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I work near the Willamette River in what is seriously known as “SoWa,” or South Waterfront. There’s not a lot going on down there, except for a bunch of construction, isolated, ill advised new condo towers, Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) and The Zidell Company which builds giant, seafaring barges.

I have been watching them build this barge since I started working in the area. It grew from a skeleton to a massive hulk between OHSU and the Ross Island Bridge. I believe it takes close to two years to assemble.

I remember thinking I should take a field trip to see it when it launched. I could walk to it from work. And at the beginning of this week, I saw that the barge had been positioned by the river with its bow in the air.

It launched today.

Barge Launch Portland, OR from Mile73 on Vimeo.

There were about 50 other people on the banks of the river, I’ll call them “Barge Heads,” waiting for the launch. Then there were a bunch of people actually ON the barge as it launched. You can see them in the video.

It slipped into the water in a smooth, silent way that was almost startling. If the nearby tugboats hadn’t blasted their horns, you might not have known it was happening.

As the barge ramped down off the land, into the water and floated free to the east bank, the tugboats on either side pinched together and halted it. I heard a guy in the vicinity say that a barge once ran aground on the other side of the river. THAT would have been something to see.

I saw that the back of the barge said Seattle, Washington. So the nice shiny new barge is off on its grand adventures.

But the fire boat was all off in the corner saying “Yeah, but look at me! I’m shooting water in the air over here! I am TOTALLY freaking out drivers on the Ross Island Bridge right now! Guys! Look at me!”


  1. Very cool! (Also dig your description of SoWa.)

    These barge launches are much more exciting than watching the tankers and bulkers sailing out of drydock at Portland Shipyard. Unless you speed it up by 60x and put it to a goofy soundtrack, which I did here:

    There’s an element of the unknown with the barge launch, and tense moments between releasing it down the incline and the point when the tractor tugs gain control.

    By contrast, sailing a vessel out of drydock is a completely controlled, slow moving event.

    Thanks for posting this!

  2. Fire boats are the attention whores of the river.

    Thanks for posting the video!

    (p.s. when I started working in the SoWhat, there were no condo towers and we had to walk half a mile from the nearest public transit. Uphill. Both ways. In the SNOW!)

  3. And don’t get me started about those fire boats with their colored water.

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