Pilots of the Pacific Graveyard
Along one of the world's busiest and most treacherous shipping lanes, fifteen men risk life and limb on a daily basis to guide colossal cargo ships to safety.
Photos courtesy Captain Thorn Riggs
The Columbia River Bar is a place of violence. Here the behemoths of the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River collide in one long, never-ending car crash. Over 2,000 shipwrecks and 700 deaths have earned this stretch of water the moniker “The Graveyard of the Pacific.”
The amount of damage inflicted by the bar is disproportionate to its size. Made up of a series of sandbars and jetties along the narrow stretch of water separating the west coasts of Washington and Oregon, the area is roughly three miles wide and six miles long. The bar offers a little bit of everything, from strong currents and crushing waves to low visibility and unpredictable weather. Arguably one of the most dangerous places on earth for any seagoing vessel, the bar is also vital to modern commerce.
Ferrying ships across is the job of the Columbia River Bar Pilots. These men and women board ships crossing the bar and steer them safely across. The work is difficult and laden with risk…
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