Skip to content

Reports from the South Pacific

A Red Cross volunteer on the south end of Western Samoa takes a breather from rescue and clean-up operations.

© Nick Jaffe

As rescue workers in Samoa and American Samoa continue cleaning up after Tuesday’s earthquake-triggered tsunami, the death toll has risen to 169 and counting. Among the missing is Dan Olszewski of the Florida-based Freedom 39 Mainly. According to Kirk McGeorge, whose report of the tsunami we ran on Wednesday, Dan and his wife Joan have been cruising for the last 20 years.

Wayne Hodgins of the Victoria, B.C.-based 50-ft cutter Learnativity witnessed what happened: "I watched in horror as one cruiser, who was on the dock trying to untie his lines, was swept off his feet by the torrent of water. His wife was aboard and managed to control the boat as it came free but I couldn’t see any sign of her husband in all the flotsam and jetsam churning in the water."

Kirk reports that the couple’s sons are flying in today, when the family will decide what to do with Mainly. According to Kirk, Joan is leaning toward selling the boat but the kids are hoping to keep her in the family. If they decide to sell, we’ll post a special item in ‘Lectronic.

In the aftermath the tsunami and the devastating earthquake in Indonesia that killed at least 1,100 people, reports are coming in from cruisers all over the South Pacific, which are excerpted below. So far, however, we have no firsthand reports from boats affected in Indonesia. But we do know from Cap’n Fatty Goodlander of the Hughes 38 Wild Card, that the popular cruising ground of Langkawi, Malaysia, was completely unaffected.

Rod and Patti Headlee’s Catalina 38 Joint Adventure was washed off its stands in Pago Pago, but appears relatively unscathed.

© 2009 Mike Traum

One of the most dramatic tales from Pago Pago, Amerian Samoa, came from Mike Traum of the NorSea 31 Eva, which was featured here recently after being T-boned by an allegedly drunken powerboater in Bora Bora. As the tsunami approached, Mike and his father went below and battened down the hatches. Eva was launched across the beach and down the highway along with other boats and vehicles. When the boat settled to the ground, inland, the two men initially jumped down and ran to higher ground. In the lull after another surge, however, they returned to the boat, then quickly gathered their anchor and rode and placed it back out in the temporarily dry bay. When the next surge came minutes later, they rode Eva back into deep water, where she remained safely.

Bob Bechler of the Seattle-based Gulfstar 44 Sisiutl confirmed that "nothing happened" in Apia, on the north side of Western Samoa, as only south-facing areas were affected.

Parts of Tonga, however, which lies some 800 miles to the east, experienced a series of surges. The Alaska-based Hans Christian Tender Spirit bounced on the bottom of an anchorage at Ha’apai, but the boat was undamaged.

Oddly, Bruce Balen of the San Francisco-based Cross 46 Migration, which was lying at Beveridge Reef, only 320 miles from Pago Pago, and felt nothing. However, at nearby Niue, Bruce reports, "boats on the moorings actually felt the earthquake but there were no problems with the tsunami."

We’ll have more accounts of the tsunami, as well as dramatic photos, in the November issue of Latitude 38.

Leave a Comment

While still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Jimena, which hit Baja and San Carlos/Guaymas, folks on the Pacific Coast of Baja between Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria now have to keep a watch out for Tropical Storm Olaf.
Nothing to do this weekend? We’ve got the answer: The October edition of Latitude 38 is hot off the press, chock full of sailing news from around the Bay and around the world.