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Tidal wave created by super tanker wrecked my boat!

April 7, 2011

April 7, Savannah River

Savannah river oil reserves

I’m really not looking for adventure. I’d be very happy if I could simply sail my way up the coast, taking pictures and writing good travel stuff. People describing me as a risk taker and an adventurer have it all wrong. That said, I’m doing this trip lucidly and I expect and don’t care if some stuff happens to me but for heaven’s sake there are limits…

I went to bed with an eye on the tide. I knew that it would rise all the way to my tent. This was not a problem since my tent was another two feet above the beach. I consulted my GPS for the height of the tide and was pretty confident that there would be no problem. At around 11 the tide was up and my boat was still clinging to some sand. It was securely tied to the brush with my three pound folding anchor.

At around midnight, I was comfortably lying in my sleeping bag when I heard a loud sucking sound. It was a very foreign sound but I recognized to it as water being sucked in violently. I bounced and put my head outside the tent. I was on the edge of the three foot cliff since there was not much space to put my tent. On my right a wall of water was coming unnaturally. It wasn’t a wave, it was as if suddenly a two foot wall of ocean rolled in at 30 miles per hour. A tidal wave is the best description I can give of it. It hit my tent but the wall redirected the water. I saw the wall hit my kayak and propel it as if it was a twig. It didn’t stop either. I just went and went until it disappeared into the forest about 100 feet from me. In front of my tent the water was still two feet high and rushing like crazy. I could only watch my boat go and think very somber thoughts.

As soon as the water ebbed, I jumped into the current. There was still a foot of flowing water. I ran naked in the general direction of my kayak. When I got the wood where my kayak vanished I had a very sad spectacle. My kayak was in pieces. My right outrigger was clinging my one pretzelled piece of aluminum that use to be an arm. The whole mess was still tied together except for the mast and the sail, which had been lying on the kayak tied only by the rolling line.

The anchor line had saved the kayak. Against all odds it had held. The one hundred feet of line had unraveled itself, destroying the line roller in the process but swung the kayak, in a pendulum movement, into the woods, stopping its race and making it possible for me to get off the island.

I heard the noise again. Another tidal wave was coming. I grabbed the kayak and shoved it as far as I could further away into the forest. The water hit me but I was high enough to only get the initial splash. It then occurred to me that I had the tent on the cliff with all my worldly possession in it.

Again, I ran naked into the night without regards for my bare feet. My tent was drenched, either from the first or the second tidal wave. I took my bags and hurled them further into the woods. I could not do much about the tent but I pushed it as far as I could. I then ran back to my boat in the hopes of finding my stuff.

My trip could have come to an end that way, but already I was willing to go back to Savannah to wait for all the replacement part I would need. It galvanized me. There was no way this was ending this way but I realized that it really could. Hell, I could have been tossed off the cliff, rolled into the water while wrapped into my sleeping bag and my tent. I wonder what were this spearfishermen’s chances of finding the zipper of the tent while being jerked around in the dark.

The powerful tidal surges were created by the wakes of giant tankers passing into the narrow passage of the Savannah River. It turned out I was not the first poor sob to have witnessed this from that side of the phenomenon. Many people got similar rides into the woods or onto the jetty.

My mast and sail had to be found. I walked naked on the beach and in the water with my frontal light. I was desperate but not ready to give up. I did stop going into the water once I saw a gator swimming excitedly in front of me. The frontal light was not giving me much light. I gave up after finding only my can of bug repellant and later a bottle of water.

I got back into my drenched sleeping bag to wait for the low tide. At four, I headed back out and searched for another hour. I was not finding the mast. This was getting me down. I went back into my wet bag to wait for first light. My plan was to check a last time and head out to Savannah with what remained of my boat. There I intended to check into a motel and get on the phone to order parts or get to a dealer.

At six, I slumbered out of the bag. To my surprise it was warm. Now that makes me a new fan of synthetic bags! The sun was not going to be up for another ninety minutes but I was able to see better. I walked the beach for quite a while before I saw something blue into a pile of trees. They had no doubt been piled that way in such water surges. I ran to it and wondered about the odds of my mast or sail not being broken. I took it out and it was intact. Wow to Hobie! I could barely believe it. This was my best gift of the year, maybe years.

Reinvigorated by this I took a look at my bent aluminum arm. It was bent in two different ways. I worked on it for a while using two trunks. It made all sorts of bad noises. It even split. But I was able to get arm into the correct shape.

I could have continued my merry way with my wet stuff but I had lost all my water. Savannah was only 5 miles away. I backtracked to the marina, bought water, took a shower, washed my sleeping bag and dried all my stuff. I then put my kayak on the ramp to work on it. I put the trampoline on the crooked side to make it square. I worked perfectly. I simply do not need to replace this part after all. All the moving parts of my boat were stuck with sand. The ride had sent particles into everything. I had to disassemble everything and clean every part. I also did a cosmetic job. When I left I felt pretty good. Actually my mood as been nothing short of elated since I left Savannah. This really galvanized me.

That's where the boat ended up after being taken by the tsunami

That's where i found the mast six hours later.

Bent outrigger arm

Where I was sleeping. The ledge protected me from a watery death.

  1. stephane rodrigue permalink


    Dry on brother!


  2. steves permalink

    Great stories man!!! great writing. really enjoying readng your blog about your adventures, trials and successes overcoming them.

  3. Nadège permalink

    Dear Gator Adam,

    Finaly I won’t come. Too much work and I don’t like camping.


  4. Jeffrey subranni permalink

    Je t’emprunterai cette histoire pour raconter aux filles

  5. Carolyn Pennell permalink

    Hi Réné,

    What a crazy story! I hope the rest of the journey is “smooth sailing”. Enjoy!

    PS It is becoming beautiful in Montréal, so hurry back!


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