It's been a long time since I posted an entry to our blog. Eric and I have basically been living our lives here in New Zealand, enjoying the unexpected adventure of living in one place for more than a year.
During the first week of March, we took SCOOTS out the marina for the first time since she arrived in December 2019. Our plan was to have her hauled at Marsden Cove Marina, for a hull cleaning, and then continue south to explore the Hauraki Gulf. The hull cleaning was necessary because the water of the Hatea River, on which SCOOTS floats in the marina, is a rich ecosystem, some of which tends to attach itself to the bottom of boats. This not only looks ugly, but slows the boats down, sometimes considerably.
The haulout went well. On March 2, SCOOTS was hauled out on Marsden's high tech trailer and relieved of a coating of barnacles, and then we motored across Whangarei Harbour to beautiful Urquharts Bay, where we dropped the anchor and enjoyed a few days away from the dock.
March 5 was an interesting day for the crew of SCOOTS. Anchored in beautiful Urquharts Bay, a pastoral inlet on Whangarei Harbour, near its rendezvous with the Pacific Ocean, we were enjoying our morning coffee to the sounds of the dawn chorus on shore when our phones pinged. A new email had arrived, and I had a look.
When our phones pinged, we'd been discussing the news of the day so far, which was largely geological - a M7.3 quake had shaken the coast off the North Island around 2 am, and a M7.5 had recently jolted the Kermadecs, a sparsely-inhabited archipelago about 500 miles northeast of New Zealand, a few hours later. Emails had been generated by the UNESCO International Tsunami Warning and Advisory System, and sent to our inboxes, describing the location, magnitude, and depth of the earthquakes, and their potential to generate a tsunami. If a tsunami were predicted to occur, further details such as a forecast of the height and time of arrival at various places would be provided. Though both of these quakes had in fact generated tsunamis, they'd been small and hadn't impacted us.
The new email had a different tone than the others; it said this:
* AN EARTHQUAKE WITH A PRELIMINARY MAGNITUDE OF 8.0 OCCURRED IN
THE KERMADEC ISLANDS REGION AT 1928 UTC ON THURSDAY MARCH 4
* BASED ON THE PRELIMINARY EARTHQUAKE PARAMETERS... WIDESPREAD
HAZARDOUS TSUNAMI WAVES ARE POSSIBLE.
1928 UTC was 8:28am local time, or, in other words, about twenty minutes ago.
It went on to list estimated arrival times of the tsunami at selected cities in the South Pacific. Whangarei was specifically mentioned, with an estimated arrival time of 10:34 am.
"Let's go," Eric said, but I was already heading up the companionway to start Yanmar the Magnificent, the first stop on my way to the bow to raise the anchor. We were taking SCOOTS out to sea, into deep water, where the tsunami would have minimal impact. This had always been our tsunami plan, just as it is for sailors everywhere.
Several years ago, while relaxing in a quiet, secluded bay somewhere in Mexico, the thought had occurred to me that this would be a very bad place to be, if there were a tsunami. And if there were a tsunami, I thought, how would I know with enough lead time to take evasive action? I started looking online, and discovered that the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization - maintains an International Tsunami Warning Center that provides a free subscription service for tsunami bulletins via email. Perfect! I signed us up for the service - with forwarding to our at-sea email in case we were out of Internet range. If you're interested, here's a link to the site: Tsunami Alerts
Over the years, we've received probably a hundred advisory emails through this system. Every time a sizable earthquake happens at sea, regardless of whether a tsunami is expected to be generated, we get an email, informing or alerting us of the situation. It's inexpensive peace of mind.
The March 5 email was the first one that required us to take action.
It was a real threat, being taken seriously by local authorities. As SCOOTS' windlass was raising her anchor, our phones gave strident alarm sounds: New Zealand Civil Defence (that's how they spell it here) had sent out a warning text. It was direct, and to the point: "TSUNAMI: Leave evacuation zones NOW to high ground or inland." You know things are serious, when words coming from the government are in all caps. It was the first of many such texts over the next few hours.
Then the tsunami sirens on shore began to wail. First in Urquharts Bay, and then across the harbour in Marsden Cove, they sang the ululating song of air raid sirens, making the hair on my arms stand up as I managed the windlass. The anchor was soon up and tucked on deck, and we were off, into the channel, out the harbour, and on the ocean, heading for deep water.
I was chuffed that Eric keeps SCOOTS' systems in such good nick, so we can depend on them working perfectly when we need them. (A translation for my North American friends: I was happy that Eric keeps SCOOTS' systems working well.)
The weather was beautiful, the first sunny day after several stormy ones, a perfect day for an unplanned day sail. The wind was light, the water sparkling. Rafts of seabirds floated on the water, and some dolphins splashed in the distance. After awhile, we unfurled the jib and enjoyed some "lazy sailing," SCOOTS moving effortlessly and aimlessly in the deep water out by the Hen and Chickens Islands.
Meanwhile, in the background, the radio chatter kept us informed of the situation on shore, When the tsunami arrived at the coastline of the North Island, it was smaller than anticipated, less than a foot high in most places. Though it caused no damage, it did play with the tidal and river flows, resulting in unusual eddies and surges.
Finally, about four hours into our unexpected day sail, NZ Civil Defence texted us the ALL CLEAR. We headed back into Urquharts Bay, dropped the anchor again, and talked about the morning's events.
We'd been pleased at the effectiveness of the UNESCO tsunami texts, the NZ Civil Defence texts, and the tsunami sirens, for alerting us to the possible tsunami. Each alert system alone would have gotten the point across, but together they reinforced the possible danger of the situation, and the need to act quickly.
Though we'd expected SCOOTS to be part of a parade of boats heading to safety, we were surprised that she had been one of only three boats - out of the couple dozen anchored in Urquharts Bay, and probably hundreds anchored in the harbour's other bays - that had left for deep water. Had the tsunami been as large as - or larger than - predicted, it could have caused considerable damage to the boats in the harbour. Heading to deep water is the tried and true sailor's response to a tsunami; even a cargo ship that had been heading into Whangarei Harbour turned around and headed to deep water when they received the tsunami alert.
We felt lucky to have had SCOOTS anchored near the ocean when the tsunami alert came. This had been her first trip out of the marina in over a year. Our friends whose boats were tied up in the harbor's marinas, some several miles up the harbor, had to leave their boats to their fate and evacuate to high ground.