Sailing a ship into the narrow channel at the mouth of the Columbia River was always dangerous and often deadly. Sailing ships would frequently be forced to wait for days and sometimes weeks for the weather to be right to "cross the bar."
Even if the tide and winds were favorable when a ship crossed the bar, conditions could change rapidly, leaving a vessel stranded without winds, against the current and quickly surrounded by sand.
The year, 1853 was marked by the loss of four ships and at least four lives, all within ten miles of this location.
"The year 1853 proved disastrous, especially at the mouth of the Columbia..."
Lewis and Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, 1895
One Week, Three Shipwrecks
January 9: The Vandalia was last seen by crew of the Grecian sailing off the coast, near the mouth of the Columbia River.
January 11: The I. Merrithew was pushed by the current onto the sands of Clatsop Spit, everyone was rescued before 8 AM by the pilot schooner.
The Mindora struck the Middle Sands at low tide around 8 PM, the crew rowed themselves to Astoria.
January 12: The remains of the I. Merrithew were found near the rocks at the base of North Head.
later: The remains of the Mindora were found near the entrance to the Willapa Bay, thirty miles north of here.
The remains of the Vandalia were found in the cove below this overlook. Four bodies washed up on the beach including that of Captain Edward Beard, whom Beard's Hollow is named for.
The Wreck of the Oriole
The need for a lighthouse at the mouth of the Columbia River was dreadfully clear by 1853. The U.S. government selected 13 locations on the West Coast to build lighthouses, of these sites, Cape Disappointment was one of the priorities.
The Oriole arrived in September of 1853 with materials to not only build a lighthouse here, but three others in California as well.
The ship, like so many before and after it, crossed the bar during a flood tide with a favorable breeze. Once across the bar, the wind died, leaving the sailing vessel to the mercy of the currents, waves and sand. The Oriole struck a sand spit and within hours, the ship and all the lighthouse materials sank in view of where the lighthouse would be built.