ARAGORN ... Not all those who wander are lost (JRR Tolkien)
Latest update of this page now includes Sloane York's account, see bottom!!!
Keep checking end of this page for new pictures and text. I know it is a big page, but some interesting stuff here!
The Tsunami in Thailand
Special Report: ARAGORN weathers the tsunami with no loss of crew or gear. All on rally well. Also track goings on at Rally website, www.yachtrallies.co.uk
The tragedy of 26 Dec is enormous. We were anchored off Phi Phi Don, an island severely harmed by the tsunami. Only 3/4 mile away from us, the waves descended upon thousands of Thais and tourists in shops, restaurants, on the lanes and beaches, or in their boats. People were wounded or killed by debris of shops crushed like matchsticks, and then pushed and pulled to the sea by waves. You have seen the pictures on TV, and they are all real, I can assure you. We did not have the heart to take any photos of the destruction. Below is an unpolished account of what ARAGORN and some others went through, as emailed to some of our readers.
Also below, we have attached some snaps Catherine York was able to take from ARAGORN, and by Lou Evans on GAULTINE III, anchored just next to us. Keep tabs on this site.
God definitely was looking after us that day and night. We feel that we would like to have done more, but we did a lot, and the Thais are well organized here. The local turnout of volunteers is such that they are turning people away, and the blood bank is full. Clearly the situation is worse in Sri Lanka and other places without the infrastructure that Thailand has on Phuket.
Things you can do: pray for the dead, injured and homeless, and give to relief efforts.
Some photos taken by Catherine York during the first part of our experience. They cover the first ebb and the first flood.
Catherine's photos cover a one-minute span, and you can see how fast the water goes from ebbing hard to a wave standing toward the shore.
This is the first of Catherine's photos of the tsunami. You are looking roughly east. The low part of Koh(=Island) Phi Phi Don is to your right. The water is brown in the center from the sand due to the strong suction that comes first with the tsunami. From the position of the four boats on the right, you can see that we had the counter-clockwise rotation of the water on the ebb. The flooding has just begun. The three boats on the left are starting to point toward the entrance to this bay (over your left shoulder). If you look closely, you can see shoreline in the background, unlike the later photos. TAHLEQUAH is the ketch farthest on the right, PAROO is farthest left, NADEMIA is second left.
This is Catherine's second photo, generally looking at the left side of the last photo. You can see the first crest moving rapidly in and starting to stand up as it reaches shore. David and Sue from PAROO are in their dink, having been aboard ARAGORN, and trying to make their way safely back. Yes, the date is the 25th, because Catherine's camera was still on Eastern Standard Time.
Catherine's third photo shows the first crest starting to stand up, behind the two boats. The flood is so strong that NADEMIA and PAROO look like they are moving through the water, although they are still anchored. See below.
This is a close up of NADEMIA from the third photo, moving faster than ever, but see below.
This close-up of PAROO from the third photo shows the greater speed of the wave in the corner of the bay she is in. She was in about 40 feet of water. You can also see how the wave is standing up more against the shore behind her.
We also received some great photos from Lou Evans on Gaultine III, which was anchored just next to us. Lou's perspective was just to the south (right) of ours. I estimate that her height of eye was about 11-12 feet above the water, which will give you a way of gauging the wave height.
Lou's photos start before Catherine's first one and are shot, for the most part over the space of only five minutes.
The boats in the harbor inside of GAULTINE III and ARAGORN are spun in a counterclockwise eddy of the ebb coming off the beach to the right of this photo. This shot is before Catherine's first shot, as NADEMIA has not yet turned around to fact the flood. Closeup below shows the amount of shore exposed ... rocks normally underwater. From left to right in the photo, NADEMIA, TAHLEQUAH, PAROO (behind), and BRIET.
Lou's second photo, still in first minute shows the scene just to the right of her first shot.
This scene shows, from left to right two non-rally boats, a monohull and a catamaran and REGARDLESS II. Just to the left of REGARDLESS, there is reef showing, or a small standing wave due to the ebb. The low, sandy spit of Phi Phi Don being to the right. We will not show any closeups on this photo as you would then see people walking on the reef and beach.
(Above) This is Lou's third photo, untouched, taken after Catherine's first photo. The flood has streamed in (it happened very, very fast), and has created a breaker in the shallow water near the shore. You can see the speed of the water on TAHLEQUAH and BRIET. Given that Lou's eye was over 11 feet above the water, you can gauge that the wave is already very high, even though you can only see the back of the wave.
This photo, shot at the same time and to the right of the last shows how high the wave gets. It is so steep that the wave is actually breaking a bit down its backside too! The red boat is WIND DANCER, a New Zealand boat owned by the doctor with whom Sloane worked overnight onshore.
Although the time stamp is one minute later, I think this photo is just about at the same time as the prior.
Lou's fifth photo is just to the right of the last one. By this time, the wave must be 15 feet tall behind the cat and SAINT BARBARA (far right). For a scarier story, see below.
This closeup shows the family trying to get their anchor up in the speeding water. NO LIFE JACKETS!!! What if the young girl had fallen in? Second scary item: if you look closely behind their mast, you see the mast of the non-rally monohul in Lou's second photo leaning over ... but the hull is on the other side of the wave!
A couple seconds later, the wave is more chaotic as it moves to the right, stand up more, and encounters ebb (see standing wave in foreground). Boat that was behind catamaran has rolled to port and is now visible between two crests.
Farther to the right is the low-lying spit of land where most of the people of Phi Phi Don Island had their tourist shops and markets. You can clearly see the wave is higher than the spit of land, as only first-story roofs are visible behind the wave. The motorboat in the foreground was able to escape, although I do not know where he came from. Again the wave is standing up so steeply, it is breaking on its backside too.
Taken one minute later, Lou's eighth photo shows the wave crest at its highest, covering your view of the second story windows in the hotel in back. The speedboat is getting out of there, and you can see by the lack of a wake on the dink that the water is about to turn to ebb again.
Unfortunately our friends Ed and Helen Muesch were probably on shore on the left side of this photo, but you can't see them for the wave.
Almost same view next morning, just after first light. About this time Tom York and I went in to the beach to pick up Sloane, who had spent the night on the island working with George, the doctor off Wind Dancer (NZ). We had the privilege to help carry a couple of the injured a short distance to the helicopters seen at the LZ in the center of this photo.
The Before Photo
Happier times on Phi Phi Don. On 9 Dec., Leslie and I visited Phi Phi Don. While on the beach on the south side of the sandy spit, Leslie shot this photo of the longtails and some of the ferries that brought tourists to Phi Phi Don. ARAGORN, during this visit was anchored out in the south bay in the right of this photo. This shows only about 20 percent of the longtails which the Thais used to work from this beach. Over four thousands of tourists used to arrive daily.
Yacht ARAGORN crew during tsunami, taken 22 Dec, at Buddhist Temple north of Bangkok. Sloane, Thomas, Leslie, Catherine and Dick.
Below is the email I sent out:
Most of you know about the tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean countries. We
successfully weathered the wave. We were blessed, as were most of the
This is an unpolished report, but you may want to know.
Many of us were in a small cove, with about 12 boats on the N side of Phi
Phi Don Island. We and about 37 other rally people had spent Christmas
having a mid-day dinner at a beach restaurant on the island. The bay on the
south side is separated from us by a low sand link between two higher parts
of the island. That sandy spit, about 250 yards wide, by 3/4 mile long, and
12 feet above sea level at high tide, was filled with dive shops, small
restaurants, Thai massage parlors, and tee-shirt shops, plus local markets
and food stalls. Working on and off the beach on the south bay, there were
about 50 to 100 longtail boats to take tourists out, along with 20 or so
speedboats, ferries which had arrived with hundreds, and some fishermen.
The wave sucked the water out of much of our cove, then filled it up again.
At the same time, the wave was pouring over the sand spit. It did this at
least three major times. The water in our small, circular bay was spinning,
making boats look like a Disneyland ride.
Several stories happening at the same time:
Our events: We saw the reef/beach that covers the S half of our bay
uncover, despite being almost a peak, spring high tide of 8.5 ft. The water
rushing out made a
giant spinning pool, anti-clockwise, clear on the edges and brown in the
center. Boat just inside us were being pulled around in this circle.
Tahlequah, St. Barbera and one or two non-rally boats broke their anchor
chains, and spun loose. Briet and Regardless got anchors up, Paroo slipped
her cable. For some reason, Nademia's anchor, chain and everything else
held and she stayed where she was despite the speeding, spiraling currents.
At the same time we were being pulled hard backward toward the sea, so I
started the engine and ran it in forward. I had all hands (Leslie, Sloane,
Tom and Catherine) don the large life jackets and Leslie and Tom tried to
get the anchor up. The boat turned 180 degrees around our chain at least
once as the wave began to flood the bay. The anchor hung up once on a coral
head, but we freed it based on our Tuamotu experiences of freeing chains.
The anchor finally came up, and we exited as fast as we could. I think the
wave was on an ebb about then, but it is hard to tell in the crazy-quilt of
Tahlequah was manned only by Michael (the 21 yr. old grandson), Ed and Helen
being ashore (see below). He finally started a reluctant engine and powered
out soon after us. About a quarter mile out, he wrapped a warp around the
prop, but was clear of immediate danger. All the other rally boats except Nademia
and St. Barbara (unmanned, see below) were underway, but because Paroo
wanted to buoy, and then slip her cable, she waited too long, and bounced
off some bommies. Paroo was the boat which had anchored in 12 meters of water, but as
the water went down she bottomed. Briet got off with her anchor, but measured 12 kts
on the speedo, a feat for a 35 footer. By this time the (second? third?) wave crest had
refilled the bay and was crashing on the shores around the boats, and the
center of the bay was a cauldron, with the swirling and standing waves
jumping all over.
Outside, we picked up a couple in a double kayak who had been in a little
cove. They were unhurt, but scared. They said they had seen another kayak
deeper in their cove, but we never saw it ...perhaps it made it to safety in
the other direction ... we pray.
After most boats were out, John off Regardless went in with his dink to try
to help, an action I thought too risky as there were standing waves by then.
He did help Paroo, but was unable to get Nademia. Single-handedly getting the anchor up without being at the engine controls
too would have been a feat.
Boats which were free got a mile or two off the island and milled about.
There were two local longtails, some speedboats, and a few other yachties.
We kept up communications on VHF 72.
Once things quieted a bit Tom and I left ARAGORN under Leslie's command and
dinked into St. Barbara, who was still circling the bay (don't think she
hit! a miracle). We got her engine started immediately (always leave your
key in the ignition), and steered her out safely.
At this point Mike needed to free the warp around Tahlequah's prop, and
announced he was diving over the side ... I immediately said that he should
not do that without a second person aboard and sent Tom over in our dink.
When he did finally go down, Mike did not stop the engine, and it slipped
into gear during his second dive, badly cutting and, we though, breaking his
wrist. Tom got him aboard. Duco from Briet wanted to help, so we sent him
to Tahlequah to steer, along with Catherine from Aragorn. Jessica, a nurse,
from Gaultine III came to help Mike too.
About this time, we heard Ed calling for his oxygen tank, as Helen had
injested water, and that he was coming out on a wooden barkentine (sp?). We
got his medical stuff from Tahlequah and sent it in toward the island with
John from Regardless, after he affirmed that he thought he could make it
safely. Unbeknown to us, Ed was coming off the south beach of the island
and John was going the wrong way. We finally got that straightened out, and
John went out to the barkentine. His wife, a nurse too, went along and gave
both Ed and Helen pain shots. About then, we demanded that Mike go on the
barkentine, which was headed to Phuket to get to medical treatment. Jessie
went with Mike and stayed on the barkentine to nurse Helen and him; Tom
returned to Tahlequah; Duco returned to Briet; Dick stayed on St. B.
About two hours later, Nademia called. Alistair and Carolyn had been
snorkeling with Peter of St. B, and Jim and Lolly off Condor, temporarily on
St. B. for Christmas. When they returned to Nademia, we got the St. B crew
off by dink, and Dick and Tom retired to Tahlequah, Catherine returning to
Aragorn, after commanding Tahlequah for a while. Tom dove on Tahlequah's
prop and cut the remaining pieces of warp off (with the engine off).
The snorkeler's amazing story: The five were in a longtail boat from Phi
Phi Don, to Phi Phi Li to a small cove with a beach at the end (perhaps the
one where the movie "The Beach" was filmed). They were in the water when
the tsunami hit, and were pushed up the beach, and were able to stay up as
the water receded. They scrambled up as high as they could before the next
wave, but when it came they managed to climb higher up, to safety. Although
their longtail was pulled under, their driver's brother was outside the same
bay, picked him and them up in another boat after about an hour. The
drivers also rescued much personal stuff, including Carolyn's new, expensive
digital camera in an almost-dry plastic pouch.
I think it was a miracle that they survived. We thought they may have been
snorkeling, but did not give them much hope if they were not in a boat
Ed and Helen's even more amazing story: Ed and Helen had been walking out toward their dink
on the beach on the N side of the spit when the water started to recede. Ed
was concerned, and finally decided that things were really wrong, and he
told Helen to run with him back to the sand spit. As they saw the crest
coming, and that they were not going to make it, Ed said they should
bear-hug, and the first wave took them out and then back to the sand spit,
near a palm tree. In the few seconds before the next wave, they hugged
themselves and the tree, but the wave tore them loose on the ebb and they
were pushed about 250 yards to the south bay. Ed fought their way to the
surface through debris, and held Helen up, now unconscious from water. He
spied and grabbed on to a longtail, still floating upright,
where the driver had just lost his family and was in total shock. After
getting Helen awake again, Ed started the motor and steered the longtail to
the wooden barkentine that was anchored far enough out that it was okay.
Underway, he picked up two other conscious people from the water. The master
of that barkentine was immediately able to get underway and steam quickly to
Phuket, as mentioned above.
Again a miracle that they are alive. Many others near them were severely
injured by the debris (how did they travel so far across the spit without
hitting anything hard?), and not drowning at the end. I attribute their
lives to Providence, and to Ed's personality of never giving up, and always
making things happen. Helen is just out of the ICU and in a regular room,
but would not be alive without Ed's quick thinking and actions. Sidebar:
Mike's injury was only a sprain, not a break
BTW, I cannot do either of these stories credit, they are both so much more
complex, but you can see some of the incredible things that happened.
Disaster Story: Just before nightfall, we anchored Aragorn and Tahlequah
(still under our command) in another open anchorage about 1.5 miles north of
our prior one, and decided to see if we could provide help onshore. Sloane,
Tom, Catherine and Dick went in with medical supplies and clothing. We
stopped by the NZ yacht Wind Dancer, and picked up a doctor's wife and a
friend (whose boat had just been lost to the tsunami in Langkawi) and many
supplies. We met the doctor coming out in his dink, and split the load. As
we got to the beach, we had to pull the dinks up. We notice the water was
receding very fast, and we all suspected another tsunami wave, what the
doctor called "another event". We threw the dinghy anchors out, grabbed the
medical gear and ran for the beach. There we found we could not immediately
climb to high ground as the spit was filled with debris, and it was
difficult to move around on it. We had to move east along the beach for 440
yards or so until we could move up onto the spit. Then we picked our way
along, getting to higher ground after climbing by houses that had been torn
in half. Saw four bodies that had been laid out and covered (realized that
many healthy people on the island had been helping others since the event
happened). After climbing up hill, we met with some people who knew of
injured requiring treatment. Simple triage meant the person with two broken
legs and lacerations took precedence over the other person with the same
injuries but severe internal bleeding... there was no ER there. Sloane (a
second-year medical student) volunteered to stay on the island and assist
the doctor. Tom, Cat and I wanted to work our way back to the dink to see
the boats safe for the night. As we approached the dink on the beach, we
were wading in 4 inches of water for the last 400 yards or so. With 30
yards left, the water level suddenly flooded fast, and was chest high by the
time we got to the dink, and it was drifting away! We jumped in, and were
able to motor away. Another anomaly. I now think the tsunami was bouncing
around the Indian Ocean and would occasionally send a surge into places it
already had visited.
We stayed at anchor watch until 1:00 am (27 Dec) when a surge warning came in
over the radio. Leslie got Aragorn's anchor up, with Catherine and Tom, and
I slipped Tahlequah's cable (second anchor, already buoyed), and we went to
sea. We milled around all night, but did not notice any different wave. By
dawn, we reanchored/ picked up the buoyed anchor.
We quickly motored in to the beach to carry more water and clothing to pick
up Sloane, whom we had told we would come for at first light. Their we saw
hundreds of people helping carry injured to the make-shift helicopter
pad/medical station. We helped carry two, the second who had been cared for
by Sloane and the NZ doctor. Carrying wounded to helicopters which are
landing almost on top of you is like MASH, at the wrong side of the coptor
trip. The scene in daylight was more of a disaster: pieces of structures
everywhere, two stories of hotel windows taken out, injured everywhere, and
white-wrapped bodies being pushed out to sea to meet the 24-hour burial
rules of Muslims. We hated to leave, but had the responsibilities of two
boats and five people to get to Phuket that night. As it turns out, mobile
thousands were being taken off by ferries at the same time on the other side
of the sand spit.
We found out that many of the injuries began at the legs and moved up. That
is, debris hit people's legs as the waves washed over, and then took them
down. But broken and lacerated legs were the first injuries. The more
severely injured had more debris hitting them farther up, until their whole
bodies were smashed by wreckage. Of course this does not count those pulled
out to sea to drown.
There will never be an accurate tally of those killed ... many will be
missing as their bodies are at sea.
Thailand is doing a good job of providing aid. Their forces seem to be
mobilized, and Phi Phi Don has been effectively evacuated. It used to have
thousands of tourists on it every day plus several thousand (?) Thais to
provide services. Some remain in the hills, but the tourist mecca/bazaar
that was on the sand spit is no more... totally washed over by the waves.
We are now trying to regroup. Emotionally, it is difficult, as we have seen
the disaster first hand. We were sorry to leave Phi Phi Don, but it is nice
to know that almost everyone injured was evacuated by now. We are trying to
figure out where to give blood that they need. The local hospitals are
jammed, but Ed reports they are very nice despite the pressures.
The rally is "on hold" for a bit. The next scheduled stop, Sri Lanka is
devastated, and Galle could not cope with us in a few weeks. The stop after
that in the Maldives, ... well many of those islands disappeared, as they
were only about 3 feet above sea level. We will try to figure out a new
routing and get underway when we can, meanwhile getting our visas extended.
Will let you know more when we can.
Updates: The rally is underway to Cochin, India, Helen is out of the hospital, and the people of the rally are healing mentally.
Below are Ed's story as written by him, and the story of the five snorkelers, as written by Alistair and Carolyn Roberts of Nademia.
Ed's story is incredibly personal, but Ed performed some amazing feats that day, which meant that he and Helen are alive right now.
Tsunami At Phi Phi Don
Twelve Rally boats gathered at Phi Phi Don Island positioned fifteen miles off Phuket, Thailand to celebrate Christmas day together. On the morning of December 26 th Helen and I awoke and decided to go to the island for breakfast, leaving our grandson Michael sleeping aboard Tahlequah. It’s important to explain Phi Phi Don is a small island with a beautiful beach on the north side and the South side having many open restaurants, numerous shops, several luxury hotels catering to the hundreds and hundreds of tourists visiting each day. It’s the perfect picturesque island vacation get away, world famous as a popular Thailand vacation area. Each side of the island is connected by a narrow walkway.
Strolling the boardwalk we favored a small bakery with tables, enjoying breakfast together. This day I saw many small children in carriages, babies in back slings, and the usual teenagers and families on Phi Phi Don. I took special note of peoples faces and accents giving special attention to Americans. Ferries were arriving with hundreds of tourists emerging to enjoy Phi Phi Don for a days visit. Following breakfast we made a last minute decision to stop at one of many Internet cafes to respond to e-mails from family and friends. In each e-mail we stated, “Wish you were here”.
At approximately 10:45 we returned to the south beach to collect our inflatable and return to Tahlequah. Arriving at the beach we were stunned to discover little water left in the anchorage, a phenomenon we were not use too. Helen remarked she thought Tahlequah might be on sand, I added this was impossible as we were anchored in 40 feet of water a short time before. We began dragging our inflatable through the sand to reach water in the distance. I saw rental powerboats and Long Tails (Thai Canoes) racing toward us skidding frantically but unable to make progress because of the sand. I commented to Helen how people abuse boats and how furious it made me. The skippers of the Thai Canoes motioned us back and began jumping from their canoes to anchor them in the sand.
Looking into the distance I saw a small foam line on the horizon moving toward us. Helen & I agreed to abandon the dinghy and run back to the island beach for safety. Running I continued to look behind to see the wave gaining distance at an un-believeable rate. Seconds later I turned again to see the wave hit a rental power boat, it broke apart as it fell in the surf. I realized it was useless to run, I told Helen to stop and I bear hugged her. I remember saying to myself, I’m going to forget I have to concentrate on hugging her; I can’t release her no matter what.
We saw a boiling froth of sea coming at us with an increasing loud swishing noise; it seemed to go on forever. Foolishly I dug my feet into the sand hoping to withstand the wave. As it hit I felt us smacked to the sand instantly, as we hugged I could feel us tumbling like toy dolls head over heals along the bottom. The pressure and force of the water prevented us from surfacing. As my hands were ripped from embracing Helen we both surfaced against two palm trees held there by ferocious current. Helen was in shock, staring towards the ocean motionless. I held her repeating again and again, “It’s over, it’s over, we survived, you’ll be ok.
At that exact moment we were hit by a much larger wave. I felt the palm trees give way and again we tumbled together along the bottom rolling over the island. I continued to focus on not releasing Helen. I kept thinking we’re going to hit something; we have to and waited for that moment. We continued tumbling seemingly forever, I was running out of air and knew I had to make it to the surface. Forcing us to the top I had time to gulp a quick breath before being forced down again. When surfacing I saw I was passing through the palm trees on the south side of the island and knew we were now going out to sea. Desperate, I had to make it to the surface again and made a final effort to reach the top.
I tried to surface but couldn’t because of debris everywhere. I lost grasp of Helen a second time. My hand grabbed a floating cushion, pulling myself to the surface only to be forced below again and again. Swallowing water I knew the end was nearand felt death all around me. I remember feeling a sense of peace I had never felt before; everything seemed to go into slow motion, quiet and very peaceful. I recall saying to myself, “I wonder how long it takes to drown” and “I wonder if it will be quick?” “It’s over now I thought and it’s ok”.
My hand seemed to touch something ridged, it was a pipe. Grasping it I pulled myself to the surface and saw Helens head below. Grabbing her neck I raised her above the water for air. She was unconscious, pure white and just staring expressionless. Slapping her face I kept screaming “keep breathing, keep breathing, we can make it” over and over again. I suddenly realized I had grabbed the long propeller shaft of a Long Tail Thai canoe. Helen slipped and began to sink below the water expressionless, her face seemed resigned and to say I’ve had enough let me go. Grabbing her chin I raised her again planting her chin into the metal framework of the adjacent upturned boat. There was a man standing in the boat staring outwards, I screamed to him to help Helen into the boat. Looking he seemed unable to move and continued staring. Attempting to raise myself into the canoe I continued screaming at him demanding he help raise Helen. Suddenly he reached out grabbing Helens hand helping to raise her into the boat. Although lifeless I knew she continued shallow breathing.
With all my strength I pulled myself into the canoe next to Helen. She layed over whispering to me she couldn’t breathe and had awful pain in her chest. I continued to scream “keep breathing, you made it and everything would be ok”, all she had to do was continue breathing. Twenty feet away I saw a man raising a young naked woman into the canoe, I knew she was dead, drowned people were everywhere floating past us. Looking towards the island I couldn’t believe the destruction, all the hotels had collapsed and were sliding into the sea.
I saw two large wooden upturned fishing boats moving towards us caused by the rushing waters. Fearing if we didn’t move quickly we’d be crushed and got the captain to start the engine to move to a safer area and into deeper water clear of the wreckage. Continuing to hold Helen in my arms comforting her I began to hear pleas for help coming from the water. People were clinging to whatever they could with what little remaining strength they had. One woman begged me to help her and grabbed a board to stretch it towards me in an effort to reach us. Reaching out I realized it wasn’t long enough and gave up. Looking down into the water I knew the only way of helping her was to jump back into the water but feared I didn’t have the strength left to get back into the canoe a second time. Afraid of loosing Helen my hands were frozen cradling her in my arms. I kept screaming to the woman it was over, just hang on, it will be ok, your safe now but I knew she wasn’t. A young man suddenly grabbed the side of our boat trying to pull himself up. He begged for my help, I told him he had to pull himself up. Some time later the Captain placed a ladder over the side for him to climb up, he tried but didn’t have the strength. He continued pleading, I continued saying he had to find the strength to get in, my body couldn’t move, . I saw the captain finally move toward him but couldn’t lift him alone. Putting Helen down I helped bring him aboard. The Captain then found a rope to throw the woman nearby a line and dragged her aboard. I insisted the Captain had to move or we’d be crushed in minutes. Starting the engine he managed to run it. Moving away slowly I turned to hear the screams of people begging for help. I was so afraid if I stopped to help them I would loose Helen forever. I want to say all the strength in my body was gone but it wan’t, I had to save Helen with what I had left and wouldn’t leave her.
I knew Helen couldn’t last long without oxygen as her lungs were filled with water and because of her pain didn’t know if ribs punctured a lung. Motoring towards the fifteen remaining long tails the screams faded as we distanced outselves. Other long tales were moving with us, every captain standing silently and motionless staring at the island waiting for the next wave. There was total silence; no words were spoken between the boats. Everyone appeared in shock and could only stare ignoring the screams coming from the water. I asked the captain if he was ok, looking at me responding faintly he lost his niece on the beach. Looking seaward I saw a wooden square-rigger racing towards the island. I told him we had to reach that ship and get Helen aboard for her to make it. Leaving the safety of the other long tails he motored towards the square-rigger. As we approached midship I yelled to the Swedish Captain my wife needed to get to a hospital. He responded “my ship is your ship, where do we take her?” His crew immediately helped lift Helen aboard and lay her on the deck.
I requested oxygen and he responded he had a tank; unfortunately it didn’t have enough to make the 4-hour trip to Phuket. I used his radio to call the Rally fleet in the North Bay. They informed me Tahlequah was safe; most boats had broken anchor and were headed to deeper water bracing for the next wave. I was told Michael our screw had a bad gash in his arm and needed medical attention. Our boat raced towards the north bay while a couple from another boat “Regardless” raced toward us with oxygen and medical supplies. The woman was a nurse, gave us both injections for pain and administered the oxygen. They returned to their yacht to brace for the next wave. Another Rally boat brought Michael with a bandaged arm with Jesse (a paramedic from “Gaultine 2”) to travel with us to Phuket.
We raced towards a major port in Phuket only to be informed by the Rally boat “Aragorn” it sustained major damage. The Captain suggested going north until we found suitable anchorage. Three hours later we transferred Helen to a Hotel atop a hill and were immediately transported to the Phukett International Hospital. Upon arrival we were met by a gurney and were rushed into the emergency room. Paperwork was put aside; they wanted to know only the patients name and injury. Within minutes x rays indicated her lungs were filled with water but no broken bones or organ damage. I was warned by the doctor the body would slowly absorb the water but there was a high risk of serious pneumonia. She would have to be transferred to a private room for the night, then to the ICU Unit.
The following day Helen appeared worse, with more chest pain and pneumonia. The x-rays indicated her lungs were continuing to fill with fluid. Anti-biotics and painkillers were administered every few hours and within two additional days the infection was under control and Helen was transferred back to a private room. Each day she continues to improve and has been informed she will be discharged after a week in the hospital assuming all continues to progress well.
The faces and screams of the people I left behind in Phi Phi Don Bay continue to haunt me. I can never forget their screams and begging for my help and my turning away from them. I find myself walking the crowded hospital corridors among camera crews looking for people I might recognize from that day, their never here and will never know what happened to them. Riding to the hospital one morning with people from the Blue Water Rally we made an unexpected stop at the University for a medical student to volunteer. They informed me the University was providing counseling for victims of the tragedy. After sitting in the car for five minutes I said I had to stay and walked into the building. I saw people sleeping on the floor, blankets and pillows everywhere. Along the wall sat several people interviewing victims for counseling appointments. Limping to the table I said I needed to talk to someone about what happened and was provided a counselor within minutes.
A woman named Vicki brought me to a private office closed the door and sat directly in front of me. I described what happened and said I wanted one person to listen to what really happened. It was the hardest truth I’ve ever shared about myself. As I began to describe the people I abandoned I could still see their faces and hear their cries for help. I didn’t want to hear explanations, or forgiveness; I only wanted one person to know what really happened that day. I wanted Helen & I to survive the Tsunami but I could never anticipate the cost of our survival. Life suddenly seems so different my drive for pushing life to extreme challenges is numb and how I regard myself different. It was a day that changed many lives. A day later I told my dear friend Ivor from Safari about what happened that day, he responded compassionately he would have felt as I blaming himself. Knowing the only people who could forgive me were the people who died Ivor’s simple words helped me without lessening the truth of what really happened that day.
Talking to Helen about what to do next she stated she wanted to continue with the Blue Water Rally when healed. Another skipper volunteered to skipper our boat while his wife skippered his boat. We’ve agreed to stay in an apartment in Phukett to fully recover then fly to the next Rally Port and rejoin Tahlequah flying to that location. The American Embassy representative seemed shocked when Helen informed him we would continue. Some Rally members assumed we would return home following this ordeal. Helen says we’ve done this for the last two years it has to be finished.
Blue Water Rally friends at Phi Phi Don that day are responsible for saving Helen’s life and saving Tahlequah. They endangered themselves in the face of more waves to bring oxygen, medical supplies, and assistance to keep Helen live and even accompany us back to Phuket International Hospital. These same people returned to the island that evening to assist those hurt in the face of the worst disaster of the century. I will never know the man who unselfishly helped pull Helen from the water in his own grief. I will never forget his face and good will that touches only the surface of the Thai people.
The story told by the Nademias is in their usual understated tone. It had to have been scary and emotional. Their "stiff upper lip" covers up the fact they are both very resourceful and optimistic people, and those traits helped them get through. This is the story posted on the Blue Water Rally website.
An eyewitness account from Alistair and Carolyn Roberts of "Nademia" relating their experiences:
Ten Rally yachts gathered in the north-west facing bay of Phi Phi Don to celebrate Christmas at the Jungle Bar, a beach-side restaurant. The weather was beautiful, and we all had a lot of fun. The following day, Boxing Day, Carolyn and Alistair of Nademia, Peter of St. Barbara, and Jim and Lolly of Condor (who were staying aboard St. Barbara for a couple of days) were up early to take a taxi-boat over to the neighbouring island of Phi Phi Le. It was another beautiful day, and at about 11am we entered the inlet of Maya Beach, where the film ~The Beach~ was filmed. The inlet is steep-sided and almost enclosed, and would be delightful but for the dozens of tour boats of all sizes that were manoeuvring in the bay, dropping off swimmers and snorkellers. We slipped into the water rather cautiously, as many of the speed boats were dangerously close to us. Almost immediately we became aware of a strong current dragging us towards the sheer cliffs, which was unexpected, given the topography, and we put it down to the backwash from all the power boats. Just a few minutes later the current changed direction and increased alarmingly, and we found ourselves being swept further into the bay, totally out of control. The current reversed a couple more times, and we were dragged back and forth, frighteningly close to the cliff face, in water that had changed from crystal clear to muddy brown, until fortunately we all managed to struggle ashore in a tiny cove some distance from the main beach. We had no idea what was happening, except that at one moment the beach was many metres wide, with a few fish stranded on the sand, and the next moment a heavy surge of water up to 3 or 4 metres high covered everything, and we were forced to retreat into the jungle behind the beach, and as the surges increased in height, we clambered a few feet up the craggy rockface at the back of the cove.
We were stranded in the cove, along with a French family, for a couple of hours as the water surged back and forth into the bay. There was a huge amount of debris in the water, including tree trunks that had been swept off the beach. Gradually the water became more stable, and powerboats which had retreated to the open sea began to edge their way into the bay to pick up the hundreds of people stranded on the main beach There was no sign of our taxi boat, however, and it was still far too dangerous for us to contemplate swimming out to the boats. Eventually a longtail boat approached our cove, and we struggled out to it through still-swirling water, to find our taxiboat driver on board - his boat had been sunk, along with two or three others. It was a sombre group that set off back to Phi Phi Don, through a sea that was littered with an amazing amount of flotsam, including two upturned kayaks and a couple more wrecked longtail boats. We were dreading what we would find back at the anchorage. As we drew near we saw that most yachts had put to sea, including St Barbara who had been boarded by other Rally people, and were standing off about 2 miles.
As we rounded the last headland we saw Nademia - still afloat, and apparently undamaged. Our relief was beyond words. It appears that the tsunami had surged into the anchorage and across the beach, devastating the resort. Two members of the Rally were injured, two Rally boats lost their anchors, and a couple of boats sustained other relatively minor damage, but all had managed to put to sea after the first wave, which had swirled around the bay at a reported 12 knots. Somehow our own anchor had held, but once we were on board we put to sea immediately as there were reports that a second tsunami was expected - fortunately it did not materialize.
Reports of the effect of the tsunami, both locally and throughout the Indian Ocean region, have been relayed to us via VHF and BBC World Service. We were very very lucky - I dread to think how many swimmers in the Phi Phi islands cannot be accounted for. As I write, we are at anchor north of the islands, trying to decide what to do, and feeling the utmost sympathy for the holidaymakers and local population who were less fortunate than ourselves
Below is Sloane York's Story, as told in an email to friends.
Date: Wed, 29 Dec 2004 03:57:16 -0800 (PST)
From: Sloane York
I am sending this to just about everyone in my address book as I sit here in Phuket, Thailand. As my parents are sailing around the world, my brother, sister, and I came to visit them in Thailand for the holidays. We were anchored in the north harbor at Phi Phi Don on Dec 26th when we looked up and saw the water practically drain from the bay. For a minute we thought it was an interesting phenomenon since it was supposed to be high tide, and then we saw the water start to swirl and boats began to move uncontrollably. My dad realized this was not a curious spectacle and we quickly got life-jackets on and started to get the anchor up as the waves rolled in. We had a few break across our bow before we were lucky enough to get our anchor up and get out of the harbor. Many boats broke their anchors (one boat recorded they were going 14 knots in the water as it sped by them--they normally do 6-7 knots on a good day of sailing). The waves crashed along the shore covering the trees and beach. We had no idea what the horrors occurred their until much later. My dad and brother were able to take the dinghy out after it calmed down to rescue two boats that were unmanned and being flung around the harbor. Amazingly, they held up very well.
Later that night, after spending the whole day a mile off of Phi Phi afraid of another tsunami, we took some medical supplies into Phi Phi. I met a doctor off another boat and was dropped off with him for the night to try to help some people.
I have never beheld such horrors in my life. As we walked around this formerly picturesque tourist town, every single building had been taken out. The water went as high as three stories and the hotels on the side of the mountains were even affected. I will never forget the piles of rubbish around the island. The concrete structures barely held and everything else was gone completely. It was incredibly frightening from sea but was nothing compared to what the people on land experienced. I wish I could tell you all the stories of every person I met as we tried to treat major lacerations and other injuries with the bit of alcohol, bacitracin, and gauze we were able to get off our boats. People said they saw hotels rooms zoom past them as they were pushed by the water. One person told me their sister landed on a roof top--but the true horror of his story is that his girlfriend is one of the many still missing. Most likely she was one of the many pulled out to sea. The children without parents and the parents without children are the people we see everyday here in Phuket. There were so many people my age, just traveling around the world as I have always longed to do who just were going for a quick swim in the morning and who say the next thing they knew there were true heroes pulling them up the mountain trying to get them away from the beach to and attempting to treat the huge cuts and broken bones with torn sheets and a small first aid kit their mothers insisted they bring as they left home a year ago...
I have heard a number of miraculous stories from other friends--surviving snorkeling nearby or eating breakfast on the beach and surviving almost drowning. My family is amazingly all well. We keep thinking how we were about to get in the water to swim. I was going to go into town but woke up a bit later than expected. And to realize that we were sitting have Christmas lunch on that beach exactly a day before and if it occurred now most of my family and their sailing friends would probably be dead. Good luck, as the Thais keep telling me. I don't know why we were so lucky as so many others--children, adults, and mostly people my age--were not so lucky. But we are trying our best to help now, though I never feel I can do enough when I think of what we just lived through.
So now is my urge to you to help as much as you can. I am sure you have seen the new stories. I never thought that on my vacation I would be living one of those news stories--and I have only seen such a small part of it! I can't even imagine the disaster that has occurred in Indonesia or Sri Lanka, or all over the world because of this massive earthquake.
I have found a list of organizations that are taking donations and will have their websites below. PLEASE help in any way you can. I have written my story the best I can and hope that it moves you to at least pledge $5 to one of these organizations. If I was already trained as a physician you would not be seeing me for many months because I could not leave these people the way it is now. Whole towns and cities are gone--whole families are gone. You have been seeing it non-stop on CNN and other news channels but I just wanted to put a more personal perspective on it to urge you even more to help out.
Thank you for whatever you can do. Say a prayer (in whatever religion you may be) for these people. It is something I hope none of you will ever have to go through but could have been any of us. And take care of yourselves. I feel so fortunate to be alive and well and you should too. And I feel so fortunate to have so many great friends to reach out to in this time. You guys are great and thanks for the incredible support my family and I have received through all this.
Here are the organizations:
Network for good: www.networkforgood.org
Or donate in whatever other way you may have heard about.... thanks...
Copyright Richard William York 2004, 2005