Moorea, French Polynesia
The sailing journey from Tahiti to Moorea with our new crew (our adult children, William & Kayla) went by pretty fast. It was about a five hour journey and the wind and seas were favorable, which was a pleasant change.
As we pulled our yacht into Cooks Bay, you could see our crews eyes light up. It is an amazing view, with giant green mountains jutting from the water and reaching for the clouds, as well as the reef cascading a multitude of blue hues throughout, depending where your eyes landed upon the corals.
Melissa and I had been to Moorea once before, but we flew in, so coming in by sea was a new experience for us as well. We knew where we wanted to anchor, however it was close to a mud/coral reef but we were limited once again, by the length of our ground tackle (anchor chain/rode).
We anchored about 100 yards off of the Club Bali Hai Resort in about 65’ of water. The bay is really calm and there seemed to be a prevailing breeze coming down through the mountainous valley into the bay.
We did our anchor watch as we got ready to go ashore. Everything seemed perfect.
We went ashore and checked in with the front desk at the resort. They checked us into a room and once we looked at it, we thought we should go back and try to get another room. The first room they gave us was very small and with four people, it would have been really tight.
Since Melissa and I have stayed there before (we got two upgrades last time we stayed there), we decided to use our charm and ask if we could stay in the room we had previously. It was no problem. It was a garden view room and twice the size as our first room. We were elated.
The last time Melissa and I stayed here, we had this same room and then midway through the week, they upgraded us to an overwater bungalow, which was pretty cool too.
We had a lot to bring back and forth from the boat, so we made a few dinghy runs and it was great, because we were anchored so close and we could beach the dinghy right by our room. Things were looking perfect.
We rearranged the room’s furniture to fit our needs and then we realized that there was nowhere to sit and talk inside the room. There were plastic table and chairs outside on the patio, so we brought a few of those inside.
Melissa and I were so excited to show the kids the beautiful reefs, sharks, stingrays and all the beauty that Moorea had to offer. We loaded up our dinghy with water, lunch, extra fuel and we headed off to the reefs where the blacktip sharks hang out.
The ride with four adults in an 8’ dinghy with a 6hp engine, was a slow endeavor. We slowly motored to the channel on the inside of the reef but the wind was picking up from our backs and making the water pretty choppy. I knew it was going to be a long and wet trip on the way back but the kids didn’t seem to mind.
As we looked over the side of the dink, we could see that the reefs were covered with what looked like giant “turds” stuck on a string. This growth was everywhere and it really distracted from the beauty of the coral heads and colorful fish. This was nothing like the crystal clear, magnificent beauty that we had been telling our children about for the last decade.
We kept pushing on but it seemed like our destination was just going to be too far for us to make, so we decided to beach the dinghy and just enjoy a day at the beach.
We had to teach our children not to lay, walk or meander under the coconut palms because the coconuts fall all the time and if they fall on you, you may die or have a serious head injury. One of the little known facts of living in the tropics.
After snorkeling and enjoying the sunny beach, I thought it would be easier if everyone took a taxi back to the resort, while I drove the dinghy back. They agreed and found a taxi. As they boarded, I got into the dinghy and raced them back. With only one person in the dinghy, it hauls ass.
I was probably going about 15 knots but the waves and wind were bashing up against me. I loved the fun and exhilaration of it, but I’m sure if I had all the crew aboard and going 2 knots, it would not have been fun at all.
They arrived at the resort about five minutes after I did. I won! Even though, there was no actual race.
That night Melissa made the front desk manager, which upgraded us, an extra-long necklace. Melissa noticed that she liked red, so she made her something that would match her outfits. When we gave it to her the next day and she was elated. What a nice unexpected gift.
The next day we decided to rent a car and go for a drive around the island and check out the sites. On the far side of the island, we took our little car off on a four wheel drive adventure up to a very muddy and rutted road, where a trailhead was. Since I had so many people in the car, I decided I should pull over to the side of the road and park where it was relatively safe and we disembarked. They locals were really friendly and showed us the path up the trail. Melissa and I had been to this place last time and it was great to have our children with us on this trip.
As we meandered up the mountain to the waterfall, Melissa gave us a task to collect all the red seeds that we saw along the way. These seeds fall off of the coral tree and they blanket the brown muddy path, like little red M&M’s.
We eventually made it to the waterfall and I distinctly remember stepping on a giant freshwater eel the last time I was here. It freaked me out, since I had no idea about the eels at that time.
It was rainy and drizzly, so we decided we should get back to the car and get back to the resort.
The next day, we decided to take a family walk, what happened next so was shocking, I wrote about the account as listed below:
June 20, 2016 around 1300 – Club Bali Hai Moorea, French Polynesia
Our yacht, Harlow Hut was anchored just off our hotel room in 65’ of water, however very close to the mud reef that protects the hotel. When Melissa and I first anchored Harlow Hut, she was in 65’ of water and about 90 feet off the reef. I put down a Fortress stern anchor to minimize drag on the bow anchor if there was any.
Over the next couple of days, Harlow Hut seemed to edge a little closer to the reef due to high wind/waves. Melissa and I went to re-anchor early in the morning on June 20 due to high winds over the night (30 knot gusts) but did not know the right procedure to let go of the stern anchor and re-anchor (we learned later at a price). I, instead, dropped a marker bouy at the edge of the reef with a white fender to show where the edge of the reef is.
Our family, (Melissa, William, Kayla and I) were just returning from a walk to the head of Cook’s Bay and we entered the Club Bali Hai “Blue Pineapple” restaurant so Melissa could see the menu. To our amazement and horror, Cooks Bay started to receive 35-45 knot sustained winds. There were several other cruisers in the restaurant (I actually helped 3 guys tie their dinghy up from S/V Bolero) and we all commented on the winds. I pointed to Harlow Hut and told one of the cruisers that she was our boat and we were going to re-anchor her that morning but the stern line stopped me from moving her. He suggested I tie a rolling hitch in the line and put that line around a winch to relieve pressure and untie the anchor.
A big gust of wind, at about 50 knots came whipping down the bay and I could see winds picking water up off the surface and creating a huge wind/sea mist 30 feet up. Melissa and I looked at Harlow Hut, who was broadside to the wind/waves and we agreed we should get on her and see what we could do, since it was so violent out. At this time, we could see Harlow Hut edging over to the reef (fender/buoy).
We jumped in our dinghy and started out and were met with huge waves crashing into the dinghy at the little beach we had been using. I could see the major concern on Melissa’s face, so I stopped everything and looked into her eyes and said, “Look at me… everything is going to be alright. Okay?” I wanted to ensure no one panicked and we worked at the problem logically and swiftly.
As we were motoring out to Harlow Hut, her bow swung downwind quickly and now we could see she was hitting the muddy reef. As we approached, waves were smacking the stern and I pulled down the ladder (which I had up for safety reasons) and we tied off the dinghy to the stern and boarded. The Fortress stern anchor was holding strong. I turned on the engine and tried to back the boat up to relieve pressure on the stern anchor but to no avail. Then, in my haste, I realized that I did not open the sea water seacock that cools the engine. I ran down and opened the seacock. The engine seemed to have much more power now. I began to tie the rolling hitch on the line and put the line around the winch when two men (Frank and Pat) from S/V Nogal (Catamaran) came to our aid. Melissa was helping all she could, but once Frank came aboard she let him and I work together.
The first thing we did was tie a fender to the Fortress anchor (two bowlines together) and released the line from the cleat. Once that was over the side, we asked Pat to get the other fender/buoy up off the reef so we didn’t run it over when/if backing up.
Frank got on the helm and I went to the bow to retrieve the anchor and work the windlass. It helped that I knew the reef well since I scoped it out in case of this exact emergency. I knew the reef banked slowly then sharply to the hotel and we would move downwind. We worked together and motored Harlow Hut off the muddy reef with the help of the wind/waves as I pulled up the bow anchor. Once clear of the reef, we looked back and could see a large muddy area where we just freed ourselves from. Hopefully it was mostly mud and sediment on the reef.
Frank motored us out further as I pulled in 200 plus feet of anchor chain. We went downwind some and found a suitable place to re-anchor and we worked together to ensure that went well. We let out as much anchor chain as we had (220’) and Melissa and I maintained watch for over an hour to ensure we were not dragging again. Pat dropped off my small anchor and fender and they went back to their boat. They were true saviors and really helped us in a huge way. We are going to give them one of our bottles of Absolut vodka since they absolutely helped us. (We did).
I will have to retrieve my Fortress anchor when the wind/waves have subsided. I tried to earlier in the day but it was just too difficult.
I sit here writing this as my wonderful family is having dinner without me. I have resigned myself to the boat for an evening of anchor watch since there have been wind gusts up to 30 knots and I’m sure it makes me (and the other cruisers around me) feel much safer.
My iPad is blaring at me all night, since I cannot turn it off for fear that Harlow Hut will move outside of our designated anchor watch circle.
I feel very grateful that no one got hurt. There was a lot going on in very short amount of time and everyone worked together so well. Not one person panicked. We all survived and hopefully Harlow Hut didn’t sustain any damage. I’ll dive her when the weather is better.
Luckily we were there at the right time with the right people to help us in our time of need.
I think the worst part of this whole ordeal was having our children watching from the beach and being helpless. They took it in stride and knew that their parents are pretty tough and now very seasoned sailors (although ALWAYS learning).
Melissa chilled with our children that night and definitely had a few glasses of wine.
We relaxed the next day and the day after decided to go on an actual, “Swim with the Sharks/Stingrays” tour. It was awesome.
I taught Kayla to surf when she was about two years old and she has been a salt-water fiend ever since. With years in Jr. Lifeguards, she is a natural in the water. As soon as we anchored at the shark diving area, she and I were in the water swimming with these magnificent creatures. Melissa and William went directly to the Stingray area and played and swam with them. It was a great experience.
The next stop on the tour was to a little Motu (island) where we enjoyed a chicken lunch with all the fixin’s. The tour guide gave us some demonstrations on the different stages of coconuts and how to correctly husk them and drink/eat them.
Melissa and I went back to one of our favorite snorkeling spots on the motu and it had changed so much we couldn’t stand it. The turd growths were everywhere and the reef looked so pitiful. We were so disappointed. This growth seemed to be everywhere and it seemed like all of the fish and reefs were affected by it. I learned what the growth was, but you’ll have to read about it in my next blogpost.
The main reason why we chose to go to Moorea and the Club Bali Hai, was so we could find a great anchorage before all the other boats from the Pacific Puddle Jump anchored here. In about three days, the Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendezvous would be meeting in Tahiti and having a regatta to sail from Tahiti to Cooks Bay, Moorea to have a huge party at the Club Bali Hai. We didn’t want to look for suitable anchorage that day, so we came a week early to get the best anchorage (as you can tell from the stories above, even that was a challenge).
A day before the rendezvous, the organization had a registration on Tahiti, so I thought it would be fun to take the family over on a Moorea-Tahiti ferry and register in person and see some of our old friends. The ferry ride is really fast (probably 45 minutes) and it docked right next to where we needed to register. As Melissa and I mingled with our sailing friends, William and Kayla strolled around Papeete doing the tourist thing.
Melissa and I learned a lot at one of the seminars. Apparently, French Polynesia has placed mooring buoys all over the islands to attract cruisers, like us, to visit villages where the mooring buoys are placed. This was great news. Since almost all the anchorages are so deep, this was very welcomed information.
We met up with Andy from Latitude 38 magazine and talked for a while about the life raft at sea, we found (later discovered it was a FAD – see Pacific Crossing blogpost).
We met back up with the rest of our family and ferried back to Moorea and awaited the cruisers the next day.
Over the next few days, the Club Bali Hai was packed with people. The Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendezvous was a huge success and they had great weather for the passage.
The event was exactly as I thought it would be. Fun and exciting with tons to do. There were opening ceremonies, with village chiefs, dancing and laughter. Other events included bamboo/coconut races, lifting the “stone” with one hand, Tahitian dance lessons, and my favorite, the outrigger canoe races.
Our family had an outrigger to ourselves and we raced three other canoes. It was a lot of hard and fun work and I’m happy to say we came in 2nd in our heat.
The days and nights were perfect. Great weather, lots of laughter and the shows were superb. Even if you’re not a Pacific Puddle Jump cruiser, I would recommend this event if you are ever thinking of going to Moorea.
Our family is tightly connected and we all agreed it would be awesome to get a “family tattoo” since we were in the land of tattoo’s. After a lot of thought, we all agreed that our family tattoo, should be a sea turtle. They are gentle, vegetarian (as William is), beautiful in the water, strong and they live a long life.
We found a great tattoo artist right across the street from our resort. Herbert, was happy to do our tattoo’s and he told us that he never had an entire family get tattoo’s together and he had never heard of an entire family getting the same tattoo for all members. He was happy to do his best job. Once we all had our tattoo’s, he was so happy, he posted us all over his social media.
As with all good things, it was time to move on and have our adult children fly back to finish up their summer with their friends and other family.
We departed early the next morning, knowing that the conditions were going to be a challenge. As we exited the channel from Cook’s Bay into the open ocean, we had wind waves hitting us head on. Bashing into the waves is no fun and it’s even worse with green sailors. I tried to keep everyone on deck, so they could see the horizon, but they wanted the comfort of the soft cushions in the salon more. I tacked towards Tahiti and the waves were now coming from our forward port, so it was a little better but not much. Needless to say, by the time we docked in Tahiti, a few of the crew were a few pounds lighter.
We were so happy to have the last nine days with our kids (I will always call them that) and it is heartbreaking to see them go. After a lot of hugs and a few tears, we said our goodbyes at Papeete International Airport and then they were gone. Melissa and I went back to our boat reevaluating what in the world we were doing. We realized, even if we were back in the USA, our children had their own lives entrenched in college, our families would soldier on without us and we were living a once in a lifetime experience. We told ourselves this… but it didn’t stop the heartache.