Tsunami Alert - Thailand

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Sat 5 May 2012 02:55

07:53.0N    98:24.0E 
Even the BEST day in Paradise can be Spoiled by a Tsunami!
Don’t you HATE it when that Happens??? 

  Some of you know that an earthquake, measuring 8.6 on the Richter Scale, hit Sumatra, the Indonesian island lying just southwest of Phuket, Thailand on April 15th. I thought I’d share the details of what happens in a popular cruising area when the forces of Mother Nature create a real and present danger.
 On that day, Peregrina was anchored in the Ao Chalong harbor close to Phuket Town and all the nearby beach resorts, including Phi Phi island, made famous as a tourist destination by Leonardo DiCaprio in his, mostly, forgettable movie, The Beach.
There were a couple of hundred sail, power and commercial boats bobbing gently in the harbor on April 15th and Peter and I felt it was just another day in paradise…
That is, until we began to notice that quite a few boats were LEAVING the anchorage which seemed odd given the late afternoon hour.  Up until that point, we hadn’t had our VHF radio turned on.  Who wants to listen to all that endless marine “chatter” when you can sit back and contemplate the sunset?
In retrospect, that COULD have been a big mistake. 
Luckily, one of our sailing buddies, Dale from Freeform, actually jumped into his dinghy and sped over to Peregrina to tell us that there was a tsunami warning and that he, like many other boats, was preparing to head out to sea! 
Well, we got on the VHF, as well as the local FM radio station, REAL FAST after that and listened as the Thai Coast Guard and the radio DJ’s announced (first in Thai and then in English) that a Tsunami warning had been issued and that residents of Phuket should seek higher ground and that all marine vessels were advised to head for deeper water!
Soon after that, the loudspeakers mounted on high towers that are positioned along the coast in heavily populated areas began to blast out similar warnings in Thai and English telling everyone that “This is a Tsunami warning!  This is NOT a test!  You are advised to leave the coastline quickly and seek higher ground! Marine vessels are to leave the harbor and seek deeper water out to sea!”

We didn’t need any more convincing and immediately hauled @$$ (as well as our anchor) to make for a speedy departure!
FYI – The term tsunami comes from the Japanese words “tsu” for harbor and “nami” for wave. Tsunami waves are caused by the displacement of a large volume of water in the ocean resulting from an earthquake or underwater volcanic eruption.  Underwater nuclear detonation could create a tsunami as well as landslides, glacier calvings and, even, meteorite impact. 
Tsumani waves are not like normal breaking waves.  In fact, they almost appear to be a huge rising tide that forms a virtual “wall” of water.  Sometimes tsunamis are referred to as “tidal waves” but this is really a misnomer as they have nothing to do with the tides.
Anyway, back to our story…
We fell in with a line of cruising/power yachts, tour boats and cargo ships making our way for deeper water. We sailed out to sea for about 2 miles until we had a couple hundred feet of water under our keel and felt that we could safely ride out any incoming waves. 
 Once in deep water we faced Peregrina’s bow toward in the direction the tsunami was supposed to come from, battened down the hatches and put on safety gear.
Even with some English translation on the radio/VHF, it was still difficult to know what was happening because 95% of the talk was in Thai. We did hear one disconcerting statement that the water on Patong Beach was receding which turned out later to not be true.
On land, we learned there was a similar exodus from Phuket’s shoreline and with massive car/motorbike/people jams as residents clamored for higher ground.  Many followed signs like the one below posted everywhere along the coast.
Considering that this earthquake was not far from the site of the December 26, 2004 earthquake in Banda Aceh, Sumatra which set off a massive Tsunami that devastated the region and killed over 230 people in 14 countries around the Indian Ocean, it was understandable that the authorities here acted quickly to declare an emergency and initiated evacuation procedures.  And, this time, they were better prepared and the people were more knowledgeable about the danger presented by a possible tsunami.
Back in 2004, there were no loudspeakers or clearly marked evacuation routes and when the water along the shoreline suddenly began receding rapidly, it was such an oddity that most of the unsuspecting residents and vacationing tourists never thought to flee the area before the ensuing wall of water came crashing down.
We all remember the astounding images of Thailand on December 26, 2004 as the tsunami slammed into the beachfront vacation sites filled with holiday tourists from around the world.  This is an incredibly amazing photo of the massive wave as it is about to hit Patong, the second largest vacation city in Phuket...
Our story, I’m happy to say, has a happy ending.  After bobbling around in the middle of the ocean for a couple hours, we were given the all-clear to return to port. It turned out that this particular earthquake was a “strike-slip” quake, not a “thrust” quake. In a “strike-slip” quake, the earth moves horizontally rather than vertically and doesn't displace large volumes of water like a “thrust” quake.
As Gilda Radner said, "It's ALWAYS something....but luckily, this turned
out to be the tsunami that wasn't...so it’s back to paradise and another glorious day at sea for Peregrina.