Dead Water

There are numerous fjords on in the Salish Sea—river valleys carved by glaciers and drowned by the rising sea—where summer freshets superimpose a layer of brackish water upon the dense salt water lying beneath. (Salt water has a higher density than fresh and consequently sinks.) Ships transiting these fjords have sometimes been dramatically slowed, losing headway with no opposing current and no explanation. Ships under sail and power were equally affected. Sailors, often as poetic as they were superstitious, called the phenomenon "dead water." The name suggested the sea itself clung to the ship like the dead hand of a drowned sailor. It was an oddly appropriate name.

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A Sailor’s Gait

When the foot ferry lies alongside the Kingston dock and an east wind blows across the Sound, the short wind chop strikes the beam and the boat sometimes develops an abrupt, awkward motion. I’ve watched commuters stagger and pitch across the deck, spilling their coffee, collapsing into their seats, muttering apologies. Nothing is more mundane than the earth beneath our feet—solid, imperturbable, unmoving. Our perceptions are grounded upon it. Our balance depends upon this immutable fact, this unmoved earth. And then the earth moves.

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Gunboats on the Sound

Are the Washington state ferries defensible?

Since the attack on London’s subways, there’s been frenzied Coast Guard activity on Puget Sound. A small fleet of fast patrol boats were airlifted from San Diego to guard the Washington state ferries. The patrol boats are inflatables with rigid bottoms (RIBs) fitted with machine guns fore and aft. The guns are mounted and uncovered despite the corrosive environment. They are ready for immediate use and meant as a obvious warning: we are ready to kill if required. But a question remains unanswered. Are the ferries defensible?

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The Point That Isn’t

A brief history of Point No Point.

A few miles north of Kingston, a spit of sand extends a quarter mile from the shore where Admiralty Inlet enters Puget Sound. The S’Kallam called it "big nose" (Hahd-skus), descriptive if inelegant. Lt. Charles Wilkes, disappointed with the poor anchorage in the lee of the spit, called it Point No Point. Wilkes commanded the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1841. Wilkes was a cartographer; Point No Point was the name that made the charts.

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Time and Tide

How the steam engine unmade time.

I live in the village of Kingston on the west shore of Puget Sound opposite Seattle. Kingston was built on a bight of the shoreline called Appletree Cove, an anchorage well protected from the southerly gales of winter. It’s a general anchorage, meaning anyone can anchor as long as they wish without paying port fees or penalties. From the streets of the village you can see the white riding lights of the boats at anchor even in winter.

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