Here in the Pacific NW, we're known for our grey skies, rain, and mild temperatures. Most don't get on the water unless it's sunny or in summer. When the blue sky finally does arrive, folks go nuts - traffic is heavy, people drive faster, tempers flare, and people scrape the moss of their boards and boats and rush to the beach. On these days we see every type of water craft possible - 3 person canoes, homemade boats, pedal boats, kayaks, sups, etc. Interestingly, few go swimming.
What most don't do is actually check the weather forecast. More often than not, a blue sky day here means light to strong northerly winds which begin in the afternoon. This is called a high pressure system. So while the blue sky makes us nostalgic for summer and warmer places - the water in Puget Sound is still 50 degrees, cold enough to get hyperthermia in 30 min or less. While most don't find themselves in perilous situations during this weather, here's a few tips to make those sunny days a bit safer just in case.
- Check the weather forecast - If the barometer is dropping, 'falling' or 'falling rapidly' expect strong winds soon. I use this NOAA link to check my local paddling area:
- If winds are coming, bring your leash. I try to stay off the evening news, this helps.
- Blue sky? Don't just rush to the beach thinking it's going to tropical, often the beach is as it absorbs heat, but the water isn't. Bring a variety of clothes along just in case it's cold. In a small backpack, fanny pack, or deckbag on your deck - stash a wetsuit top and/or bottom, farmer john, and/or neoprene hood in case you get cold. Do what works for you - not what's cool to your friends. I get cold easy, so I follow what my body is telling me. That's way cooler.
- Because the north wind jacks up in the afternoons here on blue sky days, think of how that may affect your paddling. It may be glassy getting to your destination, but can you paddle against the wind on the way back and deal with rough seas? Be willing to sit down when paddling against the wind. Or chose a shorter distance to avoid any issues.
- In summer, tidal exchanges are bigger during the day. Check your tide chart to see what's going on. If you float really easily to your destination, you're probably going with the tide and maybe wind as well. When the wind increases, can you paddle back against both?
- Remember to hydrate - bring a bottle of water, hydration pack or similar. Consider a sun hat, sunglasses, and sunblock.
- If you're skilled with surfing, these northerly winds make for great downwinders in certain places.