The Shipwrecks of the Northwest

A new softcover book, Man & the Sea, chronicles the stunning (and strangely beautiful) shipwrecks of Oregon's past.

By Marty Patail March 6, 2014

A German bark stranded 6 miles north of the Columbia River entrance, 1896.

Man & the Sea: Shipwrecks of Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon by Wayne O'Neil  is the story of how the so-called "Graveyard of the Pacific" got its nickname, a stretch of notoriously treacherous ocean between Oregon's Tillamook Bay and Vancouver Island in British Columbia. O'Neil focuses his research on the smaller section of the Graveyard: the mouth of the Columbia River and Long Beach Peninsula, where more than 240 ships met their doom between 1792 and 1949

The shifting sands of the Columbia Bar, coupled with high winds, waves, and the shooting jetstream of the river's current, were (and still are) a perfect storm of danger for any ships hoping to navigate it. With encyclopedic breadth and historical detail, O'Neill's book describes hundreds of shipwrecks along the Columbia Bar both benign and tragic, like the 1936 loss of 34 men aboard the SS Iowa at Peacock Spit (a promontory on the north side of the river's mouth, itself named for another ship wreck).

Not all of the shipwrecks O'Neill writes about have pictures (the 1700s, surprisingly, was not a great century for photography) but the pictures that do sprinkle the book are stunning and oddly beautiful. Completed and published posthumously by his family, O'Neil started researching the book in 1965, using paper that had been knocked overboard from a cargo ship during a rough storm and washed ashore. 

For maritime junkies, this book is a must-have. But even for weekenders considering a trip to Astoria, Man & the Sea will deepen your appreciation for the the dangerous waters at the mouth of the Columbia. 

For more information or to purchase the book, visit manandthesea.com

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