Cyclonic close call
The recent excitement for us on the Valiant 40, Audentes
,was provided by the weather. Thanks to the relative security offered by periodical advisories delivered from the weather routing service, we detachedly monitored the formation of the cyclone Xavier just north of Vanuatu. On Monday and Tuesday, the forecasting models predicted that the cyclone would track well to the east of us and weaken as it encountered the cold water to the south. Although it has been more than 30 years since a cyclone has struck Tanna, the villagers all monitored the progress of the system.
The Peace Corps volunteer in the Port Resolution received a warning from the head office of the potential danger. Still, we remained confident of our safety, despite the disconcerting loneliness of occupying one of the major anchorages in Vanuatu all by ourselves for the entire week.
Suddenly, on Wednesday evening, we learned that the cyclone had strengthened and had turned in our direction. The wind outside the harbor was already in excess of 35 knots and the seas were predicted to be around 18-feet, precluding an attempt to run for safety.
The realization that we were confined to an unprotected, wide-open harbor potentially in the path of a cyclone with winds exceeding 110 knots was not a pleasant experience. The good news was that our anchor was well dug-in after a week of strong winds. Also, the relatively shallow harbor allowed us to let out a huge amount of scope and we were fortunate that we had the whole anchorage to swing around in.
With nothing else to do, we waited. Fortunately, after a restless night, we awoke to terrific news on Thursday morning: the cyclone had weakened and turned back to the east. By mid-day Thursday, former cyclone Xavier was a tropical depression with winds of only 35 knots at the center.
We dodged a bullet. If the cyclone had continued to strengthen and moved in our direction, we would have been forced to ready the boat as much as possible (put out a second anchor, let out our remaining anchor chain, take down all the canvas, batten down the hatches, research sailing books to see how to handle conditions, pray, etc.). In the case that the situation deteriorated, we would have left the boat for the safety of shore.
Luckily, this proved unnecessary, but the close call was a harsh reminder of the unpredictability of the weather. Even though cyclones are extremely rare this early in the cyclone season and the chances of being in the path of one is slim, disaster can strike at any moment.