870 Words
Introduction I lived on the Oregon Coast for six years. Less than half a mile from the lovely and incredibly dangerous shore that stretches three hundred miles from the California border to where the mighty Columbia River separates Oregon from Washington. It is austere, wild, rugged, and incredibly dangerous. Along our town’s twenty-mile stretch of coast, we typically lost ten to fifteen people a year. They were mostly tourists who, despite all the warning signs, underestimated the Pacific Ocean. The chill waters demand a wetsuit at any time of year. Hypothermia, rip currents, and a bizarre event called sneaker waves (waves that suddenly inundate an entire beach with no warning) are but a few of the hazards. Tourists playing on the logs, some five feet across and a hundred feet long, don’t think about the waves that tossed them there, and would someday take them to sea again. Or the power of the big breakers that might decide to heave such logs into the second story of a beachside hotel (saw that happen a few times). It’s a favorite pastime of inlanders to come to the coast to witness the big storms. They go right down on the beach to see it up close and personal, little realizing that if they’re caught by a thirty-foot breaker, nothing will save them. The boom of those monster waves hitting the sand can be heard a mile or more inland. Even on non-stormy days, tourists are often trapped on sheer cliffs by the massive ten-to-twelve-foot tidal swings. There are locals who can’t walk the beach at all in the summer, because they can’t stand to see parents letting their kids run into even the standard three-to-six-foot waves unattended. One of the comforting sounds that makes locals look upward and wave aloft almost every day is the US Coast Guard patrols. Orange HH-65 Dolphin rescue helos run beach patrols above all of the most popular spots and are responsible for saving so many lives. But that isn’t the most dangerous part of the coast. That lies at the Oregon-Washington border where the Columbia River dumps a quarter of a million cubic feet per second into the Pacific (three Olympic pools per second, about seven thousand tons of water). The fifth largest river by discharge in North America, it is a fire hose into the Pacific as it has no delta, just a narrow outlet. This plows into the chill remnants of the North Pacific Current and storms that can approach from any whimsical direction. They all meet at one of the West Coast’s top seaports. The Columbia River Bar is generally ranked as the worst shipping water anywhere in the world. Nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Pacific”, over two thousand shipwrecks have been recorded there since explorers first arrived. It makes Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America appear to be a safe passage. Therefore, the men and women of the US Coast Guard are there in force. With its own Sector-level headquarters, the mouth of the Columbia boasts: two cutters, three rescue helicopters, and five motor lifeboats aside from the National Motor Lifeboat School (the most prestigious in the world) are all run from there. They respond to hundreds of assistance calls every year. Approximately three hundred personnel are stationed there including the school. Curiously though, I didn’t start writing this series when I lived there. It took me moving back to the East Coast, which I had left the day after graduating from college, to look all the way back to Oregon. Perhaps it was a bit of homesickness (I lived in the Northwest for almost four decades). Perhaps it was seeing the USCG presence along the North Shore of Massachusetts where I’ve landed over three thousand miles away. Suddenly, here was the Coast Guard…again. Founded in 1790, it is the oldest continuous sea-going service in our military (the Navy was disbanded from the end of the Revolutionary War until 1794). While it is the second smallest uniformed service in the US (only the newly formed US Space Force is smaller, at the moment), by itself it is the twelfth largest navy in the world. They safeguard our inland waterways from the Great Lakes and the Mississippi to our coastlines, and have deployed overseas in every major conflict in US history including both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. The wonder isn’t that I decided to tell some of their stories, it’s that it took me so long to do so. But how to grapple with “The Forgotten Service” as it is often called? Especially one so varied. I decided to focus on one small area: the Columbia River Bar, and the men and women who protect people and shipping there. Crossing the Bar Carlos Torres agreed to guest host his aunt’s Crossing the Bar podcast on a whim. That’s how he’d run most of his life to date, so why not. Petty officer Sarah Goodwin fought long and hard to achieve the rank of US Coast Guard Surfman. It made her the best driver that the National Motor Lifeboat School has trained in years. Carlos joins her on a training ride, that turns into a desperate rescue in the treacherous waters over the Columbia River Bar. A rescue that charts a new life’s course for them both.
Free reading for new users
Scan code to download app
  • author-avatar
  • chap_listContents
  • likeADD