Monday, 26 October 2015

Lay days in Minerva

Alisa wrote to us the other day from the Beagle channel: "It can be a long ride from Tonga to NZ - did North Minerva Reef tempt you?"

Our email correspondence may never again be so exotic.

Well, yes Alisa, we're here, inside that lonely, lovely lagoon, but the incentive to divert was framed more as an imperative than a temptation by weatherman Bob McDavitt. We asked him for a weather update as we approached N. Minerva on Friday evening, having departed Vava'u on Wednesday morning. "YES, pop into Minerva," came the quick reply. The front originally mentioned had developed into a low, he wrote, with SW gales and big SW seas on its western side. Oh.

We weren't thrilled. We were in the groove, our passage-making mindset locked in place, our watch and sleep patterns established. The sailing thus far had been pretty good. But we were paying MetBob to tell us things we couldn't learn from the grib files, and we didn't argue.

We entered the pass on Saturday morning, in brilliant sunshine. You've maybe read about this place. A ring of coral about one-third of the way from Tonga to NZ, with a clear cut giving access to largely obstacle-free waters inside. You drop your hook in reasonable depths on white sand, and there you are, securely fixed to the seabed in the middle of the ocean, with Pacific rollers breaking onto the reef in a full circle around you. Surreal. Minerva is considered an all-weather anchorage yet there's not a skerrick of protective vegetation on the reef. At low tide, the coral is exposed, and at high tide it is covered by water. You have to trust the ancient volcanic rim standing between you and the pounding ocean will keep you safe.

There was one yacht anchored in the south-east "corner". We remembered Alisa and Mike's disbelief when a big fishing boat snuggled up to them when they were enjoying the solitude of Minerva - but hey, it couldn't hurt to say hi before we parked, could it? No-one was on board the Australian-registered State of Mind. We saw two figures walking on the reef, and a dinghy anchored off. We swung around, dropped our hook in 14 m of azure water onto the white sand and felt the boat pull up straight away. Our nervousness evaporated. Suddenly it seemed like a very good idea to divert to Minerva.

We've been here for four glorious days, mooching among the pools and channels on the reef at low tide, soaking up the colours, watching the big-screen cloud action - and getting to know the neighbours. Brenda and Rod on State of Mind have been cruising in these parts for 25 years, flipping between NZ, the Pacific islands and Australia. Good people to run into. They've been into Minerva several times - there was a tiger shark in the lagoon in June, they told Red, a web-footed hitchhiker aboard Penn Station, which sailed in through the pass a few hours after us. Red, rarely seen without a spear gun in his hand, has solved our small fishing problem. We now have fresh fish in the fridge AND the freezer. Thanks Red (aka Bear Grills).

It seems likely that we'll leave tomorrow. The weather on the passage route is far from settled, but we have reason to hope we can get into NZ before the next big front crosses Northland on November 4 (?). We won't be alone out there, which is always a good thing. Team Penn Station is rearing to go. Wiki and Nikki (let's just say they both look under 30) met in Seattle, racing against each other in their own boats. Rod and Alex have been there, done that, and line honours are beside the point, so they say. But where there are two boats....

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