It took 15 grueling months for explorers Lewis and Clark to reach the Pacific Ocean on their epic Corps of Discovery expedition. The journey, which began in St. Louis in 1804, took them up the Missouri River, over the Rocky Mountains, and down the Snake and Columbia Rivers, to the sea.
It was here, near Astoria, Ore., that the team celebrated the first American overland expedition to the Pacific Coast. It was also here that my own journey down the Columbia River began a few years ago.
Led by UnCruise Adventures, the eight-day sojourn down the river covered much of the same Pacific Northwest territory that Lewis and Clark investigated more than 150 years earlier. The only major difference between my trip and that of the historic explorers was that I traveled safely aboard a 105-foot luxurious motor yacht while they traversed unknown dangers, slept on the ground, and relied on canoes with paddles for mobility.
My journey began at an old wooden dock, where a friend and I first saw our yacht. I say “our yacht” for good reason. With a total of only eight passengers, the 105-foot vessel is a private, floating paradise.
And that’s the beauty of UnCruise Adventures. The company separates itself from competition by providing an upscale, private approach to cruising aboard actual yachts. Their boats carry between 12 and 36 passengers in plush comfort, with homey lounges, hot tubs, and spacious cabins.
Once aboard the Safari Spirit, we enjoyed a cocktail reception and met the captain, his four crew members, and our six fellow passengers. We were then shown our stateroom, located on the first deck, about mid-boat. Quaint and efficient, the cabin boasted a large comfy bed, DVD player, big windows, desk area, tub and shower, and best of all, a heated bathroom floor.
That night, as the Spirit cruised along the canyons of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, we dined on a gourmet dinner with Washington wines. After dinner we dropped anchor in a secluded cove and were joined by a local historian who told fascinating stories about Lewis and Clark, and the Columbia River.
In the morning we visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum, which is highlighted by interactive exhibits on tugboats, lighthouses, the Coast Guard, and the dangers vessels face when crossing between the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, a deadly confluence known as the “graveyard of the pacific.”
After the museum, the captain docked in Cathlamet Bay in the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge. We then took a skiff ride down river, during which we saw a bald eagle and cruised past tiny islands and a forest of brown, yellow, orangem and green trees lining the coast.
Back onboard I explored our six-stateroom motor-yacht. Four of the rooms are like my aforementioned cabin and two are upscale admiral staterooms on the library deck. These feature sliding glass doors, a small balcony, spacious bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs and showers, office areas, and living rooms.
Aside from cabins, the salon on the main deck is the place to relax, entertain mingle and sightsee while aboard the Safari Spirit. Next to the salon is an outdoor aft-lounge area with seating and a sports deck to enter the water. This deck also features the captain’s bridge, which is open at any time to guests who want to drop by to study sea charts or chat with crew members on duty.
The next day we cruised into the Bonneville Dam. To reach the dam our vessel entered a massive steel lock, which filled with water, floating us up 74 feet to the higher part of the Columbia River. We docked here and drove to the Bonneville Dam for an informative tour of the hydro-electric powerhouse.
Back on board, we enjoyed crusted rockfish and Washington wine for dinner and then cruised into the Dalles Dam and entered a lock with a beautiful big paddle boat beside us. The next morning, I sat in the Jacuzzi on the top deck and waved to passing barges and boats. For dinner, we docked in beautiful Richland, Wash. and then heard an onboard lecture about the historic Hanford Dam and its nuclear past.
Other highlights of our cruise included a jet boat ride beneath the towering cliffs of Hell’s Canyon, where we saw ancient Nez Perce Indian pictographs; and a kayaking excursion down the Palouse River, where we were buzzed by a military jet.
For more information on taking an American Safari yacht cruise down the Columbia and Snake Rivers, Hawaii, Mexico, Alaska, or Washington and British Columbia, visit uncruise.com.