Photo: Chris Johnson
November 6, 2001
Odyssey in a Squall
This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in Darwin.
The Northern Territory is famous for its tropical summer rains, storms and cyclones. The most famous storm was Cyclone Tracey which wiped out the entire city of Darwin on Christmas day in 1974. Everything in the area had to be completely rebuilt.
Cyclones and storms are a normal part of life in Northern Australia where the 'wet' season has just begun. Most days are punctuated by afternoon squalls, although last night erupted into more than just another storm. The Odyssey crew had been given the night off and were in various places around town. The front edge of the storm struck without warning at about 8pm with most people around the city, especially those on boats, caught quite off guard and ill prepared.
The wind picked up within minutes, and those of us onboard the Odyssey were nearly knocked off our feet as we worked to bring in the awnings. The wind gusts roared through the rigging, while a solid wall of rain blotted out the lights of nearby boats. Constant flashes of lightening broke the intense darkness, illuminating the cityscape and allowing us to get our bearings.
We could see a couple of boats that appeared to have snapped their anchor chains, they were being hurled dangerously close to one another, to the dock pilings and the rocky shoreline. All along the harbor front, vessels tugged on their mooring lines. In the pilothouse we could hear radio distress calls coming in, the calls for assistance mingled with the sound of the Odyssey engine trying to power forward into the wind and away from the looming rocks. First Mate Joe Borland describes the events;
"Over the past week, we have been encountering thunderstorms every evening in Darwin Harbor. The storm we encountered Sunday night was quite different, it was more like a squall. Within 15 minutes, the windspeed picked up from 5 knots variable to 60 knots from the Southeast. The sea height increased from 1 foot to 6 foot seas in relatively the same amount of time. It was quite impressive being a protected bay. It was quite different from anything I have seen on the east coast of the United States."
Meanwhile Judith Scott, the Odyssey Science intern was experiencing the full force of the storm from the exposed dock, as hundreds of people were being evacuated.
"I was on the dock waiting for a ride back to the Odyssey when the storm hit. All of a sudden there were people screaming and the chairs and tables had to be taken in because they were blowing around. One of the doors of the restaurants blew in so the whole place was evacuated. The only place I could think of seeking shelter was in the bathroom, so I sat in there reading my book until the power went out, waiting to call back to the Odyssey."
Back onboard the Odyssey we watched the harbor light up under huge bouts of lightening. Boats continued to be pounded mercilessly and we watched helplessly as the first of several boats were thrown up onto the rocks. Odyssey chef Emile Bennington describes the events:
"I was watching a movie with another crew member at the outdoor cinema in darwin. I guess while we were sitting there, the wind started picking up very strong and it started raining quite heavily and everyone ran under shelter. It was 10 minutes into the storm when a man yelled 'there's a boat…there's a boat'. The man and I ran over to the fence, the boat was being bashed onto the rocks. The wind was extremely strong, the trees were blowing over onto themselves. There wasn't much we could do."
We awoke this morning to find two of our neighboring yachts no longer beside us, they had both fallen victim to the storm and were smashed on the rocks. A fishing boat had also washed ashore, while at least another two were dashed against the dock pylons and sunk.
Only a few boats in the harbor managed to escape serious damage. We were fortunate that the Odyssey was one of them, thanks to the skill and experience of the captain and crew.
Log by Genevieve Johnson