The end of November, 2014 brought the first big storm of winter, the first bar closure–and the annual “Graveyard of the Pacific Shipwreck Weekend” at Cape Disappointment. The weekend is billed as a “family-friendly” outing, but personally, I have begun to wonder if we aren’t a little too light-hearted about death and destruction on our local waters. You see, shipwrecks are really not a family-friendly matter, and especially in the historical period before lifejackets and rafts had been invented.
So I think our local pride in being the site of the “Graveyard of the Pacific” deserves examination. “It is just a part of our history, so why not be proud of it,” people say. Well, for comparison, thousands of people also died on the Titanic, and it is hard to imagine a celebration of that disaster. 100 years later, it is still seen as a real tragedy.
It could be that this local infatuation with the graveyard and shipwrecks is publicized to attract tourists. If so, I wonder if this might be creating an image problem for us. You see, “Stop at Dismal Nitch on your way to Cape Disappointment to see the Graveyard of the Pacific” sounds pretty depressing—not the kind of trip that families and fun-loving young people want to take.
So I think it’s time we held a competition to replace them with something more cheerful……I suggest “The PACIFIC PLAYGROUND–Where the river meets the sea!” Alright, I know I’m not going to win many votes with this—it’s far too cheerful–but perhaps we could we at least agree where the Graveyard actually is? There are at least four stretches of the NW coast claiming to be THE Graveyard of the Pacific!
Actually, sailing ships were wrecked so often all around the Americas that this was a very common event. The officers were rarely faulted because SAILING with no engine was so unreliable as a means of transport. Need I point out that there were no engines on those ships, no accurate charts or current tables, no depth sounders, radar, or the most recent advance—GPS.
Sadly, there was very little awareness or interest in the safety of the crew, it was the cargo that mattered in those days. Fortunately, the crew of the famous wreck of the Peter Iredale were all safe and sound—the ship was so close to the beach (and still is) that you can walk around it at low tide. Just like the crews of the Galena and the Alice wrecked on the same beach, they walked ashore and were met by the US Lifesaving Service, which had established a station nearby at Point Adams in 1889.