A Cruiser’s Tsunami Report From Hawaii

Veteran cruiser Susan Meckley sent us her personal recount of riding out the tsunami in Honolulu and the after effects on the boating community. Here is her story:

The recent tsunami really has impacted the boating community here in Honolulu.  I am currently in the Kee Hi Small Boat Harbor Marina located at the east end of the Honolulu Airport.

We received warnings of the impending tsunami via radio, TV, VHF radio, and the civil defense sirens.  However, because this happened last year, and nothing came of it, many people elected to remain in the harbor, much to their later sorrow.

My friend, Linda, has a 55′ fero-cement ketch, and her husband was back on the mainland USA visiting relatives.  Linda has just about zero knowledge of boats and sailing.  Thus, I decided to put most everything of mine that was of value onto another friend’s 65′ steel boat, leave my Challenger 32 boat in harbor (with all expectations that it would be a total loss) and help Linda get her boat out to sea where it would be safe.

When I started her boat’s engine I had no problem, but the prop was so overgrown that it gave the boat only about 1 kt speed.  Plus the cutlass bearing was obviously bad, due to all the vibration.

To the rescue came the 65′ steel boat.  He offered to tow us out to sea and then I could raise the sails and just hang around until the tsunami danger was over.

Great, no problem, but about 10 miles out to sea problems began to arise.  The tow was bucking and jumping…the towing boat did not adjust the tow to put us both “on the rise and fall” of the swells together.  Yep, the tow line parted.

So there we were!  The towing boat’s captain waved at us and continued out over the horizon. We guessed he would be back for us…WRONG!  We drifted for a day and a half and still no return of the towing boat.

So I called the USCG on my handheld VHF…Linda’s boat did not have a working VHF.  In fact, I discovered the sails do not go up, there are no charts onboard, the cutlass bearing is extremely bad, the prop was ineffective, no flares were aboard, the boat’s batteries were almost at the end of their life, the boat had no running lights, etc. And guess what? Linda’s boat had only 5-6 gallons of diesel onboard.

Shame on me for not checking these things before setting off.  But the towing boat would not let us have time to check these things before he commenced the tow.

Now, being an experienced sailor and having cruised for over 10 years (including a solo 36 day transpac) I never venture out on someone else’s boat without my own “KIT.” My “KIT” has Steiner binoculars, 25 flares including 5 solas 1200′ parachute types, smokes, dye markers, handheld VHF, local chart, AA-AAA-C-D spare batteries, generation three night vision device, and green laser.  So we were not out of luck.

Since it looked like the towing captain had abandoned us, I did what any other sailor would do….I CALLED FOR HELP ON THE VHF. The USCG responded but did not know where we were.  Their large (over 150′) cutter was over the horizon from us.  Thus, I fired off two regular 12 ga. flares….no good and popped an orange smoke.  Still no good, so I swallowed the bullet and fired off a 1200′ SOLAS parachute flare (Hey, these things are expensive). They saw that.

Their cutter, the USCG cutter Galveston Island, arrived, tossed us a messenger line, and in two tries we had it aboard.  We hauled over the tow line complete with port/starboard bridle, fed it through the hawspipes and secured the tow line to our Sampson post. All the time, the USCG Captain kept in VHF contact with us, updating us on what was happening.  We talked and agreed on a tow speed of 7 kts.

The USCG towed us approximately 12 miles to a spot off shore at Honolulu’s Ali Wai Marina.  Then waters became too shallow for them to proceed.  The Galveston called in one of their smaller new jet drive 44′ boats.  Although it took over an hour for them to arrive because they were out at the western end of the island, they quickly arrived and took us under tow and away we went, again.

But they also could not get to the anchorage, so they launched their small boat (one of the inflatable RIBs).  A Coast Guardsman came aboard, secured the tow lines and away we went to approximately one half mile offshore, where he proceeded to anchor us in 60feet of water. Ok as there was 300′ of chain available

BUT, now the USCG did a boat inspection. Linda did not have anything. I gave her my flares and VHF, and this looked good.  So, I got into my dinghy and left for shore. Wrong. The shift lever on my one-week-old Tohatsu 6 hp, 4 stroke outboard came off in my hand.  With the help of the USCG, we got the engine into forward and away I went again.

Guess what? 1/4 mile offshore, the new outboard died.  But a good Samaritan came by and towed me into the marina, where I attempted to get the dingy up into the parking lot. At 75 years old, I am just not strong enough to do that anymore.

I called my friend Raymond, who came down.  We tied the dinghy to his truck and dragged the dinghy up to the parking lot, loaded it into the back of his pickup and drove back to my marina.  The harbors were all closed and no traffic was being allowed into or out of Kee Hi Marina by boat because of too much damage.

Fortunately, my boat was unharmed. I truly believe that if you do good, you build up good karma and it will help you. My guardian angel was looking out for my boat.

There are three marinas in this harbor.  One disappeared…totally gone.  One still has a couple of slips, and the marina I am in mainly survived.  But in the harbor there are sunken boats everywhere, boats up on the island, boats on the reef, and even boats sunk in the channel.  The USCG closed the harbor, but one brave individual said the heck with it and proceded to enter the harbor, with a tow no less, got caught in the surge, hit the reef, and both boats sunk in the channel.

The end result is that my boat is okay, Linda’s was taken by the USCG to another marina (they would not let her anchor as she had no anchor light) and things are starting to get back to normal.

The main lesson I learned is that at 75 years old, I AM TOO OLD FOR ALL THIS—especially the 2 ½ days without sleep.

Check out my www.w7kfi.com

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