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Tonga Reminds Us, Never Turn Your Back on a Tsunami

We awoke Saturday morning to get ready for the Corinthian Yacht Club Midwinters with a pleasant forecast of partly sunny, strong ebb, light winds and — oh yeah — a tsunami. What? While it’s easy to shrug off these warnings, we remember how the Fukushima tsunami in 2011 left most of the West Coast unharmed; however, it had very significant impacts on certain harbors depending on the local geography.

We drove down to Tiburon at 9 a.m. and had to get into the lefthand lane by the Cove Shopping Center to avoid the high water that often comes through the storm drain during king tides. When we reached downtown Tiburon, we did notice there wasn’t any of the flooding that occurs near the post office during king tides. Huh? It was one of the few effects we think we saw from the tsunami. The video below shows the water rushing through the Cove apartments at the head of Richardson Bay, which would have been happening right about the time we drove by, and was the likely source of the water flooding Tiburon Blvd.


This screen shot of a video taken by Kelly Winokur shows a boat in Tiburon, complete with dock and kayak, floating away in the surge.
© 2022 Kelly Winokur

When we arrived at the Corinthian Yacht Club all was calm. Seeing the video above demonstrated the difference that can occur when the fickle finger of fate selects your location to bear the brunt of the impact. 99% of the coast received insignificant impact from the tsunami, but the surge did zero in on some particular harbors causing damage to boats, piers and docks. Below, the normally sleepy Soquel Creek had a raging current going ‘uphill’ as the tsunami washed inland.

In Berkeley, the liveaboards were evacuated from boats and floating homes — Berkeley Marina did experience some damage during the Fukushima tsunami. “I went down to the marina at around 1 p.m. on Saturday and nothing seemed amiss,” reports Baylis Weaver, who keeps a large sailboat on K Dock.

Santa Cruz was not so lucky. KCBS Radio reported this morning that Santa Cruz Harbor has “hundreds of thousands” of dollars’ worth of damage. The power is back on in the lower harbor, but the North Harbor is still (as of 8:30-ish) without power and water, and two docks remain closed. Boats that float fared better than cars that don’t in Santa Cruz.

At the CYC Midwinters, the day’s concerns shifted to dealing with light breezes and a big ebb. A fleet of 75 boats signed up to do battle in what turned out to be a very pleasant sailing weekend. Aboard our Sabre 38 Finistere we experienced a few large, unusual swells going east to west that we thought might have been reflective tsunami effects. We also felt the ebb and current lines were much stronger and more pronounced on Saturday than on Sunday.

The tsunami drama in the middle of the Bay was minimal. It was nice out there this weekend.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

Fortunately, the light breezes were just strong enough to allow boats to overcome the ebb and make their way around a variety of courses. Numerous recreational sailors also dotted the Bay. See results from two very enjoyable days of racing here. We’ll have more in Racing Sheet in the February issue of Latitude 38.

Class A Tsunami start
Sunday’s Class A got off to a smooth start in flat water and gentle breeze.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

The drama in Tonga sounds significant and is still unfolding. Here on the West Coast most of us were fortunate to wake up Saturday morning feeling unthreatened by the volcano-generated tsunami created some 5,300 miles away. However, the pinpoint damage at certain harbors and docks is a reminder that you should never turn your back on a tsunami.


  1. Elan 1 year ago

    You saw flooding at the top of Richardson Bay and all was calm at Corinthian because it took you at least 10 min to get there, and tsunami surges come and go very quickly.

  2. Memo Gidley 1 year ago

    And the media loved reporting and scaring locals for what was going to happen…and didn’t. But it does sell advertising etc….

    • Tim 1 year ago

      Better safe than sorry. I was in Ventura Harbor at the time and it was genuinely challenging with four hours of 4-5 foot surges. One rescue boat was sunk – fortunately no one died.

    • Tim Henry 1 year ago

      Memo — The lion’s share of warnings came from government-generated sources, seen all over freeway signs here in the Bay Area. The effects were hit or miss: In some places under warning, there was nary an extra ripple of water. But Santa Cruz, Ventura and Crescent City saw plenty of surge and flooding. (PS: If there’s a treasure chest of advertising dollars to be made off tsunami reporting, nobody has told us!)

  3. Tom Carr 1 year ago

    If my memory serves, I recall the Fukushima tsunami that occurred early in 2010. I was in Hawaii and my boat, Leonidas, was hauled out near Ko Olina on Oahu and I was worried. It turned out to be a nonevent in HI. Not so in my home port of Santa Cruz.

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