The shipping route through the mouth of the Columbia River is famously hard to navigate. Could a ship ever run aground there and block it, doing to local shipping what the Ever Given did to the Suez Canal? —Columbia Bar Tender

Upon receiving this question, Tender, I had two naps, confident it would be a slam dunk. Then I had a glance at the navigational chart for the Columbia Bar and quickly realized I might as well be looking at a schematic of the Large Hadron Collider.

The mouth of the Columbia is widely regarded as one of the most difficult waterways in the world, which is why only 16 pilots are trusted to guide ships through the bar's shifting, treacherous shoals.

You heard me: Literally every time a 100,000-ton boatload of Instant Pots and Tickle Me Elmos rolls in from the Pacific, it has to park and wait until one of 16 specially licensed demigods can be helicoptered in to steer it across the bar.

Still, they're worth the trouble, since—as far as my research can determine—the Columbia's shipping channel has rarely if ever been blocked by a wrecked vessel.
"Of course not!" I hear you mewling. "The mouth of the Columbia is 6 miles wide!" (I'm generously assuming you know it's 6 miles; you're welcome.) "No ship could block all that!"

Exactly what I'd expect from a dirt-munching landlubber like you. Sure, the river is 6 miles wide, but the dredged navigation channel—the only path guaranteed deep enough for big ships to pass—is only about half a mile wide at the river's mouth and narrows to as little as 600 feet farther upriver. A grounded ship in that lane would present a major challenge to navigation.

Indeed, it was in one such stretch that the grain ship Gorgoypikoos (apparently they're running out of ship names) ran aground a scant two years back, partially blocking the shipping channel and halting traffic for most of a day.

Soon, however, the current and rising tide allowed it to free itself. The Gorgoypikoos was lucky; most of the ships that have run aground in the Columbia over the years were simply crushed into driftwood by the waves. A grounded ship might block the river—but the unruly waters make it unlikely the blockage would stay put for very long.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.