When the temperature soars, the line grows longer at Willamette Jet Boat Excursions along the Portland waterfront – but the wait must be worth it!
Longtime jet boat pilot Bob Plympton said that the line is small price to pay when you just have to cool off on the two-hour tour of the river that flows through the heart of Oregon.
“This is the best job in the world. Anytime you get paid to burn somebody else’s gas is a great job. But it is also a stressful job – especially if it stays hot. I’ll have to really be on my toes for all the river traffic.”
Since 1997, Willamette Jet Boat Excursions has provided locals and newcomers alike the chance to see downtown Portland from a different point of view and experience a thrilling ride along the way.
It’s the sort of trip with appeal too! Nearly a quarter million folks have gone aboard over the past decade to touch a bit of history and get close to the power of a major waterway that’s born 200 miles away in the Cascade Mountains.
“It’s close, it’s convenient,” noted Plympton. “And on a blistering hot day, it just plain feels good too.”
But according to kayaking instructor and guide, Stephanie Levine, it’s not the only way to see the city from the river.
Levine works for the Portland Kayak Company; an outfitter and tour operation that specializes in local trips for beginners who want to work a bit to see and enjoy Portland from the water.
“Portland is really open to outdoor activities of all kinds,” said Levine. “We use this resource because it is something that excites people who either live in Portland or are visiting for the first time too.”
The two hour paddle tour begins at Riverplace Marina and takes folks upriver to Ross Island on about a five mile circumnavigation of the urban island.
“Over half of the folks who go on our Ross Island trips have never been in a kayak before and yet they are really great paddlers by the end of the two and a half hours.”
The boats are comfortable and easy to paddle – it doesn’t take long before you feel right at home in the boat and on the water.
Mike Minor and his wife Gratia Minor, loved each minute of their time on the river because they felt a million miles away – even so close to the city.
“We’re having a great time today, added Mike. It sure beats being indoors and working, that’s for sure. You never get to admire the city up there on those bridges – down here, it’s something special.”
Mike said that he and his wife hadn’t done much paddling, but the allure of flat-water paddling so close to home was hard to resist.
“We’re enjoying the peace and solitude here along the island and how you just don’t feel like you’re in the middle of the city.”
Levine agreed and called Ross Island a bit of a wildlife oasis in the heart of the city.
“I love how varying the scenery can be down here on the water; a view most folks miss - starting downtown with the looming skyline that disappears when come down the far side of the island. It almost looks like a completely different river – hard to imagine you’re still in the center of a city.”
Trey Carskadon is a boating expert who is also the Chairman of the Oregon State Marine Board. He said that the Willamette River offers an incredible array of recreation opportunity for any imaginable watercraft.
“This is a boating mecca for the state – more boating in this 27 mile stretch than anywhere else in Oregon.”
Carskadon wants people to come here but he also wants them to do it safely and that means studying for and securing the mandatory Boater Education Card – it also means preparation and safety.
“I’m not aware of any other place in the country that has the diversity, has the open water and the boating types that are reflected here. It’s an exciting time for the Willamette River.”
“You have to have a horn, a fire extinguisher, PFDs only work if you’re wearing them. Need a throwable device and a paddle is a very good idea too. I always have a depth finder because this river has all kinds of shoals and shallow areas that can damage your boat having one to get through shallow water is a real advantage.”
The rewards of the Willamette River – so close to a major metropolitan center – whether on your own or on a tour - is a remarkable and unmatched perspective to the place many of us call home.
“Many people are aware this exists, but they are put off by the effort or safety concerns – too bad because few get to see the city from this perspective. You really feel you’re away from it all even in the middle of rush hour traffic. It can be wonderful place to get away from it all.”