Columbia River Bar

No, this isn’t a place to hang out with friends after work.  This is an area where the Columbia River (which flows east to west and runs between Washington state to it’s north and Oregon to it’s south) dumps into the Pacific Ocean.

The area off the coast where the western flowing water of the river meets the eastern flowing water of the ocean can create treacherous and sometimes deadly conditions.  This area, about 3 miles wide and 6 miles long, is called the Columbia Bar.  I read this on a sign while I was in Astoria, Oregon on Thursday morning: “The Columbia River Bar is considered by professional mariners to be the most dangerous bar crossing on the planet”.  Since 1792 approximately 2,000 large ships have sunk in this area, often called the “Graveyard of the Pacific”.  I read that conditions along the bar can change from calm to life-threatening in a matter of minutes, depending on the wind and the size of the waves.

For this reason, professionals called “pilots” are made available to board large cargo and cruise ships which enter and leave the Columbia River and they assume navigational control of the ships.  All large vessels crossing the Columbia Bar are required to utilize a trained pilot.  In favorable conditions, these pilots will board the vessel via a small boat which is attached to another “escort” boat.  The escort will either take the pilot to incoming ships while at sea and accompany them in or will escort the large ships out to sea and then bring the pilots back to port.  In bad weather the pilots board the large ships via helicopter.  There are currently 16 trained “pilots” and they supposedly make close to $180,000 per year.

Here is a pilot boat, the Astoria,  I saw in action on Wednesday:

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It appeared to be escorting this cargo ship, the GH Fortune, out to sea:

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I saw another pilot boat while I was in Astoria, this one on land.  This is the Peacock:

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The Peacock was first used in 1967 and over the next 33 years helped pilots board and escort over 120,000 ships.