A visit from Winston
After nearly four months back in the USA and Canada, I returned to Fiji on February 12th and I was overjoyed to be back home with Wayne and our two pups. Wayne had returned to work on Learnativity in Fiji on December 24th while I went back to Florida where I got to spend more time visiting our grandson Liam. I also cleaned out our condo and fixed faucets, drains, stoves, lights, and removed a stretch of laminate floor as well as some tile and mortar. Then I laid new cork and tile. I also moved a ton of stuff out of the condo and squeezed in a trip to visit friends in Ormond Beach and Titusville, a trip to Trawlerfest, and I reacquainted myself with several friends I hadn’t spoken to in years. It was a busy trip.
When I boarded the plane to go to Fiji, there was a already talk of the possibility of a tropical cyclone developing north of Fiji. Shortly after I arrived, the cyclone passed to the west and then circled to the south and then east and headed for Tonga. Our boat Learnativity was still up on the hard, and Wayne was living with our dear Aussie friend Ian on board Summer Spirit, a gorgeous motor vessel. The interior varnish work on Learnativity was not quite complete, so I joined Wayne on Summer Spirit, but we started unpacking things on Learnativity in preparation for moving back on board.
We slept back on board our dear boat the night that Tropical Cyclone Winston was due to hit Fiji. This crazy storm crossed over Tonga once, then made a U-turn and hit them again. The forecast had been changing hourly and the storm kept heading more and more north, so our fingers were crossed it would keep going that way. By Saturday evening, the storm had become a monster category 5 cyclone and they were predicting 140 knot winds. They were saying it was the strongest cyclone ever in the Southern Hemisphere. And unfortunately, it didn’t go north.
The winds were really screaming around midnight as the eye passed just to the north of us and the winds switched around to the east. Wayne and I had gone climbed into the bunk in the aft cabin, but we weren’t sleeping with all the howling outside. Then the boat made a groaning noise and she toppled over onto her side. I was thrown against the hanging locker on what was now the low side and I landed on top of Wayne. The hanging lockers on the high side had spewed out their contents and the doors were now hanging open.
In the first hours we were kind of in shock. The wind continued to howl, and it was nearly impossible to move around inside the boat that was now on a 45 degree angle. We’d left a couple wine glasses and a wine bottle on the table in the salon, and I had just started to unpack boxes of olive oil, soy sauce, vinegar, chili sauce, and there was slime and broken glass everywhere. It was too dangerous to move around in the dark. We returned to the bunk and decided to wait until daylight.
After a while, I heard the sound of running water. The cockpit drains couldn’t drain because they were stuck in the earth and the cockpit had filled with rain water. It was pouring into the boat through the main companionway. Wayne managed to get outside and rig a tarp while I bailed out the water from the cockpit and all that had poured into a bunk and onto the crazily canted floor below. We retreated once again to the bunk and tried to prop ourselves up with our feet against the cabinets on the low side. It was a very long night.
When we emerged in the morning’s first light, it was still raining, and the world looked a good bit different. Tree branches were everywhere and lots of trees had uprooted. It continued to rain – if fact, we got the high winds and outer bands of the cyclone all day. I walked around our boat and it was really difficult to tell if there was damage underneath her. While it felt like she had gone over hard, in fact, she kinda rolled over. Tomorrow the boatyard has scheduled one or two cranes to come in and we will try to set Learnativity upright. Then we will get a chance to see what, if any, damage occurred.
As I made the rounds, I saw that a couple of other boats had blown over too, but for the most part, we were very lucky here in Vuda Point Marina. The majority of the boats that haul out here for the cyclone season go into pits in the ground. Some of them shifted on their tires, but they were fine.
The boats on the stands, did not fare as well. The fiberglass boat in the photo above had one of the stands punch right through her hull when she blew over.
We have no power and all day yesterday, most of the roads were impassable. While we have power here on Summer Spirit with her generator, most of the people in this country have no power and their phones are dead. We still have cell service here (and cellular Internet), but in many places that is down too.
Today we are finally beginning to get word about what happened to the rest of Fiji. Winston was a national catastrophe for this island group I love so much. This morning a plane took lots of aerial photos of the villages in the outer islands and in many cases there is not a single intact home standing. The death toll from Winston now stands at 20 confirmed and it is growing as news comes in. The aerial photos posted by the Fiji Government are beyond belief.
We are so very fortunate and grateful. Tomorrow, the crane comes and we will see what the real damage is to our home.