They call it a pineapple express. It arises around the Hawaiian Islands and comes like a freight train filled with water and hits the North American coast causing windy conditions and dumping lots of rain. I’m not a meteorologist and I don’t even play one anywhere that it might matter. I’m just stating the facts ma’am. And we all know that facts now can be misleading at times depending on perspective. Anyway, a fitting moniker, Pineapple Express might be explained by reviewing the screen shot below. All I’m doing is looking out the window right now and watching the williwaws dance across the inner bay between our snug boat and the Parliament Building with all of its Christmas lighted splendor.
Everything around me is moving in some way right now. The small sailboats with their masts and rigging poking skyward catch more wind than our motoryacht. They are moving in synchrony with the gusts of wind scooting through the marina, dipping and rolling slightly and tugging on their dock lines signaling their impatience. Let’s get out there and play! But since most of their owners are sitting inside somewhere out of the rain and wind they remain at the dock, their Christmas lights forming a colorful moving palette against the sedentary lights of the landlocked shore lights.
Great Northern is moving a bit, but it’s 70,000 pound mass attenuates the motion, reducing it to a comforting rocking movement at the threshold of perception. It’s just enough to remind us that we are on a boat and not on land anchored to a patch of soil. The diesel heater is warming us. The covered walkways on each side of the boat keep the windows clear of raindrops so our view is unimpeded. Kai is asleep on Les’s lap under a blanket and we are inside, protected, enjoying a mild winter storm. It is comforting being attached to a sturdy dock and not having to worry about dubious holding ground in an unknown harbor as williwaws pummel the hull. But… we are on a boat and that is our current preference.
Back to the Pineapple Express. A snapshot of a PredictWind program screen shows what that means from a meteorological viewpoint. The band of red between the Hawaiian Islands and Northern California up to Vancouver Island demonstrates where the Express is at 1600 12/19/19. Victoria appears to be at the bitter end of the torrent… and we are getting a bit of wind and rain as I type. I would not want to be off the coast of Oregon or Washington right now. Out there the wind is blowing steadily in the high 30’s with gusts in the mid 50’s. The average ocean swell is in the 18 foot range with wind waves on top of that. It is ugly weather for a small boat… a barfOrama and quite dangerous for the ill prepared. Within 3 days or so the Express will be shifting to the South and will hit California all the way to San Diego. Predictable fun for all to share…
Looking at another screen that shows local conditions we can see that there will be significant wind gusts between 1200 and 1900. In retrospect, we didn’t get the 47 knots predicted for 1600 but we did experience winds in the mid 20’s with gusts into the 30’s. It helps us that we are in Victoria’s inner harbor surrounded by large buildings that block the strongest winds. For most of the day the local wind was coming from the North and the Empress hotel held steadfast between us and the wind!
Well… it’s not really that cold outside. When I started writing this last evening it was around 46 F. It didn’t get much below 40 F overnight. There was a heavy rain during the height of the wind event which morphed into milder rain versions over the next 12 hours and right now at 1300 on Friday, it is just sprinkling. It appears that we and all the craft around us survived our little mini-storm.
Victoria is at the edge of a sunbelt aided and abetted by the Olympic Mountains and the Coastal Vancouver Mountains that present incoming storm coming off the Gulf of Alaska with significant barriers. The height and positioning of the mountain ranges creates milder conditions mixed in with a few sunny days now and then. Although this image is a bit misleading, it does demonstrate the blocking effects of the coastal mountains on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the area around Sequim and Port Townsend, Washington and Southern Vancouver Island. The weather attenuation creates a “sunshine coast” effect, one of the main reasons we selected Victoria for December and January.
So far we are enjoying our wintry month of December, and are looking forward to January. Our experiment this year is to spend the winter in the Northwest. That has meant so far, becoming familiar with many different cloud formations and forms of precipitation . We have our down coats, scarves and gloves on when we are out wandering about, but we still see a few hard core types in shorts and flipflops. The fact that pot is legal in Canada might have something to do with that. Canadians are tough, but at least they do wear jackets.
Les and Kai
When Kai is outside he has a layered look about him. He has many little jackets to wear around the boat to keep warm, and we bought him a puffy coat to wear over those when he goes out. He still shivers… but he wants to go with us so he puts up with it. As we walk around people look at him and they can’t help but smile. They stop us to chat and ask if they can pet him. He’s a regular little ambassador. Its aboot time someone is, eh?
Amongst all of the attributes that we admire about the Northwest, two things stand out that we find a bit irksome. The first is the heavy clothing that we have to layer on to be comfortable when walking about. The second is the shortness of daylight hours. Before going outside in the usual 42 degree weather, we put on multiple insulating layers topped off with fairly thick insulated parkas that shed water admirably. Of course, scarves are applied at throats to seal of the ingress of cold air and hats top off the kit. Whilst gamboling about, said layers keep us toasty and dry regardless of weather. But… when we go into a store or the post office or a pub, really anywhere “inside”, we then have to remove most of the layers or we rapidly experience the initial symptoms of heat exhaustion. When we finish conducting our business, then we have to kit up again. On off… on off… on off… it is exhausting. Well… you go right ahead and laugh. Then, go live in Southern California for 45 years, spending your non-work hours in shorts, a teeshirt, and flip flops supplanted by Uggs and a light jacket in winter. Then you hop on a plane and land in Seattle or Victoria or Vancouver or Sidney in the dead of winter. My thought is that you would immediately layer up and experience the same on off… on off… on off… burlesque show. It’s just fine for a day or two. A novelty really, but as a steady diet both Les and I long for a simpler wardrobe… at least in winter. On top of that, Kai is in total agreement.
The daylight thing… It doesn’t really get light until 0730 and by 0800 it is light, sort of, depending on the amount of cloud cover. At 1600 dusk occurs and by 1630ish it is dark, no if, ands, or buts, dark. That leaves perhaps 7 hours of daylight. We are used to more.
The experiment is still afoot, but we are both starting to form an impression that there might be advantages to an itinery of spending spring, summer and fall in the Northwest exploring, and spend the colder winter months someplace warm in places where shorts and flip flops are all that is needed. San Diego, La Pas, Loreto, Tucson, Hawaii, New Zealand come to mind. The discussion so far centers around leaving the boat in the Northwest and renting something in a warm clime to thaw out. Another data point in the discussion is that Great Northern is certainly capable of cruising along the coasts of North and South America. The fuel we would burn pencils out as a wash considering air fare, condo / apartment rental etc. Its all very interesting. So… we will continue with our experiment for now and make a decision when it makes sense to. And… we are grateful for having the ability to make those kinds of decisions…
Time will tell as it always does…