Launching a new tourism business on the eve of a worldwide pandemic could have been a recipe for disaster.
But the newly-restored Arrow 2 tug boat is not sinking — it’s cruising through the choppy waves of the future.
The boat spent a busy 50 years ferrying river pilots on the Astoria waterfront from the 1960s to 2012. When the tugboat retired it was reported to be the oldest working pilot launch on the West Coast.
After an eight-year hiatus on the water and a major facelift, it returned to service as a tourism vessel this spring.
The tugboat won’t be locked up this winter. The restored vessel’s captain plans to make it one of the few outside attractions open year-round in Astoria. History tours will be open to the public into the darker, wetter winter months.
“The weather is nicer on the water in the wintertime than it is in the summer,” assured Arrow 2 Capt. Mark Schächer. “You can’t stand outside the boat, but unless you’ve been inside, you don’t realize that the visibility is so good because there are so many windows.”
Restoring the vessel was a labor of love for Schächer, who has been working on local boats since he was 14 years old. Schächer is his own harshest critic, pouring his heart into the tiny details amid a supply shortage.
His work has turned the weathered vessel into something of a luxury cruise experience, complete with a heated cabin and a restroom people actually want to use. He’s still timid about some unfinished details, but the overwhelming demand for tours this summer stunted the progress on his to-do list.
“It’s kind of a working museum, just because this boat did so much, and was kind of a figure on the Astoria waterfront,” Schächer said.
The history tours center on Astoria’s maritime history, but adapt to each new set of passengers. Schächer finds that some people climb aboard to learn more about shipping history on the lower Columbia River, while others are content looking for signs of wildlife and relish the thrill of being out on the water.
In some cases, it’s his passengers’ first experience on a boat.
“There’s a ton of people who have lived in Astoria, or this area their whole life, who have never been out on the water,” said Schächer. “It’s something else to do in Astoria. Astoria’s history is all about maritime history, and there’s no interpretation of it without actually getting out on the river. It’s a completely different perspective.”
Passengers on the restored Arrow 2 have witnessed everything from whales, sea lions and river otters to pilot transfers on big ships working on the Columbia River.
Schächer is quick to point out that no two tours are the same, and he can’t make promises about exactly what people might experience. His dedication to making the trip memorable is clear, as he remembers nearly every guest that’s ridden aboard the vessel.
“I have had a lot of people who have enjoyed tough waters,” Schächer said. “You just don’t know, you get a family with little kids and you think they’re going to be scared when water starts bouncing off the windows, but they think it’s so fun.”