Rush deliveries job one for Columbia Bar newcomer

Astoria 1

On a cold day in March, the pilot boat Astoria appeared as a streak of yellow, piercing a thick gray mist shrouding the mouth of the Columbia River.

Named for the port city on the inland side of the Columbia Bar, Astoria is a self-righting, 74-foot aluminum speedster designed and built to handle the formidable storms and crashing waves that often batter the region.

Astoria’s mission is to rush pilots safely over the 20 miles from the pilot boathouse to the boarding grounds, including six miles over the bar, dubbed the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” The boat serves inbound and outbound ships calling at river ports from Astoria to Portland, Ore.

“We switched from a slower station boat to the fast-run boat system in conjunction with the incorporation of helicopter boarding and disembarking,” said Capt. Chris Farrell of the Columbia River Bar Pilots. About two-thirds of CRBP’s pilot transfers are by helicopter.

Farrell said a great advantage of the fast-run/helicopter system is the ability to get pilots out and back faster from ships near the bar. “This is significant in making us more efficient and reducing pilot fatigue,” he said. Fatigue mitigation was further enhanced by the attention paid to sound attenuation during construction of CRBP’s latest boat.

Astoria operator Chris Bigelow prepares to line up the boat with the starboard pilot ladder on the bulk carrier Androusa

Astoria is the third boat for the group designed by Camarc Ltd. of the United Kingdom and built by Kvichak Marine, now Vigor of Seattle. The first, Chinook, was delivered in 2000, with Columbia following in 2008. Astoria was delivered in 2014 and replaced Chinook, which was sold to the Pacific Pilotage Authority in Vancouver, British Columbia, and renamed Pacific Chinook.

Power for Astoria is provided by twin MTU 16V 2000 M70 engines rated for 1,410 hp at 2,100 rpm, with ZF 3050 electric shift transmissions coupled to HamiltonJet HM651 waterjets. Top speed is 29 knots and the cruising speed is 25 knots. Two 40-kW Kohler gensets supply electrical power.

The bow and the sheer are wrapped with Camarc’s Popsafe fendering that consists of a strip of shock-absorbent foam lined with a polyethylene skin.

The vessel is designed to work in high seas with pilot and crew safety in mind. On deck, Astoria is equipped with the Hadrian Pilot from Hadrian Safety Rails, a continuous-track harness system that allows for hands-free movement 360 degrees around the pilothouse. For pilot rescue, the vessel is equipped with a hydraulic man-overboard basket on the transom and a rescue davit with a 500-pound safe working load.

Astoria has one stateroom with two bunks, carries a boat operator and a deck hand, and has seating for four pilots.

“With the Hamilton jets we have great control,” said boat operator Chris Bigelow. “The power and maneuverability is pretty important when you’re up against a ship. Sometimes, in extreme conditions, we have to use all the horsepower we have to do the job.”


Astoria’s twin MTU diesel engines can deliver a combined 2,820 hp, giving the boat a top speed of 29 knots.


Deck hand Joey Duerse stands ready to assist Capt. Joe Bradey as the pilot descends the ladder on Androusa to board Astoria.


Capt. Joe Bradey, right, confers with pilot trainee Capt. Nick Christian on the return trip from Androusa to the pilot station in Astoria, Ore.


Joey Duerse demonstrates how to use Astoria’s harness system from Hadrian Safety Rails. The track allows 360-degree access around the pilothouse.


By Professional Mariner Staff