I’ve wanted to make the trip out to West Sand Island for quite some time. It wasn’t until Friday that it became clear what that would entail.
The paper has wanted to do a piece on the abandoned island for years and just one thing or another has held us back. But with the nice weather and a need for the lead piece on the Life page, it seemed like this week would be the one.
I decided I would get a boat and go out to the island to make photographs of whatever I found, and Friday was going to be the day.
After making arrangements to borrow a canoe from the Skookum Surf Co. in Seaview, I drove over with the thought that I would easily put it on top of the car and drive to Ilwaco. However, when the owner, Julez Orr, walked me over to where the boat was resting I realized this may not work — the canoe was easily as long as the car.
After tying it down, I drove to the Cape Disappointment State Park boat launch where my girlfriend and I gingerly got it off the car and into the water.
Upon landing on West Sand Island, I hiked the west shore, from the northwest end, down to the southern most tip — about four miles roundtrip — which took a few hours with many stops to examine things.
By the time I turned around to return north it was clear that a very strong north wind had kicked in, slowing down my hike back. It was also doing quite a number on the water in the channel, creating sizable swells.
I launched the boat, but was quickly pulled out toward the river by the current and was lucky to get back to shore.
I took off my life jacket and dragged the boat back up the shore and launched again, this time with better success.
I paddled hard for several minutes before realizing I wasn’t going north, but rather west, and was in the middle of the channel, going up and down with each swell.
I also realized I had forgotten to put my life jacket back on.
Using the paddle, I hooked the vest and flung it back toward myself and quickly put it on — much cursing could be heard around this time.
Knowing there was no way I was going to be able to paddle back to the Cape D boat launch, I let the tide pull me into the land, southeast of the Coast Guard station.
After a call to work to ask for a ride, I dragged the boat up the shore, figuring the Coast Guard would notice me eventually and either come arrest me for trespassing on Homeland Security property, or come help me. Thankfully it was the latter.
While I sat next to the boat, Petty Officer John Duncan came down from the motor lifeboat school and offered to help me drag the canoe up to the parking lot at the school, where my boss and girlfriend were good enough to come rescue me.
First thing my boss asked me was, “Did you get good pix?” I was happy to say that I thought so.
Because of where it is situated near the mouth of the Columbia River, West Sand Island is the final stop on the journey of a lot of ocean garbage, some of it is pretty interesting.