Peninsula's Coast Guard station stays very busy

Peninsula's Coast Guard station stays very busy

At the southernmost point of the Peninsula lies one of the oldest and busiest Coast Guard stations on the West Coast: Cape Disappointment and the U.S. Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat School.

Because it guards what has been called the world's most dangerous waters, the station is often called to aid foundering vessels and their crews.

The river itself is dangerous, but when coupled with a strong outflowing (or ebb) tide, the clash between the outgoing current and the incoming ocean waves can be downright deadly.

Numerous fishing and commercial vessels have fallen victim to the Columbia's power combined with the dangerous offshore waters of the Pacific Ocean, with the area nicknamed the "Graveyard of the Pacific" because of the number of vessels lost there at sea.

Because of advancements in technology, the Columbia River bar is easier to cross than in the past, but vessels still rely on the station in the event of an emergency.

In 1856, the first lighthouse was built at Cape Disappointment. Then in 1873, the Life Saving Service, parent organization of the Coast Guard, established a station at the Cape. In 1915, the present day Coast Guard was established when the Life Saving Service and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service were joined.

The men and women of today's Coast Guard continue in the tradition of their early counterparts. The station maintains a variety of vessels equipped to handle almost any maritime emergency. Coupled with support from Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, mariners can obtain help whenever they need it while traversing the area's many waterways.

As many as 48 men and women are stationed full-time at Cape Disappointment.

Vessels stationed at the Cape include the latest vessel in the Coast Guard's fleet, the 47-foot motor lifeboat, which was put through its initial sea trials at the cape.

Cape Disappointment is also home to the only motor lifeboat school in the United States. Originally established to serve the Coast Guard's District 13, the school now accepts students from marine services worldwide. There are 36 students in each class.

The Motor Lifeboat School offers a three-week training course for men and women in the art of handling a boat in extremely rough seas and extreme weather conditions. They learn how the boats handle in a 360-degree rollover in heavy seas and surf.

While at the school, students also learn maritime rules of the road, navigation, motor lifeboat mechanics, firefighting and lifesaving techniques.

Surf drills also are included in the training, with the rough conditions on the Columbia bar giving the students a realistic and dangerous classroom.

The school's boats are often out on drills, and visitors can view the training from the North Jetty at Fort Canby State Park in Ilwaco.

To get to the station from Ilwaco, follow the signs to Fort Canby. Continue driving through the park intersection and follow the road to the station.

The lighthouse is open to the public from dawn to dusk and guided tours are available. The lighthouse is only accessible by foot, a quarter-mile uphill hike.

The A-Jetty has limited public access depending on weather conditions.

For more information, phone the station at 642-2382.

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