Panic!

It’s 0010 hours on April 17th and we’ve just re-anchored in Wreck Bay, San Cristobal. It’s been a fun evening! There I was minding my own business, tidying up Bob’s cabin (I know – shock/horror!) when I heard someone honking their horn in a rather urgent manner. The owner of the horn was a Frenchman who was also shouting at anyone who would listen. ‘What an inconsiderate &*%$’, I thought, until I made the effort to listen to what he was actually saying. “Tsunami alert! Listen to channel 16!”

VFH channel 16 is the international radio channel for calling, distress and emergencies. I flicked on the radio and my ears were immediately accosted by reams of urgent-sounding Spanish, intermittently interrupted by some other cruiser saying in very poor Spanish, “is posseeblay to repeatay in English por favor?” I’d heard enough myself to convince me to abandon the plan of having a nice relaxing evening watching a film and instead vamos rapido to deep water. It transpired that there had been a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in mainland Ecuador and that it had created a series of tsunamis which were rapidly approaching us here in the Galapagos Islands. Further details were not forthcoming, except what I could glean from one very eloquent young lady on the radio: “this thing is due to hit us in 15 minutes. We are leaving port at speed!” I planned to do the same, but there were two niggling problems preventing me from doing so. Firstly, Sarah was not on board. She’s taking her open water diving course at the moment and was still on land. There was no way I was leaving without her. Second, there wasn’t a gnat’s fart of breeze out there and the heat exchanger for the engine was sitting neatly in the galley sink. I’d spend the whole day removing it so that I could get access to an oil hose which is leaking badly. It went back on in less than 10 minutes. Just as I was finishing that, Sarah fortuitously arrived on a water taxi and we were ready to make our escape. 120 feet of anchor chain came up in 3 or 4 minutes (by hand; the windlass would have been too slow) and we pegged it for open sea. The depth about 3 miles from land is 50 meters. The depth 4.5 miles out is 100 meters, and the depth at 5 miles is 250 meters. This is the bit I wanted to aim for.

The journey out there took us an hour but it felt like 15 minutes. During that time Sarah took down the sun shade over the cockpit, the wind scoop over the forward hatch and made dinner. Meanwhile I kept an eye on the other escapees and battoned down the hatches in case this thing ended up being really big. We hove-to in about 200 meters of water, had some spaghetti bolognaise for dinner and waited it out along with a load of other boats. Meanwhile the Ecuadorian Coast Guard patrol boat did rounds with a spotlight trying to keep tabs on everyone. Information from the authorities was not regularly forthcoming but we did get intermittent reports over the radio. “The wave will arrive in 15 minutes. It is not a long way. It is a short way.” and such.

We experienced a few rocky moments on par with rogue swells but nothing more (they may just have been rogue swells), and the all-clear was given at 2235. A procession of boats made their way back to the harbour, herded by the Coast Guard boat who came in last. Very fortunately for us a light breeze picked up and we were able to set the genoa and make 5 knots on the way back in without having to push the engine too much. I’d managed to fit an aluminium baking tray underneath the engine during the day and by now there was a fair amount of oil sitting in it. I had also hose-clamped the engine coolant hoses onto the heat exchanger in a very, very sketchy manner and another onto the stern gland cooling water hose that was only half-on but doing the job, so any respite from having to run it any harder than necessary was a welcome treat. The anchor went down in Wreck Bay at 2345. That boxed wine from Panama tastes very good indeed 🙂

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