ASTORIA, Ore. — Astoria is the country’s oldest townsite west of the Rockies! The small townsite is more than two centuries young and offers a dizzying array of scenic possibilities, from the Astoria Column to the Fort George Brewery or the Columbia River Maritime Museum!
While just off the town’s front step, the mighty Columbia River offers a unique way to see the sights.
When you see Astoria by Arrow, you go aboard a working craft that started service in 1952.
Mark and Jeanette Schacher agree that if you spend three hours with their Arrow Tug and Tour Company, you will leave all your troubles behind.
“I’ve run across hundreds of people who’ve lived in Astoria their whole lives and never seen Astoria from the river, noted Mark Schacher. He is a retired tug and barge deckhand who fell in love with river commerce and Oregon maritime history. “We offer visitors the chance to travel the Astoria waterfront where I interpret everything they see and many things you can no longer see! It’s historic interpretation of Astoria’s riverfront history.”
The Arrow has been a long running and well-known working boat! The steel-hulled craft was built in 1952 by Nichols Boatworks in Hood River. For 50 years, it was the River Pilot Boat that promised safe upriver passage for ships at sea until it was retired in 2012.
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“This boat took the river pilot out to a cargo ship and the river pilot would climb a ladder and reach the ship’s wheelhouse. He would replace the bar pilot who brought the ship into the river from the sea – the bar pilot than goes back to the Pilot Boat and back to the dock.”
Mark and Jeanette gave the Arrow new life as an excursion craft in 2016. It required a major overhaul and restoration so to provide a comfortable passenger experience. Now, the Arrow provides warm and relaxing river travel along three miles of the Astoria waterfront.
“There seems to be something for everyone,” noted Jeanette Schacher. “We have people who are really interested in the boat – how it was built, how it’s powered and steered. We’ll also get people interested in the river’s ecology and they want to know all about the birds, the fish and even the sea lions that we’ll see along the way. It seems we have something for everyone.”
The historic river remnants of the salmon fishing history are easy to spy and more the knowledgeable husband-wife team are eager to share lessons. For example, you will cruise right up to the 125-year-old Uppertown Net Loft and Receiving Station that is the last standing building and quiet, lonely symbol of Astoria’s rich salmon fishing past.
“There were once 25 canneries just in Astoria – right along the waterfront – and another 50 up the river toward Portland,” according to Schacher. And today? “Zero! No one cans fish anymore. All of that industry is gone.”
And there is more to do aboard the Arrow! The Schachers offer visitors the chance to get their hands wet and catch their suppers from the sea. They will help you to toss and retrieve up to a dozen crab pots in the estuary.
“It’s a really comfortable boat for crabbing because there’s so much room across the deck. Kids can measure the crabs, learn how to hold the crab and learn the difference between female and the legal to keep male crabs. It’s a fun educational experience and you get to eat what you catch – which is the best part.”
Schacher says the three-hour Astoria waterfront tour will help you better understand and appreciate a town “whose reputation is bigger than itself.”
“It has always been that way too! We are just a small town of 10,000 people but everybody’s heard of it,” added Mark Schacher. “I just like history. I just like what people did and how they did it and how hard they had to work to make a living back then. It was a lot more interesting time in my opinion.”
It is easy to take in the picturesque aspects of Astoria, featuring houses built into the hillside overlooking a vibrant and thriving riverfront of transformed former canneries and sawmills turned breweries, restaurants and boutique lodging.
Astoria has a couple of options when it comes to chartering a boat. In addition to the Arrow Tugboat & Tour, Columbia River Cruises offers day and sunset sightseeing tours aboard their 41-foot yacht, The Constance.
Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.
You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:
"Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill
"Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill
“Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
“Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
“Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.
My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in November.