Fiji: Viti Levu – Cruisers Prepare for 2018/19 Cyclone Season

On Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu, preparations have begun for cyclone season which runs from November to the end of April. Port Denarau Marina briefs yacht skippers on the cyclone procedure for this season. Vuda Marina secures vessels in their unique “cyclone pits.”

Published 5 years ago

CYCLONE MONITORING IN FIJI

The Fiji Meteorological Department is the official body for cyclone monitoring and naming for all cyclones in the SW Pacific. Fiji Met has an advanced cyclone warning system that is very well monitored. Fiji Met keeps regular updates on their website as well as sending weather bulletins by email if requested. Both Port Denarau and Vuda Marina take an active role in communicating alerts to visiting yachts and have detailed plan and procedures in place to keep visiting yachts as safe as possible during the cyclone season.

PORT DENARAU CALLS ANNUAL CYCLONE MEETING

On 16 November 2018, Cynthia Rasch, Manager of Port Denarau Marina, called a meeting for all yachts and yacht owners planning to spend the 2018/19 cyclone season in the Port Denarau area.

Anyone planning to utilize the natural cyclone protection area in the mangroves adjacent the marina (pictured left) is now required to go through the marina management to be allocated a suitable space. After extensive negotiations with the traditional landowners, the marina has been given this authority in order to ensure that all vessels in the area can be accommodated in the event of a cyclone.

The meeting was so well attended the venue had to be changed to accommodate all attendees. It was attended by a mix of local yacht owners as well as cruising yachties taking advantage of the recent change in legislation allowing private foreign flagged yachts to spend up to 18 months cruising in Fiji.

Discussion Topics

One of the main topics of discussion during the meeting included a presentation detailing the weather outlook for the season, weather resources, and relevant procedures. It was noted that the 2018/19 cyclone season is expected to be relatively mild due to the prediction of an El Nino neutral year. This will mean a delayed start to the rainy season, suppressed rainfall, and drought predicted for 2019 winter. Given these conditions, based on past statistics, Fiji can expect 8.1 cyclones below a Cat 3 and 3.4 cyclones Cat 3 or above for the season. Increased activity to the East of Fiji is also predicted. The season runs officially from 1 November to 30 April.

Another topic of discussion was cyclone preparedness procedures for the marina and recommendations for the preparation of yachts. The Marina has a flag warning system for alerting all yachts. A civil defence sound signal is to be used to alert all to flag changes. In the event of a cyclone in the area, yacht owners were advised to begin preparation with plenty of time. Vessel preparation tips and considerations were outlined in detail. In the event of a serious cyclone, all vessels may be asked to evacuate the marina and enter the natural cyclone hole in the nearby mangroves. The procedure for this was outlined.

Cyclone Protection at Port Denarau

Denarau island is blessed with a well-protected natural cyclone hole easily accessed from the marina.

The cyclone protection is along a winding river extending well into the mangroves which provide good natural protection from wind and swell.

Depths vary with deeper draft vessels having to plan carefully and enter with the tide, and shallower draft vessels taking the spaces further in.

With careful planning and foresight, there is plenty of space for all vessels in the area to utilize the cyclone protection. Port Denarau Marina operations manager, Geoff Deutschmann, will be in charge of allocating space and managing boat traffic into the mangroves.

Following the meeting, a detailed map of the mangroves with space allocations and contact details for all yacht owners/caretakers is to be circulated among all concerned. All are hoping for a smooth and uneventful season ahead.

The meeting takes place every year during the first or second week of November. Yachts in the area are notified of the meeting through the marina noticeboard and also through email by subscribing to Port Denarau weather reporting platform. Regular weather updates will also be sent to subscribers. Anyone looking for more information about spending cyclone season at Port Denarau can contact marina manager, Cynthia Rasch, at Port Denarau Marina.

VUDA MARINA READY FOR ACTION

In recent years, Vuda Marina on Viti Levu’s west coast has become a popular place for cruisers looking for a safe haven during the cyclone season in the South Pacific. Having detailed plans and cooperation from the cruising community has allowed the marina to weather some very serious storms (including Cyclone Winston in 2016) with very little damage.

“Cyclone season in the South Pacific is once again here and preparing my 42’ Benteau to get safely through it, is well underway. This sailboat has been through 7 cyclone seasons in the Vuda Marina in Fiji and has come through 2 major cyclones, Evan in Dec 2012, and Winston in Feb 2016, with almost no problems.  i.e. 2 broken stanchions during Evan in 2012.  I leave the boat in the water and carry out all the preparations put forth in the “Cyclone Prep Guidelines” issued by the Marina, and this year I will be away for the entire cyclone season. I do that with confidence, knowing that I’ve followed all the preparation guidelines,  and also knowing that the staff of the marina will troubleshoot any problems if they occur. Thank-you Adam, and all of the staff.”

Peg Morris

s/v OGOPOGO

Severe Weather Preparation Plan

The marina has developed a thorough Severe Weather Preparation Plan that outlines all requirements that must be followed by all yachties to ensure the safety of their own yacht and others. In this document, the procedure is outlined in detail for vessels in water and also in the dry dock. The SWPP is given to all yachties who are staying at Vuda marina over cyclone season on upon arrival. A copy can also be requested by email. Regular communication is kept through VHF channel 16 and 11.

Vessels choosing to stay in the water will moor stern to, 3m from the basin wall. Mast and spreader bars will be offset from neighbouring yachts to avoid entanglement. Anchors will be removed and the anchor chain run out to an underwater mooring and secured to this mooring using shackles. Marina staff may be able to assist with this. Procedures for securing lines and line placement are given in detail in the plan.

The Severe Weather Preparation Plan also outlines in detail steps to be taken to secure vessels on hardstand and in cyclone pits.

Warning System

The weather is closely monitored by Fiji Met who will communicate alerts through various channels. The marina also passes this information on to yachties via email, VHF, their Facebook page.

A CYCLONE WATCH is issued if a cyclone or potential cyclone exists and there are strong indications winds above gale force will affect coastal or island communities within 24 to 48 hours.

As soon as gale or stronger winds are expected to hit within 24 hours, a CYCLONE WARNING will be issued. Information regarding expected intensity, expected wind strengths, forecasts of heavy rainfall, flooding and tidal information will be closely monitored. If possible, the marina will issue a Cyclone Warning Notice to boats in the Marina and tenants in support of announcements on local commercial radio stations, VHF Channel 11.

Cyclone Pits

Vuda Marina has a unique dry storage system that has proven to be very effective in protecting yachts in cyclone conditions. There are forty-eight cyclone pits available for the safekeeping of vessels over the cyclone season. These are keel pits with very simple technology. Vessels are slowly lowered into a pit and cushioned on either side with tires. The majority of the weight of the vessel is taken by the keel on the bottom of the pit.

These pits are extremely popular and the marina recommends booking at least six months in advance to avoid disappointment. However, it is possible to be placed on a waitlist. Discounts are offered to those who pay in full before the end of March. Pits are also available for yacht storage outside the cyclone season at a discounted rate. Contact Vuda Marina for bookings.

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