Tsunami: View from the Left Coast

I live in Belmont, Calif, which puts me about an hour away from the city of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is Northern California’s version of “Surf City. The Southern California version is Huntington Beach—and there has even been legal wrangling over which one is the “original.” Sometimes, I don’t think we have enough to do on the Left Coast.

As you’d guess, Santa Cruz is famous for its numerous surf spots. It’s also about an hour south of Half Moon Bay and the famed Maverick’s big-wave surf break, where noted big-wave surfer Sion Milosky died this Wednesday in 50-foot surf.

Now Santa Cruz, or more specifically its harbor, will be known for something else, that being seriously damaged by tsunami-spawned surges generated by the 9.0 earthquake in Japan just six days ago. Reports on what actually happened vary, but a surge or “wave” measuring two to four feet high rushed into the harbor. Not only did it snap off a few less-than-pristine docks, it broke a number of boats from their moorings. As the surge receded, it took some of those vessels out to sea. The damage to the harbor and its largely recreational fleet is estimated at more than $20 million.

Farther north in the commercial fishing—crab and salmon—town of Crescent City, events were even worse. Tsunami waves or surges estimated at eight feet ripped into the harbor there, destroyed docks and even sunk a few vessels. Damage cost estimates in Crescent City are roughly the same as those in Santa Cruz, but that doesn’t count the losses a lot of fishermen in the area will sustain if they’re not up and running for the coming salmon season this spring.

And yet, watch just one video from the port town of Natori, Japan, and it all pales in comparison. Imagine 20-plus-foot waves heading your way at approximately 480 mph. It is not the stuff of stupid disaster movies. It is the stuff of nightmares. Combine those waves with the ongoing nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima, and it is the stuff of Armageddon.

That’s not to minimize the losses of those folks in California, but at least they are still around to try to work through it. The death tolls in Japan are staggering—well above 6,000 in the most recent count I’ve seen—and most experts agree that we are not even close to learning the final number.

So what does any of this have to do with the high-performance boating world? Well, the way I see it we are all people of the ocean. Oceans provide so much of our joy. Sure, we love to run fast, but I’ve yet to meet a high-performance boat enthusiast who, first and foremost, doesn’t appreciate the beauty of just being on the water with family and friends. So for me, this tragedy, something relatively small on the coast that’s just 15 miles from my doorstep yet horribly large on a coast 5,100 miles to the east, is a wake-up call.

Every time I’m on the water with my friends—I just had a fine old time with New Jersey-based performance-boat owners Bob Christie, Joe Nasso and Anthony Sauta at the Miami Boat Show Poker Run last month—I try to appreciate my good fortune. Next time I’m out there, I’m going to try to ramp up the appreciation level a bit more. Because it can all be gone in an instant.

I always knew that. But I know it more now.