I’ve been thinking a lot about what to say on The Ship Report today about the tragedy on the beach at Falcon Cove near Cannon Beach this weekend. A dad and his two small children were swept out to sea by what seems to have been a sneaker wave. The two children died and the dad was still in the hospital Sunday.
I talk about safety a lot on the Ship Report and I usually mention it when something like this happens, as a cautionary note. I hope the message of safety reaches people.
I can’t imagine the torment this father will go through in the aftermath of this event. What’s called for now is compassion in the face of unspeakable loss.
But I do have a few thoughts that might be useful, beyond the usual safety warnings: Saturday I felt distraught and sad about this, and I know from reading social media posts that other people felt it too. That’s the thing about living in a coastal community. We’re tight-knit here, like it or not, and we feel what’s happening to one another. When a boat goes down, or a person is lost overboard, or people get swept out to sea, we all grieve. And we’re grieving now, again. It’s a price we pay for living in this beautiful, dangerous place.
To get some perspective, I drove to Cape Disappointment Saturday and did what I have been telling you all to do when these storms hit: I went up to the Visitor Center on top of the cliff and went to the big observation room where you can look out over the Columbia River Bar. I was able to sit alone for awhile and stare out the window at the mouth of the river. A line of breakers 20 feet high was creating a formidable barrier to anyone wanting to cross. No one was.
As I sat there watching the water closely, I was struck by the raw, seething, tremendous power in it. We see it somewhat in the gorgeous photos people take of giant waves exploding in the air at Waikiki Beach, or in the pounding surf you can hear for miles away. As I looked at the water roiling at the base of the cliff, and churning out on the bar, I could feel the immense, overwhelming energy there. That force is part of our experience every time we get near the shore, or venture out in a boat. It’s the force that sinks ships and fishing boats, pounds beached vessels to bits, and drags buoys off their moorings. It’s more powerful than any of us. And it’s your companion on every beach walk, every boat ride, every trip to the coast.
The confusing thing is, on Saturday, despite all the warnings, it just didn’t look that bad out there, even though it was. When I was there, there were no towering waves, like in a movie, and for someone unfamiliar with the ocean, it looked like a stormy day like many others. But out there, the ocean was full of wild energy waiting to be expressed in potentially destructive ways.
Please don’t ever forget that the ocean is there, that it’s bigger than you, and does not necessarily have your best interests at heart, or care that you came there to have a good time. The warnings are not for the timid, for those who are easily scared off. They’re for everyone, even the strong and young, and there’s no shame in heeding them.
If we have any adventurous spirit in us at all, we’ve sometimes put ourselves in situations where, had the wrong thing happened, we could have died. I know I have. If we’re still here, we’re fortunate. Dan Haag, head of the Manzanita Visitor Center, said it best in a Facebook post this weekend. Find a loved one and hug them tight. I’d add this: please do your best to keep them off the beach when conditions are severe. That’s love in action.
And, a heartfelt thank you to our first responders who stand ready to go into harm’s way at a moment’s notice. That’s love in action too. We are fortunate to have them, the Coast Guard. and local law enforcement rescue personnel. They do their best for us every day, no matter what, without judgment. Another big thing to be grateful for. That’s all I have right now. Be safe out there, and take care of each other.
I had a question on social media recently about a reference I made to the Columbia River Bar being on Yellow status. Someone had not heard me talk about this on the Ship Report, and was confused. So I thought my blog would be a good place to explain this.
The three colors refer to the relative accessibility for ships seeking to cross the waters at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington. Cargo ships come and go regularly there and are accompanied on board, by law, by bar pilots, trained marine professionals who have decades of ship handling experience. They know the river by heart and can safely guide ships in and out.
The pilots have jurisdiction over ship traffic, and they work with the US Coast Guard to safeguard the waters on the bar for large commercial vessels. There are three potential statuses the bar can have on any given day: Normally it’s on Green status, which means business as usual. When the weather worsens, as it often does in fall and winter, to the point where it might be hard to control a ship entering or leaving the river, the pilots raise the status to Yellow, which means ships are allowed to cross on a case-by-case basis. Some under-powered ships may be asked to wait until the weather is better. If things really go to hell in a handbasket, so to speak, the bar will go to Red status, which means that conditions are too dangerous for all but a few very hardy and maneuverable ships to cross. Decisions on this are up to the pilots.
You can see the status of the Columbia River Bar for ship traffic anytime by going to the Columbia River Bar Pilots website, at www.columbiariverbarpilots.com
For recreational and smaller commercial vessels like fishing boats, the US Coast Guard has jurisdiction over bar restrictions and closures. Here’s a link to Oregon and Washington bar status links per the USCG:
Questions? Email me at email@example.com
This month I had a request from the USCG at Air Station Astoria, where they asked if one of their personnel could come on the show and talk about safety, just before the 4th of July holiday weekend. They wanted to let people know about the dangers inherent in living in a dynamic coastal area like the Oregon and Wasington coast, and about the laws regarding fireworks use. I learned some things I didn’t know. For instance, did you know it’s a felony to shoot off a flare for fun? Flares on not fireworks and if you shoot one into the sky and a USCG rescue is launched because of it, you could be charged with a felony and get fined big bucks. So, lots to learn here. The Coast Guard does so much for us, let’s not make them work any harder than they have to. Here is some sage and valuable advice from USCG Petty Officer Trevor Lilburn:
Podcast: Play in new window
Subscribe: Android | Email | Google Podcasts | | More
I have good news for podcast folk: The Ship Report website is up to date, finally, after a rocky patch where I struggled to keep up with it. Thank you for sticking with me. If you were put off by the lack of posts, I hope you’ll come back.
Within the past year or so, I launched a new Ship Report website, posted podcasts to it, and then did a not very good job of keeping them current, while juggling the consuming duties of being my elderly father’s caretaker in the final phase of his life. His long and well-lived existence came to an end on April 4 of this year. Ninety-eight years of being his own amazing person, and most important to me – my dad.
For people who didn’t know him, he was one of the most intelligent and innovative people I’ve ever met. When I was a kid I looked up to him and thought he knew everything. When I got older, I realized this wasn’t far off the mark, and mot much of an exaggeration. It seemed he really DID know everything, at least everything in my world. When I was a kid he built our first television, built new kitchen cabinets for my mother, built a sailboat when he decided he wanted a boat, and renovated a larger wooden boat later when he wanted a larger craft. He was always building and inventing things. He knew a lot and what he didn’t know, he studied until he got it.
He was a scientist for a living, working among a high end group of professionals at Brookhaven National Laboratory, in New York, during the era of the budding atomic reactor and the creation of the atomic bomb. He used to come home from work in black government-issued sedans with the Atomic Energy Commission logo on the door. When I was little he flew to Los Alamos, New Mexico, as part of the Manhattan Project. He was a computer guy when computers were new, and a math major in college, which he attended on the GI Bill.
To me he was a kind, generous and demanding dad. He always had my back, but he expected a lot. To make a long story short, I loved him dearly and we were very close, and he was always there for me. I always felt like I never quite lived up to his expectations for me, but I would imagine a lot of us feel that way about our parents.
So, in these last couple of months, I have been grieving the loss of a man who has defined my life in many ways, and certainly taught me the strong work ethic, honesty and commitment that I feel today about the things I do. Grieving is a journey, as anyone who has lost a loved one knows.
He taught me to love the sea, and the same salt water that ran in his blood also runs in mine. It’s because I’m Stu Rideout’s daughter that the Ship Report has become such a fascination and long term project for me. I’ve been doing the show for 16 years and I still love it. There is always more to learn and to share. And I still get a sense of happy well-being when I on something that’s floating, whether it’s a kayak, a sailboat or a ship.
The Ship Report website is pretty much up to date now with podcasts, and I hope you check it out. I feel ready now to keep it current, and that’s why I’m bringing it up. There are a few missing reports here and there, and in the ensuing weeks I’ll go through and see if I can retrieve and post them.
On the new site, the most recent posts are displayed in the rotating graphic at the top of the page, and you can click through them. If you just want to see the entire list of what’s on the site, just click any link that says Ship Report Podcasts.
Finally, many thanks to all of you who are on this Ship Report journey with me, loyal through my ups and downs. I have you in mind every time I go on the air, and I am always seeking interesting things to talk about that I hope you find interesting too. Thank you for sharing in this wonderfully nerdy maritime journey we are on together. And, always, always, thanks for listening.
A quick note on how to access podcasts: the current month’s podcast are here in this area. You’ll find the complete archive of podcasts (including the current month), when you click the Ship Report Podcasts link at the top of the page. Thanks for listening to the Ship Report!
I ordinarily try to avoid ranting in public. It generally does no good and can be enormously unattractive. But some things just call for a response.
I have been seeing a lot of warnings on social media and in various publications, about the BIG waves – 40 feet – that we are going to see on the coast this week. I’ve seen weather reports, newspaper articles, and warnings from the Coast Guard about the hazards of being on the beach over the next few days.
And then, AND THEN (you can hear the rant coming) I see an article from The Oregonian, THE OREGONIAN, of all things, one of the biggest publications in the state, telling people where they can go to watch waves because they’ll be really big and it’ll be really cool. And here’s a list of place where you can see the waves close up. What? WHAT? I know Portland is insulated from life on the coast, but really?
I shared a post from the US Coast Guard this weekend on Facebook where they were literally BEGGING people to stay off beaches during this storm. It’s rare to see a Coast Guard press release with the words “please, please” in it; the USCG tends to be a bit dry in their communiques. But they thought it was important enough to beg.
In matters of public safety my opinions are anything but humble, so here it is: it was terribly irresponsible of the Oregonian to invite droves of people to come the the beach and die this week. But that’s what they did. I read the article. They mentioned a few cliff top spots. But some are just beach spots right at sea level. Not, not, a good idea this week. The thrill is momentary, the risk is high, and the grief for your loved ones could be huge. And many resources involving risk to other people will be deployed to try and find you when you’re already dead.
So, dear Ship Report listeners, and you are dear to me or I would not bother to post this rant: if you decide to go to the beach this week, go somewhere high: we have some great spots to wave watch that are high up: the Cape Disappointment visitor center at the park in Ilwaco, the cliffs in Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park. I’m sure there are many more. The point is – get some altitude above the waves so you can enjoy them. I don’t want to hear about anyone being swept away by a giant sneaker wave they didn’t see coming. But that’s why they call them sneakers, because they rise up out of nowhere, and they will be happening this week. A sneaker wave with a big log in it is a certain death wave.
I don’t presume to tell anyone how to live their life. I know some people will go to the beach, do stupid things and live. Lord knows I’ve done a lot of dumb things in my life and survived. But some may not. And when that happens, we will all say (too late) “they should have known better.”
So I just want to add my voice to those who are saying: if you go, stay up high on the cliffs, be careful, be mindful, don’t turn your back on the ocean. You know what I’m saying. Now it’s time to listen.
It may be selfish of me, but I don’t want to see your life snuffed out. I want you to be here so you can keep listening to The Ship Report. That’s all, Be careful out there. Thanks.