Off the coast of Oregon, the Columbia River flows into the Pacific Ocean and forms the Columbia River Bar: a watery collision so turbulent and deadly that it’s nicknamed the Graveyard of the Pacific.
Two thousand ships have been wrecked on the bar since the first European ship dared to try to cross it in the late 18th century. For decades ships continued to make the bar crossing with great peril, first with native guides and later with opportunistic newcomers, as Europeans settled in Washington and Oregon, displacing the natives and transforming the river into the hub of a booming region. Since then, the commercial importance of the Columbia River has only grown, and despite the construction of jetties on either side, the bar remains treacherous, even today a site of shipwrecks and dramatic rescues as well as power struggles between small fishermen, powerful shipowners, local communities in Washington and Oregon, the Coast Guard, and the Columbia River Bar Pilots – a small group of highly skilled navigators who help guide ships through the mouth of the Columbia.
When Randall Sullivan and a friend set out to cross the bar in a two-man kayak, they’re met with skepticism and concern. But on a clear day in July 2021, when the tides and weather seem right, they embark. As they plunge through the currents that have taken so many lives, Randall commemorates the brave sailors that made the crossing before him – including his own abusive father, a sailor himself who also once dared to cross the bar – and reflects on toxic masculinity, fatherhood, and what drives men to extremes.
Rich with exhaustive research and propulsive narrative, Graveyard of the Pacific follows historical shipwrecks through the moment-by-moment details that often determined whether sailors would live or die, exposing the ways in which boats, sailors, and navigation have changed over the decades. As he makes his way across the bar, floating above the wrecks and across the same currents that have taken so many lives, Randall Sullivan faces the past, both in his own life and on the Columbia River Bar.
Praise for Graveyard of the Pacific:
“A riveting story of maritime tragedies and a personal passage… It is Sullivan’s gripping, vividly detailed accounts of nautical disasters at the Columbia Bar that make the book such an achievement… The author’s personal story—from growing up with an abusive father to his 2021 attempt to cross the Bar by trimaran—courses through the book like an intermittent current… A strikingly rendered tale of the hard and lasting costs of courage.”—Kirkus (starred review)
“The point where the Columbia River spills into the Pacific Ocean has long been known as the ‘Graveyard of the Pacific’ for all the deadly shipwrecks that have occurred there over the centuries… Sullivan challenges himself to traverse these turbid waters in a fragile trimaran… Defying nature’s fury, Sullivan also faces down his own demons… Ultimately, the struggle to cross both physical and emotional bars defines for Sullivan manhood in the contemporary world.”—Booklist
“Vividly evoking Sullivan’s deep fascination with the Pacific Northwest and thirst for friendship and adventure, this is a thrill ride.”–Publishers Weekly
Praise for Randall Sullivan:
“Sullivan thoroughly details a case fraught with tension, complexity, and many key figures . . . Intensive, engaging investigative journalism.”—Library Journal on Dead Wrong
“Sullivan has done what every aspiring true-crime writer hopes to do: He has crossed the line from titillation into cultural history.”—Los Angeles Times on The Price of Experience
“The most thorough examination of these much-publicized events. Exhaustively researched, the book methodically weaves a disturbing story of corruption, intimidation, and murder.”—Boston Globe on LAbyrinth