Chef Lua >
Kalea in Moorea
“She was the nautical
expression of grace,
courage, and confidence.”
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.
Besides, I had a habit of getting too intense and serious with such matters and would probably get all caught up in explaining how our historically unique fossil-fueled period of ‘frontier economics’ over the last two centuries — characterized by hyper-growth, competition, conflict, and rapid expansion — has radically transformed human economies.
Where once human societies gradually and sustainably coevolved with their natural ecosystems, today's techno-industrial economies have exploded in growth — mimicking the explosive combustion of the fossil hydrocarbons that made this anomalous material and technological hyper-driven progress possible.
But I didn’t want to get into all this unpleasant reality-check with my friend Joey. 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 of 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.
I knew what it was like to dedicate years of your life to a personal project of that magnitude. It starts with the simple question, ‘Do I have what it takes to see this crazy multi-year effort through to the end?’ You take an inventory of your current skills and budget, and then determine what materials, time and new skills will be required.
You assess worst-case scenarios. Can you accept those outcomes? Yes. Then you dive in and don’t look back. And at the other end of a turbulent planning-building-finishing odyssey, a beautiful, one-of-a-kind, handcrafted, sea-going vessel emerges — usually at double the cost and triple the time — if you’re lucky.
We’d be calling Kalea our home for the next two weeks. We’d be entrusting her, and her alone, with the safety of passengers and crew over several hundred nautical miles of deep-blue open ocean.
She would carry us under sail over countless waves and ocean swells, through weather fair and foul, to idyllic South Pacific islands.
I couldn’t wait to meet her.
Anxious for that first sighting of Kalea at anchor in the stunning blue lagoon surrounding the island, I recalled why I had been drawn, years ago, to this special category of boats. They could technically be described as ‘Polynesian-style, double-canoe, sail-driven vessels.’ Today they would be classified simply as sailing catamarans.
The South Pacific Ocean of antiquity was home to a variety of maritime peoples. The modern catamaran's unique speed potential, greater than that of the equivalent sized monohull, arose out of two ancestral boat types from that region of the world.
Some South Pacific islanders would use very long ‘paddling canoes’ of up to 60 feet for coastal trading, fishing, and whale hunting. Their long, slim hulls, having length-to-beam ratios of from 12-to-1 to up to 20-to-1, significantly minimized drag, allowing the water to part and run along their length very efficiently.
They could reach speeds as high as two or three times that of sailboats common today of comparable length but with much lower length-to-beam ratios.
But hard-paddling islanders required food and water, which contributed significant cargo weight. And even the hardiest men could only paddle for a few hours at a time.
Other Pacific islanders used ‘sailing rafts’ like that of Thor Heyerdahl's classic Kon Tiki expedition of 1947. They were not particularly fast, but with their substantial beam and weight, they were practically impossible to capsize and thus had great stability and seaworthiness.
Long ago, some peanut-butter-and-chocolate misfit innovator (they usually are, misfits that is) in that remote region of the watery world, characterized by daunting distances between islands, proposed lashing together two fast, easily driven canoe hulls into a beamy raft shape, giving a new type of sailing craft with win-win features: the stability of a broad beam raft and the speed potential of slim canoe hulls.
A raft-like deck platform could house people while providing ample room to move about safely. Early European explorers reported that crew sailed from island to island with families, friends, lovers, singers and dancers in one joyous group — the ultimate seagoing party boat!
It’s rather amusing to note the design evolution of bluewater sailing vessels, in general. It says a lot about why some technologies win out over others in our hyper-competitive, male-dominated world.
The set of features one sees on today’s glossy, high-tech, fiberglass and carbon-fiber wonders was heavily influenced by racing. To sail closer to the wind, the sail rigs got higher.
Of course, higher rigs then had to be balanced with heavy ballast below the waterline — first rocks, then heavy iron, which became cheaper with industrialization.
To get even higher mast heights, the ballast gradually migrated from inside the hull downward into bulbs at the bottom of deeper keels.
As a side result, and not intended by design, modern lead-keeled monohull sailboats can claim to be ‘self-righting.’ Also not intended, modern lead-ballasted sailboats find their ultimate stability at the bottom of the ocean, if their hull integrity is ever breached.
Catamarans, on the other hand, would likely find themselves inverted (‘turtled,’ as some like to say) if Poseidon got overly abusive, but still afloat. This is not an ideal orientation for a boat, where any notion of progress is limited to drifting in a favorable direction, but still preferable to a watery grave distressingly far removed from a breathable atmosphere.
As we were rounding the bend, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the tips of Kalea’s twin masts poking up above the treetops, closely spaced together, as if the two unseen sailboat hulls were getting close and personal down behind the foliage. A quick turn-of-the-tiller later and Kalea’s long slender twin hulls came into full view.
Gorgeous. She was the nautical expression of grace, courage, and confidence. I felt lucky to be a part of her world for the next two weeks. She was exquisite.
We pulled up just behind the large rectangular trampoline netting that spanned the twin hulls at her stern, tied up the dinghy to the aft crossbeam, released the boarding ladder suspended from the netting and scrambled aboard and onto her expansive bamboo deck.
“Geez Bob, you really built this floating football field yourself?”
“Sure did, with the help of a few friends. Started four years ago to the day. Shall we snoop around a bit?”
Bob couldn’t wait to show her off.
I noticed a small, curious extension on one of the hulls at the stern. It did not seem to serve a purpose of any kind.
When I asked Bob about it, he recounted an ancient Hawaiian saga that told of a spirit announcing his desire to go along when a canoe was embarking on a voyage from Hawaii. Informed by the chief that there was no room, the spirit leapt from shore to a small projection, which he found at the stern, and rode along there.
That projection has become a traditional feature in Hawaiian canoes, as a place where an invisible but benevolent ancestral spirit can hitch a ride on long passages.
Now I have never known my old friend Captain Bob to give much thought to spiritual matters — ocean sailing providing all the sublime mystery, wonder, and terror that his blessedly simple existence could take — but he thought it best to include a special place aboard for a well-meaning spirit, ‘well … just in case.’ “After all,” he explained, “the insurance only amounted to a few extra hours of labor.”
Kalea, Hawaiian for ‘filled with joy,’ was a twin-masted sailing schooner. Her overall length was 65 feet, with a waterline length of 55 feet, which meant she could easily slice her way through the waves at 10 knots under typical wind conditions in the South Pacific.
Her beam was just over 30 feet and, with draft amidships of only four feet, could pull up close to any beach and allow passengers to hop off the bow trampoline in waist-deep water.
Her sailing rig was a balanced Wingsail schooner design, a simple but very aerodynamically efficient sail configuration. Her decking was made of bamboo — Nature's magnificent low cost, renewable wonder-fiber.
Each hull, tapering at the bow and stern, had five compartments. From fore to aft they included: a forward single cabin, a forward double cabin, a large compartment for a bathroom (in the starboard hull) and a galley (in the port hull), a rear double cabin, and a rear single cabin.
Behind the last single cabin, the hull narrowed to a V-shaped stern where a beefy wooden rudder was rope-laced securely to a metal-reinforced stem.
The male cast members would stay in cabins in the starboard hull, and all the women, including Chef Lua, would use the cabins in the port hull.
Bob and I would remain on deck at all times (except when ‘nature calls’ demanded a visit to the head) to be available immediately, should an all-hands-on-deck moment ever occur during our seven-day ocean adventure.
We would alternate sleeping on the bunk in the tiny, enclosed pilothouse centrally located on the expansive wooden deck. All meals would be served on deck under a large protective canvas awning.
The simple furniture included portable camping tables and folding beach chairs — lashed down, if necessary.
We heard a sweet voice sing out from the water just behind stern of the boat, as if emanating from a wave. The ‘Mister’ part was monotone and ‘Bo-ob,’ followed in a more singsongy fashion, jumping tones with each syllable, as if a doorbell was calling out the name.
Bob smiled and confidently proclaimed,
Chef Lua >