Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Where the Columbia River Meets the Pacific

The Columbia River or Great River of the West is an amazing sight.  We crossed over from Astoria, Or to Washington on a 4 mile long bridge.  I don’t believe I ever understood the treachery of this river until we we able to really see what sailors had been up against 200 + years ago.


You can see the “bar” that must be crossed to enter the bay and this is a big enough challenge on its’ own.  But once you get past it, there is a very narrow channel on the South (Astoria) side that must be navigated.  It looked like a nice big bay until the tide went out and the realization came that there was nothing but sand and mud for almost the whole 4 miles until you reached this channel.


All of the emblems of boats on the above map designate ship wrecks.  This area of the coast is known as the Graveyard of the Pacific with over 2000 ships and 700 lives claimed over the years.  And it is not just the confusing channel.  The Pacific Ocean meeting the downstream current of the river creates some of the most horrendous conditions one can imagine.


The waves crashed along the shore as we sat and watched a number of ships, including this one, enter and leave the bar area and thought about the skilled pilot knowing he can not make a single mistake and keep these ships safe.  It must be a big burden to realize what could happen.  What really scared us was that the pilot has to board the ship at sea from a tiny pilot boat that pulls up along side of the ship in as much as 30 foot waves, grab a rope ladder hanging off the side of the ship and scamper up as much as 50 feet more to get safely on.  It did not sound like much fun! 


The Coast Guard has a huge presence in the area.  We did not go a day without seeing several Coast Guard vessels.


The conditions are so continuously bad that the Coast Guard decided to locate their rough water training school on Cape Disappointment.  They have saved thousands of lives over the years and the courage shown is a true testament of the men and women of the Coast Guard.


Lighthouses have played a significant role in keeping ships safe.  What we did not realize was that until a lighthouse could be constructed, sometimes a ship was used instead.  The Columbia is such a ship.  These ships would be anchored off the coast in an appropriate place to guide ships away form hazardous conditions.  The ship was not bad, but can you imagine being on a ship day in and day out, not going anywhere, rocking back and forth and, I am guessing, bored to death most of the time.  Tough duty! 


I bet the crew was glad to see these 2 lighthouses built to help the ships find safe harbor coming into the Columbia.


Both are still in use, but automated instead of manned today.

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