The storms have rolled in fast and furious this winter, one after another, with no sign of letting up. Unseasonably strong winds, sneaker waves, and high seas have caused local flooding, property damage, and, unfortunately, even the death of two children that were sucked into the ocean. It’s a reminder that Mother Nature has a mind of her own and that residents and visitors to Clatsop County should be hyper-vigilant, especially if heading out onto the water! Recent winter storms caused two shipwrecks during the first week of January. They don’t call this area of the Graveyard of the Pacific for nothing! Fortunately, everyone survived, but so far, 2020 weather has been extremely unpredictable!
A lone sailor barely escaped death about a mile off of Cape Disappointment after his sailboat’s engine died. His mast blocked him out of the cabin during an unexpected gale and violent seas, on January 3rd. Fortunately, the captain of the 36-foot boat was able to contact the Coast Guard Station at Cape Disappointment using his cell phone at about 2:45 p.m., after his vessel lost all power, and his mast had fallen. He was floating adrift dangerously close to the Columbia River bar, a notorious area that has claimed hundreds of watercraft and many lives over the centuries.
At the time of his distress call, wind gusts reached 60 mph, and there were swells of up to 20 feet. Coast Guard crew members aboard a 47-foot Motor Lifeboat were asked to divert from training operations to rescue the sailor. A rescue helicopter crew from Coast Guard Sector of North Bend was also in the area and dispatched to render assistance. The aircrew first located the distressed disabled sailboard at around 3:30 p.m. and planned to provide on-scene weather information and support to the boat crew of the approaching 47-foot MLB Coast Guard vessel.
However, since the fallen mast kept the man from entering his cabin and left him vulnerable to the harsh outdoor conditions, the helicopter crew decided to hoist the man from the vessel, rather than wait for the pending arrival of the CG boat. At around 4:00 p.m. the CG rescue swimmer entered the water and helped hoist the man to safety. The aircrew then transported the man to the Air Station Astoria. The man did not need any medical treatment.
The abandoned sailboat continued adrift and was blown by southwest winds up the Long Beach Peninsula before landing ashore about half a mile south of the Oysterville Road beach approach in the Surfside area of Ocean Park, WA. It took about a week before the wreckage was finally removed from the shore.
The very next day, with seas still higher than usual, and wind gusts sometimes exceeding 40 mph, a 26-foot U.S. Coast Guard boat capsized on the Columbia River with four crew members on board. The crewmen were apparently conducting routine operations when they encountered a series of massive wakes that came over the bow, and resulted in an unrecoverable starboard list and capsized the vessel.
The crew was soon safely recovered from the Columbia River by the pilot boat Connor Foss. They were taken to Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria for assessment, where all crewmember were reported in healthy condition. The Coast Guard has initiated the mishap board review process and is overseeing any salvage operations.
These recent incidents and many more are a potent reminder not to take severe weather warnings for granted. Local newspapers and radio stations often post weather warnings. They appropriately recommend that people take precautions, or if possible, avoid the waterways and local beach areas all together during winter storm warnings. If you must go out in the elements, always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. Post your trip plan with the proper authorities and check that your radio and cellphone are working correctly and have battery backup. Always wear your life preserver when on or near the water, and never sail or recreate while you are intoxicated or distracted. Clatsop News reminds everyone to be safe while working or playing in the Pacific Northwest.
Cover photo by: Nellie Hux