Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Pacific Tsunami Alert

Sent from sea

At around 6:30pm on the 1st April - Kyle and I were dining in a pizza restaurant when the owner(?) rushed into the store, took in the sign and closed up the shutters.. We were at an outside table and were advised that the islands are under tsunami warning and the restaurant was closed. We were not asked to clear our check so we knew this was no April fools joke.

We scrambled to return to the boat (an adventure for later, with a hero called Bruce from Australia involved), and by the time we were back at Begonia the Port Captain was declaring a forced evacuation of all boats. We were advised to head SOUTH 20nm into deep water.

We are currently South of the island, and in approximately 2000m (plenty safe for any tsunami wave, and continue to head further south to comply.

Regardless of if the tsunami now hits Galapagos and does any damage, Begonia will now continue on to Hawaii. Luckily we collected our passports today. It makes no sense to return to the Island if they are impacted. Even if they are spared, and life is normal in Galapagos, we will be unable to partake in any of the events we had planned after a forced night at sea.

Nobody yet knows if a Tsunami will hit the Galapagos and we understand many other pacific countries are also under alert. We wish everyone well, and hope you keep safe. We are CONFIDENT that we and begonia are currently in safe water.

Too many adventures!

We hope all the Pacific nations remain safe and this is simply a cautious warning and not anything that will materialize into any damage or destruction.

Please rest assured that Begonia feels safe and we are out at sea in sufficient depth for there to be no concerns for our safety... Maybe we can get pizza in Hawaii!

Update after the fact

At the time we had no idea this would be our last Galápgos sunset for a while.

After the hike to the volcano, we’d reached the stage where all we wanted was a shower (or at least a swim), but we knew we needed dinner, and weren’t in the mood to deal with it on the boat. After a quick trip to the beach to enjoy the sunset we found a place selling pizza and decided that sounded perfect.

We selected a table by the sidewalk and ordered two big Pilseners, when our waiter returned with the beers and to take our food order, he said the pizza oven had only just been turned on so any order would be delayed by the time taken to heat the oven. We were seated and comfortable with cold beer, so were in no hurry. He brought us out a large bowl of popcorn to keep us from starving while we waited. Another couple took up seats two tables down, bringing the total clientele to four.

As we were waiting the town church’s bell started clanging going on for 30 seconds or so. That seemed odd. It wasn’t Sunday, it wasn’t on the hour or anything, the sun had set a while ago and as far as we knew it wasn’t a holiday. The one note bell sounded like an oversized cowbell so it was unlikely someone was playing it just for the sound (maybe someone just got married?). It went off again for another 15 seconds. Most people who took notice just shrugged their shoulders and continued with what they were doing.

A couple of minutes later a little round woman of early grandmother age came running across the street in a trot that didn’t seem to increase her speed so much as cause every square inch of her to vibrate wildly with what appeared to be terminal resonance. She was fanning her face ineffectually with her hands. At this point, nobody seemed to take much notice of her because to be honest the lines in her face looked like they had been formed by doing this several times a day for decades. We and the other table exchanged shrugs while the wait staff seemed to ignore her. A couple of the restaurant staff got a look that said “OH no, here she comes again! What’s bothering her now?”. A couple of them dove for the back room.

She jiggled by us, gasping for breath and muttering in high speed Spanish too fast for me to understand, some of it sounded like “Dios mio! Dios mio! Arriba, arriba. Dios mio! Dios mio! Dios mio! Tsunami, Dios mio …”.

We looked to the folks at the other table… “Did she just say tsunami?”.

Her staff (or family?) clustered around her and even they had to tell her to slow down so they could understand her. She repeated her distress. We still weren’t sure that it was just a phrase in Spanish that sounded like tsunami. “I think she did say tsunami” the guy at the next table said.

By this time the staff were still basically ignoring her, so were really unsure what was going on. Maryanne grabbed a guy walking by and asked if he could help. “We think she keeps saying tsunami, can you ask for us what is going on?”.

He made his way through to her, calmed her down and asked her what was going on. He listened for a little while and then returned to us. The two tables gathered around him. “There has been a magnitude 8 earthquake in Chile, it’s very bad, the government of Ecuador is preparing to make an announcement in the next few minutes ordering an evacuation of all low lying areas in the Galápagos. You should all go back to your hotels”.

Oh… Shit.

Grandma came outside, grabbed the Pizza sign from the side walk, and took it inside starting to close the shutters behind her. Eventually her staff decided they needed to act too, and started to shut off the lights.

So… no pizza then!

We were not even asked to settle up for our beers, we left them half full, grabbed our stuff and started for the dock. If there was to be a tsunami, we had to get Begonia into deeper water. Apparently we had 3 hours before the tsunami would arrive, plenty of time. As we trotted ourselves towards the docks, other locals came out to us to ask if we’d heard the news, ready to fill us in, again telling us to go to our hotel.

As we passed by the laundry, it was still open, and I collected my clothes to haul back to the boat. The woman inside took me to a shelf with piles of completed laundry and I picked ours out. There was some confusion over payment, I eventually convinced her I’d paid a guy the day before, this turned out to be her father and she was OK once we’d said that. She seemed too calm, and I realized she hadn’t heard about the tsunami. I tried to tell her but could not make myself understood.

“Huevos Rancheros, por favor?”.

No, that’s not it!

“Escargót le télévision”. Damn!

A woman from the adjoining store saved me; she came in an turned on the TV (Let there be light!). A very serious weatherman was standing in front of a map with a bunch of concentric circles. I left them to it and Maryanne and I resumed our push for the dock.

The streets were starting to fill with people, almost all of who were headed north to higher ground. The normally sedate first gear only traffic was no zipping by kicking up plumes of dust. We were too heavily laden to be running, but we were walking as fast as we could make our legs move.

Maryanne wondered allowed why we hadn’t heard anything on our hand held VHF. I pulled it off my belt clip. It was on, and tuned to the local cruisers frequency.

She looked at me “maybe nobody knows yet”. She grabbed the radio and hit the transmit button. “All stations, all stations, all stations… This is Begonia, we are ashore in town and have just received news of a pending tsunami warning for the Galapagos islands. This has been confirmed by several sources. Estimated time of arrival in Isabela is 9:30pm, the town is already beginning to evacuate, please make necessary preparations”.

{Maryanne: Another cruisers' blog (Lil' Explorers) reports me as panicked. Now while I wasn't happy about the news, I certainly wasn't panicking, I was simply trying to talk on the radio while also trying to keep up with Kyle who was rushing ahead back to the dinghy dock, imagine running on a treadmill when making a phone call.. I guess that can sound like panicking!}

That woke everybody up! The radio crackled to life with disbelieving “Did she say tsunami?”, "what do you think?".

There was a pause, one of the boats with television or an internet connection came on an repeated the information with the addition that the tsunami warning had now been officially issued and that evacuations were being ordered. Our stomachs were in our throats. If we couldn’t get back to Begonia, and if the tsunami arrived, we would lose Begonia and all we owned. We were worried we’d not be able to get to Begonia and have to abandon her and hitch a ride into the hills. Please, not again!

We were somewhat relieved to find a few water taxi skippers still at the dock. We started calling out “Water taxi” seeking a ride. We were given looks of acknowledgement, but they were all on their phones in that initial confused state where they were trying to make sense of the arriving news. One of them saw the VHF radio in Maryanne’s hand, grabbed it and called the Port Captain. Their response was they’d just heard and were deciding what to do. I knew every second that passed would decrease our chance of getting to Begonia. I went up and down the line pleading “Por Favor!”. Most seemed to want to help, but were waiting to see what the Port Captain said before they committed. I don’t blame them, they had their own homes and families to worry about. Taking us to Begonia would cost them at least 20 minutes.

One of the drivers spotted a dinghy leaving the dock and encouraged us to wave him down for a ride. We did this, and although his dinghy was full to the brim with jerry cans and jumble, he kindly said he’d be happy to take us if we didn’t mind riding on top of everything. No of course not, what are you kidding? “Oh, I might get a diesel stain on my shorts… never mind”. We sped off into the anchorage. The skipper’s name was Bruce (he was Australian on a catamaran in the harbor – we can’t remember the boat name.) Bruce, we can’t thank you enough!

Back at Begonia, we chucked our laundry ahead of us and jumped aboard. We have never been underway so quickly. I got the engine started while Maryanne unlocked the boat. Then she went to pull up the anchor while I got the lights and instruments on. We were underway in three minutes. Our position at the harbor entrance was now a benefit to us. In spite of being ashore when we found out, we were the third boat out of Puerto Villamil.

The Port Captain began making lengthy announcements that JC would then follow-up with the English version “All vessels in Puerto Villamil are ordered to evacuate immediately and proceed to sea to a point at least 20 nautical miles south and a depth of at least 1000meters. Tsunami expected to arrive from the south-south-east at 9:30pm with a height of 2 meters.”

Two meters would probably be 5cm out at sea at 1000 m depth, barely a ripple. By the time that ripple reached the beaches it could be as high as 4-5 meters. Most of Puerto Villamil is only a meter or two above sea level. What they had going for them was it was low tide, so the water was already 3.5 meters below the high tide line.

The departure was surreal. Puerto Villamil has the feeling of being a remote outpost of an already remote place. The harbor is tricky and almost nobody goes out at night. It is a very quite place.

Now there were suddenly two dozen boats in the same square mile, fleeing into the moonless night under both engine and all the sail they could carry. It looked like race week in New York harbor.

We were lucky that the Galápagos is very steep. We figured we’d make it to at least 14 miles out when the tsunami passed us, and we’ve have plenty of depth below us (over 3000m), but the consensus of the fleet was to follow the instructions of the Port Captain and get as close to 20 miles out as we could. Our AIS showed targets streaming out to sea from all of the islands.

Most boats planned to spend the night out and return in the morning (with the daylight). Once boat was already cleared and ready to leave for the Marquesas, so he decided to just keep on going. We did the same, we figured we’d be in no shape for our planned snorkeling trip in the morning, and that would only leave us with one day, and to do what? We were not even sure that there would be a town to return to. We didn’t get our passports stamped (or our clearance zarpe), but at least we had our passports. US customs doesn’t usually require a zarpe, and if they asked we presumed they’d understand about the evacuation.

So now we were on our way to Hawaii, over 4000 miles distant. Most of the other boats stopped at 20 miles. We and the Marquesas-headed boat were on similar but slowly diverging courses. Once we were clear of the boundary of the marine park around Isabela, we turned NNW and they receded over the horizon and out of VHF range. Maryanne tried looking for news on the ham radio, but the emergency frequencies were full of traffic seeking emergency traffic only. The last we heard from Isabela was a week and static-y announcement from the Port Captain at 1:30am. While the announcement was in Spanish, we were pretty sure it was cancelling the tsunami alert but was still not allowing boats to return. We took the fact that it could transmit at all from their low-lying office as a good sign. The rest we’d have to find out in Hawaii. [Maryanne]Although we were lucky enough to have our laundry and passports, we were hoping that before we left Puerto Villamil we'd have also purchased a selection of fresh provisions. We'd already established that there was not much to select from, but that it would be better than nothing. Many fresh produce is prohibited from import into the country so we had deliberately eaten up our eggs, and veggies before arriving. This sudden change of plan left us without chance to restock. While we had plenty of food aboard, the menus would be a little less exciting for a while without that provisioning. At least we were safe and well.


kate rodenhouse said...

Thanks so much for providing an update! Will the excitement ever stop? I use the word excitement loosely -- this is the wrong kind for sure. We are hugely relieved to hear you guys are now safely out to sea, but sorry to hear you've had to cut short your time in that beautiful place. We too are keeping good thoughts that all under this warning will remain safe. Please watch for grayish oblong lumps in the water, will you? "Hey! I'm swimmin' here!"

P.S. Too soon? ;)

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

Oh No! Well, first of all, I'm glad you are safe. But I was so looking forward to your stories about how Kyle was attacked by a Galapagos tortoise.

Safe Sailing!