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Puget Sound Winter Sailing


One thing a Puget Sound sailor can be sure of, if the wind from October to May is not from the south or southwest, it soon will be.

Relatively warmer ocean water spots, perhaps caused by undersea volcanic activity in the Gulf of Alaska, cause the air molecules over them to rise, leaving areas of low atmospheric pressure behind. As the Earth turns from west to east under that low-pressure area, the low-pressure cell moves from west to east, all the while sucking air, generally from the south, to fill the void left behind.

The resulting low-pressure cell slips southward because of the less dense atmosphere of warmer air molecules there. The Earth's rotation causes the low-pressure cell to park over Vancouver Island, aided by the Vancouver Island coastal mountain range that forces the air upward, and then by the Canadian Rockies that do the same thing.

As the stalled low-pressure system sits there, more southerly air molecules, often saturated with moisture from the Hawai’ian “ Pineapple Express,” rush in to give the Pacific Northwest its rainy south or southwesterly winds and weather.

Sometimes it rushes in great gulps, as I learned in Seattle's Elliot Bay one February, complete with what's called a spinnaker knockdown. We were racing along in a 40-foot sailboat when a blast of wind hit us. The boat lay over on her side; all sails in the chilly water and one man overboard (thankfully not me, but I was the guy who got his fingers through the lacing on his life jacket and hung on until the other crew members hauled him back aboard). As soon as we were upright, we continued racing and finished third, with a great story to tell.

Every once in a while in the dead of winter, a huge polar air mass will move from Siberia across Alaska and Canada, bringing frigid temperatures south. Where that icy air mass meets up with the warmer water-saturated air molecules from the Southwest Pacific, winter snow is the result. That may cause trouble in the lowlands, but it’s a gift to the higher elevation ski resorts. Come spring, the snow melt runoff fills the rivers and streams, sending their signature tastes and scents so the salmon know where to go to deposit the next generation of fry, and to provide enough stream flow for the fish to get there.

Tidal flows also play a big role in Puget Sound, the rule being that the ebbing or flowing current is weakest along the shore and strongest out in the middle of the Sound. And as the tide changes from ebb to flow or the reverse, it starts along the shore, and then moves off the beach into deeper water.

A big exception is the west side of Vashon Island. There, in Colvos Passage, the current always flows north regardless of the stage of the tide, an anomaly caused by the configuration of the sea bottom in that channel.

For the Puget Sound sailor, being able to predict and read the wind direction is a real gift. Knowing that in the winter a northerly wind is rare and an easterly wind even rarer, he or she wisely heads the boat in a direction that will economically use the airflow across or against the sails to get where he or she wants to go.



Bill Trandum, a retired U.S. Navy captain and self-described student of all things wind, waves and weather, lives in Vaughn.

No New Year’s Resolutions

If you’ve tried to find a parking space at your local gym or YMCA lately, you might have noticed that the parking lot is fuller than it was in the fall. The reason has nothing to do with the colder weather and has everything to do with the number of people who have made a New Year’s resolution to get fit. Have no fear, your favorite parking space will be free again in a couple of weeks when people realize that, once again, they aren’t going to keep their resolutions (studies show that fitness and weight loss resolutions usually only last one week before they are broken).

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that all those people who spent one, two or even three weeks faithfully going to the gym and found that they weren’t able to keep their resolution walk away feeling like failures. When you label yourself a failure, you believe that you can’t succeed, so you give up trying to change. Failures don’t have a good sense of self-worth and self-worth is key to making significant and lasting change.

Statistics show us that while 41 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, only 9 percent of us actually keep them. That’s a whopping 91 percent failure rate. If you’re one of those who are feeling like a failure right now, you’ve got plenty of company.

It’s sad to give up on making any significant change in your life after just one or two weeks.

The truth is that change can and should happen any time, not just Jan. 1. You aren’t going to wake up on New Year’s Day a completely different person. The person you were last night is the person you are today.

Here’s an idea: How about a new month resolution, a new week resolution or, even better, a new day resolution? Success in whatever field isn’t going to happen by making a change once a year.

Studies have shown that the average smoker has to quit seven times before it sticks (that’s an average, which means that there are many who quit a lot more than seven times). If you’re going to wait until the New Year to try to quit, it’s going to take you an average of seven years. Most people who have quit smoking haven’t quit on Jan. 1; they’ve quit when they realized that they don’t want to live this way anymore. That feeling can happen tomorrow.

Lasting change doesn’t come about because of a once-a-year “I feel good about myself because I made a resolution” piece of rhetoric. Real change is the result of falling down and getting back up again, time and time again. It’s hard work and it involves making choices that aren’t that fun to follow through on.

Each day is a new beginning and a new opportunity to change the things that you don’t like about yourself. You can fail today and try again tomorrow. Don’t wait until the New Year.


Rob Vajko lives in Purdy.

Blue-Tarp Beautification and Appliance Migration

People lucky enough to reside in areas of great beauty are naturally inspired to delve into artistic expression. The side effect is that, per capita, people in the Puget Sound area spend more time on the fine arts, literature and cultural entertainment than in any of the contiguous states. This investment in leisure pursuits is only exceeded by their investment in boats, but that is understandable—just look around.

The desire to make things more beautiful affects the way Puget Sounders take care of their stuff. For instance, a November wind sends a limb through your roof, requiring an immediate, albeit temporary, fix. Right away, you go to into beautification mode. After all, you can’t do much about a hole in the roof until the rains stop—say in mid-May or later. So, you head out to Home Depot and invest in the universal fix. Even if you don’t get around to fixing the roof in the dry season, it’s no problem—blue tarps usually last a couple of years. You have to admit that a cheery flash of color gleaming through the trees on a dreary winter day lifts the spirits of all who pass by.

Curiously, blue-tarp beautification is prevalent in areas affected by the magnetic forces that are released by sun flares. The magnetic phenomenon, known as appliance migration, usually starts with small things, like toaster ovens and such. These small appliances begin to congregate and, if left unattended, the combined magnetic energy intensifies until hot-water tanks and stoves are pulled right out of the house and into the front yard. The stuff may sit there ignored and exposed to the elements until the magnetism becomes so strong that the whole pile trundles over to be with the old cars behind the barn. Since the pile of stuff seldom grows after installation of a blue tarp, we can assume that blue tarps act as some kind of magnetic shield.

One of my friends was telling me about some new arrivals who had just bought a place on the Key. They were asked what attracted them to the area. The newcomers explained that it was because they were impressed with the number of swimming pools that showed up in the satellite view on their Google search.

Although I’m a fan of local beautification efforts, I had never considered the economic impact that a few well-placed blue tarps could have on neighborhood property values.

Perhaps it is about time for us to start showing a bit more appreciation and respect for all the blue-tarp people who go the extra mile to enhance the image of our Peninsula.

I feel inspired to invest in some backyard boat beautification myself.


Carolyn Wiley lives in Longbranch.

An Alternative View of an Alternative School


If you’re a student at Peninsula High School or a parent of a student, chances are you’ve heard about Henderson Bay High School. Whether you have an accurate idea of what Henderson really is—that’s another story.