Stretching from Tillamook Bay on the Oregon Coast to Cape Scott Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia lies an area that is known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific“. Along the Columbia Bar alone, more than 2000 vessels and 700 lives have been lost. Klipsan Beach Life Saving Station #309 is approximately 13 miles north of Cape Disappointment on the Columbia Bar. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Station #309 was originally named Ilwaco Beach and was one of several stations assigned to protect the vessels entering the “Graveyard of the Pacific”.
Started in 1891 on a volunteer basis, it was known as the Ilwaco Beach Station. On November 3, 1891, the Strathblane ran aground near the station and the volunteer crew was unable to get their lines out to the ship resulting in the loss of seven lives. As a result, the decision was made to permanently established the station on a full-time professional basis in 1891 and the first keeper, Richard Turk, was appointed on December 18, 1891.
During a time when surfmen rode horses to patrol the beaches, the station was equipped with a Dobbins type lifeboat and a McClelland surfboat, both of which were launched into the surf from either a horse drawn or a four-wheel hand carriage. Various other rescue equipment the station was equipped with included the breeches buoy, Coston flares, and the Lyle gun.
If needed, the station could also call upon the Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company, a seaside railroad, to assist in moving rescue boats up and down the beach to get closer to a wreck before launching. It also transported the crew of the station to wherever a vessel might be stranded along the line. Special runs were made to bring onlookers to wreck sites and a weekly excursion was made to bring vacationers to watch lifeboat rescue drills at the station itself. The Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company was used in at least one rescue, when, on December 19, 1896, the German bark Potrimpos drifter ashore seven miles south of the life-saving station. The horse drawn lifeboat was unable to get down the beach and the railroad was called upon to transport the lifeboat and crew to the scene of the wreck, where fourteen men were still on board. Another train brought a life saving crew from the next south station, Cape Disappointment, but by the time they got there, the surfmen of Klipsan Beach #309 had launched their lifeboat and rescued the fourteen remaining crewmen.
Today, Klipsan Beach Life Saving Station #309 sits as a testament to the bravery and fortitude of the men who were stationed there. It is privately owned and operated as a vacation rental. If you want to learn more about the history that is on the shores of the Washington Coast, then I would definitely recommend a visit.
For more information on the United States Life-Saving Service please click here.
Until the next adventure…..