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Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

S m a l l b o a t s

EEL LAKE - The sun glared at Ralph Mohr's back here Thursday morning as he touted the virtues of "blue-hole boating" on the southern Oregon coast.

"This is about as blue as it gets," Mohr said, rhythmically rowing his wooden longboat across the glass-smooth lake under a cloudless sky, apparently unconcerned that the sun could be irate over his revealing the location of a favorite winter retreat.

Like many winter days in the southern Willamette Valley, Thursday dawned dark and damp for much of Western Oregon's inland population, smothered all day in a clinging gray fog.

Along the coast, however, it was a gloriously clear day, with early-morning mist giving way to temperatures in the mid-50s.

A perfect day, in other words, for what Mohr calls "blue-hole boating."

It's a spontaneous pastime that has nothing to do with the color of the water and everything to do with taking advantage of the blue skies and calm air found in the "holes" between winter storms.

"We on the coast think you valley people don't have a clue. We have great winter weather if you're smart about it," said Mohr, retired after 30-plus years as an English/Latin teacher and swimming coach at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay.

The smart thing to do, Mohr says, is to pay close attention to the satellite images of weather patterns shown on most local TV news programs.

"Behind most storm fronts is a spot of good weather - what we on the coast call a 'blue hole,'" Mohr said. "It can last as little as four hours, or be more than a week long ... Once a front has gone through, look to see where the next one is, and how fast it's coming in ..."

Such breaks in the weather can often be anticipated in plenty of time to allow outdoor activities to be planned, he said.

For example, Mohr scheduled Thursday's outing with a Register-Guard reporter and photographer about 48 hours in advance - and nailed a perfect day.

"I had my fingers crossed," he said, "but this is exactly what I'm talking about- a real blue-hole day."

In the winter, "blue holes" are often accompanied by calm water, making it an ideal time to go boating, Mohr said.

"What boaters don't realize is that some of the best times to be out on the water on the Oregon coast is during the 'rainy' season," he said. Winds tend to be calmer - or nearly non-existent, as they were Thursday - than they are during summer months.

On calm days - even if the skies are mackerel colored, rather than cobalt blue - Mohr can often be seen on Coos Bay or on Eel, Tenmile or Tahkenitch lakes in an unusual 15-foot wooden boat he had custom-made by the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Washington.

It's called a Deer Island peapod (its symmetrical shape resembles a bean pod) and is based upon a Maine lobster boat. Constructed of red cedar, mahogany, oak and fir, the boat can be powered by one or two oarsmen, a sail, or an electric motor.

Mohr named his boat "Catallus," after a Roman poet in the time of Julius Caesar who wrote a "lovely poem about a boat he once had."

Most of the time, Mohr has his favorite lakes to himself, which he says is part of the appeal of blue-hole boating.

"I come here for the quiet," he said at Eel Lake. "There's no noise, no stink" of outboard engine exhaust.

While being rowed into the wind, the peapod's overlapping board siding "makes a slapping sound," Mohr said, "like applause from small hands."

Going downwind, there is "no noise at all except the creak of the brass oarlocks ..."

A competitive masters swimmer who trains regularly in the pool, Mohr doesn't look to rowing for a workout.

"I don't row for the exercise," he said. "I row for the ambiance."

With a 10-mile-per-hour speed limit in effect and surrounded by national forest, Eel Lake (located at Tugman State Park, about 10 miles south of Reedsport) is quiet year-round.

A different boating experience is available at large Tenmile Lakes, a couple miles to the south.

That lake is surrounded by houses and saw several other boaters taking advantage of the good weather.

"I don't come to Tenmile during the summer," Mohr said with a nod toward a speedboat flying across the water. "I'd get swamped, with one of these things going by every 30 seconds."

Meanwhile, blue-holes are obviously ideal times for many outdoor activities in addition to boating.

"Go beach walking," Mohr said. "There's five beaches within a 15-mile radius of Coos Bay that most people are not aware of because they're not on (Highway) 101.

"Go birding - there's lots of winter bird-watching here because we're right on the coastal flyway.

"Go light-housing - we've got two light houses you can visit. Or you can go golfing - this is actually a better golf day than some of the summer days because there's no wind ...

"A blue-hole day is just an excuse to come out. I use the boat route, but the coast has a lot of other things to offer in winter.

- Satellite images of west coast weather patterns that can be used to spot approaching "blue holes" are available at:
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Title Annotation:Recreation; Weather following big coastal storms opens the way for nice trips
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 2, 2007
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