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Who can live on the Oregon Coast and not love nautical charts?

Originally sailing ships provided the only access to the Tillamook region. But the entrance to Tillamook Bay was one of the most dangerous on the West Coast, with navigational errors sending many a craft to the bottom. Accurate charts were important.

The pressing need for accurate nautical charts also played a critical role in local Oregon history.

Charting unexplored waters was a large part of Captain Robert Gray’s mission when he discovered Tillamook Bay, and later the Columbia River. Charts became a weapon in the struggle between Spain, Britain, the United States and even Russia in settling claims to the largely unexplored Pacific Northwest.

Without accurate nautical maps, Oregon could well have ended up part of Canada.

Of course, not all charts were perfect. Cape Meares was originally named Cape Lookout by English explorer Captain John Meares in 1788, but nautical charts produced in 1850 mistakenly put the name on another cape, ten miles to the south. By the time the mistake was realized, Cape Lookout was being widely used by mariners for the southern cape. The Coast Survey decided it would be easier to rename the original Cape Lookout than correct the maps, so in 1857 it became Cape Meares.

Most people are familiar with the U.S. Geologic Survey’s topographical maps, which cover the land area of the United States. Fewer know that another federal agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has more than a 1,000 nautical charts available covering the entire American coastline.

The northern Oregon coast is covered by two 1:20,000 scale maps, Tillamook Bay (18558) and Nehalem (18556). A larger scale map (1:185,238) covers Yaquina Head to the Columbia River (18520)

Admired for their accuracy, many also consider the NOAA charts beautiful, verging on artwork. Large scale versions on canvas print adorn many beach cottages and coastal businesses (www.charthousemaps.com).

NOAA charts are accurate, surprisingly attractive, and far easier to come by than One-Eyed Willie’s.

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