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We received your letter and were surprised to note that you didn’t know about our typhoon until Karen called. I realize that Hurricane Andrew and then Hurricane Iniki were all over the news there, but I was sure something about Typhoon Omar was mentioned. Karen knew. Bob’s aunt, now 93, heard it on the news and called Bob’s brother, Wilson. Carol also knew. I think Guam has the same kind of problem that American Samoa had when we were hit by Hurricane Ofa in February 1990: it’s too far away for the media to respond for pictures, etc. Anyway, I didn’t call anyone after the storm because when I did that after Ofa, I was rewarded with silence and then "Oh?" No one there knew anything about it and here we thought everyone would be worried. So this time I didn’t call and just waited to be called. Karen called and Wilson and then Carol called Guam a few hours later.
Anyway, the forecast was that this would be a tropical depression, at worst, (a tropical storm when it came near the southern part of the island), so most people weren’t worried. Then it stalled several miles out and began to intensify. By the time it began to head our way, it was a typhoon and was zeroing in on the middle of the island. By then it was too late for Bob to move the boat to the Harbor of Refuge where all the boats made out OK. He had time to put out a few more lines and set an anchor. Then he had to go to work. Schools were closed and I was in the apartment by myself during the entire storm.
Bob drove to work on Friday, August 28, when the winds were gusting to over 50. Campaigning had begun full tilt and signs were all over the island. The governor appealed to the candidates to remove all their signs which would act as missiles in high winds. A truck carrying the signs for one of the candidates was going down the same hill as Bob when one of the signs flew off the truck, smacked into the right front fender of Bob’s Nissan, flew over the windshield and disintegrated into a million pieces. Wonder upon wonders, a cop just happened by and wrote up a citation. Also, Bob did not have his drivers license because he wasn’t going far. The cop accepted his explanation. The fender is still dented and the candidate’s truck driver’s insurance firm has presented us with a check for repairs. Bob’s still driving the car with no problems and will eventually get the fender fixed. He’s extremely lucky the sign hit the fender and not the windshield!
Anyway, he went to work on the tug during his regular shift: noon to midnight. The wind began picking up, and at 3 P.M. he called to tell me it was "wild out here." He also said we were going to lose the boat. I informed him that the eye was going to reach the island at 4 P.M. and that he hadn’t seen the worst of it yet. Two of the larger tugs were trying to save two abandoned fishing boats that broke loose from their moorings. Bob had to make a run out there just before he called me to supply the crews with food and drink. Later they called for some equipment and Bob had to refuse. His little tug was getting waves over the wheel-house and he couldn’t see a thing. The big tugs kept on the job, using their engines and brute force to keep the tethered fishing boats into the wind during the storm. Eventually, they both broke loose and grounded themselves and the tugs came back to port. Almost every fishing boat at the docks was wrecked when they smashed into the concrete.
The winds peaked out at 110 miles per hour with gusts to 150 miles per hour at the eye-wall. The eye itself came ashore almost at the midpoint of the eastern side of the island at 4 P.M. and went over Apra Harbor where Bob was working around 5:16, staying almost an hour and a half. Then the other side of the eye-wall hit and he had to wait out the rest of the storm. At midnight, his relief didn’t show up. The phones were out, debris was scattered all over the roads, and someone had to stay with the tug, so Bob spent the night there and finally came home at 9:30 A.M. on Saturday. His boss managed to find an operating phone at 2:15 A.M. and call to inform me of the situation and that Bob would be safe on the boat. He asked how I was holding up and then managed to get word to Bob so he wouldn’t worry.
Meanwhile, I was in our fourth floor apartment listening to the radio and the wind outside. The trees were bent double and the windows rattled in their metal frames. I was sure one of them would blow in but none of them did. Some water came through one of the windows and wet the carpet but I had already moved furniture away from that window. We had the same thing happen with Typhoon Yuri last Thanksgiving so I was prepared. I had bought plenty of fresh drinking water and had filled several plastic jugs with tap water for washing and flushing in case we lost our water. After Yuri we were without water for three hours. This time was different. I had matches and kerosene for our lamps and our small propane stove with extra canisters of propane for cooking . I had batteries for the flashlights and the portable radio and had bought an extra flashlight. I was prepared. People on Guam have been through this so many times, it becomes automatic. In that way they are luckier, suffered less damage, and recovered quicker than Florida, Louisiana and Hawaii.
There is nothing scarier than being by yourself during a typhoon, The wind howls and howls and the gusts shake the windows like some giant is pounding to get in. Being on the fourth floor, I knew I was less likely to be hit by any flying debris than if I were on the bottom floor, but still, you worry. You try to look out the window anyway, knowing that it might come crashing in at any time. All you see is palm trees bent double, rain lashing at everything, coming horizontally across the open spaces, sometimes you have a complete white-out and see nothing. Yuri hit in the evening; Omar hit by late afternoon so you could see more, but not really. If I sat very still in a straight back chair, I could feel the gusts actually make the building shake. I wondered how it was for the people on the eighth floor. It felt like an earthquake but it didn’t stop, strengthening in movement as the eye-wall came.
When the eye came over the island, my apartment was at the edge so I didn’t see clear sky and sunshine like some of the people in other parts of Guam. There was some wind and some sprinkles but the visibility changed drastically. I stood on the balcony and looked around at the damage. Some people thought it was over and went sightseeing with their video cameras even though the radio stations warned them that the other side of the eye-wall would come with the same wind strength as the first side. Several cars that were parked parallel to the "A" building (I live in the "B") looked like the bumper car ride at an amusement park. They were shoved every which way against each other. Many cars in the "A" lot lost windshields or side windows from the pressure just before the eye. Glass was everywhere. Some of the apartments weren’t so lucky and had lost windows. Just before the eye, the pressure changed and one of my smaller bedroom windows began pulling outward at the top. The left side of the drapes began to fill the gap, and when the eye came, my window still had a portion of the drape outside the window, actually holding the window in place! It’s still like that. When the eye passed and the wind came from the other direction, I thought I could pull the drapes back into the apartment but I couldn’t budge them. After the storm, when the maintenance people came around for a damage report, that was the only problem. The water on the carpet had already evaporated. Since the window is no pressing matter, it will probably be the last to be fixed and I can live with it until then.
I managed to get some sleep after the eye passed. I figured, if I had no damage with the first part of the storm, the second part would be easier to take because the strongest part of the wind would be at the other side of the building, away from my windows. There was still a lot of noise and at first the door to the apartment banged and I thought it would fall off its hinges, but it didn’t. My apartment must not be as air-tight as others, because I didn’t feel the pressure like some of them. A friend on the first floor had paint blistering on the walls and had to leave their door open to equalize the pressure or their eardrums felt like they would burst.
Anyway, I slept until 6:30 A.M. Saturday, and like the others, ventured outside to see the damage. The wind was still strong and some good gusts came now and then, but it seemed safe to leave the building. The bumper cars had been repositioned by their owners during the eye. Some of the blown-out car windows that had been taped with plastic were gaping holes again and cars were filled with water. A car at the back of my building was flipped over leaning against another car. My car was fine and so were the ones next to it. Others weren’t so lucky. A lovely old tree by the swimming pool that had bowed in one direction for the first part of the storm, was too weak to withstand the second part and was now resting on a fence. It eventually had to be cut down. The fence around the tennis courts had collapsed; the pool was full of pain fronds and branches. I wandered around and then back to my apartment feeling pretty lucky.
From our large picture windows overlooking the bay, we could usually see the "Hunky-Dory." Now she was nowhere to be seen. I took out the binoculars to scan the bay but several trees still remained to block my view. I knew she was lost. My phone was dead. I wanted to call Bob’s boss at home to see if he could tell me when Bob would be home. Now I couldn’t. I figured it was best to stay put and not drive around, in case Bob came home. With nothing to do and a lot of nervous energy, I revived my cruising log that I had "ended" when we moved into the apartment September 1, 1991. This would be my cruising swan song. I wrote everything that had happened and how I felt about it. I wrote how sorry I was to realize that the boat was gone, that even though I had gotten to the point last year that I didn’t want to look at her again, that I would miss her now that she was lost. She was the tie that kept us in Guam. I was not about to sail her back to the states with Bob. I had had it with long passages. Bob would have had to take her back with a crew. She would determine where we would live. She would be a burden on us, and now she didn’t exist. I would miss her but now a great weight was off us. Before the storm, I wanted to stay in Guam and had been having a hard time persuading Bob to do the same. Now I asked myself what I was doing here. I had never been so scared before and I never wanted to go through that again. Everything had changed because the "Hunky-Dory" was done. We could begin again in the states, anywhere we chose to go. I was finished with my cruising. It was a part of my life that I enjoyed and hated at the same time. In a few short hours, life was beginning anew.
Bob came in 9:30 A.M., exhausted, bedraggled and depressed. He had left the tug at 9:00 and made his way to the yacht club. The boat wasn’t on the mooring and he scanned the bay for her. He didn’t have far to look. She was leaning on her side on Polaris Point, part of the Navy base across the bay. Beside her was the White Plains, one of two large Navy ships that either could not or did not go out to sea when things began to get rough. The White Plains was aground a stone’s throw from the "Hunky-Dory." The Navy had blown it, too. Bob had driven over to the Navy base and looked at the boat. He removed the solar panels and our brass lamps before coming home. I quickly changed and we went back to begin stripping her before she was discovered by looters.
The "Hunky-Dory" was resting against the point, well out of the water, at a 30 degree angle. She looked like someone had careened her to scrape and paint her bottom before returning her to the water. Things were all over the place. Some things were still high and dry and others were swishing in water that lapped up against the point. Through her port hull and bottom, we found two large wooden pilings. She had been lifted with the storm surge and had smashed into the pilings. She had a huge hole in her side. It almost didn’t look too bad. If we had the desire, we could repair her and make her fit for sea again, but Bob doesn’t want to. For one thing, several ribs were cracked and she would never be the same again. When we talked that night, we realized that we both felt the same way. She was the anchor holding us to Guam and now that anchor had been freed from the bottom. We could go on with our lives unencumbered. This was a turning point in our lives together.
We stripped a car-full of things from the boat that day. On Sunday, we went back and took some more. The members of the yacht club, hearing of our plight, joined us in the afternoon on Sunday and helped us get even more off. Many of the things they removed I would never have thought of taking and now I’m glad they did. We will keep such things as the terrific louvered doors for the cabinets and the prism that let light into the cabin from above. They helped us get the stuff to the club and put it in a container made for that purpose.
That night, Bob was too tired to take out the few things he brought home in the car and I knew if I went out to do it, he’d come out, too, so we left it there overnight. It turned out that it was the only night a security guard wasn’t on duty. The guards had gotten their signals crossed. Several cars at that end of the lot (remember there was no electricity to light the lot) had their side windows smashed as thieves looked for something to steal. As it happened, Bob was also too tired to lock the passenger side so the thieves had easy access to the stuff in the car. They took some tools and the cheap camera I had used to take pictures of the wild mess that was inside the boat that morning before stripping. It would never look the same again. Bad as it was, and guilty as we felt for not locking the door, we were the lucky ones because they didn’t break the window to get in. We discovered the theft Monday morning. That day, we must have gotten five inches of rain. What a mess that would have been without a window!
When we got back to the apartment on Saturday, we discovered the water was off. Of course, I immediately had to move my bowels and did so. We flushed it down with some of the water we saved in jugs. We couldn’t go on like this if the water stayed off for more than a few hours. The next day I discovered the "bucket brigade." Twice a day, or more if needed, one of more members of each family went down to the pool, filled their buckets and hauled them upstairs to flush. You really got to meet your neighbors that way.
Our phone went back on the Tuesday after the storm, just in time for Karen’s call. The power had gone off at 9:30 A.M. the morning of the store. Luckily we didn’t have a lot of fresh food to spoil so we didn’t use the generator very much. As I said, the people here are used to typhoons and power outages and most of the businesses have their own generators. So we could buy food and gas and almost anything else we needed. The fast food places opened the next day and had lines out into the parking lot. Ice was at a premium and some people waited four hours for ice to be made at the places that sold it in bulk made by generator power. People who were caught without drinking water went to the mayor’s offices at the local villages during certain hours and pilled their jugs from tank trucks that appeared according to schedule. The necessities were met.
Many people were not as lucky as we were. Their houses were either damaged or destroyed. Tin roofing material was everywhere. Businesses lost roofs and walls. Eye sores disappeared overnight, or will as soon as the wreckage is cleaned up. Power lines were down. Concrete power poles stress-tested to 155 mph snapped like match-sticks. Trees were down. The only cable station is still off the air. They lost two huge satellite dishes completely and a third was ripped off the roof of the station. The weather tracking equipment from NOAA blew away in the storm. The tower at the airport was so severely damaged that only daylight landings and takeoffs could be allowed until recently. The newspaper that had recently gone into competition with the only other newspaper on the island found its plant so damaged that it will never publish again. Several luxury hotels will take so much time to repair that Japanese tourist agencies are encouraging their people to go elsewhere for their vacations. Cranes not secured in the storm, broke loose and crashed to the ground. In one case, a crane crashed through an adjacent apartment building narrowly missing the tenants in three different apartments.
You cannot find a "D" cell battery for sale on the island. The window businesses are booming as are the construction companies. One new firm, Lockwood homes from Australia, had recently constructed an entire wooden home in two weeks as a promotional stunt and claimed it be typhoon proof. They ran an ad the other day with a before Omar and after Omar shot of the house to show how right they were. A group of historic Navy officer homes near our apartment complex were leveled. Of the ten homes, only three are livable. A teaching friend had been in one of them and had moved to a Navy evacuation shelter just before the storm. She lost just about everything. We had been to their house for dinner recently and she had such nice things. What a shame. But there were no deaths on the island and few injuries related to the storm.
Three thousand people were housed in elementary schools used as shelters. Many of them have been there since the storm. Red Cross workers were trying to take care of everyone. Many residents donated food and clothing and money to the victims. At the present time, 1200 people are housed in a tent city that one of the radio talk-show hosts dubbed "Canvas City" but it is officially called "Camp Omar." Many of the people there are Micronesians who came here to work at minimum wage and had crowded together in a cheap (for Guam) apartment complex that was leveled in the storm. There just aren’t any apartments for them, and if there were, they can’t afford to live there. It is causing many local senators to consider offering free passage back to Micronesia. The only problem is that everything in Camp Omar is free—free housing, free food, free electricity, free entertainment (businesses donated TVs and videos so the people would have something to do). So why move? Big problem.
We finally got power at 8 A.M. on Friday, September 11—two full weeks after Typhoon Omar—so I don’t have to write by hand and can word process my letters again. Our water went out after the storm and finally came on again four days later. That was more of a problem than electricity. Flushing a toilet was so much fun! Hauling swimming pool water by the bucketsful up to the fourth floor just to flush the toilet. With both power AND water we could finally do the wash without having to string a line across the balcony and wash by hand. I had washed three loads the night before the storm. Planning ahead really helped.
Anyway , things are getting back to normal. School started again on Tuesday, September 8, for the teachers and Wednesday for the kids. We have seven days to make up and will not have any three-day weekends for a while. Also, there will be a day added at the end of the school year. No problem. My school was one of the lucky ones—only $75,000 worth of damage. Some schools lost roofs and were flooded; others had walls cave in, temporary classrooms lifted off their foundations, stuff like that. My fifth graders were so glad to get back to school, that on Wednesday, they were sitting at their desks with their hands folded a full fifteen minutes before the start of school. I had to chase them outside.
The Red Cross and FEMA are really overworked. Three major damaging storms in less than a month hitting three US states and a possession. It was deja vous time when I turned on the radio and heard one of Guam’s radio stations airing a live broadcast from its "sister station" in Honolulu during Hurricane Iniki.
Bob has sold off lots of boat stuff and still has a lot to go. Luckily we don’t have to sell quickly and take a big loss. As it is, most of our prices are half of what we paid for the items. We haven’t decided what to do about the shell that once was the "Hunky-Dory." She still sits impaled on two pilings on a point just across the harbor from the yacht club. If she hadn’t become skewered there, she’d be in 20 feet of water, which is the depth just past the ledge where she sits, and our salvage job would have been much harder and our monetary loss greater. Yesterday, a couple informed us we have a rat on board.. They went on the boat to look around and found the rat after opening a bench top,
Bob’s brother, Wilson, called shortly after Karen called. He said he wanted to talk to Bob about going into business together, about selling his business, about moving to some small town and starting over. When Bob got home and I told him about the conversation, he became very excited and couldn’t wait to talk to Wilson. When they finally connected by phone, it was a bit of letdown for Bob. Wilson wasn’t REALLY serious, just thinking out loud. The note we just received from them announces that they just put in a duck pond in their backyard. This doesn’t sound like people wanting to leave an area. Wilson is the dreamer; Bob is the doer.
That doesn’t mean that Bob isn’t coming to the states. He’s still looking forward to it after he sells more of the "big stuff" and deals with the boat itself. He wants to visit with Wilson and Judith and Carol, but would never consider living in the Rockville area. He will visit Karen and Bob and maybe look around there. He’s going to see some friends in North Carolina and some boating friends from Panama who are living in Fort Bragg. He’ll look at our property in South Carolina and see if there’s opportunity in that area. He’ll go to Sparks and visit you guys. He doesn’t know where else he’ll go. He even has ideas about flying out to Reno first and then going east on AmTrack. He’ll probably be in the states for my birthday, but I want him back by Christmas. We’ll have a lot to do if we want to leave here at the end of the school year in June.
One matter Bob wants to settle before he leaves is FEMA. Our boat was our primary residence for three years and all of our friends and my co-workers encouraged us to apply for assistance. We aren’t insured (few "world" cruisers can afford the high rates) so we won’t get any money from anyone, except for the things we can sell. I felt a bit funny about applying. It was almost like we were trying to gyp Uncle Sam like all those people in Samoa after Hurricane Ofa. Some pulled off their roofs after the storm when there was only a small amount of damage so that the government would pay for a new roof. One boat in the harbor claimed oil damage to the hull because some fishing boats pumped out their bilges into the harbor before the storm. But people are telling us that we have a genuine loss and it wouldn’t hurt to claim it. So Bob filled out the forms and we have to wait to see what they say. Maybe we can get a low interest loan and use it to build our house in the states. If nothing, we’ll have something that says we couldn’t get any assistance and can write off something on our taxes for 1992.
Well, life goes on. Bob’s job never did find a replacement and he felt he had given them enough time to find one. He officially resigned at least a week before the storm, and he just had to call it quits on September 15. One way or the other, the other captains will have to double up. Bob applied for his 100 ton captain’s license and has to await approval. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with it in the states, but he’s sure it will be a nice addition to his resume.
Well, so such for news as well as eye strain from reading this "book." Write when you can.
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