Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cyclone Evan, Musket Cove, Fiji

I never put together an actual note entry or web site page on the events at Musket Cove during the recent tropical cyclone. I've pulled together a few pictures and various Facebook entries and came up with this write-up.

On 5 December I started seeing signs of a storm developing over the Solomons, several hundred miles west of here. The usual path for these storms is right down the island chain and then between Vanuatu and Fiji. Then they turn east and blow themselves out well south of Fiji.

This storm showed a different path. It was going to head directly west toward Samoa passing north of Fiji. Strange but it would still have little effect on us.

By 7 December the projected track showed a disturbing twist: The storm would hit Samoa and then stop, turn southwest and move directly toward Fiji. This was not good. Everyone started checking all the available web sites and weather sources. The projections said it would hit us on or about 16 December.

As we watched the various forecasts I noticed that the US Navy site (The Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC)) was the one the other sites followed. During the next few days the forecast changed constantly from
- it's going to pass just west of us
- it's going to pass right over us
- it's going to pass just east of us

The forecasts wind speed and directions from WindGuru looked like this:

The sequence, top to bottom, of the forecasts we received

My assigned spot was where the ferry docks. They were going to run that ferry until the last possible minute. I didn't want to be out on the mooring when the winds started building. So I moved Galena into the main dock. There was no one there and the dock master didn't mind. That also got me very close to the island bar. Cool.

Galena tied up alongside the main dock. The island bar is just off to the right of this picture

Patrick, the dock master, was on vacation. He was supposed to come back and manage the movement/placement of all the boats in the area. The other resorts send their support boats (dive boats, excursion boats, party boats, et al.) to Musket Cove for shelter and once they start to show up it's a serious Charlie-Foxtrot. Well, Patrick decided not to come back. I understand he had his own home and family to worry about. But he also had responsibilities here.

Anyway, one of the expats, Dave, who runs Musket Cove's excursion boats took charge. He began directing who goes where. When I said I was worried about getting back to my spot if I waited too long, Dave understood. He directed me to a position just a few hundred feet down the dock from my assigned spot. As the ferry made it's last run evacuating the last of the tourists I moved into position and started securing Galena. I hauled my metal dinghy up on shore and put it behind a hedge and tied it to a tree.

Just about ready

The forecast at that time called for winds out of the NNW. I was pointed N with the floating dock on my starboard side. I strung most of my lines from Galena's bow to the trees on shore and the dock pilings. At the stern I just put a couple of lines to the dock and a tree on shore. The Malolo Cat I was going to stay on the dock directly in front of me and that would block some of the force of the wind from that direction. Also, at low tide Galena's deck was below ground level. That would help too.

The forecasts kept getting worse. This was now a Cat 3 and coming right for us. But the day before the storm we had a lovely sunset as we partied at the Island Bar. Little did we know that it would be the last party at that bar.

The day before Cyclone Evan. Sunset at the Island Bar

By mid-afternoon on the 17th of December the winds were picking up. The radar forecasts were looking bad.

Cyclone Evan with Musket Cove circled

The last forecast indicated a direct hit of the eye over Musket Cove. Winds in they eye-wall were 120-kts. Rain heavy.

The barometer was dropping fast. Everyone was doing last minute checks of lines and fenders. I walked over to the cyclone hole behind Armstrong Island. Everything looked good on the couple of boats I was 'watching' for friends.

Gradually the winds climbed as the barometer fell. But the winds were from the SE. Throughout the afternoon they continued to build and slowly clock to the East. That put the winds on Galena's starboard quarter. The one place where I didn't have as many lines as I might have had. Galena rocked hard over with every gust. Remember I was below ground level. The wind hitting the rigging was rocking her 20-degrees!

I started to see leaves, coconuts, palm fronds and then whole trees blow by. The water was whipped to a mist in the little lake that made up the inner harbor (it was only 250 meters across and it was rough as a small lake).

The big ferry also on the dock just in front of me started to pull the dock away from it's mooring poles. I saw the crew out on the dock and on the land frantically passing more lines around trees and using 'come-alongs' to pull the big boat back against the dock. I was concerned since I, too, was tied to that dock. If the dock let go, I knew my few lines to the trees wouldn't hold Galena, the dock, and the big ferry. We'd all be swept out of the harbor and out to sea. I went out to help them. We were wearing dive masks so we could see. We got a couple more lines to the trees and managed to coax the ferry back into position.

About then one of the few lines from Galena's stern to the dock exploded. It was about 16-mm 3-strand nylon. But it was a bit old and it was way too short (no room to stretch). I wasn't too surprised by it's failure. What surprised me was the way the other lines (much longer as they went up to the trees on shore) stretched and let Galena swing about eight feet from the dock. Too far for me to jump off and run another line. I was seriously considering abandoning ship when the crew from the ferry ran up and tossed me a line. I secured it to Galena's stern cleat and they pulled us back to the dock. I was so thankful they were there to help.

Finally just before dark the wind suddenly let up. The eye of the cyclone was on us. The sky was bright white. The air was almost completely still. The barometer read 945mb. I've never seen it anywhere near that low before.

I went for a walk to check on things. The devastation was pretty amazing. I met John, the guy who runs the dive operation for Musket. He was checking his shop and surrounding buildings.

John checking his dive shop during the passage of the eye of cyclone Evan

The rain started and as I hurried back to Galena the wind started to pick up. Within just a couple of minutes it was blowing hard again. Now from the NNW.

Looking across to the Trader from Galena. This is the little harbor that's only a couple hundred yards across

With the wind on Galena's port bow she was being pushed against the dock. Now Galena was pulling on the bulk of her lines which went from bow to shore. She was also somewhat shielded by the big ferry in front of her. She was also not healing over nearly as far. I knew her hull paint wouldn't look good in the morning, but, she needed a repaint anyway.

I curled up on the port settee and fell asleep. I awoke many times and there was no change. Winds howling from the NW and Galena rocking against the fenders on the dock. Back to sleep.

At dawn I got up and surveyed the damages. Galena was in good shape. One solar panel had a broken hinge. The plywood steering vane had snapped off (I was unable to loosen the bolt that held it so left it) and one of her lines had snapped. I walked around and took a few pictures of the damage:

Galena after the storm

Looking across to Galena and the ferry

Banana trees stripped to almost nothing

Many trees were toppled over

The fuel dock was pretty much destroyed.

After a bit of cleaning up those of us who had been on site for the storm got together in a small hut near Galena and had a drink. This is the picture from that survivor party.

This is the Cyclone Evan Survivor's Club, Musket Cove, Fiji

The main wharf leading out the Island Bar was damaged. The power lines to the island were cut. So there would be no island bar drinks for a while. And I had to move right away since the Ferry had to start service. So I went back out to my mooring.

I talked with the owner of the resort, Will Smith, and asked when the docks and Island Bar would be repaired. He said Yachtie support was at the very bottom of his list. Maybe he'd get around to that stuff in May or June. This made me feel very unwelcome. I was no longer happy in this little corner of paradise.

I called my old friends Jeff and Jose on s/v Stravaig. They had recently arrived in Savusavu, Fiji. I expressed my displeasure with Musket Cove. They suggested that if I came back to Savusasvu the owner of the marina would put in a new cyclone mooring for me. I decided that I would head back to Savusavu as soon as I had a reasonable weather window.

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