A strange craft sits landlocked above the banks of the Columbia River on a Sauvie Island beach in Oregon.
For years, no one seemed to know the history of the saucer-shaped craft sitting amidst the trees on Collins Beach, a clothing-optional beach near the northern tip of Sauvie Island outside of Portland, Oregon. After the airing of a news story on the mysterious craft, pieces of its past came out, including the designer and builder of the boat..
Richard Ensign was an engineer living in Hubbard, Oregon, a small town situated about 25 miles south of Portland, who would spend two years and about $10,000 constructing a concrete sailboat as an experiment.
His stepson, Vic, would later explain that Ensign created the design with the idea that a future social and economic collapse would lead people to seek a cheap and safe way of escaping the horrors and tumult that would take place on land. Ensign designed a 31 foot self-righting boat made out of concrete with hulls filled with foam that could be powered by two sails as well as a paddlewheel powered by a 6 cylinder automobile engine.
The boat was registered in 1972, and the following year would make its maiden voyage down the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, carrying a crew of 8 (though it was designed to be large enough to sleep 12). Others onboard would sleep inside the cabin, which measured 24 feet across and about 7 feet high, and contained portholes, skylights, kerosene candles and an onboard power generator that would power lights, a wood burning stove and a bunk bed. The boat, despite carrying an outer layer of one-inch-thick concrete, would sail past Portland aiming for Astoria, Oregon.
Designed and built simply as an experiment, its first voyage lasted three months. The tri-hulled boat was eventually sold. Stormy flood tides of the Willamette River in 1996 deposited the boat well above the usual high-water line at Collins Beach on the northern shores of Sauvie Island, where it remains today, nestled in the trees and well out of the river currents.
Richard Ensign has died, and though today his wrecked UFO spaceship-looking creation remains an odd attraction on an otherwise isolated nude river beach, his stepson, Vic, maintains that the initial reasoning to design and construct this boat remain, maintaining that “his visions of social and economic collapse may still be viable….”.
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Richard was my mom’s younger brother who originally hailed from Cadillac, Michigan. Brilliant and interesting fellow who was a little before his time.