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.

Electronic Assisted Analog Navigation circa 1981


Marine Sextant 

Stop watch to capture time of sun/star shot


casio $_57

Most accurate timepiece available at a reasonable price



Radio shack time cube with preset frequency’s of 5, 10 and 15 megahertz  to receive continuous time signal essential to navigation. Here is a recording.

Used in calculating the lines of position.


How it was done

A Canadian Ancient Mariner’s view of Current Affairs.

When I rage about the climate, politics, loss of privacy or other current controversies I end up with the thought “why should I even care? I am not going to be the one who has to live on this earth through what is sure to come”. But I do care. Sharing what I write is something I can do.

I am a member of what is known as the Silent generation. Born after the great depression but before the end of the second world War. We are also known as the “lucky few”. The only modern generation who are smaller than the one that preceded it. I was born near its end.

I was too young to know that second world war even happened or that my Father was involved. I was still in grade school when Korea ended. Vietnam was an American war and my view coloured by the dissenters I met who had moved to Canada. The closest I got to war was the 1962 Cuban crisis when as a sailor in the RCN I was recalled from leave and sent to sea as part of the NATO blockade. This was to be a Atomic confrontation and as usual the Canadian Navy was ill prepared. My berth was an old WW2 Frigate with few watertight hatches let alone airtight ones. Great soul searching occurred to make the decision to return. I did. I was 20 years old. From then to retirement were pretty much the glory years of the 20th century. It was mired only by Pierre Trudeau declaring Martial Law and the Harper years. We were also the last generation of First world children to be susceptible the uncontrolled ravages of Polio. I was lucky and not so lucky. (That will be another story). My world view is a result of my membership in this grouping. Spending most of my working life at sea was another. You see, when you go to sea, you step into another environment. What happens ashore has no bearing on your life until you step ashore again maybe a month or more in the future. The sea and its challenges are your reality. Nothing will change that. In the early to late 20th century that also meant no day to day news, no TV, no papers, and intermittent radio. The world would unfold as it will and you would find out about it when you were back on land. Communications available to today’s mariner have changed access to information but not the reality of being at sea. At sea, as an Officer in Command, the cardinal rule is verify – verify – verify. Never trust a single source. This is the root of navigation. It has been since the beginning of time. It is the only way to get home. Which is the point is it not. We are realists. With me this has carried over to life ashore. My practice today is to use @twitter to gather news and views remembering that cardinal rule. I left Facebook when I lost control of what it fed me. Also I have no trust in its creator and owner. My views on what is important in Canadian civil society are already listed. But to expand. It is imperative that we retain our control of our digital footprint. It is no different than the writing in a personal diary of old or mailing a letter that you have sealed with your tongue. If paranoid, you might even have affixed a wax seal. Encryption of your data is the digital equivalent. To do with climate I believe the tipping point is past. we may mitigate its results some but I am not hopeful. The NeoLiberal Political era is far from over. This is true in Canada as it is in much of the world. The only difference here between the Liberals and Conservatives is which Bay Street Lawyers they use. As well as a smile vs a scowl.

This also comes to mind. It is from a audio interview given by my father (who was also a mariner) in the 1970’s on being caught in the Great Depression. He, his mother and sister were building a summer cottage on Cortes Island, part of the Discovery Islands, in British Columbia.

We saw this same “BOOM” with the crash of oil and may see worse with the dawn of Trump.