Tahiti's Little Sister
“Moorea beckons Tahitian tourists with a rugged, seductive silhouette
clearly visible from the western coast of her envious larger sibling.”
Located just ten nautical miles northwest of Tahiti, Moorea is Tahiti’s not-to-be-ignored little sister. With her eight mountain peaks rising up prominently from a stunning translucent lagoon, Moorea beckons Tahitian tourists with a rugged, seductive silhouette clearly visible from the western coast of her envious larger sibling. Cook's Bay splits the northern coast of this romantic island, auspiciously shaped — from a seagull's-eye view — like a heart. Perhaps it is this striking quality of the little island, symbolizing love and romance, that compelled SlimC to choose Moorea as the launching point for his ambitious second-chance-at-romance reality show.
Captain Bob had instructed me to join him on the boat a few days before the cast arrived. He would need the help during the short shakedown cruise and when provisioning the vessel with all the supplies needed for seven days at sea. Kalea, as Bob had named his lovingly constructed cruising catamaran, would be moored in Cook’s Bay when I arrived.
Lua, the chef and third member of our minimalist crew of three, would also join us to help with stocking the galley. She would be the one preparing all of the meals and would know exactly what was needed for the seven-day voyage. Bob described her as a small, slim, quiet, elderly and good-natured acquaintance that would stop by from time to time to watch him build his impressive boat in Tahiti. She was fascinated with the project. She’d come to the island on occasion from her home somewhere in the Cook Islands, she never said where exactly, to visit with some old friends.
Bob enjoyed her company, though he would often betray a mild contempt for women, following his bitter divorce years earlier. Lua would show up unannounced at his breezy, open, outdoor workshop that was sheltered from the elements by a large white canopy tent. She laughed easily at his absurd jokes and watched with quiet fascination as he patiently constructed his towering twin-hulled ocean cruising vessel.
My travel from South Florida to Moorea was planned with an overnight stopover in Los Angeles, so that I could visit my old friend Joey, who had taught me how to body surf in the cold Pacific waters of Newport Beach when we were kids. I couldn’t wait to see him again after so many years. After a long flight and short cab ride to his place, and the usual hugs and howya-beens, Joey and I headed out for a dinner of crab cakes and cocktails at the local seafood restaurant near Laguna Beach. Somehow, while catching up with recent events in our lives, we inadvertently stumbled onto the topic of climate change. Joey asked me,
“You really believe in that man-made climate-change hooey?”
He could not have known that an innocent question like that directed my way could hijack a conversation and take it into testy territory very quickly. Now, it seems reasonable to me that statements about how the natural world works have a higher probability of being closer to reality when coming from truth-seeking, peer-reviewed scientists than from say-anything, power-hungry politicians or short-sighted, profit-seeking business people. That would be my logical response to the question. But I knew from experience that these simple appeals to reason never do much to change minds — there are deeper psychological fears, desires, denials, and delusions at play here; and I wasn’t interested in a long, worthless debate over the issue. I really liked him and did not want anything negative to diminish our short time together.
I responded innocently enough,
“Well, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens over the next few years, I suppose. Time will tell, as the saying goes.”
The next day, Joey drove me to LAX to catch the afternoon Air Tahiti Nui flight to Papeete, French Polynesia. Making our way slowly on the irritating, perpetually clogged Los Angeles roadways in varying states of disrepair, I considered asking Joey whether the severe drought conditions impacting his beloved California worried him in any way. I wondered if he had ever considered the possibility that perhaps human-induced carbon pollution was playing a role in the water stress that was slowly creeping into his part of the world. In the last thirty years, heightened temperatures and aridity in the U.S. West have caused fires to spread across twice as much area as they would have otherwise. Like a growing atmospheric sponge, warmer air holds more moisture, and therefore exacerbates drought conditions and flooding equally. And more trapped heat energy up there means more extreme weather-related events down here.
“Hey Joey, don’t you ever think that maybe …”
Joey had just merged onto Sepulveda Boulevard, the longest street in Los Angeles that passes underneath two of the runways of LAX. We were already too close to the airport. I’d save that conversation for another day.
“It was great seeing you again, Joey. I’ll try to plan a stopover in LA again on my return home. I’m sure you’ll want to hear about what happens on the high seas with this mixed-bag cast of reality-show romance seekers. And I’ll definitely keep an eye out for any great surfing beaches among the islands.”
Joey had masterfully choreographed his career so that he would have enough free time, way before retirement age, to enjoy surfing several days of the week. I admired that about him: both his work-life balance and his passion for riding those alluring ocean waves. I opened the door to get out of the car.
“Appreciate the hospitality, Joey.”
Joey popped the trunk. I grabbed my duffle bag, guitar, and backpack and eagerly shuffled off into the terminal.
The flight to Papeete took close to nine hours. I arrived at night and checked into a local hotel. I was exhausted. The next morning, I boarded a jet-powered catamaran for the short 40-minute trip over to Moorea from the waterfront downtown. From the small, unadorned ferry terminal in Moorea, I took a bus over to Cook’s Bay Resort and, after checking in, walked over to the docks behind the main building.
There he was — a large, portly fellow with a shaggy salt-and-pepper beard blissfully a-snoozing and a-snoring in the large, scuffed up inflatable dinghy tethered to the dock. I crouched down to get a little closer to his exposed left ear and delivered my introductory greeting with a loud raspy voice,
“Eat my wake, loser!”
Bob sprung to his feet. Unfortunately, in his groggy state he apparently forgot that he had dozed off in a springy, squishy boat with a soft floor, lost his balance, and proceeded to take a most embarrassing tumble into the water, grasping the loosely secured rowing oar on his way down, hoping to avoid the impending immersion. Unfazed, and with a big smile on his face, he quickly swam the short distance to the ladder at the dock and hauled his hefty waterlogged frame out of the water.
“Rico! Great to see ya, man.”
Bob scooped the floating oar out of the water.
“Hopefully we’ll never need to use one of these on our trip.”
Surely he was hoping to humorously move the conversation along and avoid any snarky commentary by me on his inability to maintain his balance in a wide, stable boat in calm water and secured to a dock. We hugged and asked and answered the usual series of questions one expects to hear between long-parted buddies. Then I asked,
“Where’s Chef Lua?”
“You just missed her. She went out to get some groceries and supplies for the galley. She should be back in a couple hours.”
“And your boat? Where’s Kalea, man? Where’s that fabulous floating fulfiller of fantasies?”
“Oh, she’s anchored out in the lagoon just up and around that bend over there. C’mon, let’s get you two acquainted before Lua gets back.”
He fired up the Yamaha outboard and we sped off northward to the mouth of the bay. In just a few moments, I would catch my first glimpse of Bob’s masterwork. We rounded the bend.