A Hurricane story

Back in the South Pacific cyclone (hurricane) season of 1982-83 we were were avoiding the season by spending a extended time in Tahiti aboard our home, an Offshore Sailboat. Life was splendid. We were tied stern to the quay in downtown Papeete.

One fine morning a young official from the Port Captains office came by very agitated shouting “Big Storm Coming”. Little did we know that this was the start of a eventful few months.

We had 5 systems threaten us and 2 hits at full hurricane force. Both were spent at anchor. The first in Papeete harbour struck with the wind breaking from over the mountain peak, going from flat calm to in excess of hurricane force in mere moments. I watched in awe as huge sheets of corrugated steel panels flew through the air as they were ripped from the power station. They were flipping like leaves in a breeze. We weathered it gaining a new respect for the ferocity of nature. The second storm came closer, lasted longer and was much later in the season. The three in between gave us ample time to perfect what came to be known as the “death watch”. That extended time from first detection to will it get us or not. Our final encounter occurred in Cooks bay on the island of Moorea 12 miles from Tahiti. It was a direct hit at category 3. Thirteen hours of sheer terror. I had anchored in a small cove with a sloping sand beach between us and the coral reef beyond. The promatory of land was home to the beach bar of the adjoining luxury resort. To prepare, two 40 pound anchors each on 150 feet of chain attached to 90 pounds of lead cannonballs with another 300 foot single nylon rope leading to the boat. All this gear was to keep the anchor in the sand and the line from breaking (the physics of catenary). If it did break we would end up on that nicely sloped beach with a bar nearby. Within the first half hour the bar had blown away! You could not stand against the wind. Seeing or breathing required a mask and snorkle. The 3/4″ anchor line was stretched to the size of your little finger. I spent most of my time belly down on the foredeck easing out the line during a luĺl to keep it from cheafing through at the bow of the boat. Our anchors held. We returned to Tahiti where we were granted a six month extension on our visas to help in the repair of the 26 sailboats that blew ashore.  The first weather satellites to cover the tropical Pacific had been deployed just months earlier. A programming decision to reject any variance of more than 2.5 degrees F. had been made. A diligent meteorologist aboard a US Icebreaker passing Chile on its way to Antarctica for the summer season discovered this. He daily took water temperature readings. He recorded and submitted them to NOAA where they did not turn up. A mute point for us.

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