The west corner of St. Helens Marina taken from the corner of the fuel dock on 12-1-2014
One of the main settings in my novel Checkmate First Mate is St. Helens Marina, Oregon. It’s a very real and dynamic location even though the characters, homes, and businesses in my novel are all creations of my imagination. It’s been at least ten years since I visited St. Helens Marina, until today. This picture shows one of the river homes amid the moorage slips. It also shows the steep hillside with homes facing the river, but the one I created in the novel doesn’t really exist.
The path that leads up the hill from the marina still winds through overgrown bushes with uneven rock steps.
The family ownership aspect of the marina was spawned by a conversation with a lively old local seaman, many years ago. I do not remember anything else of his story, it may have been a historical fact or rumor. It’s really more a memory of a story and was probably from one of our first visits to the marina.
It was one of our favorite excursions, navigating Multnomah Channel from the Willamette River to where it joins the mighty Columbia at St. Helens.
There are two scenes in the novel which feature the path up the hill and I was happy to see it is still there, and as raw and overgrown as I remember.
The old town section of St. Helens looks as charming as I remember with the historic buildings and classic movie theater. For a Monday afternoon in December there were a lot more people and cars in the historic district than I expected. It also felt very spruced up and cared for with pride.
Two enticing shops were stocked with local crafts and antiques. There was a catering/bakery with enough aromas sneaking through the cracks, of tightly sealed doors, that my mouth watered in the brisk winter air.
The smell of buttered popcorn surrounded the entrance of the movie theater even though it was closed. The windows were sparkling clean and the interior featured red velvet and gold braided ropes reminiscent of the luxury and magic of attending the cinema. It has not been turned into a high tech multiplex.
Now you know St. Helens and the marina are a real place you can visit even though the people and places featured in my novel are fiction.
The one factual piece in the novel relates to the cabin cruiser “Clown-N-Around” which was the boat we owned from 1998-2005. I was driving when the drive shaft broke and we were actually caught in the channel with nothing but a tiny oar. We did need a rescue but the current had taken us almost back to where we launched so it was more like a 20 minute tow, and there were lots of recreational boaters out that day, and no big barge was barreling down on us. Nor did we try sculling or harnessing the wind.
As of this week I am finally able to work on companion stories for some of the cast of characters introduced in Checkmate First Mate. I needed the inspiration of a road trip to local settings and some sections of St. Helens will probably appear in this new story.
Here’s some other scenes and views of the area that readers of my novel may recognize and enjoy!
Melanie and her mom Angela have a fun scene at a pavilion in the park. This one is bigger and more square than the one I featured.
Looking west, with a large cargo ship navigating the channel on the Columbia, I think it is probably a quarter of a mile from where I was standing.
Looking north-east from the park in town. That’s the Washington shoreline and a point of Sauvie Island.