The ship heading upriver was making more noise than usual, and when it came into view past the buildings, I could see why. There was a Coast Guard helicopter hovering right above it.
The pilot boat arrived just as the helicopter was taking off.
Now a small Coast Guard boat arrives while the pilot boat continues toward its usual spot amidships.
The spray from the 'copter has settled down.
And the Coast Guard boat heads back to port. This shot was taken with the long zoom, so the low part of the Astoria-Megler Bridge looks very close. I love that evening light!
My first thougts: I don't know what was going on here. It could have been a training exercise, since there is a Coast Guard base in Astoria. We often see boats and helicopters out for training on the river and ocean. Seeing the helicopter above the ship was also interesting because at one time this is how the ship pilots were transferred at sea - by helicopter. I don't know if they're doing that any more, or if they do it only under certain conditions. I heard that they might be planning to use this method again. I suppose it's possible that they were practicing, and I only got in on the end of the scene. But . . .
. . . two commenters on our Facebook page have the right answers:
Karen Vaterlaus Leedom: The coast guard often inspects ships entering the Columbia. What you most likely saw was them removing the boarding party, which happened to coincide with the bar & river pilots changing places. Also, the bar pilots' preferred method of boarding ships at sea is via helicopter, which they have been doing for years.
Joanne Rideout: Karen's likely right on target - and we'll see more of this going on here now that the USCG Captain of the Port has moved to Air Station Astoria. Some of these inspections used to happen upriver before when that office was based in Portland.