In Memoriam: Ike and Debbie Thompson
Ike and Debbie Thompson had sailed their Islander 36 Summer Seas from Hawaii, and had arrived in Nuku Hiva shortly before Jenny and I had. Together the four of us had gone on snorkeling and hiking excursions, and we had shared a number of pleasant evening sundowners together, in their cockpit or in ours.
Summer Seas departed the Marquesas three weeks after we had. Her crew was also eager to reach Tahiti, but warily they chose the somewhat longer and slightly safer route skirting the Tuamotus well to the north. Purely by happenstance, their timing proved all wrong. For cyclone Reva, the thrasher, swirled into existence virtually on top of them.
For thirty-six hours Ike and Debbie battled the horrifying tempest. Late in the evening, Ike contacted the Maritime Mobile Net. "We're in trouble," he reported. "We haven't had a celestial fix in three days and I don't have any idea where we are. We're towing warps; the wind is eighty-five knots out of the north; the seas are thirty-five feet, and it's too rough to set any sail. And we're taking on water through the propeller shaft's packing gland that has come apart."
Ham operators responded to the call. One wisely suggested that Ike jam a rag around the prop shaft then drive it home with a hammer and screwdriver. And indeed, this action proved successful in checking the infusion of sea water.
But Ike was unable to obtain a bearing on the nearby aero beacon at Rangiroa, ludicrously because his radio direction finder lacked the necessary BFO (beat-frequency-oscillator) switch. So someone suggested he take a bearing on the Tahiti AM Radio station. Ike managed to take a rough bearing, but while taking a second reading the station went off the air for the night. Even so, the station's direction was not favorable for gleaning the needed information from Ike's line of position.
"We're OK for the time being," he reported, "and we're going to sleep." This drew immediate and frantic response among some of the radio operators, who strongly advised Ike to stay with it. But understandably Ike was exhausted. "I'll be in contact again in the morning," he asserted. This was the last anyone ever heard from Ike or Debbie, or of the yacht Summer Seas.
A subsequent and purported three week search by the US Coast Guard and the French Navy turned up not one shred of evidence. The consensus was that perhaps in the grips of an adverse current, Ike and Debbie had not progressed as far westward as they had thought, and so had perhaps not cleared the atolls. Therefore, in subsequently running south, they may have smashed onto one of the deadly Tuamotu atolls, perhaps Matahiva or Tikahau.
Meanwhile in Tahiti our sky grew ominous, and the wind began churning the Papeete harbor. With Joe's help, Jenny and I retrieved Suka's a-proviso shore lines, then weighed and nervously moved well out into the protected harbor. We lowered the forty-five pound CQR into forty feet of water, and paid out the three hundred and fifty feet of three-eighths-inch anchor chain to its bitter end. Most of the fifty yachts were likewise moving away from the quay, such that the harbor became severely congested. Swinging room was critically restricted.
Moving west, Reva passed by Tahiti well to the north. We endured two days of twenty to forty knot winds. However, a small number of yachts were lying in calm conditions at the nearby Maeva Beach and Beachcomber anchorages, now protected in the island's lee. All looked well for us, but radio reports relayed the news that the Leeward Islands, Huahine, Raiatea and Bora Bora, were being hammered.
Then unpredictably the storm changed course, reversing its direction and now bearing hard upon Tahiti.
“Cyclone Reva smashed Tahiti's anchorages with eighty knot winds laced with one hundred knot gusts.”
The cyclone smashed all of Tahiti's anchorages with 80 knot winds laced with one hundred knot gusts. Papeete's harbor was churned into a seething ground-blizzard of raging, white spume, and with each gust Suka lay far over and strained at her unbudging bower. One by one, members of the flotilla dragged their anchors, but the five powerful harbor tugs scurried about saving the vessels, towing them to windward, and securing them to shoreside bollards.
Cyclone Reva churning the Papeete harbor.
The winds are abating beneath a spectacular sunset.
When one of the largest yachts in the harbor, Verdura, suddenly lost her anchor, her bow spun around and she headed downwind, out of control and directly for a nearby freighter secured to the windward wharf. But at the last moment a tug adroitly sped to her rescue and pushed Verdura's bow away, narrowly averting her demise.
Suka's anchor held fast. Her crew cowered belowdecks peering out the ports and hatch, and witnessing the devastation ashore. The hideous tempest was stripping buildings of their siding and roofs. Bursts of airborne sheet metal, glass, and miscellaneous debris were occasionally hurling far out into the harbor.
The sinister eye had missed us by a mere seventy-five miles to the north.
After seven hours of unparalleled excitement, the tempest eased. Then late in the afternoon it died, leaving the yachts lying motionless in a deafening quiescence beneath an unimaginably spectacular sunset. The monstrosity Reva, meanwhile, was headed back for another strafing run at the hapless Tuamotus.
In the cyclone's aftermath, Joe helps with the clean-up.