Braving the surf at Cape Disappointment

Written by Chief Petty Officer Jeremiah Wolf.

Station Cape Disappointment is known around the Coast Guard as an unforgiving and challenging place to operate. Notorious for more than 2,000 shipwrecks and 700 deaths since its discovery, people across the world recognize it as the Graveyard of the Pacific. But to the crews at Cape Disappointment, it is both a home and a training ground.

Cape Disappointment’s most treacherous and prevalent feature is its surf. The cape’s surf is created when the powerful ocean storms, developed off Japan and the Aleutian Islands, collide against the shoals and currents of the Columbia River. The result is towering surf that can flip a boat in seconds; much too quickly for a rescue call to go out. That is why the crew of Cape Disappointment must be masters of their craft.

Cape DIn order to be masters of their craft, Cape Disappointment’s crews conduct training in the surf whenever possible. During the 2012 to 2013 winter season the crew conducted more than 115 hours of surf training in conditions ranging from 40 knots of wind to stinging hail.

From October 2012 to March 2013, the crew documented their training and the video above is the product of this footage. You will see the crews and boats negotiating some big waves. If you look closely you might also see them having fun.

“Surf training is awesome,” said Seaman Josh Bjorkland. “It’s an experience that not a lot of 19-year-olds get to take part in.”

During one clip you will see what happens when surf training goes wrong. During the musical break the boat does not properly negotiate a wave. It heels over and plunges the crew underwater. The boat shown in the video re-righted within 8 to 10 seconds. Once upright, the crew followed their training and safely exited out of the surf.

The crews at Cape Disappointment meet the task of being “Graveyard Guardians” daily. It takes courage and devotion to duty to fill that role; more importantly it takes the desire to face challenges boldly, train in extreme weather and to strive to be a master of your craft.

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