February 24, 2012

Sneaky Cyril Smacks Neiafu

The Boston-based Pacific Seacraft 40 Shango rides Cyril’s fury in Neiafu Harbor.

© 2012 Gary Kegel

Although this news is several weeks old due to interrupted Internet access at the scene, we thought this report and dramatic photos warranted sharing. Cruisers Dave and Sherry McCampbell of the Marathon, FL-based CSY 44 Soggy Paws were in Vava’u when a surprise cyclone hit earlier this month.

Superbowl Sunday (Monday, February 6, here in Tonga) was a blustery rainy day in Neiafu harbor, Vava’u, Tonga.  During the game, which we watched on Aquarium Cafe’s big screen TV, we observed strong gusts from the northwest rocket across the harbor and set boats bouncing. The forecast from all sources, Tonga, Fiji, and the U.S.-generated GFS (via GRIB files), was for more of the same with winds to 30 knots overnight, and then by morning, less than 20 knots and clearing. We had been experiencing these same squally conditions now for over a week, as the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) was streaming over us all the way from the Solomons.

After the game, and while it was still light, we headed back to our boats on moorings about 5 miles south of Neiafu harbor. About 6 a.m., we were awakened by a nasty squall. We had no internet, so took a quick look at the latest Spot forecast (taken from a GRIB file). It indicated nothing significant in our area. But it was then gusting to about 45 knots from the NNE. We knew something was up. 

Earlier, squally conditions during the big game made cruisers wonder if something bigger was coming. Seen here are two Moorings bareboats riding a 35-knot squall.

© 2012 Sherry McCampbell

About that time a local ex-pat came up on the VHF with a special weather bulletin from the Tonga weather service indicating that Cyclone Cyril was close by, headed southeast, and would pass nearly over us to the southwest in the next couple of hours. Cyril, unforecast, had spun up overnight between Fiji and Tonga. We tracked its progress by watching the barometer and watching the wind back from NNE to eventually SW. We were reasonably well prepared on our "cyclone mooring" with everything battened down, except that the dinghy and small motor were still on the davits.

During the next two hours the wind went to 67 knots, a Category 3 cyclone in the South Pacific. We had seas to five feet and wind from the west, our longest fetch direction. Fortunately, it went by us rapidly, and by 10 a.m., it had calmed to about 20 knots. Within a couple of days it had disappeared into the southern ocean.

“Um, honey, does this look normal to you?” When your barometer plunges like this, you know trouble will soon come a’knockin’.

©2012 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

During the height of the storm, our mooring dragged, and before we could get free, we ended up on the bow of another boat. Both of us sustained considerable damage, but no one was hurt and we are working on repairing both boats without too much expense.

In Neiafu harbor, where about 20 sailboats are moored, most of the docks along the eastern shore were damaged and rendered unusable. Several moorings moved and at least three boats ended up against the shoreline. One trimaran lost the front of an ama and a monohull sustained hull damage, but was not holed. Electricity and Internet service were out in some parts of the island group for a week. We understand there was also considerable damage in Tongatapu, the southern island group and capitol of Tonga.

The speed with which Cyclone Cyril developed (less than 12 hours), the timing (middle of the night), and the existing squally conditions combined to make this a difficult situation. Even the ‘old hands’ in Neiafu were surprised by this one.  We think that the combination of the SPCZ and a Madden Julian Oscillation peak contributed to create this surprise cyclone — a far cry from the many days notice of an approaching hurricane that we are used to in the Caribbean.

Bill Hardesty Receives Rolex

Big congrats to San Diego sailor Bill Hardesty for winning the Rolex Yachtsman of the year. Hardesty was awarded his specially engraved stainless steel and platinum Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Masters watch during a ceremony held at St. Francis YC on Wednesday. This marks the first time in its 50-year history that the award has been presented on the West Coast. Hardesty was introduced by last year’s winner, the Bay’s own Stan Honey.  Bill told the story of winning a junior Rolex award (which didn’t include a watch) at which point his dad said he would take his son to any regatta he wanted as long as, if he ever did win an actual Rolex, he’d give it to his dad. True to his word, when Bill was awarded his Rolex he invited his dad on stage to pick up the promised watch. When he isn’t racing Etchells all over the world, Hardesty cruises his Wauquiez Hood 38 Firefly with his girlfriend (and racing crew) Mandi Markee.

Also on the podium with Hardesty was Florida sailing phenom Anna Tunnicliffe, who is the first woman to earn the award four years in a row. Tunnicliffe was quick to give credit where it’s due: “For many of you in this room, the idea of having to beat one boat at a time, instead of the 50 or 60 in a regular fleet race, may seem a little simple,” she said, referring to match racing, “but it is about mastering a complex task. We are a team in every sense of the word; we need each other, and if we are going to achieve our goal this year — of winning gold at the Olympics — it will be because we are competing as a team. This award also belongs to Molly Vandemoer [from Redwood City] and Debbie Capozzi, the best teammates I could ever hope for."

Consistently Inconsistent

As much as we love Mexico, we have to say enforcement of its immigration policies often tends to be inconsistent from port to port — and sometimes from month to month.

A case in point is the situation at Cedros Island, which lies a short way off the Baja coast, 300 miles south of the border. It’s known to be a bona fide port of entry, but is rarely accessed as such by cruising sailors. We cleared out there ourselves not long ago and had a very pleasant experience. But recent reports from several cruisers indicate that it’s best to pick another port of entry such as Ensenada or Cabo San Lucas. In fact one cruiser claims to have actually been fined later for attempting to clear in there, as the Cedros office is apparently unauthorized to issue visas.

The way we understand the law, all foreign vessels must clear in at the first port of entry at which they stop, meaning that you do not necessarily need to clear at Ensenada, just because you are sailing past it. Interestingly, though, we’re told that several bad apples have been removed from Ensenada’s immigration staff, possibly due to complaints of foul play by cruisers and fishermen. If this info is correct, clearing there now should be a more straight-forward experience than previously, which would be good news for everyone — especially the Ensenada business community, which is eager to polish the port’s image and attract an increase in boating traffic.

Sadie Hawkins Race

"When ah fires my gun, all o’ yo’ kin start a-runnin!" exclaimed Hekzebiah Hawkins in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner comic strip. Sadie Hawkins Day is not until February 29, but that’s a Wednesday, so Island YC will observe it tomorrow. Gals, this is your chance: Grab the helm and go racing on the Estuary. You can still enter, right up until the 11:30 a.m. skippers’ meeting at the clubhouse in Alameda Marina.

Mary McGrath’s J/105 Racer X crosses the finish line in 2011’s Sadie Hawkins. You can sail this race singlehanded, doublehanded, or with full crew of any gender, but the skipper must be female.


See www.iyc.org for details about the race, and, if you’re curious, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadie_Hawkins_Day.

The Aquarium of the Bay will kick off their new film and lecture series, a year-round roster of topic-specific films and talks aimed at educating the public, with ‘An Evening of Sailing Films’ at the newly renovated Bay Theater on Pier 39 this Friday.
Whether the right to a berth in highly desirable public marinas or mooring fields ought to go with a boat has been a hot topic of discussion on the West Coast from time to time.