S/V KYOGLE: tsunami dispatch from Nuitoputapu, Tonga

Brian Taylor’s first hand report was forwarded to us by Jane and Michel DeRidder on S/V MAGIC DRAGON, with this prolog:

We met New Zealander Brian Taylor in Vava’u Tonga a few years back where he goes even more often than we did. He is welcomed wherever he travels as he is a musician – piano. This last cruise of his through Samoa and Tonga is more exciting than usual. Whale, earthquake, tsunami, you name it, not to mention Apia at the time of changeover from right hand drive to left hand drive. What a lot of help yachts bring to stricken islanders as you will see…

From: brian taylor Sent: Saturday, October 10, 2009 7:03 AM Subject: KYOGLE

Hi All a !!!bit of an update on the last month or so. Rita and I sailed up to Samoa from Tonga and this was quite uneventful apart from a whale “exploding” alongside the yacht…it was just enjoying itself by leaping out of the water. The resultant splash was so big and close that I heard it above the engine noise…and I am fairly deaf!

We spent a few weeks in Apia..doing the touristy things…Aggie Greys…Robert Louis Stevensons house and grave, touring the island and watching the changeover from right hand drive to left hand drive.. No accidents were reported with the change over and the one incident of someone travelling the wrong way in Apia ,was very loudly corrected with about 20 horns being blown and much laughter….turned out that the offender was a policeman!

Rita left to return to Perth and I visited Savii and stayed at a harbour called Assau.Much drama when entering the harbour as the passage through the reef is very clear only if you approach it from one particular angle . I checked out the passage for about ten minutes before heading in.Wrong!! I managed to abort the manouver with about 20 meters from ending up on the reef. I called up the other yacht in the harbour and received some help in finding the pass and came in without any futher problems. The other yacht had taken 3 probing attempts to enter so was quite sympathetic to my situation ! So whenever other yachts were trying to find the entrance I would take my dingy out and make out that I was a guide dog.

Left Assau the day before the big force 8 earthquake and tsunami, and headed for Nuitoputapu in the northern Tongan group.I was approx 100/ 150 miles from the earthquake centre and the effect on Kyogle was a bit scary. She started shaking as if you were driving a car with all the wheels about to fall off. I assumed that I had major trouble with my transmission system so stopped the engine and stopped the prop shaft from turning… still shaking…checked the sails to see if they were flapping madly…. No problems there. The shaking stops and then restarts for a short while longer. I was talking on my long range radio a few minutes later and was then advised that a tsunamii warning was in force.

Carried on sailing to Nuitoputapu where two other yachts were in the lagoon.The water in the lagoon was very dirty with many large trees floating about. Using my binos I could not see very much on shore.. more like things were missing… there was a car in the water and a house about half a mile off the shore. The next morning I went ashore to some pretty heavy devistation. The village where the wharf is, was completely empty as the houses had been swept away. The force of the wave was huge..leveling even cycloneproof? reinforced concrete block structures.The second village was on higher ground and was relatively free of damage and the third village where the main government offices are/were was badly damaged…they could not even find the government offices! The Treasury safe was found later on ..sitting on the reef ! The money inside did not need laundering but it did need drying.

So we now have three yachts in the lagoon ….and these provided the only communications with the outside world with our HF radios and one sat phone..all other land based communication was drowned.The yacht Tortuga (Wellington yacht) did all of the liason work…brilliant effort. Panacea(Swedish yacht) had the sat phone..great invention really. Both these guys got to work on the water system(bore pump repair) and I joined them when not fixing water logged outboards.We provided whatever we could in the way of bedding clothing food and in my case becaused I could pump out my main fuel tank…100 odd litres of diesel fuel.

It was good to have a NZ Airforce Orion aircraft circle us and we were able to make contact with them and pass back info and requests for water pump parts to the NZ government. Those boys(and girls) in the Orions do a tremendous job. Another yacht arrives (Red Herring ) also from Wellington. I had sailed with its skipper from Wellington to Tonga some 15 years earlier. He quickly got into repairing generator sets.

Prior to Red Herrings arrival, he had seen a smoke flare on the volcano island about 5 miles off Nuitoputapu so he had diverted and was directed around that island to a sort of landing area . they notice a bouy in the water and made to tie up to it…..turns out it was a bouy ok ,but there was a man attached to it… he had used the bouy as a float and had swum out passed the reef . Niko was the man and he had previously taken his 25 foot boat over to the volcano to warn the 3 or 4 families .The tsunami hit the islands just after he arrved . The passing yacht was his only way back home to Nuitoputapu as his boat was in two pieces ..up in the trees !

I later took Niko and one other islander back to the volcano island to collect the outboard motor off his wrecked boat . This was a bit tricky… I towed my dingy behind Kyogle and when we got close to the volcao islands reef Niko took the dingy and headed for shore .. I noticed that he was doing circles outside of the reef opening but could not pay that much attention to what was going on as I had to keep Kyogle safe. Well after a while Niko shoots through a gap in the reef amongst a lot of white water and returns 20 mins later with 3 more islanders who need to go back to Nuitoputapu. He then returns to shore and I was able to see how see what was actually going on with his landing. ….. Ok. he shoots through the gap in the reef and as he approaches the shore two men wade go into into the breaking waves and hold my very best dingy between them to stop it from being crashed onto beach. The transfer of people/bags/ and finally the 40 hp outboard is then acheved and the two men holding the dingy in place release it and out the gap she shoots.

On the last transfer, one of the men who was holding the dingy in the surf, also wanted to come back to Nuitoputapu so he had to swim out passed the reef where Niko picked him up for the transfer back to Kyogle.

That same day a Tongan Navy vessel arrived ,the airport was cleared of rubbish and a small plane was able to land with medical help . There were very few injuries thank goodness but 8 people lost their lives which is quite a sizable number …the island only has about 1000 inhabitants of which some three hunded are /were without housing. Tents food supplies and water was brought in by the navy ship. A few days after, the other Tonga Naval vessel and the French navy had a warship from Tahiti at the island ,yachties in Vavau had donated sent up by plane about half a tonne of food a futher 6 yachts had arrrived with supplies …… the immediate needs were being met fairly well . So the three Kiwi and one Swedish yacht left for Vavau and we are now on moorings here and have access to email again !!!

Panacea took some interesting photos during the wave action… Tortuga fending off/ dodging a house in the lagoon…this was the floating house I mentioned above..I will send the pictures later to those of you with a nautical frame of mind.

The amazing thing was the wave was about 4 meters high as it crossed the reef and the yachts in the lagoon had let out all available chain and indeed Tortuga was trying to motor forward as well…. both yachts survived but with some damage to anchoring points on the yachts.

Thats about it for while. Brian

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