Perhaps as many as 300-400 ships annually “would be no more” per the Bill Gaither lyrics (below), were it not for the Cape Disappointment lighthouse – and the United States Coast Guard Station nearby – that marks the entrance to the Columbia River “reputed to be one of the most dangerous in the world.”
“There’s a Lighthouse on the hillside
That overlooks life’s sea
And when I’m tossed it sends out a light
That I might see
And the light that shines in darkness now
Will safely lead us o’er
If it wasn’t for the Lighthouse
My ship would be no more.”
Even the ship Oriole, carrying the construction materials to build the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, sank two miles off shore in 1853.
Completed in 1856, the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse – one of 750 guarding the shores of the United States – guides sailors into the mouth of the Columbia River from the south, it’s light visible 17 miles out to sea.
Perhaps it was a storm such as we had this past weekend – 87 mph gusts throwing sea-green breakers into white, foaming spray so high as if to overtake the lighthouse itself, perched on the cliff 220 feet above – that caused British fur trader John Meares in 1788 to turn away from the very shelter he sought from the wild, turbulent seas: the Columbia River.
Disappointed, Meares declared in his diary that no such river existed, hence the name “Cape Disappointment.”