The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Isla Contadora, Islas Las Perlas, Panamá, Friday, 23 October 2009

Heinz has done a great job of re-wiring our engine room. Although he intended Vilisar to be “hell for stout and very simple”, George Friend of Sidney, British Columbia, the original builder of the boat, did install one battery for starting the engine and providing electricity for the navigation lights. Cabin lights were provided by the petroleum lamps that we still have on board. Bill Taylor of Maple Bay, B.C., left this set-up. It was Joe May, the next owner who re-wired the boat for general electricity use including instrumentation. He was also a ham operator, so would have needed 12 volt power for the radio too.

We are still living from this. But, of course, over the years, the wiring has been attacked by the salt-air environment, and we have several times had to do some modifications in the engine room. As a result of various people working on it, the harness in the engine room had become a hodgepodge and prone to failing. With recent engine work, some of the wires had also become damaged. We decided it was finally time to re-do it all root and branch.

Heinz is Austrian and a trained electrical and electronics man. After a look inside the engine room he drew up a new scheme. “The bad news is that you are going to be faced with regular problems, large or small, in the future and perhaps you just want to live with that. Or we can pull it all out and start again, getting rid of the old wires, now badly corroded inside the insulation, and re-wiring with marine grade cables. The good news is that it is basically a simple set-up and should be easy to do.” We decided to go for broke.

It took two days and the result is night and day. All the shorter cables were done with marine grade materials i.e., each individual strand of copper wire is coated with zinc. The longer cables were regular copper but soldered at the terminals to prevent corrosion. This approach offsets the cost of an electrician to do the soldering versus the significantly higher cost of marine-grade cable. We spent a few hours in town at Centro Marino, for example, buying the materials: #1 or #2 strength wire cost about $9 a foot; the lighter wires were correspondingly cheaper and, of course, simple copper wire was fairly cheap. Altogether the bill for materials came to about #350. Abernathy and Centro Marino are marine chandlers and probably the only place to get marine grade wire in Panama City. We bought the terminals, shrink-tubing, etc. at Electonico Caribe on Avenida España. Don’t buy anything you don’t need at the marine chandlers: they are what the Germans call an “Apotheke”, i.e., damned expensive, like a pharmacy. We forgot to pick up a few feet of shrink tubing and wound up paying about six times as much at the Amador branch of Centro Marino than we would have done at Electronico Caribe. The actual work took another day and a half.

Since our house batteries have been having some problems holding a charge, Heinz suggested draining the old acid and replacing it with new. We did this and found it an improvement. As part of the engine work we had also had the Bolmar 75-amp alternator inspected and rejuvenated. So, along with our rewired solar panels, we are now doing pretty well for electricity. We celebrated by watching a movie one evening on the computer.

Except for provisioning with fresh foods, there was nothing now to stop us leaving for The Perlas. This is a group of mostly-deserted tropical islands some 35 Nm SE of Panamá City. Isla Contadora, where we are currently at anchor, is well-populated, mainly with the opulent houses of the well-to-do from Panamá City. There is an airstrip and scheduled small-aircraft flights from Albrook Airport. It also has some shops and a part-time internet café.

We originally intended to get out of Panamá City on Tuesday. But an invitation to drinks aboard S/V Batwing with our American friends Ron and Diane resulted not only in hangovers, but incomplete stowage as well. So we just put it off for another day. It was just as well. The weather has been strangely winter-like conditions. For those of our readers who are putting on the furnaces back in Frankfurt or Baltimore, winter here means the dry season, with steady drier winds, mainly NE Trades. At present, the Pacific is under the aegis of El Niño, meaning much less rainfall in Panamá and much more in Peru and Ecuador. For the last few days, however, we have been getting steady and acceptably strong S and SW winds, day and night. Instead of huge thunderheads in mid afternoon, the sky has been remaining azure blue with puffy clouds scudding by. Great sailing weather, especially for The Perlas. Batwing left on Tuesday without us and reported a great sail with reefs taken in their junk sails. What we didn’t find out until we met up with them a day later at Contadora was that halfway to the islands they ran into heavy squalls and blinding rainfall.

The dingy was already on the foredeck when dawn broke on Wednesday. We had lifted the two parts separately onto the boat on Tuesday, first scrubbing the barnacles and marine (-grade?) growth and then applying a new coat of hard bottom paint, waiting for it to dry and then nesting the second part aboard to do the same procedure. On Wednesday, it only needed to be strapped down tight for the voyage. The engine came to life (ahhh!) at 0630, purring away like a Harley Davison, and our own anchor chain was hauled aboard. Of course it was covered with the slimy mud common to the coast of Panamá City and it was only possible to get a grip on the chain by wearing fishermans gloves. On Tuesday, the day before, amongst our other preparatory activities, Josh of S/V Tropic Isle had come over to pick up his two series anchors, which we had inherited, so to speak, when a steel yacht had dragged down on us two months ago. We had been riding on them in addition to our own 45-pound Bruce anchor while we were without an engine. It took several hours to get those anchors untangled and hoisted into his dinghy. By the time we were finished, we were covered in slimy mud and looked like participants in a black-and-white minstrel show.

But now we were ready! The dirty anchor chain was left on deck to be cleaned in the sandy bottoms out in the islands. Up went the red main and staysails and we were off. Soon, we shut the engine down and even put up the yankee. We were doing over 5 knots with a slight heel to port. Glorious! It was so liberating finally to be shot of Panamá City!

The good sailing lasted for half of the distance before the breeze dropped in the face of a series of rainy squalls coming in from the SW. They seemed to take the breath right out of the air. At one point we simply hove to in order let one of these sheets of rain and dark cloud pass in front of us and then turned on the engine to complete the trip. It was important for us to test the engine work anyway, and to be sure that we were no longer going to be leaking huge amounts of engine oil into the bilge, the reason after all why we aborted out last departure for French Polynesia two months ago. The good news is that the new $4 rear oil seal is working and we are not loosing oil. The alternator was also putting out plenty of power into our new wiring system. There was no bad news.

We arrived at the anchorage off the north shore of Contadora Island about mid-afternoon. There was Batwing and the big catamaran, Sunbow (John and Sharon) and Lea Scotia (Trevor, Carissa and their three-year-old daughter, Kira from Seattle) already at anchor. We were promptly invited to a drink aboard Batwing. Oops! Here we go again.

It is so great to be out of the city and back in the islands. The weather is just about perfect. Yes, there was a heavy rainsquall in the early morning hours yesterday. But otherwise temperatures are staying around 30 degrees Celsius, blue skies and puffy clouds. Kathy has a lot of proofreading to do and the Iridium signal is a bit spotty. But Lea Scotia is getting internet right on aboard their yacht and Trevor is a proofreader too, now. Kathy has been going over there to send and receive and this afternoon, now that Lea Scotia and Batwing and Sunbow have all left, we shall row ashore to inspect the island and visit the internet café. We hope the Iridium signal will be better when we move to another island or to the other side of Contadora.

There are still relatively few boats here. Soon, however, other yachts will be riding the strong SE Trades up from Ecuador for the winter sailing season and yachts will be coming down from Central America or through the Canal from the Eastern Seaboard or from Europe. For the moment we are just a few of us here and we are content. From the cockpit where I was drinking my morning coffee, I spotted about six or seven whales carryinbg on a great acrobatic show about a mile away. Underneath us reef fish in their thousands were providing another type of water show. I can live with this!
Las Brisas de Amador Anchorage, Panamá City, Panamá, Friday, 09 October 2009

(Photos later.)

Feeling bummed out about how long the engine repairs were taking, we had a real pepper-upper when we were invited to crew with another boat through the Panama Canal. You can hire local line-handlers as well as the necessary long ropes and car tires cum fenders. Or you can get other cruisers and/or friends to lend a hand. So far I have only heard of cruisers acting as line-handlers; I have never heard of them acting as fenders, but one never knows, does one? In return the cruiser-linehandlers get an interesting one or two-day trip. Normally the skipper provides the food, drinks and accommodation and the return taxi, in this case from Colón on the Atlantic side of the Canal to Balboa on the Pacific. The Canal is only 50 miles (80 kilometers) long and there is a fast new motorway between Panamá City and Colón so the return taxi trip takes only about 90 minutes.

Each vessel requires four deck crewpersons – linehandlers - to keep the vessel in the middle of the lock going up or down. Each lock is about 75 feet deep, but you drop only 40 feet so there is plenty of depth left. There are six locks: three up and three down to bring one over the continental divide. The total lift, if you have not been doing your sums, is about 135 feet to Lake Gatun in the middle of the Isthmus of Panamá and back down. There is some difference in sea levels between the Atlantic and Pacific but nothing significant.

The trip started on 07 October when we were picked up from our boat at shortly before 0600 by Iain, the South African-born skipper of a huge catamaran called “Impromptu” He and his South African wife Jane and their two-year-old son Dillon live aboard her. The sister catamaran is called “Infinity” and is the floating home of the English couple, Lea and Mark. Both boats are owned by chartering company; Iain, Jane, Mark and Lea are the professional crew. They had come through the Panamá Canal half a year ago with the intention of running charters to the Las Perlas Islands. But this plan has not panned out and the owner decided to move the boats to Belize (previously known ad British Honduras) on the Caribbean side in order to run week-long diving charters in combination with a diving school that the owner has also purchased. The original passage was delayed however by the hurricane season now nearing its end and by the fact that Infinity had been struck by lightening in our anchorage some six weeks ago and has been waiting for insurance adjusters, electronic repairmen, and the like.

Finally the day arrived. We were to make the passage ‘nested up”, i.e., tied parallel to each other. Going through in the same run was the beautiful Herreshoff ketch, Erica, belonging to Mark and his family. Mark is a shipwright, so you can imagine how beautifully his classic boat is kept up. His wife and two daughters are up near Houston Texas; the teenage daughter has had enough of cruising life and wants to be in high school. Since the kids have already begun classes, Mark is moving Erica up there on his own. He is moving from California to Texas because the cost of a marina some thirty miles from Houston is much, much cheaper than in California. He has rented a condo adjacent to the slip for his boat, for example, for only a fraction of what the slip alone would have cost in San Diego, Long Beach or San Francisco. (This is the second cruiser I have heard of here that is moving from the West Coast to Texas for economic reasons; the skipper of “Charlie” says he will be paying $166 monthly for a live-aboard slip near Houston too. The same slip wold have cost him well over $1,000 in San Diego. There are apparetntly lots of empty slips but so far no concessions on prices.) Mark will voyage first to Cartagena in Columbia and then set off for Texas in November when the hurricane has ended and hopefully before the NE Tradewinds work against him. He is departing fom Cartagena because the angle to the wind is better. (He already has crew for the Colon-Cartegena run but is still trying to line crew up for the passage to Texas. If you are interested, let me know and I will pass it on. Mark is a very personable guy, his vessel looks strong and seaworthy and he is a seasoned offshore skipper.)

Kathy as it turned out crewed aboard Impromptu with Iain and Jane while I was aboard Infinity with Mark and Lea. We were only split up for the motoring between locks and for the down-locking on the Atlantic side. Otherwise, the boats rafted up at night halfway across. Being aboard a large catamaran is a real treat. The amount of space is incredible! We had our own ‘stateroom’ with a private head/shower.

We were told by Canal Traffic Control to meet the “adviser” just below the entrance lighthouse at the Balboa (Pacific) end at 0830. All three boats were there in plenty of time waiting for the three Advisers who came out to us on a pilot boat. The Adviser’s job of course is to help you through the procedure and to maintain contact with Traffic Control. On board the big ships, a “pilot” actually takes command of the ship. But with yachts, he is supposed only to advise, although of course, if there are serious problems, he can force you to take certain steps or have you grounded. The passage itself costs approximately $700 ( boat under fifty feet), but you also have to make a returnable deposit of $900; if you screw up it can really cost you some money. If you cannot provide them yourself, you also have to rent lines and fenders from a private supplier who also helps you with the paperwork and arranges for return transport for crewmen, equipment pickup at the end of the passage, etc.

With us on board Infinity was Elvir McMillan, a Venezuelan-born tugboat engineer, who advises yachts as a second job. His grandfather was Scottish; his grandmother German; they met in Chile. Elvir had served in the US Navy and his English is perfect; he also speaks pretty good German too. He was a wealth of information about the Canal and about Panamá in general.

Once aboard, the three vessels started north towards Miraflores (double) Lock. Canal Traffic Control plans the locking through on a tight time schedule, so we had a deadline to meet. Just outside Miraflores Lock, we rafted up with Inpromptu and motored in tandem into the now-open gates. Rafted up, we only needed four linehandlers. Erica followed us in. As we came inside the gates, Canal linehandlers high above us on the wall threw us a light line with a monkey-fist on the end. “Don’t try to catch it” Mark said. “You might get beaned.” I was tending the portside aft line. The first throw missed our boat altogether and landed in the water astern. The second bounced off the arch over the cockpit and wrapped itself around my neck. Off to a good start! I disentangled myself, tied the light line with a bowline to the loop on the end of our mooring line and fed out the line while it was hauled up. As we motored forward the upper line-handlers walked us forward until the Adviser told them which bollard to tie us to. Once the gates closed behind Erica astern of us, the water began to boil up under us and we began to rise. This water all comes from the Chagras River via Lake Gatun and no pumps are involved. It is all done by gravity. The gates are buoyant so that there is very little pressure needed to open and close them provided of course that the water levels on either side are the same.

(Kathy had posted the web address of the webcam on her Facebook page ( and by the time we had moored for the night, many had taken a look and even posted a picture of us on Facebook.)

The linehandling itself was not that difficult for old salts like us. The first up-lock (Miraflores) was perhaps the most difficult because the currents were the strongest, and because we had to get the hang of line-tending. Each lock took only a few minutes, but we had to keep a proper tension on the line to that the currents did not drive the rafted-up cat’s against the rough stone walls. Once the forward gates opened we motored through in tandem for the short distance until we came to Pedro Miquel Locks, a set of two locks. After that you motor through the long dug canal and through the infamous Culebra Cut, which essentially defeated the French engineering because of its continuous mudslides. There was constant tug and ship traffic to contend with, of course. The Panamá Canal is a busy place even now when the worldwide economic recession has reduced traffic. But traffic was matter for the skippers and the Advisers. Havihg reached the level of Lake Gatun, and with the boats now separated, we could take it easy and enjoy the days outing. We didn’t even have to deal with the heavy tropical squall that overtook us and gave the helmsmen a good soaking.

Since we were not going to be able to make the whole passage to the Atlantic side in one day, we were told to take up a buoy on Lake Gatun near the down-locks. All three boats arrived safely and, defying the alligators or crocodiles that reportedly inhabit the lake, some of us jumped in for a fresh-water swim followed by a pleasant supper aboard. Iain was all for “partying down” but after a long day in the hot sun, a delicious spaghetti dinner and quite a bit of wine, it was not long after dark when quiet fell over the lake, and the crew members began to creep away to their berths.

I was awakened before dawn by the howler monkeys on shore and was able to enjoy the peaceful, cool dawn on the lake. Around 0830 again the same Advisors showed up again. This time it was decided that we would raft up with Erica; Impromptu would ‘side-tie’ and do the down-locks separately. Tied to Infinity’s port side, Mark on Erica was told to keep his engine running in neutral and to keep his helm admidships. With Lea at the helm of Infinity again, we motored carefully into the first of the three directly-adjoining locks. The down-locking was far less taxing for both the linehandlers and the skippers since the water just falls gently and there are no currents. We were however in the same lock with a large freighter. Its shoreside linehandling was done by the famous stainless-steel-clad electric-locomotives. It was a little intimidating to see this huge vessel approaching us from behind, I have to admit. At sea we do everything we can to give them a wide, wide berth. We saw a huge container ship passing like a wall upwards in the parallel lock as we descended.

At 1130 on the second day, we passed out of the last lock, a few minutes later we untied Erica and motored forward until we came to the “flats” at the Colon end where Elvir, our Adviser and his colleagues were picked off our boats one at a time by a pilot boat and we waved them a friendly goodbye. We continued on uneventfully towards Shelter Bay Marina where the boats had reserved slips and arranged for the taxi to pick us up for the return journey. Given the size of these catamarans, I cannot imagine what the docking fees must have been. I do know that if you anchor outside the marina and only dinghy-dock there, you only pay $2 per day which is very civil compared to the $5 or more per day we have to pay at Balboa. And, it should be noted, you get really nice facilities at Shelter Bay (lovely showers, a swimming pool, a nice bar, etc.), whereas no facilities are offered whatsoever at Amador.

Although we were invited to stay aboard for the night and use the facilities, we had to visit the Port Captain back in Balboa for an extension of our Cruising Permit the next day. Several of the line-handling cruisers also had commitments for Friday and returned with us. I think the skippers paid about $100 for the van to carry the lines and fenders and seven crewmen back to Balboa. Those staying overnight would ride back on the regular busses a day or so later.

The van driver took us on a route through dense jungle and stopped at the Trail of the Crosses (Camino del Cruces), which is the original mule trail that was used by the Spaniards starting in the 17th Century for trans-shipping Peruvian and Philippine gold from the Pacific to the Atlantic for on-shipping to Spain; the so-called Manila Fleets. It is a rough cobblestone trail about a meter or so wide that winds up and around the hills, appearing and disappearing rapidly into the jungle from where we stopped. In 1671, Captain Morgan and his band of pirates or privateers, pushed through overland to Panamá Viejo to sack and destroy Panamá City. It is still a ruin today. With 275 mules and 600 prisoners they marched overland on this trail carrying off a major portion of that year’s shipment. English and Dutch pirates were a constant threat as long as the Spanish moved gold and fortifications were put up all along the Spanish Main and the cities were moved farther inland to give more protection.

All in all, it was fun two days and a welcome break from proofreading or engine repairs. We extend special thanks to Mark and Lea, Iain and Jane for the invitation to join them. We enjoyed meeting them and spending time with the other crewmembers.

Back in the old trot, today has proven mixed. My visit to the Capitanía de Puerto this morning was successful in getting us a one-month extension to our Cruising Permit after which we shall likely Zarpe for Costa Rica. I was also able to pick up the repaired alternator for re-installation in the engine room. But the carpentero who was supposed to manufacture the new lightboards and instrument panel and have them ready last Saturday, had really not even started. So, we now have a little time in hand. While we were away, Heinz, an Austrian marine electrician, went over our engine-room wiring, and will make us a suggestion about how we can modernise the whole set up and thus make the whole thing more reliable. Our only remaining laptop went on the fritz this morning and I had to go shopping for a new power pack. Oh well! You win a few; you loose a few; some get rained out.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I need to clear up a misunderstanding that seems to have attained a life of its own.

Readers of this blog will recall that Vilisar left Panamá City twice for French Polynesia. Both times we had to put back. In the first instance, we made a planned, one-night stop at Taboga Island and picked up a mooring there, which had been recommended to us as secure. It was, I hasten to add, not one of Taboga Moorings balls. While we were ashore for a couple of hours in the evening, the mooring parted and Vilisar slowly drifted onto the rocks in front of the village. We pulled her off in the night at high tide. A couple of weeks later (when we could get a vacancy), we put the boat up on the marine ways at Balboa Yacht Club to repair the small amount of damage that had been sustained.

A few weeks after that, we left again, motoring out to Las Perlas Islands on the first (windless) day. When we checked the dip stick the next morning before lifting the anchor to make for The Galapagos, we discovered that we had lost nearly all of our engine oil into the bilge. We returned to Panamá City to discover that the engine’s rear oil seal had failed. We have been stuck here ever since trying to get this repaired.

Somehow the myth has developed that we were using one of Chuy and Susan’s commercial buoys over at Taboga Moorings, that their mooring failed and as a result of drifting onto the rocks, our engine was badly damaged.

Just so there is no mistake. We were NOT using one of Taboga Moorings’ balls. We had in fact left Vilisar on one of their moorings for two months while we were in Europe. I have nothing but good to say about the strength of their moorings and the service they provide. Chuy or Susan was out daily to check that the lines were not twisted or chafed. They dive on their anchors regularly. This all in addition to being them interesting and friendly people.

Hoping to bury this myth, we would recommend Taboga Moorings to anyone.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Without warningThe disasters this week show people on Pacific shores still lack basic protection from tsunamis

Richard Hamblyn, Friday 2 October 2009 20.00 BST

The official responses to this week's double disaster – first, the Samoan tsunami on Tuesday, and then the Sumatran earthquakes on Wednesday and Thursday – again reveal worrying flaws in the early warning systems that are the first, and usually only, lines of defence against the natural hazards that regularly afflict the world's most seismically unstable regions.

When Tuesday's 8.3 magnitude undersea earthquake struck at 6.48am local time, 190km south of the Samoan islands, it was registered instantly at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre on Ewa Beach, Oahu, which then issued tsunami warnings to a number of Pacific island groups, including New Zealand and Samoa.

Once such warnings are received, it is up to local authorities to pass them on to their coastal inhabitants by whatever methods have been agreed, with instant automated text messaging among the most widely used techniques. Text messaging is of particular value in the event of locally generated tsunamis, when the window of warning is usually a matter of minutes, rather than hours. But those Samoans who felt Tuesday's tremor and waited for the text that would tell them whether to head inland waited in vain, for no message was sent out.

And had anyone turned down the radio or television so as not to miss the incoming text alert, they would have missed the islands' only warning – given out on local radio just as the first of two giant waves began battering the islands' southern shores.

On New Zealand's North Island, meanwhile, several hundred people received their "instant" text alert some three hours late, by which time the tsunami warning had already been cancelled. The messaging service has now been suspended, and an inquiry is already under way.

But technological failure is not the only factor that contributed to Tuesday's death toll, which currently stands at 169: according to officials at the Samoa Meteorology Division, many of those killed were caught by the morning's second wave as they headed to the beaches to pick up the fish that had been washed ashore by the first wave. Given that tsunamis usually take the form of a series of powerful waves, sometimes even hours apart, such a fatal lack of awareness speaks of a wider failure to pass on even basic tsunami knowledge and preparedness to the islands' coastal inhabitants.

Education remains the only truly effective means of reversing the effects of disaster amnesia, but the last island-wide safety drill took place in October 2007, in response to a tsunami earlier that year that killed 22 people on the nearby Solomon Islands. Ironically, a similar tsunami safety drill had been scheduled for American Samoa on Tuesday, but the real thing arrived unannounced instead.

The situation in Indonesia is just as bad. Although neither of this week's Sumatran earthquakes proved tsunami–genic, the authorities have to work on the assumption that any powerful undersea earthquake is liable to generate tsunamis (the epicentre of Wednesday's 7.6 magnitude quake was around 50km offshore from the city of Padang). This is, after all, the same faultline that caused 2004's Boxing Day disaster, and produces regular local tsunamis every year.

But there are only 22 detection buoys to monitor all 6,000 inhabited islands in the Indonesian archipelago, and none of those cover northern Sumatra, Indonesia's most vulnerable region and the scene of the highest loss of life in 2004, where the death toll in Aceh province alone exceeded 130,000. And even where there is detection equipment in place, there are no guarantees it will stay there. In July 2006 a local tsunami off the Javanese coast killed nearly 700 people; it later transpired that the two detection buoys that monitor that stretch of coast had been removed from the sea some months before, and were awaiting repairs in a dockside warehouse. Given that these buoys cost about $250,000 each, and require at least $125,000 worth of annual maintenance per unit, tsunami preparedness is proving a costly undertaking for developing nations such as Indonesia.

This week's earthquakes were severe enough – the official death toll is 715, though UN estimates put it closer to 1,100 – but had either been tsunamigenic, the city of Padang would have been as unprotected as it was in December 2004, despite the $30m that has been spent in developing the region's interim warning system. Sumatra will have to wait until 2010 for its own detection buoys to be installed, but as Tuesday's pantomime across the far wealthier south Pacific demonstrated, installing the equipment is one thing; getting it to do its job is quite another.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Panama City, Panama, 01 October 2009

We have been receiving reports of the tsunami that hit Samoa, American Samoa, TOnga and other islands in the SOuth Pacific yestereday.

Here is a first-hand report from cruising friend Joe Bayne aboard S/V Jubilee. We know him and Dudi from our time together in Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. They were in Pago Pago when the disaster struck. We are so glad that they are alive and well, though saddened to hear of loss of so many local people and some cruisers. We were also glad to hear that our friends, Philip and Leslie aboard S/V Carina in the Cook Islands are safe too. Still waiting to hear from others sailing friends who are in the South Pacific this year, Heinz and Silvia aboard the Austrian sailboat S/V Galathe (, for example, or Kim Corson aboard S/V Altaire (visit There are pictures there). Another cruising couple we met in Ecuador, John and Linda aboard S/V NAkia also had a first-hand report to make. So glad they are all right too.

from Joe & Dudi aboard S/V Jubilee, Norfolk, VA.

When we arrived here we did not find good holding for the anchor but were content and complacent when it snagged on something. The bottom is littered with debris and some wrecks. I had put down a second anchor because of strong winds on arrival but had taken it in yesterday in preparation for leaving today. So this morning while having coffee I felt a long lasting vibration through the hull. I have never felt an earthquake on the boat before so did not recognize what was happening. A short time later maybe 10-20 minutes the boat suddenly jerked sideways and water started rushing out of the harbor exposing shoals that had been about six ft or more deep. Knowing this was a sure warning of a Tsunami I started the engine and tried to get the anchor up. There was chaos all around and then the water started coming back in again, ships were being carried down on us, cars were going past, the water was full of debris. The anchor windlass tripped out one time and I thought about casting the anchor free but finally got it clear of the water far enough to find it was hooked on a chain evidently used as hurricane mooring. I was able to tie it up lower the anchor away and then cut the chain loose and motor clear. We motored for the next two hours around the harbor while smaller surges came and went finally re anchoring about 1130 local. While motoring we found out that my friend Danny was missing from the vessel Mainly and later found he had drowned. I did not go too far away from the pier but what I saw of the town was a disaster. I understand the water went pretty far inland at the head of the bay, some boats were carried with it, two ships were washed ashore but subsequently were pulled off. There is one boat on top of the pier and many building are gone. I looked on the internet and there is coverage of this disaster



From Leslie and Philip aboard S/V Carina out of Kingston, WA.

Dear Ron and Kathy aboard Vilisar;

There was an 8.3 earthquake in Samoa today and a tsunami was generated. We were anchored in Suwarrow (Suvarov) in the Cook Islands when the tsunami came through here were not aware of it since its amplitude was likely very small. We are awaiting word from friends anchored in Apia and Pago Pago where there are rumors (just rumors right now) of damage.

Your friends of the yacht Carina
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake


From S/V Nakia (JOhn & Linda)

You may have heard about the 8.3 magnitude earth quake (actually an under-sea earth quake, which I guess makes it a sea quake) near American Samoa. Well we sure did. About 1130 this morning just after Linda finished making lunch a Gendarme boat came flying up to NAKIA and started talking rapid fire French. The only word I got was 'ami', I thought the guy was looking for his friend. Fortunately, Linda heard the preceding 'Tsun' (as in Tsun-ami) and understood that we had to head off shore for a while. No other instructions were given, like when we'd know the all clear was sounded, but after we sailed around in the lee of the island for a few hours I checked email and my hippy-dippy weatherman, Stan, was kind enough to have sent us an update that let us know it was cool to return to our anchorage.
Another day in paradise.


THis message was relayed thorugh S/V CArina from S/V Taramaro, with Dutch friends
from Ecuador.

The news from Niutoputapu (Tonga)is sobering. The tsunami hit almost instantly so there was no warning which would have allowed anyone to climb to higher ground. Here is what we received from friends on the Dutch yacht Taremaro:

"Hello Leslie and Philip,

Thank you for your email and happy to hear that everything is fine with you. So good to know you were not yet in Pago Pago.

We were just leaving this morning at 6.45 from Niuatoputapu to the Vavau (Tonga). We were just in the pass leaving when we felt the first earthquake.

When we were in deeper water outside the pass the Tsunami struck and it was a spectacular view how the water was sucked away and the reef was totally exposed.
It was unbelievable..... with such a force we were sucked to shore. The GPS was given speed from 8 kn to 2 kn.

Motor in overdrive and we managed to escape. We left with three other boats, and you can imagine we were talking for a long time with intervals on the VHF to share our feelings.

We felt all immensely lucky, but also very sad we were not able to help the people of Niatoputapu.

There was still another boat at anchor and they told us that the markers of the channel were broken off, a lot of debris in the water, the two fishing boats severely damaged and roof tops in the lagoon....."

Philip and Leslie
underway to Pago Pago from Suwarrow (Suvarov)


This is a very vivid description of what occurred in Samoa.

Taken off the SSCA Discussion Board today:

"This just in from SV Gallivanter in Pago Pago:

This morning(six hrs ago) we were shaken awake by an earthquake which seemed to
have no end! We were aboard Gallivanter and tied side-to a big concrete
dock in the heart of Pago Pago, American Samoa. And after living up
& down the California coast, I knew this was no minor tremor.

the rude awakening, Cath & I walked across the dock and chatted
with a few of our fellow sailors, one of whom said that he's just done
a Google search on "recent earthquakes" and said that it measured-in at
8.1 and the epicenter was only 120 miles distant.

We returned
to Gallivanter and I turned on our laptop and searched the same
website. Sure enough there it was... "8.1 earthquake - American Samoa -
20 minutes ago". I clicked on the "Show Map" option and noticed the
epicenter was located south west of Pago Pago... which is located on
the southern side of the island.

Just as I was considering the
ramifications of that little fact... all hell started breaking loose!
Our boat was on the move! My first reaction was to start the engine and
dash up on deck to see what was going on. I witnessed the water around
us was rapidly dropping! Rapidly! In a blink of an eye, we were on the
bottom and the boat was falling away from the dock! Three of our big
dock lines popped and we fell right over into the mud - the entire
basin we had been floating in only moments ago had completely drained!
People were screaming!

Next - the water came flooding back in
at an even more alarming rate and the next thing I knew we were
floating directly above the dock! Over the concrete slab and drifting
toward a young lady we knew (from another boat) who was desperately
hugging a power pole and up to her chin in swirling water! I told Cath
to cut the two remaining dock lines with our serrated bread knife and
to be quick about it!

Right as I put the boat into gear, we
were somehow washed back off the dock and into the basin as I
advance to full throttle and we accelerated through a floating debris
field of floating docks, fuel drums, sinking boats, a shipping
container and a barnicle encrusted wreck all of which were spinning in
the torrent of rapidly dropping sea level. It was absolute mayhem! As
we steered out toward the deep water in the center of the harbor I
looked over my shouder and saw what appeared to be a waterfall pouring
off the dock and shore beyond. Not one of the dozen vessels remained at
the dock. All were underway in a matter of seconds... with or without
crews aboard.

We motored around in the middle of the harbor
watching the waves of floods & ebbs while wondering about
after-shocks and our fellow cruising sailors. As we passed one of our
neighbors she shouted to us that her husband had been washed off the
dock as they were trying to get away. She was alone and seriously
concerned. Other boats broke free from their moorings and anchors in
the initial seismic waves and many were driven ashore, or driven under
by loose tuna boats.

After about three hours, we felt it was
finally safe enough to return to the dock. All we had were lengths of
old line and we were short a couple fenders. We were the first to go
in and we started un-tangling lines and helping others get back along
side the concrete dock. All of the store-fronts along the water are
destroyed, roving mobs of kids can be seen looting, the fence around
the dock is gone, every boat on stands in a nearby boatyard were washed
away. Big fishing boats are now in parking lots across the street.
Absolute destruction is seen everywhere along the shore.

and power are down but we got back online right away and I immediately
went back to the recent earthquakes website to see if things have
been calming down in the center of the earth. A number of aftershocks
as strong as 6.0 have been recorded over the past few hours - but
thankfully no more wave action has been noticed. We've been making
Skype calls to our families and letting others use the computer as well
to phone home.

Online news reports say that the earthquake
lasted three minutes and the highest flood rose 25 ft above normal!
There are 20 confirmed deaths... including our neighbor who was swept
off the dock. Most fatalities occured in and around the harbor where we
live. Boats are battered and nerves are fried. One friend wound-up on
his boat nearly 1000 feet away from the water after breaking from his
anchor and sailing right down Main St. taking power & telephone
wires down with his mast! Some people lost everything... including
their lives. We came through remarkably well with only minor dammage
sustained to our toe rail when the dock lines parted and to our fender
basket which was the only point of contact with that drifting wreck. I
never felt any jarring loads while we were hurtling around above &
below the concrete dock, so I believe our hull, keel & rudder
suffered no dammage from the wildest boat ride I've ever been on.

We're all okay... and very lucky.

And we've adopted a tiny kitten.

And that's the way it is.

All the Best - All the Time,

Kirk, Cath & Stuart ~~~_/) ~~~ s/v Gallivanter "