Location will highlight links with museum and waterfrontThis fall, the Columbia River Bar Pilots will be moving two blocks east to new digs.

They've purchased the Wecoma Partners Ltd. building at the foot of 16th Street from Don Haskell, who had owned it since the early 1980s.

Haskell has moved his property management company office to 801 Commercial St., where he shares the second floor of the building with an accounting firm.

The bar pilots' new home at 100 16th St. used to be a warehouse, according to Haskell, until it was remodeled by Astoria architect Tom Potter. It has several small offices and a large space for meetings.

"It's a key building for the development of downtown," Haskell said, "and I'm happy I was able to find such a good buyer. I think (having the bar pilots there) is a great fit for the community."

Bar pilot Capt. Robert Johnson said the decision to move was easy, once the unique building, constructed on pilings over the river, became available. The bar pilots have rented their present office at 103 14th St. for decades and will be happy to finally have their own building, he said.

"We want to take part in the rejuvenation of the waterfront," Johnson said, "and have some synergies with the Columbia River Maritime Museum. It'll make us part of the attraction of the museum."

The building is just a stone's throw from the museum, which is located at the foot of 17th Street, and from the 17th Street pier, where the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast and visiting river cruise boats tie up. Johnson said people inside the museum will be able to watch as a bar pilot, who has met a large ship in the ocean near the entrance to the river and guided it up the channel to a spot off the museum, is relieved by a river pilot, who guides the ship to an upriver port.

The exchange is accomplished by means of a ladder attached to the side of the ship, leading down to the pilot boat, the Arrow Two, which will have maneuvered alongside the moving ship. It's an exciting and often dangerous procedure, especially in bad weather.

For ships headed downriver toward the ocean, the river pilot calls for a bar pilot as the ship passes Tongue Point. The bar pilot climbs on board near the East Mooring Basin, and the river pilot disembarks. The bar pilot remains onboard until the ship goes across the bar and into the ocean - at which point he or she is met by either the bar pilots' helicopter or one of their two pilot boats, the Chinook and the Columbia.

"We facilitate the smooth flow of commerce for the Northwest," said Johnson.

Pilots have been guiding ships across the Columbia River Bar since the 1700s, starting with coastal natives helping early settlers. In 1846, according to the Columbia River Bar Pilots' Web site, http://www.columbiariverbarpilots.com, the Oregon Territorial Legislature enacted pilotage regulations.

Five years later, Capt. George Flavel, whose home at what is now the corner of Eighth and Duane Streets is now a museum, received a pilot's license. He went on to become one of Astoria's most illustrious citizens.

Flavel is credited with instituting high standards for pilots. In fact, according to the pilots' Web site, "The present Columbia River Bar Pilots trace their origin to this era, making them one of the oldest ongoing businesses in Oregon and adhere to many of the same values and traditions Captain Flavel instituted."

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