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Columbia River Bar Pilots

April 28, 2010

On the odd occasion I’ll post something of a more casual or personal nature – this is one of those posts.

My wife and I just returned from a week long vacation which included a stop in Astoria, Oregon.  We were on the Holland America Line cruise ship MS Zaandam and had the great opportunity to observe Columbia River Bar Pilots embark and disembark our ship on the bar and while underway.

April 24, 2010, Columbia River Bar

These Bar Pilots are the unsung heroes of the waterfront.  They help pilot more than 4,000 ships across the Columbia River Bar each year.

This small stretch of water, also known as Cape Disappointment or the Graveyard of the Pacific, has destroyed more than 2000 boats and taken more than 700 lives.   It’s treacherous because this is where the massive outflow of the Columbia River meets waves that have travelled across the Pacific Ocean.  This confluence can make for very steep, very tight and very confused seas.  In fact, because of how rough it can become, this  is where all US Coast Guard personnel go to cut their teeth on inclement weather training.

The picture I have appended above shows one of the Bar Pilots’ two boats.  Pilots either jump off of or onto the bow of the pilot boat after having travelled a ladder hung over the side of the ship.  This has to take place regardless of weather or time of day and can, understandably, be very dangerous.

If you find yourself in the Portland area or vacationing on the Oregon Coast I highly recommend a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum.  It has a great tribute to the pilots and their colleagues who pilot the river itself.  We’ve been twice and will likely go again.

Visit http://www.columbiariverbarpilots.com to learn more about the Bar Pilots.

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