The Samoa Tsunami and Washington State

by Tim Flanagan on September 30, 2009

It’s rare for me to even consider skipping off work on a weekday.

Running Three Sheets is a very busy full-time job, anemia and there’s invariably something that needs to get done. The level of guilt triggered by playing hooky on a weekday is extreme.

But passing up an opportunity to get out on the water Friday would have been verging on insanity. Turning down a chance to travel on a magnificent 80-year-old yacht with its own chef, decease on an almost cloudless day warm enough for July, health would have suggested I needed to have my head examined.

So responsibility got relegated to the back burner, where it belonged. I happily accepted an offer from Diane VanDerbeek to sail with her on Olympus, her 80-year-old, 97-foot fantail yacht. I’d seen a little of Olympus previously at boat shows, but most of the vessel, including the lower level and staterooms, had been closed off to the public. I was curious to see more and talk with Diane about the boat’s colorful history.

Launched in 1929 and originally named Junaluska, the yacht was built for George Callendine Heck, a partner in a Wall Street investment firm, who used it to commute from his two Long Island estates to lower Manhattan. After a stint as a Navy patrol vessel during World War II (during which time its stunning brightwork was painted grey), the yacht was purchased by Washington Governor Monrad Wallgren, ostensibly as a state fisheries patrol vessel, and renamed Olympus.

In reality, Olympus was the governor’s personal yacht and was frequently used to entertain his good friend, President Harry Truman. After the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (my previous employer) revealed that the governor used more than $100,000 in Department of Fisheries funds to refurbish the yacht, Wallgren, not surprisingly, lost his 1948 bid for reelection.

Diane and her late husband John VanDerbeek bought Olympus in 1985. The yacht is now used for private trips and charters, and has accommodated celebrities such as Robin Williams, Hilary Swank and Candice Bergen. It’s a regular fixture during Seattle’s Opening Day festivities and each December, carries children and adults with disabilities on a cruise to see boats lit up for the holiday season.

Diane showed me around the boat, taking me through its four staterooms, whose walls hold antique photos and framed vintage bathing suits. We walked through the main salon, with its wing chairs and sectional sofa, and the dining room, where the table was laid out with one of a dozen sets of china aboard. Everywhere was gleaming wood, meticulously appointed furnishings.

Olympus' stately main salon

The stately main salon

The boat, which has won numerous awards, is clearly loved. That much is obvious not just from its bristol condition, but also by the fact that the VanDerbeeks had a custom boathouse built for it on Lake Union 10 years ago.

On Friday, Olympus was headed to Poulsbo for a Classic Yacht Association rendezvous. I met Diane at the boathouse and we departed in the early afternoon, along with a friend of Diane’s and four crew members, including the boat’s captain and its chef. Champagne was served as we headed toward the ship canal, the three of us sitting on deck chairs on the bow. Work? What work?

We waited for more than two hours to get through the locks, but no one was complaining. Seated around a table on the aft fantail, we were served a three-course lunch that started with a chowder made from lobster stock, heavy cream and oysters marinated in white wine and cognac, served with fresh, homemade bread and butter.

Next was a carefully conceived and arranged main course: herb salad on baby greens with blood oranges in a citrus vinaigrette, pheasant breast seared with white truffle oil and coated with rose peppercorns and herbes de provence, and scallops coated with a blend of white truffle oil (the meal’s featured ingredient), yuzu vinegar, parsley and coarse red salt resting atop a mix of crème fraiche, pico de gallo and avocado. It was almost too pretty to eat.

Lunch aboard Olympus, meticulously prepared by chef Richard Lawton

Lunch aboard Olympus, meticulously prepared by chef Richard Lawton

And then dessert—a cheesecake with walnut cookie crust, three types of dried cherries, a mix of Scharffen Berger-Ghiardelli chocolate and a caramel sauce. Lunch for me is usually a salad. Combined with the wine, the meal was enough to send me into a blissful food coma for the remainder of the afternoon. Instead, we relocated to the bow and settled into our deck chairs, taking in the scenery as the boat wound through breathtaking Agate Pass and chatting about everything from divorce to rowing.

One of the best things about launching Three Sheets Northwest is the people we’ve met: boaters who have told us their stories, invited us aboard, ate and drank and shared their love of being on the water with us. Traveling on Olympus, experiencing a few hours on a piece of living Northwest history, was a treat and a privilege.

The forecast for today and into the weekend calls for temperatures in the high 50s. Last night felt like the first real fall evening, and Friday’s sunshine and warmth is already fading into memory. Summer, it seems, is over. There will be plenty of time over the upcoming months to hole up in my office, writing and working on Three Sheets.

Could I have gotten more work done last week? Sure. Would it have been a mistake to stay home Friday to get it done? Absolutely.

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From Ear to the Ground:

Figure 1. NOAA tsunami propagation map

Figure 1. NOAA tsunami propagation map

An 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck 125 miles south of Samoa and American Samoa on Tuesday, grip
September 29, buy at 10:48:11 am.  The earthquake probably occurred as a normal fault rupture, resulting in multiple tsunami waves, four of them about 15 to 20 feet high (Fig. 1).  The West Coast is vulnerable any time a tsunami is generated in the Pacific Ocean.  In this instance, the tsunami waves did reach the American coastline, strikingCalifornia, Oregon and Washington, however, the height of the waves was less than 2 feet (the highest observed height was 1.38 feet in Crescent City, California).  In Washington State, La Push reported a wave of 0.46 feet.

When a large earthquake is generated in the Pacific Ocean, NOAA’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) and West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (WC/ATWC) monitor the situation, producing Tsunami Warning, Watches, Advisories, and Information Statements (seehttp://wcatwc.arh.noaa.gov/Products/msgdefs.htm for definitions). Messages for Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California come from WC/ATWC; PTWC issues messages for most of the rest of the Pacific Basin.  A Tsunami Warning is the highest tsunami alert, indicating that a destructive tsunami, if generated, could be only a few hours travel time from the area under a warning.  This is initially based on seismic information to give early warning, but is followed up by other sources of evidence, such as sea-level measurements at tide gauges or DART buoys (pressure recorders) and by numerical modeling.

The Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geology and Earth Resources (DGER) has been working closely with the Washington Emergency Management Division to monitor the tsunami danger to Washington State.  As of this morning, a Tsunami Advisory has been cancelled.  Washington is vulnerable to tsunamis, including one generated right off our coast by a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake.  A tsunamigenic earthquake elsewhere in the Pacific also has the potential to send a destructive wave onto our coastline.  DGER actively studies and maps tsunami inundation zones (accessed through our interactive map site and tsunami evacuation brochures) along our coastline and makes sure tsunami evacuation routes are safe and effective in times of disaster.  DGER also publishes TsuInfo Alert, a bimonthly newsletter that links scientists, emergency responders, and community planners to the latest tsunami research.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Taupoimasina October 1, 2009 at 2:36 pm

With all that has been said and done….I just really want to know one thing.

Was there any indication of ANY seismic data activity…AT ALL in the month(s)…weeks, days….even up to September 28th, the day prior to the morning(6:48 am Am. Samoa time) of this devastating disaster and tragedy….around this so called subduction zone???

Thank you.

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