Columbia River Maritime Museum

One of the high points of our trip was the Columbia River Maritime Museum. The Columbia River is a big river, the second largest on the continent in terms of flow. It is also full of sandbars and other navigational obstacles. The waters are especially turbulent where the river flow meets the Pacific, the bar, which is noted for its wild waves and eddies even in the best of weather. Ships heading inbound and outbound need a special pilot just to cross the bar, and a river pilot to navigate the tricky river channels.

The museum has artifacts, pictures and documents from the first days of exploration to the present. Here and there they have a piece of wood or metal, all that was found of some vessel or another lost in these waters. They also have a magnificent collection of navigational instruments, sextants and compasses, but the Coast Guard exhibits are the most compelling. Ships battle the sea and the stories are told, of rescues, challenges and losses. From the shore, the river looks peaceful, but the passage to the sea is far from it.

We went out on the dock beside the museum and had a tour of the old lightship, the Columbia. It used to serve as an on the water lighthouse, much like the old Ambrose in New York harbor, and now seems stopped in time with coffee in the pots for tired crew members on a break and an old electric typewriter at the ready for the paperwork. The modern active duty Coast Guard cruiser across the pier was off limits, but a reminder that the museum was not all about the past but about the present as well.

The Columbia River Maritime Museum

A wild road on a Coast Guard ship

Historical exhibits

The Columbia Lightship

Heading out to the lightship

Bunks on board

The museum from the water