We are in Phuket, Thailand.The big things here are beaches, sex tourism, tailors, and as of yesterday, tidal waves.Yesterday morning there was an undersea earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale a few hundred miles off the coast of Sumatra.It was the fifth largest earthquake ever recorded, and the largest in almost 40 years.
When something like that happens, a whole lot of water is moved.The quake created giant tsunamis that rolled through Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and India.We've been listening to damage reports on BBC radio, and the reports are shocking.In Sri Lanka and India, over 5000 people died. Northern Thailand is being evacuated.In Phuket, around 130 deaths, many of whom were probably tourists on the beach.Total death toll is over 20,000.Since this is high tourist season, most resorts in this region of the world are full, and beaches are packed with people.
As for the crew of Exit Only, we are very blessed.We sustained no damage and no one was hurt.
We've been in Phuket for about five days, after sailing up a beautiful chain of Thai and Malaysian islands over the last month.Our first stop in Phuket was ChalongBay, where we checked in with immigration and customs. ChalongBay was a good anchorage, although very crowded and relatively shallow (about 10-15 feet deep).After a couple of days we moved to HarnBay for Christmas Eve.We heard there was going to be a gathering of yachties at a certain restaurant for a feast, so we joined in.The food was great, although the line was tremendously long (over 200 yachties).They even had an ice sculpture of a reindeer (which got knocked over and it's head broke off, so they sat it on the deer's back).
Christmas Day we debated between returning to ChalongBay or staying in HarnBay (which is about 30 feet deep).There were 93 yachts anchored in HarnBay at the time, so most everyone was staying put.After a while, we chose to stick around HarnBay and have a "down" (relaxing) day.Mom made Christmas cookies, Sarah typed her journal, I recorded some music, and Dad did dad stuff.(We also made a stop-motion time lapse film of the nativity scene with boats, reindeer, eagles, a dragon, and a very confused Joseph.)It was a great Christmas.
Anyways, the following day (Dec 26), we got up early and had the same debate about moving back to ChalongBay.At about , we decided to make the move, so we pulled up our anchor and motored out of HarnBay.Although ChalongBay is only about 6 miles away from Harn, it looked like we would be bashing into the seas since we had to go directly into the wind.We bounced around for about half an hour, then decided to go back to HarnBay. The waves were a little larger and choppier than we expected.
As we headed back into HarnBay, we were greeted with the sight of all 90 or so yachts pointed directly out the bay.This was odd because yachts normally sit at anchor facing into the wind, and the wind was blowing directly at their backs.We looked at this, deliberated, then turned around again to go back to Chalong.As we left, other yachts started leaving HarnBay.We watched 15 or 20 pour out and thought everyone had the same plan as we did and were leaving after their Christmas in Harn.
Then word started spreading on the VHF (ship to ship radio) that we'd gotten hit by tsunamis.On Exit Only, we listened with shock while people relayed their experiences.In HarnBay, the waves came in a giant surge and wiped everything off the beach.Total destruction of small businesses, vehicles, and anything not cemented in.The restaurant we ate Christmas Eve buffet at is completely gone.Nothing remains but a concrete slab. HarnBay was deep enough that no yachts were damaged, which was a blessing.Still, it is a miracle if no one got hurt on shore.
ChalongBay, since it is so much shallower, was much harder hit.Boats were sunk, dismasted, or thrown on shore.Local restaurants on the beach were flooded or destroyed.
PatongBay, just north of HarnBay, is the local tourist mecca.It has a huge beach (which would have been full of tourists), where most of the casualties have been.
So we were just outside HarnBay when the tsunamis hit, and we felt essentially nothing.Very lucky.We are counting our blessings that we didn't go back to Chalong on Christmas like we'd originally planned.Also, the location of the quake offered us some protection that places like Sri Lanka and India did not get.Their waves were much bigger.We have a lot to be grateful for this Christmas.
Tsunamis are weird things. Essentially, they are extra large masses of energy traveling through the water.If you are in deep water, you won't even notice when a tsunami passes you.It will look like a regular wave.But when it hits shallow water, it will build like crazy.Since water is fluid and doesn't compress, the only place for a wave with all that energy to go is up.
All told, there were four earthquakes in the region yesterday, ranging in strength from 5 to 9 on the Richter scale.After the first tsunami, about half the yachts in HarnBay (including us) milled around in deep water just off the coast for about 6 hours, as there were reports of more incoming waves.None came and eventually everyone anchored again to survey the damage.There was tons of debris in the water, from plastic deck chairs to trees and refrigerators.
Everyone is still a bit jumpy about aftershocks today.No one wants to leave their boat for too long, just in case.As news of casualties come in, death totals have risen above 20,000, with over 1,000 expected in Thailand. It's horrific.
The strangest thing about the aftermath in Phuket is that the coastal area were the only parts of the island visibly effected. 200 meters in from the beaches, everything is untouched and business continues. Still, it is going to hit this tourist dependent economy hard. Almost every taxi driver I talk to has friends who were killed while working at resorts. Our last driver (a nice guy named Sak who gave me a business card emblazoned with "TAXI MAN") lost his house, but his family is ok.
From the sound of it, the most damaged places in the area are the Phi Phi islands. We stayed there for four days last week to do some scuba diving. The resorts are all on a low lying isthmus of sand, and from what we hear, they were all swept away in a 10 meter wave. Current estimates are of over 300 deaths. Phi Phi is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Thailand. They filmed "The Beach" on one of the two islands, so that particular beach was always thronging with people. It is a real tragedy.
We thank God that we are safe. By and large, the cruising community seems to have escaped most of the worst damage. Many cruisers are helping locals to sift through the wreckage and salvage what they can.
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