At about 10:30pm Monday night it hit. We’d been waiting for it since about 7; the promised high wind/cyclone that has delayed our ship yet again and has left us all packed up with nowhere to go.
We’ve been working 6 ½ day weeks for the past 4 weeks with a goal in mind to be finished here and ready to move on to Nanumaga in line with delivery of our equipment and ferry schedules. After all the delays in getting our equipment unloaded here, and the realisation that logistics will be one of our biggest challenges out here, it seemed sensible to work harder and faster, giving ourselves the biggest possible window filled with the most potential transport options to move on.
On Thursday morning we had news that the Komaiwai was unbelievably running ahead of schedule and might be ready to sail past Vaitupu for a pick up as early as Saturday morning. All our hard efforts seemed worth it. We could be finished. We could be ready and packed in time. We worked until 11pm Thursday night and were back on site by 7am the next morning.
And the site looks incredible. The new Vaitupu powerhouse is an impressive piece of engineering; the result of months of planning, agonisingly detailed calculations, measurements and drawings and a shipload of the finest German technology that money can buy.
|The finished inverter corridor in the powerhouse|
Amidst the frenzy of finishing last week, we opened its doors to the local community. On Thursday the primary school students and their parents came to visit. Still dressed in our sweaty, grubby work clothes, we were presented with beautifully made floral wreaths and a woven basket of coconuts that we devoured within minutes of their all heading home for lunch.
On Friday morning the high school students arrived; ferried in by their Fijian teachers and primed with good questions. Thankfully no-one asked if the generator amp setting on the master Sunny Island was drawing the correct current from the generator… we were still tinkering.
|Fifty visiting 16 and 17-year olds crammed into the battery room|
That night we celebrated everything we’ve achieved here so far with a spectacular feast. Hosted by our wonderful Fijian housemates, we ate crab and reef fish and breadfruit cooked in coconut milk and chilli and fresh made roti and a local fern, which has become our primary source of greens. The boys were dressed in brilliantly loud and colourful shirts and I finally had an excuse to bring out the Tuvaluan outfit which I had had made in Funafuti. As the night warmed up and our gin ration stretched, we sang songs of farewell and safe passage. We have been promised that if PowerSmart comes to do a project in Fiji, we will be feasting every night.
|Celebrating with our Fijian housemates|
And so like sad prom dates, we are waiting at the curb for the limo. And a cyclone is coming.
It rained horizonally for most of the day on Tuesday. The sparser of the coconut trees by the wharf, trying to stand solo against the wind, look weary, and someone has started moving boats off the harbour ramp. Apparently one was swept up on the water and came crashing down again. It has holes.
By 8:30am Wednesday morning, it’s high tide. There is a crowd gathering in front of the meetinghouse above the wharf. Some of the locals report that they’ve not seen weather like this since the storm of 1991. Waves have been pushing higher all morning sweeping rubbish up onto the streets. Two coconut trees have given way and come crashing down. With each set that comes in, the marker pole at the end of the wharf disappears in a spray of white and another wall of blue appears just behind it. There is no conceivable way that a little barge with a 40hp engine would make it through that harbour entrance unscathed. On a day like today, no ships will even be allowed to fix to Funafuti wharf; they are bobbing like corks in the middle of the lagoon, waiting just like us.
|Vaitupu harbour under siege|
|Assessing the storm damage|
|Easy to reach these coconuts!|
Weather report released Monday night…
Tuesday and Wednesday: North to north-easterly winds 15 to 25 knots gusting to 30 knots over open waters. Seas rough with westerly swells 3 to 4 metres. Thursday? Westerly swells 4 to 5 metres.
This afternoon we wanted to see for ourselves what damage this weather is causing. As we head to the western tip of the island we see pig pens washed away and outdoor kitchens being reinforced in anticipation of high tide which is due tonight. At the tip of the island, we traipse through the mud and peak out through the Pandanas palms. Something doesn’t look right. I realise that the horizon isn’t flat. It looks like a rolling mountain range; all dark green with snow-capped peaks. There is a point on the horizon where the very western-most corner of the reef is reaching out into the ocean and a great pyramid of water is pushed into the air. The wave peaks and breaks from this point, rolling toward us. I’ve never seen waves like this. My sandy, coconut tree covered, 2m high atoll, perched in the middle of this enormous ocean, feels very precarious right now.And to top it all off, we are on diesel rations again. We are down to our last 235L of fuel and the generator will only come on for 3 hours tonight and then another 3 hours tomorrow morning. With it our communications with the rest of the world as the satellite uplink relies on the generator and reasonably clear skies. I will try to get this post out tonight but it may be a few days before you hear from us again. It’s time to hunker down. To drink too many cups of tea and spend half the day scurrying to the bathroom. Or perhaps to bring out the scotch whiskey and work on our fantastical stories of the Tuvalu storm of 2015.
|Team outing to check out the waves on the western tip of the island|
|Building a mountain of empty diesel drums|