Friday, October 27, 2023

Graveyard of the Pacific by Randall Sullivan

Graveyard of the Pacific by Randall Sullivan is an interesting book subtitled Shipwreck and Survival on America's Deadliest Waterway. The book is about the Columbia River Bar off the coast of Oregon, where the massive Columbia River flows into the Pacific Ocean, creating frenzied water conditions that have claimed over two thousand ships and to this day remains an extremely dangerous area.

Sullivan in the book tells stories from the Columbia River Bar, and weaves in the story of his life as he and his friend Ray Thomas (who had a similarly troubled childhood with a domineering father) set out to cross the bar via a trimaran two-person kayak. 

The book has a solid blend of personal narrative with history about a fascinating area, the calamities that occurred there, and the people who lived and worked around it. Among other stories, Sullivan covered the Tonquin, a ship sent by John Jacob Astor and written about in Peter Stark's book, Astoria. The parts about shipwrecks are great, but equally as interesting are those about people (especially the Coast Guard, but also the Columbia River Bar Pilots) putting their lives in danger to rescue others and to help get boats successfully through the dangerous waterway.