We already knew Friday the 13th of March was going to be a black day with talk of the Vanuatu
Beast and Nuclear Cyclones having done the rounds for a week or so. As currently forecast
, the eye was going to side swipe us by about 100 miles at category 5.
Our boat was already hauled, cottage cyclone shutters in place, big battery
and lights for the cyclone itself and generator
for the post cyclone power outage. It’s funny
, after weathering cyclones on boats with only solar panels
, we realized we needed a generator
to run our fridge etc. Not so self sufficient as land lubbers. Plenty of food
and drinking water
in stock as well as charged phone
batteries, kindle & laptop
The morning of the 13th was spent doing a couple of last minute preparations and talking about strategies & contingencies with the Admiral. Our cottage is 4 metres above high tide mark and about 8 metres back from the water
on a lagoon
. The winds were forecast
to come straight across the lagoon
at us then veer to the southwest as the eye passed, so we were going to receive the full brunt of what Pam had to offer, with water
thrown into the mix as well.
As the winds built we battened down and by lunch time we had 40 knots gusting to 60, nothing too dramatic yet if you have ever lived in Wellington NZ. By early evening it was really starting to boogie and we stood by to lose power at any moment.
Around 1900 we received an updated warning that the system had changed track and was heading more or less directly for us. We had been concerned about losing the roof and what we would do so we had built a small bunker out of 2 very strong tables, covered with a tarpaulin and sheltering our important papers, mementoes etc. with barely enough room for us. After the latest update we decided to enlarge the bunker with a king size bed
base supported by the 2 tables and 2 chairs with the mattress underneath for us to sleep on, all kept cozy with the tarpaulin covering the whole lot.
We’ve both lived and worked on the windiest place on Earth and experienced what Antarctica can show but NOTHING prepares you for 130 knots of sustained winds for a few hours. The wind
skipped through the “shrieking” phase and went to the “moaning” very quickly but we were so exhausted we actually slept for some time.
The devastation we awakened to on the Saturday was mind boggling. Our cottage proved her worth as an old school
colonial building and was almost completely untouched. We were one of the few lucky ones with rooves, trees and assorted debris blocking every street and road.
The clearing effort started immediately and when we were able to get to the harbour we were confronted by about 90% of the moored boat fleet either damaged, sunk, semi submerged or tossed up on shore like a toy boat. Unconfirmed news was reaching us of 3 yachties dead. The coastal trading fleet were lying like a row of tipped over dominoes on Iririki Island with some small boats crushed in between them.
One 90’ steel
dive boat had managed to cut a swathe through the moored boats, sinking some, holing others and breaking moorings. Derelict vessels that Marine
had done nothing about broke their lines and holed other boats.
In amongst it all were a few yachts that had survived by some miracle, including an old classic Bass Strait sailing cray boat. None of the owners had expected to have a boat in the morning so the 5 yachts that survived were truly blessed.
We had one boat listed for sale
by an absentee owner which ended up with her mast
poking through the Waterfront Bar & Grill
(for those that know Port Vila). I contacted him yesterday to see if he had insurance
, the answer was “no” and he had resigned himself as early as last Wednesday that he had lost
his boat. The chainsaw starts tomorrow to remove it.
All this is the devastation from one small part of Vanuatu. Google
a map and understand that this system passed the whole length of the island chain, most of which we still have no communication with. Spare a thought for the people of Vanuatu and make sure you come here this year if you are planning to, the country needs yachties like never before.
This is an amazing country with amazing people, I have not seen a single
outward show of grief yet there is plenty to grieve about. Some of the first businesses to re-open were the nakamals where people go to enjoy a relaxing shell of kava. We sat around, expats and ni-Vans talking about how lucky we are.
For the person that asked, the lagoon east of the main harbour is barely navigable at the entrance but will allow a 6’ draft
to enter at high tide but is actually around a very nasty weather
point to approach so has never really been used. (This is the lagoon we live on).
Oh BTW, our yacht “Nightcap” survived the onslaught but, despite being tied down, 8 props and being in the lee of the worst wind
managed to fall over gracefully and is now lying on her side. One day I’ll post how to properly prepare a keeler for the strongest storm in recorded history
for this part of the world.