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Thursday, February 13, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sailors Find Trouble Where River, Sea Meet

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

No matter how good the boat, sailors from time to time can't outsmart the temperamental stretch of water where river meets ocean.

"The bar," as it's called by mariners and the Coast Guard, is that stretch of turbulent water near the mouth of rivers - the most notorious is the Columbia River bar at Cape Disappointment - where two radically different bodies of water collide.

On the Pacific Coast, where prevailing winds come from the west, ocean water and swells moving toward the coast crash into river water pushing in the opposite direction. Depending on the weather, the swells can get taller and closer together and the waves can lose their regular order, becoming confused and boiling in every direction.

"It causes all kinds of havoc," said Coast Guard Chief Kurt Looser in Seattle.

A bar can change depending on the time of year, local and distant weather systems and a variety of other factors such as the strength of the river current. Complicating things even further, the river dumps sediment at its mouth, making the water shallow and more dangerous for boats.

It was such a bar that the Coast Guard rescue boat was crossing yesterday morning when it overturned, tossing four crew members into the chilly water. Three crew members died.

The Quillayute River bar is an ill-defined area marked by submerged rocks, James Island, dikes, submerged jetties and spots of dangerously shallow water. Water in and around the bar ranges in

depth from 9 to 54 feet.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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