Cyclone “Pam” is being called one of the most powerful storms in history. It can possibly be compared with the power of Hurricane “Luis” which hit Saint Martin / Sint Maarten in 1995 causing widespread destruction or perhaps Huricane “Katrina” which ravaged New Orleans in 2005.
Port Vila has largely been spared any direct hits from a few these powerful systems which have passed by since Cyclone “Uma” on the 7th of February 1987. Over the last few years the chatter around town was “we are due for a big one”. In actual fact on any given year from November to April we are at risk of these destructive forces of nature. We say that the chances of a cyclone each year is around 50/50.
In 1994-1995 when Laurent and Christoph Champroux first arrived in Port Vila they spend over 6 months searching for the most suitable location to establish the Boatyard. They selected this area known as Woroloa Point for several reasons. One of these reasons was due to its unique sheltered location completely sheltered within Port Vila’s Pontoon Bay. The Boatyard is completely sheltered and protected from all ocean swell through 360 degrees of the compass and from cyclone winds from the following points of the compass: 090 to 360. The only wind direction where we would likely feel the full force of the wind would be from 360 to 090. This extensive protection probably makes our Boatyard and our mooring facility Vanuatu’s best cyclone or hurricane hole. We can commend these two brothers on their choice of location and I put their decision down to their many years of experience a professional seamen coupled with their thorough investigation of the area and discussions with the people who had experienced Cyclone “Uma” several year before they arrived.
As Cat 5 Super Cyclone “Pam” was just beginning to form to the NE of Vanuatu’s northern islands and over a week before before the first effects were felt here in Port Vila, Port Vila Boatyard director, Justin Jenkin made an early call to get as many boats out of the water as possible. This began with all the yachts that we are tasked with caring for and managing including the 60 ft Fountain Pajot “Rendezvous”. We then began hauling some of Vanuatu’s tour operators boats. The process of getting all these vessels out of the water and securing them in our yard took place over 10 days. We managed to weld some new cradles together to get out Crusoe Fishing’s “Neva-Give-Up”, then borrowed a trailer to get “Reel Capture” safely into our facility. Big Blue Dive boat “The Lady” was hauled soon afterwards as was Vanuatu Helicopters boat and Nemo tours glass bottom boat. Several trailer boats including the lovely Blackwatch “Donna” were also removed and correctly secured to our ground anchors. The floating helipad belonging to Vanuatu Helicopters and the one belonging to “Underwater Scooters” were both secured to two of our cyclone moorings. The cyclone moorings of the 84 ft Ketch that is in the process of an in water refit was re-checked ensuring all was ready for the worst possible scenario a possible direct hit. Justin’s cyclone and hurricane experiences in Vanuatu (during 1997-2000) and in the Caribbean (during 1989-1994), on board vessels in and out of the water gave him the insight needed to take early and decisive action and secure all the vessels in the best possible way. Our cradles are all made from structural steel I-Beams and we make use of several other specific propping techniques and methods which we have devised to correctly secure the vessels on the hardstand. We believe that early preparations (which we actually begin in November each year) when we begin to haul and store visiting and local vessels for the cyclone season as well as taking early action upon the first signs of a dangerous looking system was a major reason that ALL our customers yachts and boats at our facility were UNDAMAGED.
We know that the situation on the other side of Port Vila in what is known to resident sailors as the “bowling ally” was dramatic and completely out of control and chaotic with massive loss of property and unfortunately also loss of life. The mooring field in that part of Port Vila is actually well located behind Iririki Island however every time there is a cyclone that passes Port Vila there are several vessels that are not correctly secured (think chafe) and / or possibly also over-sized for the particular mooring that they are using and they break free causing wide spread damage to other vessels. Additionally and almost always there are vessels without cyclone moorings that end up trying to maneuver themselves under power against winds that are far too powerful to maintain any sort of directional control making the situation even more dangerous. The resulting damage in Port Vila’s mooring field really speaks for itself. There is clearly a great risk in leaving a yacht / boat in the water during cyclone season; we believe that out of water storage is the safest option. A typical 12 meter yacht pays on average 30,000 vt per month for a mooring. Current yard fees (calculated at our full price for a 12 meter yacht are 52,200 vt. The difference is 22,200 per month which could be looked at as a fairly inexpensive insurance policy!