

I looked online and saw that such an Escape paddle was worth about $100. It had the store's phone number written on it, and the number "220," which originally I thought was the rental stock number but came to discover that it's the paddle length -- 220 inches.

I phoned the store to see if they wanted it back. Well, yes, since it was still in perfectly good shape. So I said I would bring it back in exchange for a story. I dropped by their almost-riverside shop and the story, as told to me by Meloy Ady, is that a rental paddle gets lost probably every few weeks during the high season, maybe a few a month. "Most don't come back." he said. The renter has to pay for it. No one would know how and when this particular one disappeared but he guessed probably last summer. He's worked there five years and recognized that the handwriting on the paddle as his.

Lotsa Flotsam

February 2015

Ever since the logjam gyre where I was always lucky to find interesting flotsam dissembled in high fast water, I often will paddle my whole six-mile route now without finding much of anything interesting. This day, however, I hit the flotsam jackpot. The paddle and the float are intriguing enough to warrant their own posts ... so that will come next.

New photos--testing, testing ...



This is a test. I needed to update my bio photo on my website and LinkedIn and had these great photos taken by Christian Columbres. I've added them to those sites but they don't show up when I google my name and "images" so someone suggested putting them on my blog and seeing if that gets them there.

Follow up the next day. It didn't work. I came back and added "Donna Matrazzo photo" at the bottom of each and that didn't show up either. Then I googled "How to get picture to show up on google images" and came to a site that suggested describing the photo as I have below -- with a hyphen between the words and .jpg at the end. I'll see how this goes ...


The Dagney returns!

Spring, 2015

The Dagney--one of the two large amazing-looking  ships I paddle past on my regular six-mile encounters--was gone this winter, and I feared gone for good. I missed seeing it and tried to discover where it went. There's no simple way, I discovered, to find out where a boat might be that is no longer at a particular marina.

Then one day this spring I paddled past and there it was, like an apparition. Some guys were sitting outside on a small boat next to it and I paddled over and asked what they knew. They said it had wintered at the coast and acted like the boat came and went seasonally every year, but I didn't recall it being gone before. One of these days someone will be on The Dagney when I paddle past and I will stop and perhaps find out more of its story. In the meantime, I'm just happy to see it again.

Happy Valentine's Day

February 14, 2015 paddle ...

I found this flotsam along the shore. A charming surprise on Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Stringing us along

                                          Moving a houseboat by hand out into the channel

My next door neighbor Keith was getting new stringers -- these are the long rectangular pieces of Douglas Fir like you'd have supporting a deck, that sit on the big float logs. But Keith's stringers were cross-ways under his houseboat, with no room to insert new ones between my house and the one on the other side. When the guys from Harbor Services [(503) 453-7317] arrived, I asked them how they were going to get the stringers in and was astounded when they said they would be moving out Keith's houseboat! More than that, they would be moving it out in the river current and tying it up to my houseboat!

The Harbor Services guys -- owner Jesse and Chris, Todd, and Ben -- had been doing a lot of work on a tenderhouse down the way. We are all amazed at the hard, dangerous, critically important but mostly unsung work that they do. It's heavy work on wood underwater, gritty, slimy, and then for the most part hidden. But our houseboats couldn't stay afloat with them.

Here's the drama that unfolded at my house that day ...


Moving out Keith's swim float

Three of the six stringers.

The stringers are roped to the side of Keith's houseboat and they form a working deck for the crew to detach his houseboat from the walkway. They have to disconnect the electricity, the water pipe and the sewer pipe.

Detaching the chains connecting the houseboat to the moorage.


The houseboat is roped up and pulled out of its spot by guys positioned on the adjoining houseboats. Little by little it comes out into the river.

Keith's houseboat free-floating in the river channel.

Coming around to the front of my houseboat.

Attached to my houseboat at the deck.
Here's how they add the stringers. They take one of the ones roped to the side, attach it to the little towboat and move it into position.

Then the stringer is positioned under the houseboat and put into place. Previously the guys had sawed notches into the float logs in the spots where these stringers would go.

How long does this take? I asked. They said it would be about two hours from the time they moved the house. After all six stringers were put in place, they used the little towboat to push the house back into place -- now it's going upriver -- while two guys pulled with ropes to maneuver it into the slot.

Keith's houseboat is back along the walkway.

Finally Keith's swim float is moved back into place.