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The Tsunamis In Phuket

Experiences aboard Meniscus during the Tsunamis

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Langkawi, Malaysia and Phuket, Thailand in SE Asia

Fishing Boat on Patong Beach


iWave Breaking News - Wrtten Directly after the Tsunamis

I was suddenly woken by the cabin fan flying across the cabin. My first thought was that some stupid speed boat driver had just passed close by. I roll over trying to go back to sleep, but I glanced out of the main saloon windows and saw a forest of masts at every angle. Then the boat rolled heavily and I glanced out of my berth's porthole to see surf breaking in quick succession outside. I launched myself through the door, simultaneously pulling on shorts, up the companionway to utter chaos.

Waves were stacked up everywhere more like a mountain range than anything else and all around me boats were on the move. But these boats were all attached to moorings and they were going north faster than hull speed. "Bloody fools" I thought "why do people use moorings"?. As I watched, a yacht called Striana, her mooring rope exploded and off she went towards the shore along with Heinz on another boat all breaking free from their moorings. I watched mesmerised as they buck in the waves and roll on towards the shore.

Shop in Patong Patong Phi Phi
Ao Chalong Here be Dragons Phi Phi

Two boats went waltzing past in a kind of fatal embrace, both still attached to their moorings which are now entwined, They get swept where the current takes them sometimes fast and then a pause.

The huge steel fuel barge and a flat decked landing craft skimmed between me and the next boat, Ain't Misbehavin. Ain't Misbehavin has somehow lost the turnbuckle on its fore stay which was now flicking around like a bull Whip cracking and smashing into the cabin roof then the boom and then the hull.

Damn Stiana is still close by and I don't want to see this old classic on the beach so I leap into the dingy pull the start and cast off. I am in a surge doing at least 10 knots and there is no way I can save her - I gun the dinghy back towards Meniscus in still bucking seas and leap back on board.

A large wooden trawler is right beside me. It used to be several hundred yards away and now it is moored right beside me. Suddenly I see the wall of water coming back from the shore. I yell to them to watch out for it and start their engine. They yell back that their prop is fouled. The wall of water comes back and lifts us into a maelstrom of foam. I see Heinz come roaring back through the anchorage being swept out to sea again. I yell to him that he is still towing his mooning line and he drops it before carrying on out to sea.

A hut on a platform comes drifting by and I realise it is a fish farm from about 2 miles up the bay. The current is swirling and surging first one way and then an other. I look towards the shore and now the tide has gone out. It should be high water and yet the tide is out way further than I have ever seen it before. Heinz and Striana are now high and dry and you can almost walk to the shore. I see a very large Schooner called Lady Anita leaning over heavily and hard aground on a sand bar.

Two more boats are locked together and they bear down on Orion a large yacht near by and then there are three boats locked together. I am still reluctant to leave and watch as the crew fend off and they float clear even though the boats are both still moored. The surge is easing so I jump back in the dinghy and head out to help. We slip the mooring on one and get it away to a new mooring. In the mean time I try to maneuver the second boat away but the surge sets in again and whirls the boat back towards Orion again. Suddenly I am the meat in a boat sandwich and the boats close with me in the dinghy between. It crushes and I wedge my arms against each hull and heave. I can just hold them apart. We cut the boat loose and take it to a new mooring, it will not move for a while and I steer it one way then another and suddenly another mooring pops out from under the rudder. Those two boats had been held by three moorings and yet they were dragging them around as though they were floating free.

I decide to get out and head for safety. Back on board Meniscus I haul up the anchor and head to sea . It is very hard to get the anchor up it is so deep in the mud but eventually it comes free. Orion comes by and warns me that he has just hit a wreck close by. As we look there is mud and wreckage still surfacing from it and we steer around it to get away. We head out to sea and the anchoarge is nearly empty, many boats are either drifting or heading to sea. The big schooner is now anchored well offshore and she has been lifted back off by another surge.

We hear rumours of devastation ashore, flooding in Phuket town and more Tsunami on their way. We head out to sea until we are in 20 meters of water and wait. There are numerous rumours of more waves which continue into the night but we also hear that no more waves are expected so we motor back into the middle of the bay and re anchor far from the shore so that we can find out what happened ashore.

The west coast of Phuket is badly hit along the coastal roads and main tourists roads and no doubt this applies all the way along the coastline for hundreds of miles . There are many boats on the beach and cars lodged in buildings and swimming pools. Shops and resorts are completely wrecked and many people will now have to rebuild what is left of their lives.

Part 2 Written a few Months Later

For me on board Meniscus while at anchor in Ao Chalong Phuket, the tsunami was quite a shock and very frightening. Boxing day was an extremely stressful day. To be honest I have been in several situations which were potentially just as serious and lasted longer. Riding out a hurricane off Australia, breaking a mooring and grounding on a reef as well as loosing a mast spring to mind. However the effects didn't finish on boxing day and to some extent that was just the start. Seeing the results of the disaster first hand and watching the continuing TV coverage was harrowing to say the least. Sadly many people now have the impression that Phuket was completely devastated, supplies are limited and epidemics are either starting or likely. Having seen the vivid film footage played again and again, the public are now scared to come to Asia and this tourist season is likely to become an economic disaster of unprecedented proportions. I am lucky as my charters for Langkawi to Phuket and Myanmar Burma have had no cancellations and am almost fully booked but I feel very sad for those people who have lost their family, homes, businesses and now any chance of an income for the foreseeable future. Some may benifit with help with rebuilding but nobody will get aid for lost business. January and February is the high season, the time when local people make most of their income for the year. Tourism also accounts for 80% of Thailands economy.

The Tsunami hit the west coast of Phuket and swept up beaches onto the shore destroying buildings and sweeping cars and trucks away like toys. This occurred, along the shore line, in low lying densely populated areas, close to the sea. Many people lost everything and some their lives. There was no warning and no one had any idea what was on the way and what effect it would have. In deep water, at sea, there was no big crested wave rolling in towards the shore. It was only when the pressure wave was pushed upward by shallow water or confined and funnelled into bays and estuaries that it grew into a foaming mass of white water rearing up and crashing towards the shore. However, Phuket was not totally devastated and it is largely intact. Hotel accommodation has initially been reduced by 20%. There is no problem with supplies, water or disease.There has been a massive clean up operation and rebuilding is well on the way. Apart from some possibility of aftershocks which could in fact occur anywhere there is no reason why anyone should avoid coming to the area. In fact if people want to help one of the best ways to do that would be to come here and spend money here so that the local people can earn a living. There are now many special offers on accommodation and cheap flights are being introduced.

Out at sea, sailing crew did not see any big waves and did not know what was happening close to shore and learnt of the danger from frantic radio transmissions. Closer inshore in shallower anchorages, waves built, forced upwards by the sea bed and raced past yachts onto the shore. It seems clear that most boats using their own adequate ground tackle fared better than those on moorings. Some people did drag and some broke their chains. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link became suddenly more than just a proverb. I was anchored in 5 meters of water with 20 meters of 3/8th chain and a 60 lb CQR. we did not drag but pulled our anchor in so hard that it took 10 minutes of motoring at full power to pull it out when I wanted to run. We also smashed the gear levers inside the windlass trying to force the anchor up. Other people broke their moorings and I saw three yachts do this as soon as the wave hit. Others dragged their moorings hitting other vessels and in at least two cases snagging up with another boat pulling them away and into others. I saw boats of all sizes flying along at 6 knots, maybe more, yet still firmly attached to their moorings. Some were carried into shallower water and actually dried out for awhile when the wave receded and then were able to sail off again on the second or subsequent waves. The water roared in and was held in for a while until the pressure reduced and then it roared out again created a wave almost as big as the first. The resulting wave was also a mass of boiling foam and the was a surge running at up to 10 knots. It ran one way and then back again swirling and propelling boats and wreckage which were unmoored at high speed.

As it went the tide suddenly fell and went out far farther than it ever had before leaving debris scattered across the sea bed the sea still surging around the anchorage. At least one local boat was sunk on its mooring and dragged this around from underwater became an hazard snagging up with moorings and posing a threat to those underway on the surface. After rescuing and re mooring a couple of loose boats we decided to get out in deep water and away developments. News and rumours came in thick and fast and we didn't know what to believe. There was no one with accurate information and much that was being said turned out to be incorrect. We heard that more tsunamis were on their way and would strike at 14.00, then 14.30, then 16.00 then 18.00 and so on. Phuket town was said to be flooded and impassable but it turned out that this was not the case. Eventually we decided to re anchor and go and find out what was happening. Ashore Ao Chalong had not been washed away and my car was still parked where I had left it. Driving into town everything was intact with only minor flooding at Saphan Hin.

James Bond Island - Phang Gna Bay James Bond Island Empty No Tourists for the Long Tail Drivers
Empty Long Tail Kho Khai Nok Closed Hotel

On 7th January guests arrived for a planned cruise and we headed out to explore. Langkawi had some serious damage in its Marinas but had not sustained serious damage in heavily populated areas. Cruising further North we saw very few yachts, dive boats, speed boats or live aboard tours at sea. Phi Phi Ley famous for the filming of "The Beach" was deserted and we enjoyed the beauty and rare solitude. Phi Phi Don was very badly hit and it is likely to take a bit longer before it is able to recover although some resorts are intending to reopen at the beginning of February. Kho Khai Nok a tiny little island with a beautiful sandy beach and superb snorkeling. It is about 10 miles offshore and visited by up 50 speed boats who bring over 300 tourists a day. The place was deserted, row upon row of deck chains stood empty. the chef had served only 3 people and sat eating melon and pineapple whiling away the time. The boy charging for deck chairs said they had only had 20 people that day and 4 the day before. Others stood painting their deck chairs waiting for better times. At Kho Rang we went ashore for dinner at this relaxed and natural resort to share the restaurant with another sailing family. Up in Kho Nok Khum and Kho Hong in the national park we explored caves and bays and were only disturbed by another party of 2 and saw two more sailing boats - normally there would be a continued procession of day tours and a few other yachts about. At James Bond Island we went ashore to find just one other couple browsing the stalls full of pearl necklaces, silk scarves and other trinkets. I sat with the stall holders and chatted - they had had about 20 visitors all day and normally had over 500. On to Kho Yang Yi, the Sea Gypsey village. The pontoons were empty where normally dozens of boats carrying tourists from the mainland who await their return. The drivers of the big high powered long tails who take people on to James Bond island and around Pang Gna sat talking gloomily while their boats lay idle close by. We strolled the markets in the company of about 4 other parties and walked through the restaurants where 12 people sat eating their lunch. There are lines and lines of tables which would normally seat hundreds of people through the day. That night we ate alone amongst rows of empty tables watching the moon rise above Pang Gna Bay. Cruising on east of Kho Yao the islands were totally deserted apart from the local fishermen and we were able to buy plenty of giant prawns. Back in Ao Chalong it is overcrowded with anchored dive and fishing boats all awaiting the return of their clients. We have just had a very rare experience cruising and enjoying the amazing towering beauty of the sheer sided islands and their bays, beaches and hongs. We have been lucky to take advantage of the peace and serenity remincent of times long past.

Yacht Haven, Phuket's best and only deep water Marina was not damaged in the Tsunami and is now almost full with yachts who have elected to spend time there. This was the only place where we found more than the normal people during our cruise. Boat Lagoon is also intact. The infrastructure for other marine activities such as yacht charter, diving, canoeing is all operational.

My message is clear there is no reason to stay away from Phuket, in fact by coming here there is no better way of helping the local Thai people who badly need an income in order to survive the coming months. If you get here quickly you will have a unique opportunity to experience places as may they have been up 20 years ago.

Experiences aboard Meniscus during the Tsunamis

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