Several harbor facilities of interest to the US Navy are located in the Puget Sound area. The facilities include Naval Station, Everett; Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton; Naval Submarine Base, Bangor; Naval Undersea Weapons Engineering Station, Keyport; Naval Ammunition Depot, Indian Island; Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island's Seaplane Base Pier; the Port of Seattle; and the Port of Tacoma.
Puget Sound is located in northwest Washington State. The Sound extends approximately 70 nmi southward from the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the primary oceanic access to the Sound. The Strait is an 80 nmi long narrow body of water extending east-west between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula. The water area that lies between the Olympic Peninsula in the extreme northwestern part of Washington state, British Columbia's Vancouver Island, and western Washington state between the city of Olympia and the Canadian Border is a prominent feature of northwest Washington. This entire body of water is often erroneously referred to as Puget Sound. Instead, it is actually comprised of several separate and distinct water areas, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia, the water area surrounding the San Juan Islands, Hood Canal, and Puget Sound.
Maritime traffic on Puget Sound is heavy; many large commercial vessels using the Ports of Everett, Seattle, Tacoma and others, enter and depart Puget Sound each day. Additional traffic on the Sound is created by the frequent runs of large Washington State vehicle and passenger ferries as they cross the Sound on generally east-west traffic routes that are perpendicular to normal inbound and outbound maritime traffic channels. Additionally, many recreational and commercial small craft operate throughout the Puget Sound and adjacent waters.
Admiralty Inlet is a narrow body of water passing between Whidbey Island on the east and the northeast part of the Olympic Peninsula on the west. Included within the limits of Puget Sound, Admiralty Inlet begins at the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and extends southward along the west coast of Whidbey Island for approximately 15 nmi (29 km). All deep draft vessels entering or leaving Puget Sound must pass through Admiralty Inlet. Consequently, it is a busy traffic area for large vessels. A Washington State ferry operates on a regular run between Port Townsend and the west shore of Whidbey Island. The ferry's route is perpendicular to the inbound and outbound maritime traffic routes near the north end of Admiralty Inlet.
Hood Canal is a long, narrow body of water that extends southwestward near the southern end of Admiralty Inlet. Approximately 55 nmi (102 km) long, Hood Canal extends southwestward for approximately 44 nmi (81 km) from Admiralty Inlet before turning sharply east northeastward for another 11 nmi (20 km) where it ends in tidal flats. A floating bridge crosses Hood Canal approximately five nmi (nine km) southwest of its mouth. Submarines and other vessels going to/from Puget Sound and Naval Submarine Base, Bangor must pass through a 600 ft (183 m) wide passage that is created by retracting floating pontoon sections located near the center of the bridge.
Saratoga Passage lies between Whidbey Island and Camano Island. From its south end, it extends northwestward approximately 18 nmi to Crescent Harbor on Whidbey Island, and then turns eastward to the waters of Skagit Bay, just north of Camano Island. Depths in Saratoga Passage vary from 600 ft at its south end to approximately 90 ft at the entrance to Crescent Harbor (US Department of Commerce, 1992). Elevations on both sides of Saratoga Passage exceed 200 ft for most of its length. Some rises on Camano Island exceed 400 ft.
The Olympic Peninsula, which lies west of Puget Sound, is dominated by the Olympic Mountains. Elevations in the Olympics commonly exceed 5,000 ft (1,524 m). With an elevation of 7,965 ft (2,428 m), Mount Olympus is the highest peak in the range. The Olympic Mountain Range is roughly circular in shape, with an average diameter of approximately 40 nmi (74 km). The Coastal Range dominates most of the extent of Vancouver Island, which lies north of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Elevations on the southeast-northwest oriented island exceed 7,000 ft (2,134 m) near its approximate mid-point. The highest point adjacent to the Strait of Juan de Fuca is a 3,686 ft (1,123 m) peak.
Puget Sound is located in an area of complex geography and topography. The central part of the Sound is bordered on the west by the Olympic Mountains and to the east by the Cascade Mountains. The two mountain ranges create a relatively narrow channel for southerly/northerly winds as they move through the area. Strong southerly winds are common over Puget Sound during late autumn, winter and early spring. The most severe wind conditions are associated with fronts and low pressure systems approaching from the Pacific Ocean. The effect of strong winds across the Puget Sound region varies greatly from location to location. Wind conditions that may adversely affect one area of the Sound may have little or no effect on another. Many of the sites addressed in this evaluation are located immediately adjacent to significant topographic features that either shield the port from strong winds or enhance wind flow at that location.
Because of the considerable distance that must be traveled to reach the open sea, evasion at sea to avoid heavy weather is not a practical option for ships moored in Puget Sound. Under most severe weather scenarios, moored vessels can avoid damage by doubling and tending mooring lines during the strongest winds.
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