Northwest Storm

As many of you know, those of us living in the Northwest got battered by a pretty hefty windstorm last week. Packing gusts up to 60 mph (up to 100 mph out at the coast), the winds wreaked havoc with roads and especially power lines. After a very soggy November (15 1/2 inches of rain ), the ground was saturated, and fir trees — not known for their deep roots — started falling like crazy.

Their is an ancient tradition in the Northwest which maintains that most power lines must be strung above ground along streets lined by firs (an ancient Indian ritual, evidently) and hence when the winds blow, the power goes out on a big scale — over 1 million lost power in the Puget Sound area alone.

Once the trees hammer the wires, utility poles go down as well, causing lots of live wires on the ground and a real mess to repair.

We were fortunate to lose power only for about 36 hours — although cable (and therefore internet) are still out at home, with no timetable set to get it working again.

This is the kind of storm which brought down the first Narrows Bridge (aka Galloping Gerty)

The current bridge has withstood many such storms without a glitch — although it was closed for about 6 hours during the storm. The new bridge under construction suffered no damage as well, although temporary safety fences were pretty well shredded, and were dangling off the sides of the bridge the following day.




With home internet out for the near future, I may be a bit behind on posts for a while, but there’s a couple in the chute not far from completion, so stay tuned.

Tall Ships Tacoma-I

The Maze series has been pretty heavy-duty, and there’s more to come (sorry to say)–but I thought we all needed a break, to ponder things more graceful and elegant. So put your pencils and pads in your desk, and let’s go for a little boat ride.

Never let it be said that I rush into anything–in truth, I put the “pro” in procrastination. Last summer–just before the July 4th weekend–I had a wonderful opportunity: to be on board one of the sailing ships in the Tall Ship Festival in Tacoma.

It was a spectacular adventure on a spectacular day–the the type of day you dream about when the rain and the darkness settle over Puget Sound like sodden tarps during the endless dreary gray of a Northwest winter.

The morning started out like many here–even in the clear warmth of summer–with a low fog over the Sound, quiet and muted in tone, the haze rendering depth deceptively and desaturating colors, its damp coolness belying the coming heat of midday sun.

Our journey started from the Port of Tacoma, a busy industrial harbor which handles one of the largest volumes of container ship traffic on the West Coast, due to its proximity to Asia and excellent rail access.

container ship
We took a ferry from Tacoma to nearby Quartermaster Harbor on Vashon Island, were the tall ships had anchored, each arriving over several days from many remote ports of call. Upon entering the harbor, the effect was magical: sailing ships large and small, their masts rocking slowly in the gentle swells of passing craft. Surrounding them, in growing numbers, were countless smaller boats, power and sail, dinghy and yacht, clinging like pilot fish to to their ancestral predecessors. Signal flags fluttered, Old Glory flew grandly on tall masts, and boat horns sang celebratory as their klaxon call echoed off the tree-lined shores surrounding them.

My assigned boat was the Zodaic, a two-masted gaff schooner home-ported in Seattle.

Built in 1924 for the heirs to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune, Zodiac was designed to epitomize the speed and beauty of the American fishing schooner. She raced from Sandy Hook New Jersey to Spain–finishing fourth–a short-lived flash of glory, as the Crash of 1929 forced her sale to the San Francisco Pilots Association in 1931. Renamed California, she served forty years off the Golden Gate as the largest schooner ever operated by the Bar Pilots. She was manned by a Naval crew during WWII, guiding warships into the bay through the narrow straights, and was finally retired in 1972, the last working pilot schooner in the United States, subsequently falling into disrepair through disuse and neglect.

In the late 70s, a non-profit corporation was formed to operate and maintain the schooner, whose maiden name was restored to Zodiac. Drawing on an experienced crew of sailors and shipwrights, many of whom have worked on other tall ships such as the Adventuress, Sea Cloud, Eagle, Lady Washington, and Robertson II, the ship was restored to her former beauty and sailing strength. In 1982 she was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The boat has been magnificently restored, its brass trim and shellaced hardwood woodwork providing a glimpse into a world 75 years past.

A view toward the stern.

The helm.

The compass, a glorious composite of glass, brass, and hardwood.

The wait seemed interminable–several hours, in fact–as people were transfered by skiff and powerboat to the many waiting tall ships, prior to the grand parade from Quartermaster Harbor back to the Port of Tacoma. Finally, with all aboard, we began to slowly motor out of the harbor, amidst a remarkable flotilla, a sea of small pleasure craft and sailboats–no trivial feat this, as the limited visiblility and the manuverability of a sizeable sailing ship like Zodiac made collisions with small craft a constant risk.

But at last–the fog now cleared and a brilliant, clear Northwest day upon us, the crew began to hoist the sails, and our short but glorious sailing parade began.

I’ll be posting lots of pictures of the tall ships and other historical boats in the near future, so stay tuned.

Happy New Year

Narrows Bridge at nightHere’s wishing all my readers, and your families, a happy and prosperous New Year. May you all be blessed with good health, optimism, peace and prosperity this year.

The new Tacoma Narrows Bridge has been decked out for the holidays, with colored lights on the catwalks, Christmas trees on the towers, and even colored construction cranes. Here’s a shot I grabbed last night — one of the few nights without rain in the past few weeks.

Back soon — God bless and stay well.

Bridge Blogging

Gertie collapses - color

I am fortunate to live near an engineering marvel recently completed: the new Tacoma Narrows bridge. Most folks have heard of the Tacoma Narrows bridge — at least the first one, “Galloping Gertie”, which catastrophically failed during a windstorm in November 1940.

Built at the cost of $6.6 million dollars, designed by world-famous bridge architect Leon S. Moisseiff (who also designed the Golden Gate bridge), it embraced the light, elegant design principles in vogue at the time – and was designed with complete ignorance of the aerodynamic effects of high winds on bridges. Moisseiff had inadvertently created a mile-wide airplane wing, with its light-weight narrow deck and plate-girder sides. It survived only 4 months after completion. In a strong-but-typical November windstorm, the wave-like undulations were severe enough to unseat a cable from its saddle on the West tower, creating a corkscrew torsional motion which ripped the bridge to shreds.

The only casualty, surprisingly, was Tubby the three-legged dog.

May he rest in peace.

Gertie after collapse with woman
The fallen span of the bridge remains at the bottom of the Tacoma Narrows, and has been designated a National Register of Historic Places to prevent salvage. It is one of the world’s largest artificial reefs, and home to a plethora of marine life, as well as the world’s largest octopuses.
Gertie afterwards
Gertie wreckage under water
The remainder was disassembled and sold for scrap during WWII. The caissons and anchors (for the cables, on either bank) were used, largely unmodified, to support the towers and cables of the second Narrows Bridge.
The second Narrows bridge was begun in 1948, construction delayed by WWII, and completed October 14, 1950, 29 months after construction began, at a cost of $14 million. It was one of the most highly researched bridge engineering projects in history, and greatly advanced the understanding of aerodynamics in suspension bridge construction. A 1/72 replica of both the original and the new bridge were built in a wind tunnel and thoroughly tested for several years prior to design completion.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge - 2nd

Designed to carry 60,000 cars per day, the second bridge ferries over 90,000, and had become a major choke point for traffic in the rapidly growing South Puget Sound area. These transportation pressures have given rise to the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge project.

The Tacoma Narrows is a formidable natural barrier. Carved out by ancient glaciers, over a mile wide and 260 feet deep, with steep, unstable banks on either side, it is a hostile environment for a suspension bridge. Wild tidal currents rip through the Narrows twice daily, through the sole portal between the Pacific Ocean and the entire South Puget Sound. High winds and fog are common. The Puget Sound area is also prone to major earthquakes.

The new Narrows Bridge project was the largest engineering endeavor in the U.S. in the last 30 years. Construction began in late 2002, after approval of an $800 million public-private financing package. On the east and west banks are the anchors — enormous concrete fortresses designed to secure the cables with their huge tractive forces to the sandy glacial till on either side of the Narrows.

Narrows Bridge Caisson
The new caissons underwent initial construction in the Port of Tacoma, and were towed to their location in the Narrows, where they were secured in place on the surface with a series of anchor cables arranged radially. These cables, and flotation tanks in the caissons, where used to control the descent of these floating concrete islands, as layers of concrete were added to the top. A sharp cutting edge was added at the bottom, to ensure the caissons would reach bedrock when the weight of the towers was added.
On the east and west banks are the bridge anchors — enormous concrete fortresses designed to secure the cables with their huge tractive forces to the sandy glacial till on either side of the Narrows.
bridge anchor
bridge anchor view
bridge anchor plate

After the caissons have been seated on the floor of the Narrows, the towers begin their rise from the caissons.

More on these on subsequent posts.