Rare View of Oregon Coast

Tillamook Passage: Far Side of the Pacific, by Brian D. Ratty. Published by AuthorHouse, 331 pages, hardcover, $29.95.

Tillamook Passage coverNative Americans rarely take center stage in historical fiction with strong maritime themes, but Tillamook Passage: The Far Side of the Pacific is an exception. And the author, Brian Ratty, adds an even rarer element, the unique native cultures of the Pacific Northwest coast, which have deep sea traditions and technology that still amaze modern mariners. Tillamook Passage explores this history more deeply than almost any historical novel for young adults in recent years.

Ratty starts with one of the least known, but most important sea voyages in American history. In 1788, the sloop Lady Washington and the full-rigged ship Columbia Rediviva set out from Boston on a trading expedition. Captain Robert Gray aimed to become the first American seafarer to trade for furs on the Northwest Coast and sail west for Hong Kong and back to Boston. He would become one of the first Americans to circumnavigate the globe.

Enter a fictional crewman, Joseph Blackwell, a Boston teenager anxious to strike out on his own. But he gets more than he bargained for when he is marooned at Tillamook Bay on the coast of what would be known later as Oregon. With him is Marcus Lopez, a character based on a real crewman aboard Lady Washington who was killed in a skirmish with the Tillamook tribe in 1788. But what if Lopez and the fictional Blackwell survived the fight and were left for dead by Lady Washington? From this point, Ratty speculates how Blackwell and Lopez adapt and eventually thrive in an alien culture.

Ratty’s story is full of rich descriptions of life aboard ship and particularly life among the native peoples of Oregon. By having Blackwell adapt western sailing technology to indigenous sea-going canoes, Ratty shows how a single individual can have a dramatic impact on an entire culture. And by having Blackwell trade with people from the Smith River just south of the Oregon border to the mouth of the Columbia River, Ratty surveys the global political situation as Spain, Great Britain, Russia, and the U.S. compete for the riches of the Northwest. Tillamook Passage is a grand tour of the Oregon Coast before America understood its boundless possibilities.

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