We accidentally sailed around the world, but by good luck we survived the Tsunami of Boxing Day 2004. There is currently obsessive talk of death, but on that morning a ¼ of a million people died. Just a few hours of madness.
The technicalities of that survival is a story for another day. We had been in the caves and the inundated islands in the prior weeks. It is what happened afterwards that actually brought the scale of the disaster home to us. We had been waiting until after the New Year to head off across the Indian Ocean. Our escape plan was to do some of our longest voyages ever to minimize the stops. It was not a part of the world we had ever wanted to be in, but due to the long rebuilding of the boat we were forced to go that way. Our Australian visa had expired.
Sailing up from Singapore had been difficult. That water is a lighting storm alley. We again did not get struck, but lighting did strike the water very close to us. Why we did not get hit is a whole technical story in itself. I had departed from the normal boaty wisdom and it had paid off. However, that strike had induced currents in all the antennas etc. and blown the radio tuner for the long distance transmitter. It still worked, but not on all frequencies. I decided to buy another. The UK supplier was a hero and could get it quickly to Langkawi, but that was going backwards away from the UK.
We therefore said goodbye to our sailing friends and started to sail south. The sea is massive but there were always boats that appear exactly on the route we were taking. It had become a joke after a mad European skipper had screamed at us on the radio in the middle of the Atlantic that we were on his rhumb line as he tried desperately to ram through us. However, in those parts of the world there is a superstition about pointy structures and evil spirits. The theory is that the evil spirits on one boat will leap to the other. Well that is their excuse for always getting too close, but I probably will stick to my belief of them being asleep at the wheel.
The boat ahead was huge, it was a small ship, and looked really badly maintained. It was belching smoke everywhere. In compliance with nautical rules I turned to starboard and made a good early diverting course to miss the ship. It had the advantage of it being down wind of the boat and so safe if there was a wind shift. As we got closer curiosity made us inspect it with binoculars. It was nowhere near our first encounter with a stationary ship in open sea. One a few years earlier had turned out to be a drug supply boat waiting for the small boats from Mexico to come out and off load it. They thought we were their transport!
All was well, and we got past the old hulk. I did say we were going down wind of it. Then it hit us. The smoke was from the furnaces. They were burning the dead bodies. That memory will not go away.
A few months later we did meet another sailing yacht. He was an older lone sailor and abided by the unwritten rules of always going where no one else would sail. Lone sailors can not stand continuous 24 hour watches, and can kill themselves, and others. They pick times and routes away from shipping and other yachts. He had chosen to do the outside of Indonesia. No one does that. He had got into storms and ripped all his sails, damaged his mast, he had run out of food, and generally had a disastrous time. He took refuge in Sri Lanka to recover. Then the Tsunami happened and lifted his boat and put it on top of the harbour wall. As you can expect cranes were at a premium at that time so he waited ages before it was his turn. They had to do useful things like uncover schools, and lift the navy boats back into the water first.
When we met him he described himself as the luckiest man in the world. That was a definite glass half full man. I set him as the contrasting example to our politicians. He made his own luck under extreme situations.
© Stop It 2021
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