Day 518 [March 4/10] -- Not just one, but TWO, earlier massive 'Valdivia Earthquakes'

Today's Report
March 4/10 0800 JST
39°49'S, 73°15'W (Valdivia Marina)

We received an email from a Saito supporter, excerpted below, which got us looking a bit more into past earthquake trauma and have discovered information that makes us even more thankful this was not worse for Saito-san and the people of Valdivia, his newest "hometown" until ordered repair parts arrive.

A Google search reveals that not just one, but TWO, earthquakes carry the name "Valdivia." In addition to history's strongest earthquake, at 9.5 on the scale seismologists use, there was a much earlier one that struck during the original period of Spanish occupancy in the 16th century. This one is called the "1575 Valdivia Earthquake."

According to Wikipedia:

Pedro Mariño de Lobera, who was corregidor [chief magistrate] of Valdivia ... wrote that the waters of the river opened like the Red Sea, one part flowing upstream and one downstream. Mariño de Lobera also evacuated the city until the dam at Laguna Riñihua (Riñihue Lake) burst. At that moment he wrote that, while many Indians died, no Spaniards did, as the settlement of Valdivia was moved temporarily away from the riverside.

Accounts of the second Valdivia namesake earthquake in 1960 include mention of the Isla (Island) of Chiloe, presumed to be named after Chile, or perhaps was the origin of the country's name, which was swept by towering 25-meter (82-foot) tsunami waves, destroying the island's ports and killing 200 people. On the 10-nm river approach to Valdivia, the river banks collapsed, and a large ship sunk by tsunami waves can still be seen resting on the river bottom. This picture shows destroyed homes in Valdivia after that earthquake.

Today, the uppermost part of the island has a small fishing harbor, and a bit further inland is the Port of Ancud, about 2 days by sea (125 nm) south of Valdivia. Ancud was the first stopover point we considered for Saito-san as we tried to determine the best port for repairs and refueling after he made the difficult 800 nm stretch up the Chilean coastline. Hanaoka-san, who assisted Saito nearly 9 months in Punta Arenas, has a friend in Valdivia, and knew of the marina there, so the choice was made for NBSDIII to head for there instead.

At the time we were trying to decide which port would be easiest for Saito to reach without having local charts on board. Had we asked him to stop somewhere other than the further inland port of Valdivia, it is highly possible he would have been at an exposed mooring when the tsunami swept down the Chilean coast Saturday morning, later to be felt as far away as Hawaii, Los Angeles, and Japan.

If not for Hanaoka-san's suggestion, Saito-san likely would have been in Ancud when the earthquake hit. And had the earthquake been even close to a repeat of the earlier two Valdivia-named disasters, the consequences would have been all too predictable.

Assessment of Saturday's widespread tsunami damage continues. In Tirúa, a small fishing village just 95 miles north of Valdivia, waves washed away about 50 houses, bent iron light poles to the ground, and deposited several cars in the river that runs along the town.

Tirúa, Valdivia, Ancud, and Isla Chiloe

The email received from Derek follows, and is representative of a number of phone calls and emails we have received. Our thanks to Derek for his kind thoughts and continued support, which have been passed to Saito-san.

With great relief I read the latest two postings – I followed since last weekend’s huge earthquake and tsunami the situation concerned and worrying firstly about Saito-san’s wellbeing and secondly about NBSDIII.

It is great to know both are in good shape although a boat can be replaced – nothing can bring back a human being.
It will be sometime until the logistics and infrastructure are repaired sufficiently to get Saito-san the parts he urgently needs to continue his voyage and leave Valdivia.
We already knew this was going to be a big challenge we somehow didn’t expect all this “excitement” that nature was going to throw in Saito-san’s direction.
Kind regards,


Day 517 [March 3/10] -- A fortunate break for Saito

Today's Report
March 3/10 0800 JST
39°49'S, 73°15'W (Valdivia Marina)

While the day's news from northern Chile is full of stories about looting and fires in the aftermath of Saturday's 8.8 magnitude earthquake, the word from Valdivia continues to be reassuring.

As the entire world has now been reminded, Valdivia was devastated in 1960 by the worst recorded earthquake in history, 9.5 on the quake intensity cale, but this time was apparently virtually unscathed, with no deaths and relatively little damage from Saturday's quake that seismologists say is the 7th greatest in measured strength. Saito-san has sent us some pictures, but only one showed any obvious damage -- a fissure in the pavement near the marina.

So it is with much relief that we can say that there was tremendously good fortune in the choice of Valdivia as a port to have repairs done on BMW Shuten-Doji III. The long, 10 nm section of river that separates the city from the Pacific acted as a buffer against the resulting tsunami that caused extensive property damage, numerous injuries, and some loss of life in less-protected ports only a day or so closer by sea to the quake's epicenter.

After three days the death toll is continuing to climb, and has now passed 720 persons [raised to 800 fatalities later] as rescue teams search the rubble of homes and buildings in Santiago and the even harder-hit city of Concepcion, just 200 miles north of Valdivia. Our deep sympathy goes out to the many people who have lost loved ones and we hope for the continued safety of the survivors of the affected areas.

Had Saito-san just continued for another day and a half and put into the seaside port of Concepcion, instead, there almost certainly would now be a very different story about him and his vessel.

A split in the pavement in Valdivia

Day 514 [Feb. 28/10] -- Valdivia spared, Saito is fine

Today's Report
Feb. 28/10 0800 JST
39°49'S, 73°15'W (Valdivia Marina)

Saito-san called last night about 10 pm Tokyo time to report that he was fine. He called again this morning to provide more details.

At the time of his first call he had little news himself on the earthquake other than word-of-mouth. There was no cell phone service throughout the day until it was restored in late afternoon. He had not heard of the magnitude of the quake until our call, which he could finally make by Iridium 6 1/2 hours later. He said he had heard from a fellow boater that "Santiago was 80% destroyed" (a figure that TV news showed later was greatly exaggerated).

Saito-san said that he was awakened about 3:30 am by unusual boat movement but that it caused no damage to the boat or dock facilities. Later in the morning he visited the marina's main building. Other than a large crack in the floor there was no noticeable damage, he said. 

He reported that a tsunami came up the river, though "it wasn't much, only about half a meter," he estimated, arriving several hours after the earthquake struck.

He walked through streets of Valdivia and saw no serious damage. All shops were closed, he noticed.

It is expected that delivery of the parts that have been sent to him to repair the aux. generator and genoa furler will now be delayed. According to CNN, the Pan American Highway connecting the north and south is expected to take weeks or months to be repaired. Major bridges are damaged or collapsed, including those that connect the northern and southern areas of the country. We have to assume as well that air service to Valdivia will be disrupted for some time.

We tried to call Hanaoka-san in Punta Arenas, and were not able to get through. It is presumed no damage resulted there as it is 800 miles further south.

Saito-san does not know the status of the two sails, the main and the genoa, which are off the boat after being sent to a sail loft to be repaired. The rigger is scheduled to visit Monday and Saito-san said he hopes to learn about the sails then. He is unsure whether the loft was outside the area of intense quake damage.

CNN is reporting that at least 214 persons were killed in Santiago, and that more than 45 aftershocks have occurred. Experts have calculated that it was 800 times the magnitude of the recent quake in Haiti, but with less damage due to various factors including the greater depth of the Chilean quake and better earthquake resistance of buildings in Santiago after the lessons learned from the massively destructive 1960 Valdivia earthquake.

Yesterday's quake is expected to go into the record books as one of the world's top five earthquakes in terms of magnitude since 1900.

A tsunami "high alert" is in effect (at the time of this 11 am post) for the Japan western coastline with 2- to 3-meter waves expected in mid to late afternoon, with some waves predicted as early as 1 pm. Evacuation orders have been issued for a number of low-lying areas of Hokkaido, in northern Japan, with residents ordered to evacuate immediately to higher ground.

Two-meter waves were expected in Tokyo Bay and Sagami Bay about 1:30 pm.

About 9 am JST, an "all-clear" was announced for Hawaii after a weak series of tsunami waves were reported there, and relieved officials said on TV the Hawaiian Islands had "dodged a bullet."