Our San Sebastian Trip is interrupted to give details on our tsunami experience. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Japanese people. Their plight is inconceivable. If the earthquake wasn’t devastating enough there was the horrifying effects of the tsunami.
Word rang out loud and fast here in the marina at the news of the earthquake and tsunami. We knew upon first hearing of the disaster early that morning that we should expect the tsunami to hit here, in Banderas Bay, at approximately 1330 CST. Everyone had time to prepare and plan. It is sad that so many other ports on the west coast, much closer to Japan didn’t have the luxury of our five plus hours warning. Some of the hardest hit towns and marinas on the west coast had entrances open to the ocean. There was no long channel or seawall to take the initial brunt of the first waves.
You can relax on our behalf. We were never in any danger. There was no damage to us, any of the boats, or docks here in Paradise Village Marina.
Pass the Word!
The VHF radio is the mode of communication for all the boaters and cruisers down here in the area. Many of us had television and internet access, and friends scattered all along the west coast sending information via phone and email, which was delivered to “the fleet”. It was chilling to see the devastation as it rolled down the west coast of America, headed in our direction. These days, with CAMS (cameras in all sort of unique locations, we could see the waves hit in Santa Cruz – over and over again. Stunning, to say the least. Information would sound something like this, “Attention, the fleet”. Every ear turned toward the radio when that preliminary message came across. We were well aware of the potential danger to us. Staying on the safe side, we did last minute provisioning in the event power and water were affected at the docks.
Safer at Sea
The general rule, for vessels, is that it is safer at sea than in port. And you witnessed that in gruesome detail in Santa Cruz and Crescent City, in particular. The Port Captain here in Nuevo Vallarta posted a notice that the port was closed to all out going traffic. There was a loud hue and cry as the boaters wanted to get out of the marina and be out on the ocean where they would be safer. In case you don’t know, a boat out on the ocean is unlikely to notice when a tsunami passes under the hull, much less suffer any harm. Of course, there are exceptions. After much back and forth conversation the notice was refined to state that the commercial party boats were confined to the harbor. These boats are the ones that take up to a hundred or more people around the area for fun in the sun, and it made perfect sense, for them to stay put. The private pleasure yachts were free to choose whether to stay or go.
The bay and the marinas were packed that weekend due to the annual Banderas Bay Regatta. Most of those boaters were desperate to get out of the harbor. Many of the boats that left expected to race later in the day, as they expected the effects of the tsunami would be over in a couple hours or so. Those racers left their anchor and chain at the dock – oops. However, many boater had their anchor system and assisted those that did not. In all, the boaters/cruisers are a very close knit group and go out of their way to help their fellow boaters. It is a good place to be – among this group – if things go bad.
In spite of being told we would be fine – the wave would most likely be minimal. I did what any sane person does – hopes for the best and plans – and worries – for the worst.
Here it Comes!
In fact, the first wave came within minutes of 1330. I recall it being a few minutes past, but my time isn’t the official time. I observed the depth at 11.2 before the first wave. We could see the wave come rolling in – it looked like a strong current – we never saw anything resembling a wave. In fact, we did not feel the actual rise and fall, as the waves came and went. We estimate that we experienced a 25 to 30 inch total change in the depth of the marina. That means we rose about a foot, and fell about a foot, give a few inches here or there. There were some reports of much larger changes, but we didn’t see them. The best indication was the depth sounder – this was the first wave and it raised us about a foot, and the subsequent waves were within inches of the initial wave.
This was the piling forward of our boat at the highest wave. The waves moved in and out at intervals of 10 to about 15 minutes, gradually lengthening to about thirty minutes. I must remind you we are not the “official voice”, but it is what we experienced. Those of us who stayed in the marina put out extra lines where possible.
EXUMA, a luxury motor yacht that was side-tied to “A” dock, was most at risk. “A” dock is the first dock in the marina. EXUMA took it all on her beam, and being a huge yacht, was forced to use their stern and bow thrusters constantly during the in and out to prevent destroying the dock or causing themselves damage. I felt for the sailboats on the other side of the dock, for in addition to the tsunami they experienced the thrusting action, which was more obvious than the tsunami wave.
Check out the enormous fenders between the piling and the boat protecting the yacht. It was a long day and night for that crew – yes night – they were on round the clock watch, protecting the dock and themselves.
Inside the Marina
This is what the current looked like in the basin. As you can see the current is going out and the dock is going down, showing more of the piling. It looks rather harmless here, doesn’t it.
If you look back up at the top photo of the depth sounder, you just see water – and maybe a fish. Look at this! This is the second incoming wave. The initial in and out stirred up the water significantly. See all the matter that it stirred up. Just to be clear, this is not my sea monster. 🙂 Wow. [Note: The red portion is the marina bottom, and everything above the red area is the water underneath the boat, with the top of the monitor being the bottom of the boat.]
SOUTHWIND, is moored just behind us. It’s a catamaran that takes guests in the resort out to the islands for a day of fun and sun. Notice the current swirling and racing by.
This exchange of water continued on for almost 24 hours, lessening in strength and timing after about 14 hours. We went to bed about 2030. Funny how sound changes when the lights go out! (Ha-ha…I just heard you all thinking about my “bogeyman”.) So, back to sound – we heard water running, then it was pouring and our first thought was that our water hose had blown, as it was left live – water from the dock live in the hose. Then even more sound and we rushed to deal with it. And “IT” was a tsunami wave/current rushing in, every bit as strong as the first wave. We wondered if it was from the 7.x aftershock earlier in the day. Amazing, to hear the water rush by like that, and not be moving or rocking in the slip.
During the rushing in and out the lines and fenders were quiet. In fact everything was more quiet than normal. But, when the wave arrived or retreated, the lines would start creaking and that was our warning. After watching it all for more than an hour, we began to relax, feeling that we were safe, and there was no potential hazard headed our way. I heard it start creaking around 0030 and got up and checked outside. Yep, it was another incoming wave. There was little time between the entrance and exit. It came in, and then it was going out. In fact here, close to the entrance it looked as if it was incoming, and then the outgoing wave would gather it and take it back out to sea. Well, that is how I saw it.
Our harbormaster had his hands full, seeing that his docks and boats were kept safe. Thanks Dick! The channel became either an incoming or outgoing current the rest of the day and into the night. In fact, the current was running at an estimated 6 knots. There were stories of 12 knots, but we never observed it. The channel buoys were so battered by the current changes that they came loose and were all over the entrance channel tossed by the current.
Once the scare was over the boats that left the marina wanted to return to their slip. The races were canceled for the day. However, the harbor remained closed until late that evening due to the animation in the channel. It would be difficult, at best, for boaters to control their yachts in tight quarters with the current – to say nothing of the possibility of the current changing directions while the boater is mid-channel. Getting into a slip could have been challenging for some of the boaters and unsafe in general for others. It would require some dodging of the buoys in the channel, and some quick maneuvering to keep control of their boat and not end up hitting EXUMA. Unfortunately, some of the boaters were unhappy with the decision. They ended up staying out overnight – some side-tying to another yacht, or going into another marina in the area. I know some of the captains could have handled the situation, but some would not have fared well. And in the end there was no damage and that is what is important.
Overall, though it was a nerve racking time for us boaters, there was no damage here and everything settled back to almost normal the next day – with some minor leftover animation. Those out in the bay, that day, had fun at anchor and some great sailing. Boaters are very adept at adapting to the day – and generally making it a good time.
La Cruz Marina, just north of here, experienced some damage to a couple docks close to the entrance. They lost partial power, but it was restored.
And that is how we rode out the tsunami. Safe and sound. The only way we want it – and hopefully never again – here in Mexico, Living in Paradise.