Saturday, June 13, 2009


The marvelous Columbia Maritime Museum has beautiful paintings, like the one above, life sized coast guard vessels, rescue enactments, and a captivating collection of its historical layers beginning with 2000 known vessels sunk in an around the mouth of the Columbia, an area aptly called the Graveyard of the Pacific.
Starting with the exploration by Lewis and Clark, fort Clatsop became a trading center for furs, and the great ships did come.
John Jacob Astor set up the first great commercial outpost for fur trading closer to the ocean and the town that built up around it is named Astoria after him. He failed, but his interest was picked up by the Hudson Bay Company and fur trading commenced successfully for many years.
At one time, the Columbia was used by 400 steam ships, (paddle wheelers,) that burned as much as 40 cords of wood in a day, decimating great swaths of forest. The steamers were efficient at moving goods up the Columbia as far as Idaho. Ready lumber from the old growth forests made that trade possible. Railways played their part to move lumber east and to shipyards for export.
Next came King Salmon. The Columbia River became the salmon canning capital of the world.
The importance of the Columbia River was recognized by the U.S. Government and several forts to protect U.S. interests were commissioned along the Pacific North West over the years.
But, Columbia's flow into the Pacific produced a treacherous set of waters, one of the most dangerous bars in the world. The museum is a tale of man's determination to ship, to fish, to lumber, to use the port against all sense of the inherent dangers.
The unique coast, shifting sand bars, tides and fresh water clashing with salt water make this history, eloquently preserved by the museum, a breathtaking tale. It is by far the best Maritime Museum I've ever seen.
The entrance was difficult and remains so,today. A special pilot must board each ship entering the harbor to guide it through the treacherous shoals. The pilots, light ships, and sea rescue training of the Coast Guard is estimated to save 600 lives per year.
Now, most traffic into the Columbia is tugged in on barges and travels as far as Lewistown, Idaho with the help of locks before transferring to truck or rail.
There are wonderfully enlivened exhibits, photos, artifacts and elegant paintings of the old sail boats that once plied the coast.
The old light ship, Columbia, is part of the exhibits. The light ships that lighted the way into the harbor have been replaced with gigantic buoys.

Behind this grand anchor is the Columbia. The light ships were stationed at the mouth of the Columbia and were literally floating lighthouses. It is expected they saved hundreds of lives over the years. Manned by 17 crew members, they were replaced by less expensive to operate lighted buoys.

This special mushroom shaped anchor was able to stabilize the lightships in deep, rough water. Don't miss this museum.

These buoys replaced the light ships and are still used today.

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