We’re sure most of you have at least heard about this, and while we reported it on Feb 22, Ronnie Simpson takes a deep dive for you…
While not directly related to sailing, there is a complete shit show of a story unfolding in Hawaii that will ultimately impact sailors and deserves some coverage on this page. On the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui, arguably the crown jewel of the entire island – if not the whole state – is being threatened, and in more ways than one. A 94’ luxury power yacht weighing a whopping 120 tons has been hard aground on the reef at Maui’s Honolua Bay for more than a week now.
Deposited onto the reef completely due to the owner’s negligence and incompetence, the wreck amounts to has now escalated to the status of a major environmental disaster. Not only did the wreck happen in what is literally the worst location possible, it occurred at a very high tide, making it even harder to get off of the reef. With a moderate amount of swell now in the water at this world-class and very famous surfing location, the hull of the boat is now almost surely damaged beyond the point of being able to tow it off; even with float bags and pumps. It seems inevitable, to this writer at least, that the boat will eventually come off the reef in pieces, which will land another body blow to this culturally and economically significant location.
Here’s what is known: The yacht in question is a 2004 model Sunseeker 94 named the Nakoa, which had just recently been purchased in the Pacific Northwest and delivered down to Ensenada, Mexico before being shipped to Hawaii. The Nakoa had arrived in Hawaii about two months earlier and had begun running private charters out of Honolulu with the company Noelani Yacht Charters. Keen to use his new toy, Nakoa’s owner Jim Jones decided to go to Maui for a nice little group outing.
Against the advice of the boat’s regular Captain – who is a very, very highly respected local sailor and Captain – Jones opted to take the boat himself. It is important to note that Jones was not qualified to run the vessel without an experienced Captain on board who had been approved by the boat’s insurance provider. This would therefore render Nakoa’s insurance policy invalid. Once on Maui, Jones and his guests/ crew tied off to a public day-use mooring that was designed for visiting yachts and charter boats to tie off to, without having to drop an anchor and damage the Bay’s sensitive and pristine coral reefs.
While Jones publicly states that no one told him to move, it has been alleged to this writer that at least two local charter captains had in fact told Jones that his boat was too big for the moorings and that he wasn’t supposed to be there for more than 2.5 hours, let alone two days. Very early in the morning on February 20, the boat broke free and went walkabout in the Bay.
It ended up on the reef in the worst spot possible, at a very high tide; a very bad combination. Allegedly, the owner then kicked the boat into reverse by accident, instead of forward, which made the grounding even more severe. The reports that I have heard indicate that the mooring and it’s pendant are not visually damaged, nor is the mooring line itself. It seems that the boat simply came un-tied, as it was not properly tied up in the first place, and it’s likely that the owner Jim Jones did not inspect the securing of the mooring line.
Once the boat was aground, the owner immediately called the regular Captain to come bail him out, but the damage had already been done. Despite the best efforts of some pretty savvy people that have a lifetime of experience pulling boats off Hawaiian reefs, the boat was lodged in place. It was alleged to this writer that the fins of the stabilizers were ‘pinning’ the boat in place. Pretty quickly thereafter, the state came in and told everyone to fuck off, and that they had it under control.
What happened next is symbolic of anything boat related in Hawaii, as the situation became horribly mismanaged during the critical window in which the boat could have perhaps been removed from the reef with fewer resources. Federalizing the response, the boat would have to be stripped of any fossil fuels or potential contaminants before an attempt could be made to tow it away; an effort that went on for multiple days, and all but guaranteed the boat would get pinned on the reef even harder and more significantly holed.
Now, after more than a week of de-fueling and repeated salvage attempts that involved tractor tugs from Oahu and multiple snapped towing cables, the most recent attempts at rescue were delayed due to nuking winds and incoming swell. Unfortunately, the last few times that a tug boat managed to ‘pivot’ the boat, the cable snapped and the next set of waves put Nakoa back in its happy place of firmly pinned on the reef.
A protected bay that falls within the Honolua-Mokulē‘ia Bay Marine Life Conservation District, one can not even begin to describe to outsiders just how special Honolua is. For many years, Honolua Bay served as the final stop on the women’s World Championship surf tour. On an annual basis, a WORLD CHAMPION was crowned there. Honolua is a natural treasure and is a truly world-class right-hand point break that is a treasure to all who have access to it.
Every Labor Day, the Bay serves as Race HQ for Maui’s annual ‘Honolulu Return Race’, in which a fleet of racing sailboats anchor up the night before and then set a starting line in the Bay to begin their 81-mile downwind race back to Honolulu. In other races, Honolua is the windward mark, where you sail into a visually stunning and sacred place and then set a kite for a ripping tradewind-fueled surfing run back to Lahaina. And on a daily basis, the Bay serves as a stunning natural playground to thousands of visitors and locals alike.
In settled conditions, charter catamarans tie off to day-use moorings to drop off snorkelers and swimmers, local sailboats come and anchor up for a picnic and/ or a swim and a surf. And throngs of locals and tourists alike access the water daily from the multiple beaches, cliffs or trails that lead to the Bay. Simply put, one can not even exaggerate how significant and special this Bay is to locals on Maui, and to the immensely valuable tourism sector.
This is all in addition to the fact that Honolua is an incredibly special and again, protected marine sanctuary that is teeming with life and is sacred to Hawaiian culture. I have many memories of being startled while in the surfing line-up because the largest sea turtle I’ve ever seen had surfaced right next to me to grab a gulp of air, all the while whales were breaching outside and fish are all around. Only to then have a bomb come my way, and be able to paddle into it for another incredible ride. Honolua is nature on steroids.
Now that Bay is threatened, however, by the incompetence of an arrogant man and his big, fancy boat from the mainland. It’s a theme that has been played out time after time throughout Hawaiian history, and it’s one that doesn’t go over exceedingly well with the locals. In addition to the environmental price that poor Honolua Bay will have to pay as a result of having a 120-ton stinkpot destroying the reef, leaking diesel fuel and eventually getting cut up on the reef, it seems almost a certainty that local sailors will pay a price as well.
There are already widespread calls in the media to restrict the Bay to vessel traffic, charter operations, and more, and there is a perpetual anti-tourism movement by a large portion of the local population. As a former charter boat captain in Lahaina, I can testify firsthand that if the Bay (and other locations) were shut down to local charter interests and pleasure craft due to this incident, the economic impact would be very significant. No matter how you add it up, this incident is a tragedy that should have never happened. This is why we can’t have nice things.
As for Jim Jones, this latest incident may just be par for the course. As the Honolulu Civil Beat reports, “In recent years, Jones has run into legal trouble and was sued twice for failing to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans he took out to buy a yacht, according to court records. Before that, he was sued by the state for working as an unlicensed contractor. Noelani Yacht Charters did not respond to a call requesting comment.” Jones has reportedly denied to pay the $460,000 salvage bill racked up thus far, thereby putting the taxpayers on the hook, and only further increasing public sentiment against him.
What do you think? Jump into the active forum thread here. – Ronnie Simpson.