Believe it or not, you do not “need” a license, training, or a certification to sail a boat. You can buy a boat and just go. Interesting in that you need a license to fly a plane, drive a car, and rent a scooter. With that said, we have seen disaster after disaster at sea on the reef!
We made friends with Dominique, the owner / operator of Raiatea Yacht Carenage, when we hauled out Sugar Shack in 2020 (see blog post). His tug company, Raiatea Carenage Tug Services, has recovered 142 yachts off the main barrier reef and well over 200 lagoon groundings over the last 32 years. About 10-11 boats a year! He said “some years we have no boats on the reef and other years we have 10 boats. During a hurricane year, he retrieved 11 boats in week. It is very variable.”
Over a two-month period, August to September 2021, Dominique recovered 4 boats. Two sailboats in Huahine, one large power cat in Makemo and a sailing cat off of Tahiti. I’m super happy that he is busy and putting lots of locals to work. He is also cleaning up the mess and minimizing the damage to reefs. However, it is devasting to see so many disasters in such a short period of time.
In August, the first catamaran ran aground outside of Huahine when the captain fell asleep. Luckily this boat did not sit for long and was fairly easy to retrieve with not a significant amount of damage to the reef. This is a local charter boat. I added the smiley face to keep the company name private.
Then a few weeks later, a large power catamaran ran aground in Tuamotus (over 400nm away from Raiatea). This was a beautiful power cat that when discovered was already listing severely to port. Dominque’s expertise salvaged this yacht and transported it all the way back to Raiatea where he will put her back together.
The owner requested no publicity so I cannot post the dramatic photos.
Disaster Hits Huahine Again
About a week later, a sailing monohull, whom we knew and encountered several times over the years, ran aground in Huahine. Unfortunately, our encounters were less than pleasant each time. They had the uncanny ability to disrespect the locals and authorities where ever they went. Which is amusing as this is a Christian “teaching boat.” The owner charges a fee to each student to teach them how to sail.
Long story short, he had a new group of students, they were moving during confinement (illegal), and he went to sleep just before arriving the pass at night (unusually unwise). Then disaster strikes and they run aground. All 8 passengers had to be rescued by helicopter and taken ashore at night.
He did not have insurance and did not have the money to pay to remove the boat from the reef. The boat sat on the reef for a few weeks, moving and destroying more and more coral with each passing wave. The French Government told the owner to come up with the money or be faced with charges. Supposedly, the church helped him pay for the recovery. Which upsets me even more that church donations were used for this boat recovery instead of feeding and clothing the congregation.
Raiatea Carenage Tug Services is deployed to come to the rescue. Not only do they deploy this beautiful tug boat, but they bring a small tender, a jet ski, and another large power boat. All tricks of the trade used to recover boats off the reef.
After all that time, the boat aground, the boat did severe damage to the reef (see top photo where there is a white line). That is the boat’s trail of destruction.
Dominique’s team has to risk their life trying to save this boat. They fight huge waves and current while walking on unstable ground. They take smaller boats and a jet ski out to the wreck. Look at the worker in red under the boat on the bottom photo.
The damage to the yacht is substantial.
During the recovery, the team worked in horrific conditions. Enormous waves pounding the boat causing her to pop up and slam down on the reef. Causing more and more damage to the yacht and the reef. Despite heroic efforts, the boat sustained severe damage causing a 1-meter square hole in the aft part of the boat and then promptly sank 700 meters into the sea. Lost to Neptune.
Just a few days after the team returned back to the yard, another boat went aground in Tahiti. It just seems to never end. Yet another catamaran ran aground off the coast of Tahiti.
Unfortunately, most of these disasters could be avoided. If only the captain and crew would stay alert and awake and use the abundant charts available to cruisers. Yes, accidents happen. Yes, weather can be a huge contributor. But the boat wrecks mentioned in this blog were all due to user error.
A beautiful Outreimer went aground after a particularly heavy storm. This beautiful boat took on a lot of water. Dominique was able to retrieve the boat off the reef and place her in the old military basin in Hao.
Makes me eternally grateful for Matt’s incredible diligence as our ship’s captain. When we are under way, we take shifts to ensure we don’t fall asleep. We are also running multiple charts including: Gamin, C-Map, Open CPN, and 3 different satellite earth views to ensure we never have a disaster occur. God willing we continue to be as blessed.
In the last blog, we rent eBikes and circumnavigate the entire island of Mo’orea. Events from this blog post occurred during August and September. Our blog posts run 10-12 weeks behind our adventures.