Friday, October 26, 2012

Legends of the (Northwest) Fall

Fall in the Northwest can be non-conducive to providing many decent sailing opportunities.  I should preface this by saying that Fall usually begins around the second week in October, plus or minus a week depending on the year.  Before that, it is summer.   And summer begins July 5th, but that is a different story. 
A "great" day for sailing.
At any rate, during Autumn, you have to expand your definition of “good sailing conditions.”  You also have to seize any opportunity to get out that you can!

There are limitations.  The days have shortened to the point that nipping out for a quick sail really is not a worthwhile proposition, so, at least for working stiffs, sailing opportunities are confined to weekends.  Even on weekends, you have to commit to getting out on the water early, because the daylight isn’t going to hang around forever. 

Then there’s the weather.    The peerless, idyllic summer days are gone.  The skies are going to be grey.  You have to mentally redefine a “sunny day” to mean “hmm…I think I see a spot of blue over there!” 

The weather pattern also tends to be dominated by endless series of storms moving in off the ocean.   It tends to be either gale force winds and raining, or totally calm and drizzling.  Sometimes the rain stops, though you still have to cope with grey skies and at least the threat of rain.  You have to be ready, or at least resigned to the fact, that you are going to get damp.  Maybe not drenched, but damp.  But you can’t rule out getting drenched either, I suppose.
Since the weather is cooler, really the best you can hope for is wet and cold.  Having the usual mixture of Scandinavian stoicism and Gore-Tex present in most native Pacific Northwesterners can help one shrug off the wet and cold.  After all, umbrellas are for wimps and tourists. 

Under a "hole in the sky,"  courtesy of the rain
shadow of the Olympic Mountains
Once you’ve pushed past the wet and cold, you have to conquer the winds.  As mentioned before, Aeolus shows bipolar tendencies this time of year.  I’m guessing it is due to a lack of Vitamin D.   Anyway, neither dead calms nor Small Craft Advisory conditions as are really ideal for spending time in the cold and wet in a small craft.  There is a secret, though.  There are brief periods right before or right after a storm, just as a system is moving in or out, that the winds are just right for truly exhilarating sailing.  These windows of opportunity maybe only a couple of hours long, or may even last nearly a full day.  Know when these are coming, carve out some time, grab your rain gear, and you are set! 
There's something else...the Olympic Mountains.  They are due east.  Incoming weather has to go around them, either to the north or the south.  Where the weather that went around the south and the weather that went around the north collide, well, that's called the Convergence Zone, and it can be very, very, very wet.  But, but, if the wind is blowing just right, you may find yourself  in the rain shadow of the Olympic and it will be sunny when it is grey and rainy everywhere else. 

Being chased by a nasty looking raincloud.
I took Solitude III out recently during one of these windows.  Sailing was fantastic.  The wind was right around 12 kts, just at the point at I still feel comfortable singlehanding without a reef in.  Solitude moved fast on the beat downriver.  I had other commitments later in the day, so I made just out to the saltwater before I had to turn back….being chased by a very dark raincloud the whole way back.   It only  started drizzling just after I pulled S.III back on her trailer.   I only snuck in about an hour of sailing, but it was sure worth it! 

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