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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012, 12-19

2012, 12-18 The aftermath

"270km/h Tropical Cyclone Evan smashes Fiji"
"The town of Lautoka resembles a war zone."
"Strongest cyclone on Record,"
"No reported deaths,"
"Ships grounded,"
"Roofs ripped off,"
"Winds reach 135mph on Fiji's big island of Viti Levu."

I am filled with gratitude this morning as I type along listening to Bill read headlines to me. For those of you not on the metric system 270km/h equals 162mph -at the strongest point of the storm. The Big island of Viti Levu saw reported winds of 135mph and here in the marina we saw sustained winds well over 100mph. Our boat is not only still floating and all in one piece but we have virtually no damage at all. That is not the case for many of the other boats here at Vuda Pt Marina. Looking at the devastation around us and seeing how much damage was done to other boats by the boats around them I am certain that Bill decision to rerun the bow lines of our boat and the unoccupied boats around us made a huge difference in our outcome. We bitched and moaned through the hot work and envied a few of our neighbors who were sitting back drinking a cold one after their own pre-storm preparations but right now every minute of extra work was worth it.

I will try to draw a picture in your mind of how the boats are usually tied and then explain the change Bill made. When you moor your boat on a quay -essentially there are no docks or finger piers but rather you are stern in too a cement wall- you usually tie two lines off your stern and two lines off your bow to hold you in place. The two that go to land tie off starboard and port onto big steel rings and those that go to the water side tie off starboard and port to floats in the water that are then tied to something big and heavy underwater. If you look at a line of boats their bows are tied off with rope each forming a v going out into the water. Bill and I ran a second set of lines with chafe gear on both ends from our bow to our neighbor's floats spreading the force out one notch. Then we ran a second set from the boats on either side out a notch to our floats. Essentially we spread out the force and added redundancy while shoring up the holding power for our neighbors at the same time. If you think of it like spreading your legs and taking a more grounded stance, that's what we did.

On the quay side we added chafe gear to all four ends of the line already attaching Island Bound to the quay but then also added two more lines. The added lines went out another notch to either side like we did in front and we added not only chafe gear but length of chain on the land side to lessen the potential for a disaster if the lines slowly began sawing away on the rough concrete. During the worst of the storm while boats where laying all over each other crashing back again and again onto the boats next to them our little group of bobbers were heeling over but not grinding in to each other.
So.........a busy day ahead cleaning up so will say goodbye for now. Thanks for all the good wishes sent our way and we will write soon. Kat

!2-18 continued

Walking around the marina today seeing firsthand the effects of a category 5 cyclone was a lesson in gratitude. A category 5 cyclone leaves huge amounts of devastation in its wake. There is an odd quietness to the day in spite of the noise of the men already busy working with chainsaw, machete and truck. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone seems at least a little bit shell shocked.

      Early in the cyclone S/v Wayward Wind -one of the largest vessels in the marina lost both bow lines AND the anchor chain that was supposed to be attaching them to the inner cyclone ring. For a time they used their motor to try and stay pointed forward and off the surrounding boats but as the cyclone clocked around things got worse. At the back of the boat they have a large super sturdy stainless steel V mount for their wind vane made out of 3” pipe which speared the cement quay and eventually ending up stuck under the lip of the walkway leaving them unable to move at all. Their weight pressed against the boat next to them and like dominoes all the boats in that line began grinding together. Our friends who suffered some of the worst of the damages of the storm were a few boats down. With winds so high inflatable fenders were being rolled up onto decks and useless the boats in that part of the line groaned and ground together with the sheer weight of the winds for several hours. The toe rails on several of those boats were turned into toothpicks and where hull touched hull midships were ground down to bare fiberglass.


In the morning word came down the line that the marina was hosting us to tea and a dazed but good sized group showed up. Over fruit and pizza we learned about the fate of others on the island and set up some work crews for beginning to clear the debris and open up the walkways and for helping the kitchen staff put on a meal in the evening for everyone at the marina. It was also a time to solidify plans for the marina appreciation dinner we had begun to plan before the cyclone hit. The idea for the dinner we'll hold tomorrow night came from an appreciation for all the hard work the staff put in to help ready the marina for the storm. They worked for days and nights, tirelessly and always with a smile. Many worked double and triple time and most did so while their own families and homes were on their own. We passed the hat and came up with $750 which the marina will turn into food and drinks and a kava bowl and the boaties will serve them for the night.

Throughout the day word trickled on about the fate of the rest of Viti Levu and the surrounding islands. The entire area is without power and water and they're saying we'll see about three week pass before we see those services back online. We may have a bit of luck since Vuda Marina sits smack dab next to Blue Gas an import gas company with a pipeline out passed our reef where the tankers unload which is considered vital to Fiji and so their power and ours will likely be restored before anyone else on the island. There is no phone service, no radio or TV broadcasting and thousands of people lost their homes and businesses. There are thousands still in emergency shelters. The local farmers really have it bad with crops wiped out -in many cases a year's worth of crops gone. We're told within days there will be virtually no fresh produce available for many months to come which almost makes me cry thinking about all the mouth watering papaya's, mango's, passion fruit and bananas I'm going to be missing.

The multimillion dollar high end super yacht attracting marina at Port Denarau is no more. The docks are completely gone. All the vessels in Port Denarau were sent away but somehow one 85ft super yacht ended up there on the rocks. Musket Cove marina is gone as well as is the cruiser beloved Five Dollar Bar who's bure style bar and BBQ pits -completely annihilated. There is a mangrove swamp not far from Vuda Marina where many of the areas larger vessels retreated to spider web themselves into the mangroves for protection. We're told everyone came through safely but that there are some big tales to be told about breakaway boats and crashing neighbors.

It's hard to describe the extent of the devastation. I walked around the ground of First Landing Resort next door and my mouth hung open for most of the tour. Branches as big as a house lay sprawled around. The porch on the spa at First Landing was crushed under one tree and their once lush tropical gardens look like a bomb dropped. Most of their bure rooms surprisingly made it through without damage. The pool looked unhurt but is filled to overflowing with debris and brown sandy water from the storm surge. Their workers had already cleared the main paths with machetes and were joking and laughing with me as I looked around at the devastation.

Again it is hard to describe the experience. A hurricane has always been the big boogeyman of my cruising fears yet I was never really afraid -well maybe a teensy bit. At moments I could feel and taste the adrenalin my body was dumping out for my benefit. About the time the storm was reaching its crescendo I repacked our ditch bag expanding the few meager initial inclusion. Next to the small bag with passports, boat papers and laptops I began a new pile. I added Rx eye glasses, prescription medicines, tooth brushes, our backup credit cards and our American dollar cash stash, computer plugs, Kindles and chargers, water, Cliff Bars and one set of clean clothes. At dinner last night Marilyn on S/v Zulu commented that maybe it would have been wise to leave ditch bags high and dry in the office for emergency pickup since no one knew exactly how they were going to get off their boats with big bulky bags in tow.

One interesting phenomenon was what happened when the winds began to abate. It sounded so quiet and felt so still in comparison that we were happily discussing how light the winds had become. Then we opened the companionway and boy howdy it was still blowing well over gale force! When you've recently been buffeted by hundred and something mph winds sixty feels like a nothing. I've definitely had my experience and I certainly never want to go through anything similar at sea. I'm now certain that I can live without ever experiencing another one -been there done that. So let's make this the seasons only cyclone for Fiji thank you very much. Then some dumbbell loudly states that having such a roarer on December 18 says that this could be a banner year for South Pacific cyclone activity. Thanks for that update buddy. Will write soon. Kat

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2012, 12-17 Tropical Cyclone Evan

11:00 am

Gale force winds and rain have just arrived. We had expected the winds to begin building last night but they didn't show themselves until about an hour ago. The expected hours of heavy rains to usher in today's winds also didn't materialize which allowed both Bill and I a good night's sleep to bank against the coming storm. As I type this we are at gale force (35-50mph) but that is light enough for Bill to take a walk to the breakwater for a few minutes where he reported that right outside the marina proper the wind is near 50mph while inside the marina where we sit safe and secure it is blowing around 35mph.

Unfortunately the surge protecting boom has already failed but the marina staff has a diver in the water and a boatload of workers frantically trying to fix it. Side note: we thought the boom was going to be a giant chain with airplane tires strung like beads stretched across the mouth of the marina but when we were watching them get things ready we could tell they were going to be using heavy lines instead of chain! The winds haven't even reached us yet and already Bills EESP (Engineers Extra Sensory Perception) showed itself by predicting the failure more than half a day before the event.

Not one of the forecasts we are checking matches any others on predicted wind speeds or path so who knows what we will see in the next 24 hours but regardless it looks like the party is at our door! Kat

1:45pm

We are now experiencing heavy rain and sustained winds of 50 with frequently much higher gusts. The eye of the storm is scheduled to come it's closest to us in about 5 hours. So far our most serious problem is the fenders that keep blowing up onto the deck instead of lying at work between us and S/v Sojournor on our starboard. We have a steady set of drips around the main companionway but still have plenty of dry towels.

Around us things are starting to fray a bit. There is a loose halyard ricocheting around from the big unoccupied Formosa two boats over, the main sail on Turn the Page is unfurling and Relax just reported a large tree fell on them moments ago.

4:00 PM

Things are still building. A few hours more and then hopefully things will begin going the other direction. We are unscathed though getting damper by the minute. Beds still dry though! Our wind indicator tops out at 51mph no matter what is blowing so we have no real guess as to the sustained wind speeds but it is significantly more than we have ever experienced before and we have been at anchor with 60mph winds and in a marina at 75.

Our fenders are still jumping up on the deck instead of staying alongside where they would be of some use but the great news is that our quad stern, quad bow and anchor chain are all holding fast as are those on the boats around us. The two small boats on our starboard side have been hitting the quay and the little wooden finger pier splintering it a bit but are so far doing OK. The big Formosa one over on our port side is also holding fast thankfully since they were our biggest worry. Guava Jelly the 36 footer to our port between us and the Formosa is also doing well though his main hatch cover is gone and his Sunbrella tarp is slowly turning into ribbon. Our Whisker pole came loose and was flying off to starboard at a near 90 degree angle but S/v Lochiel saw it and gave us the heads up over the VHF and Bill was able to cinch it down.

There are head sails unfurling and fraying on other boats in all directions though none seem to be too threatening to the boats around them. We thankfully completely stripped our boat of sails as is the order of the marina. Those who chose to save themselves the work will be paying for it in the weeks ahead but since right now they are impossible to bring down the real danger is to the boats around with the added windage likely to bust lines and lay boats against one another. Up on land behind us S/v A Go GO sits in a pit and is slowly tilting to port. I'm not sure how far she can go before she tips out of the pit and or into the boat next to her.

Our friends John and LeeAnn on S/v Red Sky are reporting significant damage to their hull from the boat next door and at the moment are not answering their radio which has me a little worried. Grant and Caroline on S/v Lochiel were losing ground with the quay and are now motoring forward to try and keep the damage at bay. A boat kitty corner across the boat basin lost both their bow lines and the anchor chain that was attaching them to the central ring but seems to be managing fairly well by using their engine but when I look in their direction I assume there is going to be some significant damage to the boats around them as a result of the failure.

The trees around that I can see are splintered and broken and for as far around me as I can see the foliage is mostly off the trees. Bill is doing most of the outside work but the rain and winds are so strong he keeps getting chilled and the stuff flying through the air is so thick he is now wearing the ski goggles he received as a gift for just such a purpose when we first bought the boat. I appreciate his efforts more than he will ever know but I have to say Bill soaking wet, covered with leaves and tree bits wearing swim trunks and ski goggles is a truly humorous vision.

I can only assume that everyone is doing relatively well since the airwaves have stayed surprisingly quiet. Which either means all is well or they have no power to run their radios. Our wind indicator continues to read incorrectly but S/v Chrisandaversdream report gusts over 100mph. In time we will learn just how high the winds managed to build but in the end we get what we get and knowing exactly what it's blowing doesn't change things much.

The report that just came across the VHF said the winds should clock around to come from the north in about 1 hour and then we can expect about two more hours of topped out winds then things should begin to settle down. Oh and we still have no idea if the surge boom was repaired or not but I guess we will know as soon as the winds clock around to the point that the ocean swell is poised to howl directly down our throats. That could be fun in the coming dark. And yes I was a teensy bit scared but feel better now. Kat

8:15pm

It looks like the worst of the wind has passed us by. The needle on our barometer dropped like a rock over the last ten hours from 1018 to roughly 960 (the barometric pressure in the eye was reported to be 940 so we were darn close to the center of things) but is on the rise again at an equally fast pace. We are fine and even drying out a bit. The winds are still roaring at about 40 mph with pretty regular gusts into the 60's but in comparison to what we've just been through it sounds downright quiet out there. It will take daylight and much lighter winds before we can really check for damages but all in all it looks like we have fared extremely well.

We still have the back half of the hurricane to weather but really our only worry is the possibility for surge. The forecast calls for a 4 meter ocean storm surge -the surge is what causes flooding in cyclones- and it remains to be seen how much of that will breach the outer reefs and islands to work it's way to our home. High tide comes in a couple hours and the worst of the surge generally comes after the eye of the storm has passed so the flooding that will hit Viti Levu is yet to come. It is dark out now and it will be much harder to judge what we should do with our lines to combat any swell inside the marina. Bill always looking ahead put 50 foot lines on the quay side for just this eventuality. If we get a 12 foot surge we have 30 feet of line to use for adjustments. Not my fort-ay for sure but we will do our best to finesse the lines as best we can for whatever comes our way.
The water in the marina is now filled with debris: plastic bottles, tree branches, leaves, bits of rope, pieces of wood and at least one 55 gallon drum. So wish us luck in the dark tonight. Kat

11:30pm

Thankfully no huge surge made it into our inner sanctum though it looked like the tide was high (the highest we had ever seen it) in our little boat basin several hours after official high tide. We were lucky, extremely lucky. It sure looks as if Bills decision to re-tie the boats to either side of us made a difference in our outcome. I'm exhausted and since the winds have lowered enough that I might be able to get a bit of sleep I'm going to do just that. Kat

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2012, 12-16 More on Evan

2012, 12-16 Tropical Cyclone Evan

Evans predicted path has now shifted a bit south which means we are soon to experience a bit more than was anticipated at the time I wrote to you yesterday. The models now show us firmly in the 50nmph band rather than the 35nmph that Bill was hoping for. Sometime in the next hour marina staff will drag the surge protection boom across the entrance to the marina and once it is in place the marina will be closed to any more incoming traffic.

It is hot and humid and strangely still inside the marina right now but we should soon begin to feel the edges of the storm. The winds are forecast to build through the night and by day break our wind instruments should be showing us at least 35nmph. Then Evans true colors will present tomorrow when we will find out just how well all of our preparations will hold up.

We spent a total of three full days in sweltering heat preparing for Evan. Island Bound is ready and so are we. We took things in steps first taking care of the absolutely must do items, then switching gears in anticipation of sustained 35nmph winds. Then today we redoubled our efforts in anticipation of a full on hit -just in case. The marina staff has been working tirelessly and so have almost all of the residents. In the end it felt like we spent as much energy working on other peoples boats as we did on Island Bound. Lucky us two boats on either side of us are unattended.

Of the four boats next to us three were well prepared and just needed a few tweaks but one -which should be upwind of us for the biggest hit of the storm- was left basically unprepared despite the fact that all boat owners are required by contract to be left in cyclone ready condition anytime they are left unattended. The boat was covered with very flimsy tarps and once we began unhooking the tarps in order to help the marina staff attach the anchor chain to the central cyclone ring we discovered there was all sorts of junk littering the decks.

I found life preservers, bits of wood, numerous four foot lengths of four inch hose, six empty diesel cans, lengths of plywood, plastic tubs, two dock boxes with heavy hinged lids left loose with no tie down or locks and a broken wooden oar. Every last bit is a potential damaging projectile in high winds. The anchor chain was not left prepped for attachment to the cyclone ring and and there are only two flat fenders on each side despite the fact that this is a 54 foot, 30 ton giant. Needless to say we were glad we were finished with our own preparation in time to do what we could for our neighbor. Truthfully we would have rather been sitting at the Boat Shed Restaurant drinking an icy cold soda and lime!

To prepare we added two additional lines with four foot chain segments quay side where the lines touch the concrete quay and added chafe gear -lengths of fire hose- to all the critical spots. On the bow we doubled our lines from two to four and added chafe gear there as well. Thanks again to Doug and Ruth on Angelique who gifted the fire hose to use years ago way back when we all lived on F-dock. I knew I kept packing it around for a good reason! Everything that can come off outside is now inside and everything that couldn't be removed is tied down. I've packed a small ditch bag with passports and boat papers and have room left over to add things as I think of them so we're ready to run for high ground if there is any physical danger.

Some of you may think we're crazy to plan on staying on the boat during the cyclone but don't forget Island Bound was designed for all that the oceans can dish out. We are far better off on board than we would be any place else on the island. We are fully self contained: we will have power while the rest of the island remains dark for days to come, we have cooking gas and a fridge full of food and cold drinks, we have plenty of water, a library of music and movies to keep us entertained and I even managed to get the boat clean despite the work we had to do. Now I guess it's time to sit back and rest. Talk to you soon. Kat

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2012, 12-15 Tropical Storm Headed Our Way.

2012, 12-15 Vuda Marina, Fiji

Hi everyone. Just wanted to touch bases now before cyclone Evan is due to arrive. We've been hard at work getting Island Bound ready for whatever comes. Our plan is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The most recent computer models show Evan passing to the north of Viti Levu Island where Vuda marina sits but of course all we have is models so we will only know the real path after the fact.

Vuda is the safest place for us to be in Fiji. The marina itself is the only one in the south pacific to be certified for cyclones with Lloyds of London insurance so this is the place to be. The marina staff is working extremely hard to prepare and the work all around us has the place rocking. The marina sponsored a meeting at noon today to go over what we can expect and everyone is working amazingly well together to prepare and plan. We have a working VHF channel picked out for communication during the storm and as we speak there is a team of extremely hot and tired men working on getting every boat attached to the cyclone ring (the 15 ton underwater mooring in the center of the boat basin.)

Island Bound is prepared and equipped to handle whatever Evan throws at us and in truth we are much better off than most of the locals since we have an independent power source that isn't likely to fail, 140 gallons of water, cooking fuel and stores of food to keep us comfortable and completely self contained. It is however likely that our usual SSB/Ham communication will be effected by the passing storm and the local cell phone company will be first thrown into turmoil and then will cease to function completely for who knows how long. So, once this thing hits we will probably not be able to email or call to tell you we are alright. We will email as soon as we are able but depending on what cards are actually dealt to us it may be some time before you hear from us. We are probably just laying around watching movies or playing cards while we wait for the world to return to normal around us.

We've battened down the hatches and laid in a supply of mangoes, papaya's and pineapples. The battery banks are topped up so we can watch movies to our hearts content and now there is nothing left to do but take care of the dinghy tomorrow. Keep us in your thoughts...we'll talk to you soon. Kat

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2012, 12-12 Watching for Cyclones in Fiji

 
   It's Christmas in Fiji. I know it is because there are carols on the radio and the stores have decorations for sale and signs telling me what I should buy to make my holiday special but it is a little hard to get into the “spirit” of things when the mercury hits 90 by 10:00am.

     Bill was off to the American Consulate early this morning to renew his passport. It doesn't expire for months but we have to begin working on our visa extensions which is multi-step process and they won't extend your visa unless you have at least 6 months left on your passport. So off across the island -five hours each way- for a day of bureaucracy.

     There are several ways for us to extend our Fijian visa. First we will apply for the usual easy two month extension which will get us through late March but then we have to do something more significant. We can fly out and return which restarts the clock, we can sail out of Fijian waters and turn around and come back (or visit any other country for a brief stay) or we can pay $600 each for another six months. Leaving Fijian waters sounds simple enough but ahah! it's cyclone season and leaving in March for an ocean passage might not be the safest answer to the visa puzzle. The other option -purchasing tickets to New Zealand- would give us a holiday in Kiwi land but leaves us faced with leaving the boat unattended for the duration of the trip while cyclone season still bears down on us. We have already had two cyclone watches this season though neither has developed into anything to worry about. Each though has been a reminder that to stray far from the marina leaves us vulnerable to both the cyclones and taking our boat out of the only place where we are covered by insurance for any resulting calamity.

     Staying close to the security of the marina has cut down on the travel we were hoping for in Fiji. We've ventured as far as the island of

     Malololaiai in the Mamanuca group which lies just to the west of us and will soon be visiting the southern most islands in the Yasawa group but so far we have stayed pretty close to home. We had counted on being able to stray much farther afield but that was based on a history of sailing in the Pacific Northwest where there are no reefs to sneak up and bit you in the behind. The reefs around Fiji are numerous and not well charted which leaves our sailing day shortened with the need to have the “right” light during travel hours. When you are traveling unknown waters you need the sun above you and or at your back. If it is overcast or if the sun is in front of you you can't see the reefs until your right on top of them. So travel is by where your going and what time of day it is. We have been laying down tracks on our chart plotter (a process of keeping a record of our path so we can go in and out of anchorages safely based on our own previous passage route) and that will give us a bit more range but then we are also limited by the miles themselves.

     Cyclones. Everything we do here is based on the most recent weather report. But it is not just a matter of if there is a storm. A handful of online weather sights track systems all over the pacific for us, we track them, our friends track them, the marina tracks them and then it's a matter of miles and time. The lows that develop into true storms are a living breathing thing that is frankly hard to read. Some big storms make a slow and steady trek across the miles and you have plenty of time to batten down the hatches. Some build and grow astonishingly quickly. Many look dire and then peter out all together. They all can make a quick change from nothing to something or something to nothing while your happily concentrating on something else.


     Truly getting ready for a cyclone is a lot of work and most of us are loath to cyclone proof our boats again and again only to have the work be a waste of time and energy. If we go through the drill of preparing for a storm all the work must be reversed again to make the boat livable in the heat and ready to sail again to the outer anchorages. The trade off for staying in the water and being free to sail to the outer anchorages in order to beat the oppressive still heat of our cyclone safe berth at the marina means where most cruisers ready their boat once and are done for the season we will likely run the drill numerous times between now and May. We've also learned that though we have a prepaid six month slip at the marina if we lollygag around when a storm is building somewhere off across the ocean by the time we make it back to safety the marina could be closed by the surge protecting boom they put in place at the entrance to the boat basin. So you better not be late for the party!


    In the meantime we are getting out and about to experience the island of Vita Levu. We have figured out all the buses and know the way to the movie theater (movies in English again, yea.) We are slowly learning which shops have the best produce and which have the best prices on groceries. I am starting to expand my cooking knowledge of the local ingredients and we are becoming curry professionals. My roti recipe is improving and I am beginning to be able to differentiate between sweet potatoes and parsnips, taro and tamarind and walu and wahoo. Oh and the fishing has been pretty good on our passages back and forth to the outer anchorages.

     Well since Bill is off gallivanting around the island I am going to get out the Christmas decorations and see what I can do to get a bit more into the spirit. Merry Christmas. Kat