An update from a cruiser who went through a Tsunami


Below is a blog entry from yesterday, posted by a cruiser I’ve never met, Wayne on the sailboat Learnativity, who was in American Somoa when the major earthquake a few days ago hit. It’s amazing reading. I’m reposting it here  for your convenience, or you can read it directly on his blog, at: 

It reminded me of that old saying, “Boating is best described as long periods of boredom interspersed with short bursts of terror.”

Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

Doing the Tsunami Tango in American Samoa

Whew!  Now THAT was a full day!  As most of you will know by now I am in Pago Pago Harbor in American Samoa and yesterday (Tues Sept. 29, 2009) we took a direct hit from the tsunami effect caused by the undersea volcanic eruption that took place about 130nm south of here.  Reports seem to estimate it at 8.0-8.3 on the Richter scale so that counts as quite significant I think; certainly was on the Wayne scale!

** Paste my lat/long 14 16.514S 170 41.554W into Google Earth to see for yourself.  This is obviously be the “before” photo and we’ll have to wait for the next satellite pass to see the “after”

I’m writing this a day later (Wed afternoon) now that I have a bit more time as things have calmed down a bit, both in terms of water action and more recently all the work in dealing with the aftermath.  Many of you have been able to follow this via various means thanks to the efforts of my main man ashore and overall phenomenal resource; John Alonso in Florida.  Shortly after escaping from the docks where Learnativity was tied up, I was able to get a few satellite phone connections and both talk to John as well as text him while I did my best to deal with the constant draining and then refilling of the harbor and dodge the endless onslaught of other ships, mostly empty, derelict hulls, containers, docks, oil drums and every other sort of debris you can imagine.  John was then able to relay these to all of you via Twitter and Emails and I can’t thank him enough for helping to get the word out and let everyone know what was going on here.  Now that I’ve got a bit more time let me start at the beginning and take you through the day of September 29th, 2009 on the good ship Learnativity.

P1010942I am up as usual about 6:30 and getting ready to go for my morning shower up on the deck when I became aware of a low frequency thrumming that I could both hear and feel.  This continued and my first thought was that there was a large freighter or other ship nearby and I was simply feeling the effects of its large propellers churning the water.  Stepping up into the cockpit to look around there was nothing in sight and it was otherwise the start of another day in paradise with the verdant hills surround Pago Pago Harbor rising up steeply all around me and piercing the few clouds in an otherwise brilliant blue sky.  The calm harbor waters stretched out as Learnativity tugged gently on her dock lines securing us to the large concrete wharf where we have been docked in about 15’ of water since arriving on Friday afternoon and joined about six other sailboats and cruisers from Australia, USA and Canada.  

DSC_0769But what IS that vibration??  It is about 06:50 as I step off the boat onto the concrete dock to see if it was perhaps just on Learnativity or the water?  No, it continued and was intensifying if anything.  Having experienced several other quakes including Mount St. Helens and the big quake in San Francisco and LA in the 90’s I began to suspect this as the source however it was too gentle and going on too long for my understanding of what an earthquake feels like.  And I can HEAR it as much as feel it.  Over a minute has gone by now and as I look ashore in search of other points of reference sure enough I can see that the lamp posts and telephone poles are waving back and forth like they were blades of grass in a gentle breeze.  Hmmm, I’ve only seen poles move like that once before and that was as I looked outside my office window in Sausalito during the 1989 Loma Preita earthquake.  OK, it may be different but I’ve solved the riddle and we got ourselves an earthquake.

samoaquake_srt_2009272 A few of my fellow cruisers (people who live aboard their boats while cruising the world) have been awakened and are crawling sleepily out of their beds and joining me on the concrete wharf.  The mood is typically easy and friendly as we say quietly say good morning, compare notes and discuss just what’s going on.  The thrumming continues through most of this and I’d estimate at least 3 minutes in total.  We agree it must have been an earthquake and Gary, an Australian from Freemantle on his 52’ Irwin “Biscayne Bay” with wife Lisa, son Jake and Canadian crewmember Chris, joins us and tells that he has just checked it out online and found reports filed under “latest earthquake” of an underwater eruption about 20 minutes ago 130nm south of us

We continued to casually chat and discuss how unique the characteristics were.  None of us had ever experienced an undersea eruption or other such disturbances on our boats and we just left it at that as we dispersed back to our boats for breakfast and one person casually joked that we should just watch for any big wave we see.  No such wave ever materialized, it was much worse.

Just as I was bout to step back onto my boat it started to drop.  Huh?  Before I could even comprehend what was happening it then started to rapidly lean sideways as the dock lines strain and screech, tightening more and more as they take on the full weight of my very heavy steel home.  My instincts scream GET ON THE BOAT!   I jump aboard and grab onto the rigging as she continues to lean more and more and more.  THUD! Holy #^%& we are hard over on our side and ……. WHAT the …..?  the bottom of the bay is staring back at me as I dangle by one hand from the rigging. 

My mind  is cycling through every possible explanation, trying to come to terms with all the inputs and amongst the cacophony of sights and sounds as boats smash around me, deck lines snap, rigging strains.  These sounds are overlaid and an ominous and enormous rushing and sucking sound as the water all around my boat suddenly drains away! 

But a new noise, like fingernails across a blackboard divert my attention to the near vertical deck and I see poor Ruby (my 2 year old cockapoo and sailing companion) trying in vain to dig her claws into the steel deck, her legs thrashing like a cartoon animation character as she gathers speed going the other way and her tail end is headed for all the fish I now see and hear flopping around on the bottom of the bay as they search of their missing watery home.

Ruby’s a gonner if she leaves the boat so I let go of the rigging, do my best imitation of a full 180 mid air flip and lunge after her with one outstretched hand and desperately reach out with the other in the hopes of grabbing some other hand hold.  Just as Ruby is launched off the deck I get a right handful of the scruff of her neck and harness as my left hand wraps itself around the lifeline cable.  No time to think, just act.  Ruby in hand I scramble up to the opposite (Port) high side of the deck.  All hell is breaking loose around me both on my boat and all the others and I’m not going to be able to do much with one hand.  I look up above me and spot Jake, Gary’s son (14) standing on the edge of the wharf looking down at me and I yell “Jake!  Catch!” and throw Ruby up to his thankfully open arms.  He makes a great catch, Ruby is in good hands and I’ve got both of mine back.

Interesting how we all react differently.  Back aboard Biscayne Bay, Gary and family have been below making breakfast, when they notice the concrete dock rushing up past their porthole windows as if they were in an elevator shaft.  Their boat is in much deeper water around the corner from where I Learnativity is docked, so they are going straight down, lines straining, fiberglass crunching and that ever present surreal sucking sound all around.  Gary’s reaction, understandably is to GET OUT! and so they all dash up into the cockpit and scramble up the vertical wall of concrete and rubber tires as Gary pushes and shoves each of them up onto the top of the concrete wharf.

The sucking sound stops.

There is a moment of seeming silence that you’d think would be comforting but you’d be wrong.  It’s ominous.  And then a new set of sounds begin.  The volume with a ferocious velocity.  Faster than it has left, all that water is now coming back!  All the problems reverse.  Learnativity rights itself and is now rocketing skyward.  I grab my always-on-my-belt knife and dash down the port side from bow to stern slashing all the dock lines.  Scramble back into the cockpit, start the engine, simultaneously shove both control levers ahead, putting the transmission into forward gear and the throttle lever on full.  All six cylinders pick up speed as the revs cling, the turbine whines, the prop bites hard into the swirling water below and Learnativity starts to pull away from the ………………………… wharf.  What wharf?  It’s GONE! 

The water rushing back into the bay doesn’t stop at it’s previous level, it continues to go up and up and up the sides of the wharf.  It floods over the top and keeps going.  The speed and force of of the current created by millions of gallons of water flooding into the harbor is unbelievable water and is doing its best to push Learnativity backwards into the dock and marina as I put my faith into the power of diesel fuel and take a minute to look back and see if I’m going forward or backwards.

DSC_0783It is hard to describe what I see.  Closest to me, Gary, Lisa, Jake (clutching Ruby) and Chris are running as fast and best they can through the rushing water for a stone walled garden area in the middle of the concrete wharf that happens to have a small but tall light post embedded into it.  I watch helplessly as they climb up onto the base of the light pole, wrap their arms around each other and hang on as the water rushes past them, continuing to rise; up, up, up.

I glance along where I know the edge of the dock to have been and watch as one other boat with a great young crew of five from California have jumped aboard even quicker than I and are motoring quickly away. No wait, on the other matching lamp post down the dock I spot one of their female crewmembers who got caught ashore now clinging to this lamp pole.  Other sailboats, including Biscayne Bay have now ripped free of their tethers and I watch as they turn with the continuously rising current and crash into each other, taking the other boats in their path like falling dominos.  On the left is the “after” picture of this infamous light pole with (from left to right) Chris, Jake, Lisa, Ruby and Gary posing with much different expressions on their faces.  Imagine them and the water level half way up this pole!

As my eyes continue to travel further down the dock, I watch in horror as one cruiser is on the dock trying to untie his lines and is swept off his feet by the torrent of water.  His wife is aboard and manages to control the boat as it comes free but I can’t see any sign of her husband in all the flotsam and jetsam churning in the water. 

Worse than just the water though, almost everything imaginable has been picked up by this flood of water, torn lose from anything silly enough to try to hold them down and is now looking to smash into anything and everything in its erratic path.  I glance back to the lamp post where the Biscayne Bay crew are now climbing higher and higher up the lamp post, Gary has Ruby wrapped around his neck so he can use both his arms to hold on to his family and try to keep from being ripped off the post by the force of the water or hit by one of the boats or containers rushing toward and past them.  My brain is cycling through the question of “What can I do to help them?” but it is quite literally out of my hands and I have to turn away and bring my attention back aboard and foreword.  Fortunately diesel power overcomes even these humbling forces of nature and Learnativity and I escape to the safety of the middle of the bay.  Or is it?

No time to think, just act.  With the chaos of other ships, some manned, most not, surrounding me and with the water swirling in every direction it was impossible to tell if I was moving forward or back.  I pushed Learnativity as hard as I could with full throttle to overcome the unbelievable opposing force of millions of gallons of water now rushing back in to refill Pago Pago Harbor and doing its best to suck Learnativity backwards into the concrete dock we were fleeing.  Looking back to try to gauge direction and progress I couldn’t believe what I could not see.  There was no dock to be seen!  Just boats and water everywhere.  Was I that disoriented?  Had we drifted that far?  Searching for the dock, I finally got my bearings from the buildings on shore and confirmed that I was just where I thought I was, about 100 feet away from the dock that wasn’t there.  What I can see is a pencil thin vertical line that is the light post which now has Gary, Lisa, Jake, Chris literally hanging on for dear life and Ruby wrapped around Gary’s neck.  I glance further west and see Emily, the stranded young lady from the California yacht Banyan clinging to the other light post.  Then I watch as Kirk, Catherine and Stewart on their sailboat Galivanter motor across the TOP of the dock and get out behind me!

When I think about tsunamis I envision this giant wall of water, a monster wave.  There was no wave here.  The bay simply emptied like someone had pulled the stopper out of a really big bathtub and then equally as fast put it back in and filled it all up from a giant valve below. 

** For some great graphics and explanations of how tsunamis work see this “Tsunami Infographics” site which John kindly passed on.

Dock?  What dock?My brain is struggling to process these visual inputs and try to make sense of it all as I realize the whole dock is under water!  That safe, solid, secure concrete wharf which used to sit about 8 feet above the water is now about five feet under water and rising.  Boats which were previously tied up to the inside edge of the dock between the shore and the dock have broken free and are careening about in the swirling current, posting great threats to Gary et al on the pole.  I look west down to the end of the bay and see that it is filling up with a collection of every floating vessel known to man; pleasure boats both motor and sail of every size, 100’ steel purse seiner fishing boats, trawlers, cargo ships and rowboats.  Most seem to be unmanned and are randomly dancing together, running into each other and all headed West.  Biscayne Bay amongst them.

Learnativity and I escape the clutches of the incoming current and suddenly speed forward.  Hmmm, where did all that ferocious current go?  The water becomes eerily calm and smooth.  Again, you’d think this would be a good thing and again you’d be wrong. The cycle is now reversing.  All that water piled up at the end of the bay, having run up onshore and floated everything there from full buildings to cars, now wants to go back out.  This is the first sign of any wave I saw through the whole ordeal as the water rushes back from its momentary travels ashore and has now formed a low wide wave that is headed east back towards me.  I’ve now made it out into the middle of the harbor where the water is deepest and I have the most room to run and avoid all the oncoming ships and Looking.  I turn Learnativity to face this new rush of water, throttle at the ready to ride out the next surge of current. 

P1010954 Glancing ashore through all this I watch the concrete dock magically reappear as if it is rising up out of the water in some perverse magic trick.  Then my brain realizes that the dock isn’t moving up, the water is moving down as gazillions of water molecules all rush to join their buddies down at the West end of the bay.  I watch in humbled awe as the water again drains away leaving the dock fully out of the water pilings and all. 

P1010966On the left here is one of the few photos I was able to snap in the midst of all this you can see the concrete dock with the tires on the side and the water at the level it would normally be at.  I was only able to take time for a photo because it is in that lull between surges in and out so this water level is between its high and low.  Oh, and you might also notice the sailboat that has been deposited up on top of the wharf!  Minutes earlier it had been tied up alongside the dock.  Think about it and you will have a better sense of the height of the water as it flooded in such that the boat could float up and over the top of the dock and then be dropped on top as the water receeded.

I would estimate the sea level dropped over 15’ in less than 30 seconds.  Then someone hits the rewind button on the video I’m watching and as fast as it dropped the water level starts moving up and my friends on the light poles rush back to it and brace for another dunking.  As it turned out, the worst one yet.

DSC_0759Due I suspect to the additional forces gained by the water all collecting its energy up on the western shore, the speed of the water now rushing out of the bay is the highest yet.  To make matters worse this was no longer “just” water, it was a giant tossed salad of debris from ships to cars to docks to scrap and crap.  All headed back for us with increasing velocity.  And again I am rendered helpless to watch with the disgust of not being able to do anything and the embarrassment of being so relatively safe and dry aboard strong steel Learnativity.  Lisa, Gary, Jake and Chris grip each other and that slender pole, their bodies now trailing off almost horizontal as the slimy soup rises and rushes past them making every effort to rip their hands from the pole and sweep them away like insignificant insects.  They would later recount that this second surge out was the worst of them all and they were within seconds of loosing their grip and the torrent of water began to slack and they returned to vertical as the cycle repeats; current subsides, water goes slack and starts to drop again.  The photo on the right is of this infamous life saving light pole in the middle of the dock and was taken just after I’ve come back in and tied Learnativity up just across from it.  Four people and a dog are alive today because this pole was there, and a similar one right beside me where the Emily from receded was able to hang on and survive.

DSC_0777 As the water dropped away and drained off the dock, I can see Lisa and Jake, with Ruby in tow, make a mad dash across the now dry concrete, hit the shore running and kept on going, climbing up the hillside to watch safely from higher ground.  I spot Gary and Chris down on the dock and I speed over close enough that we can yell back and forth.  I’m desperate to help them get onto Biscayne Bay and be able to keep it out of any further harm.  I try to make a pass alongside the wharf so they can jump aboard Learnativity, but now there isn’t enough water beside the dock to float my boat!  I head back out to the middle of the bay and watch and wait for another cycle and then try another pass at the dock to pick them up, but the currents are simply changing too rapidly, there is too much debris to avoid and too dangerous for them to jump.  We all watch over the next 15 minutes as Biscayne Bay pilots itself westward down the bay being hit and hitting back other boats along the way.  With one of the next big surges she is lifted up onto the mud banks and leans over onto her side to rest high and dry, covered in oil and fuels and badly beaten up.DSC_0739

Another cruiser, Mike from Eureka California was having better luck and an amazing experience as his 27’ sailboat motored down the main street at the far west end of the harbor, circled around the intersection and went back out into the harbor!  As the surge he was riding went out it dropped him and his boat onto the ground and then just as nicely picked him right back up again on the next cycle and he was able to get it back into the harbor.  He quickly headed out to the far eastern end of the harbor for some clear water and space to inspect below but all signs show that he only suffered some serious gouging of the keel and hull.  Amazing!

While all this is going on, Joan on Mainly the boat out of South Merrit Island in Florida is letting us know on the VHF that she has still not seen her husband Dan, the one I saw being swept of the docks in the first surge.  One of the big disappointments of this whole experience is the complete lack of response or rescue resources from ashore.  I assumed, very incorrectly, with this being US soil there would be plenty such resources; again I was wrong.  I learned later that the USCG is land based only and it was over three hours later that they were able to respond with any presence on the water.  Nor was their any help from the port authority, no Navy presence, and we were left to our own devices to help each other and coordinate as best we could.  There were now about six or more other sailboats motoring around in circles with me in the middle of the bay as we turned back and forth to point into the next surge and tried to dodge the continuing barrage of unmanned ships, hulls and garbage.  Joan was doing a great job of single handing her boat and I and others started widening our circles to come closer to shore and cover more area in search of Dan or others who were in the water. This cycle of the tsunami “tide” coming in and out continued for several hours and was like a pendulum, continuously decreasing in height and velocity.

When I was first got out in the middle of the bay my instinct for some reason was to get the word out to both friends and family that I was safe and to let the rest of the world know what was going on.  I imagined that there would be lots of news reports about the eruption but very little information on just what was happening locally and I also desperately wanted to know if more was coming and what to expect.  Fortunately I carry a satellite phone and while expensive it certainly more than paid for itself in this situation.  I couldn’t take my eyes and hands off the tasks of piloting Learnativity and searching for people, but I was able to hit my sat phone speed dial and call John in Florida.  Thankfully the time worked out, it was mid day in Florida and John picked up!  I gave  him a quick synopsis of the situation and asked him to send out a note to the Email list of “Learnativity Followers” (people I send my daily updates to while sailing), post a note to my blog and log on as me on Twitter to relay the text messages I would try to send out as regularly as I could.  John has been my lifeline in so many ways, so many times, and once again came through with flying colors as he acted as my ship to satellite to shore relay station.  With his help and the wonders of modern communication technology I was able to let my friends and family know I was alive and get to the world at large with some first hand news about the situation here.  It seemed to work amazingly fast and I received inquiries from several individuals within the first 20 minutes, wanting to know about their friends and family and very soon thereafter started receiving calls and text messages from news centers around the world.  The Twitter feed was particularly interesting and seemed to be the one which spread virally the fastest.  It also allowed John and I to get a series of time stamped updates out which people could then review and see the progression of events here. (see for the feed of these Tweets)

Meanwhile, back in the all too real and present situation I was still circling the center of the bay with others, trying to see if I could find a Wi-Fi signal to get on the internet to get updates, avoiding the ever present danger of other ships and debris and be on the lookout for Dan and the growing list of other people who were now missing.  I wasn’t able to get on the net but was able to get updates from John and was well informed about the second eruption which fortunately didn’t produce any further surge or tsunami that we detected here in Pago Pago.  Whew!  Maybe this part is over?

I’m not quite sure of the timing, but about 11am, four hours after the mayhem started on this fateful Tuesday, Sept. 29th, I decided that the surges were down enough and not coming back so I headed for the dock and tied Learnativity to the outside and jumped ashore to help others who were following my lead in.  I was anxious to find Gary and Chris who I’d not seen in the past hour while I was circling out in the bay and also to see what assistance I could provide to others who were looking for lost crewmembers as well as the whole situation ashore.

P1010964 On American Samoa, as with most other islands the only real road is the one which circles the coastal circumference so it is all very close to sea level.  Normal sea level that is.  When the tsunami hit, the water rose up to a level about 5’ above the roadway and several hundred feet inland.  It cleaned out everything in its path, picking up vehicles and dropping them inside buildings and culverts. If the buildings were concrete and well built, the water neatly emptied all their contents, if not it simply washed away the entire building.  Cars were strewn everywhere as if some giant hand picked up the island and gave it a good shake.  As you walked up to the road there were manta rays, eels and tuna still flopping about on the dry pavement desperately searching for their watery homes.  Several hardware stores along the road had been emptied and tools were strewn everywhere.  Much of the edge of the water was lined with chain link fencing which had acted like a sieve and was now a colorful mosaic chockablock full of a plastic, paper, wood and weeds.DSC_0787

By the time I got up to the road though, people were already pitching in to help others in need and soon people started to clean up the mess that was everywhere.  Traffic was at a standstill of course with vehicles all over the road, wrapped around trees, sticking out of doorways and windows and parked in culverts.  Many had simply been washed into the bay.  There were injured people everywhere and soon the sirens began and continued on through the night and the next few days as more were found amongst the wreckage and on the sides.  Miraculously to me no fires had broken out which was a good thing as there was fuel and oil everywhere.  The gas station immediately behind the dock had all four of its pumps knocked clean off their foundations as cars had floated by and the water rose up over them.  Now they spewed raw gasoline and diesel out of their amputated pipes.  While out in the bay the smell of diesel, gas and oil was overwhelming as most of the large fishing and commercial ships that were swept away had ruptured their tanks and the water was slick with petroleum. 

DSC_0686 I wanted so much to head for the West end of the bay to find Gary and Biscayne Bay and help them find Biscayne Bay, as well as see if Ruby had survived.  But I dare not leave Learnativity alone and there was so much to do on the docks trying to help those whose boats were still there and those who were missing crew members.  Gary actually showed up aboard Joan’s boat Mainly to help her dock it and there was still no sign or word of Dan.  And so the afternoon progressed as we all pitched in and drifted from one job to the next; cleaning, consoling, assessing and trying to comprehend what had just happened.  With son Jake on board Biscayne Bay to keep watch as looting had already begun on ships and ashore, Chris and Gary went back and forth between Learnativity and Biscayne Bay in the dingy, moving all their belongings and food aboard Learnativity as I invited them to live with me for the next while.


DSC_0701As we shuttled all their belongings from one boat to the other we decided to try to get Biscayne Bay back into the water and if she was not taking on water to try to bring her back to the dock.  Gary and Chris went back to the boat and with the help of some others and the next big surge, miraculously got her upright and off the mud bank and bottom into deeper water.  She was taking on some water, but it was minimal and the bilge pumps would be able to keep up with it.  The engine would start but something was wrapped around the prop or shaft or both and they were locked up solid.  There was limited steering but with a 25HP outboard on his dingy, Gary was able to push and shove her all the way up the bay and around the end of the concrete dock.  DSC_0770With Chris at the wheel and Gary using the dingy as a mini tug boat, Jake threw me the bow line as she raced toward the dock and I was able to wrap the line around one of the large steel bollards and with a final crunch against the dock she was back home.  It was hard to believe that only 8 hours earlier this crunched and battered dear boat had been quietly tied up next to Learnativity in pristine condition.




 The search continued for our missing comrade cruiser Dan and with no sign of him by mid afternoon Joan went to the hospital and sadly arrived just as they were bringing Dan’s body to the morgue.  His body had washed up at the west end of the bay.  So difficult to comprehend all this.  How is it possible that at 7am you are sipping your first morning coffee together as a happy retired couple in the cockpit of your sailboat docked in paradise on the cruise you’ve dreamed of and worked for your whole life, and then minutes later be washed off the dock never to be seen again?  We all did out best to be with Joan as she worked her way through such questions and did what we could to be supportive and consoling.  Her boat would not start now for some reason and we were all anxious to ensure that our boats were ready to go at a moments notice should another tsunami strike and so several of us went aboard to set it right.  There was no shortage of skilled mechanics and electricians and we all provided tools and labor and Jack stayed aboard to find it was a bad solenoid and soon had it replaced so at least Mainly was back in working order.  Hearts and minds would require different tools, techniques and time before they would be so mended.

DSC_0766  Learnativity, Ruby and I came through it all pretty much unscathed.  Just the stainless tubing bow pulpit had been ripped apart and so I set about removing it and seeing what could be done to repair it.  It was beyond repair and so I salvaged the running lights and then set about using some low stretch line I had to create a makeshift set of lifelines to enclose the bow. 

P1010967Fortunately none of this is structural or will prevent me from continuing to sail to New Zealand where there will be lots of facilities to build a new one.  And I was planning on building a whole new dual anchor setup and sprit on the bow which would require a new pulpit anyway.  I just didn’t plan on removing the old one quite so soon.  Mother Nature apparently had a different schedule and I didn’t get the memo.

Gary and family were back onboard Biscayne Bay assessing the damage for the rest of the afternoon and it didn’t look good.  The more you looked the more structural damage and failed systems you found.  It was floating and they decided they could sleep aboard that night but I had them over for diner and cooked up a big feed of salad (expertly assembled by Chris) and my tummy filling spicy spaghetti and meatballs.  None of us had eaten all day and now with a chance to relax just a bit, the hunger and exhaustion set in.  We spent most of the evening quietly reflecting upon the day, dissecting it and discussing this extraordinary and harrowing experience.  I think it was very therapeutic for each of us as our minds started to deal with the reality of what all had taken place on this eventful day and what we would need to do in the aftermath of the days ahead.  Sleep was both restful and fitful for most of us that night.

Writing this now, two days later, we have continued in this pattern of cleanup, helping each other, repair and restoration of both ships, shore and souls.  It will be a long process for all of these.  The local people have continued to astound me with their genuine kindness and generosity.  In spite of great loss of life all over the island we have had a steady stream of people binging us cases of bottled drinking water, boxed lunches and cooked diners. 

In the span of two days I’ve witnessed the full spectrum of both human and mother nature and I’ve learned so many life lessons.  It is no where near a complete list, but to finish up this posting I’ll share a few of the lessons I’ve learned through this experience.

Some Lessons I Learned from the Tsunami in Pago Pago:

  • It may sound trite but it is SO true that you never know when the last time will be for most things.  Living in the moment, maximizing every opportunity, are attitude and behavior to live by rather than cute phrases and platitudes.
  • When it is all said and done, people, friendship and relationships are all that really matter.
  • The best place to be when trouble or disaster strikes is ON your boat and out in open water.  Get there and stay there at almost any cost.
  • I’ve renewed my conviction and love for steel boats.
  • In times of great stress and disaster, human nature is on full spectrum display and is the same in all places and cultures.
  • Put your faith and optimism in people.  There is much more good in the world than evil, many more good people than bad.
  • A big powerful working engine in a sailboat is a safety device.  Make sure it is always at the ready.
  • Mother Nature is a majestic and powerful force on a scale that is truly humbling.  It is likely a good thing to be reminded from time to time just how small and puny we are.
  • Technology, especially communication technology is vastly under rated and under appreciated for how profound a difference it can make.
  • Sat phones are essential safety devices for world cruisers.
  • If are ever in the vicinity of a large underwater seismic eruption either get on a boat and head for open water or head inland as high and as quickly as you can.

I hope that by sharing some of these experiences I’ve been able in some small way to help others learn lessons of their own.  I’m off to bed now for a few hours to let my head sort through more of this experience and get some rest before another busy day of dealing with the aftermath of this extraordinary life and learning experience.

Wayne & Ruby the Wonderdog
aboard the good ship Learnativity
docked in Pago Pago Harbor
14 16.514S  170 41.554W


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