Ricky, Mercedes and I all checked out and ready to leave New Zealand:
It’s been 7 days since leaving Opua. We see the first breakers appear on the horizon a scant 2 miles away. It’s been a long night. The 25 knot wind on the beam has been jumping up to 35 knots in the squalls. The 15′ beam seas mostly slide under Bodhran’s hull, but occasionally one jumps up at the last second and douses the cockpit with 15-20 gallons of green water. We’ve pressed hard all night, but morning still found us 55 miles away from North Minerva Reef when I check in with the local sideband radio net at sunrise. Making 55 miles and getting through the narrow pass before dark would be a challenge, but luckily Bruce off Migration, a 46′ trimaran I’d met in Whangarei, piped up on the radio and invited us over for a wahoo dinner in South Minerva Reef a full 25 miles closer to our current position. 10 hours of daylight and only 30 miles to go. All thoughts of not making the pass and having to heave to for the night vanish as I adjust course for the closer reef.
Coming into South Minerva Reef:
South and North Minerva Reefs are the tops of extinct underwater volcanoes nearly 800 miles North of New Zealand and 430 miles SE of Fiji. At high tide the reefs are completely submerged, but are still shallow enough to break the ocean swell providing protection in their relatively shallow lagoons. We’d set out from New Zealand with the intention of just going to North Minerva Reef, but here we were just over 7 days out with the thin line of South Minerva off our starboard side as we maneuvered around the western side and into Herald Bight where the passage into the figure 8 shaped reef was located. Just as we were preparing to lower sail and motor in through the passage, the fishing line struck hard and the line began spooling clicking off. We had a moderate drag set on the reel and let the fish run and tire itself out whilst we rolled in the jib and got the engine going. Mercedes did all the hard work and a few moments later we had a nice 10 pound yellow fin tuna bouncing away on the side deck. Now we’d be able to contribute to the fish dinner of our own.
Mercedes and her first yellowfin tuna:
The passage up to the Minervas was pretty typical. We left on the back end of a low pressure system which gave us near gale force winds from the stern for the first day out. As the low passed the wind died off, leaving us with no wind by the 4th day out. Guava Jelly was able to keep in close contact the entire trip and we even had a little rendezvous as we motored along with no wind.
Guava Jelly is some big seas leaving New Zealand:
Guava meeting up with us 400 miles offshore:
It’d been 18 months since Bodhran had last been on passage, and I’d done a lot of work in the meantime. I’m happy to pronounce my hull to deck leak fixed and the new windows worked great. The steering oar to the windvane snapped off on the second day out. Fortunately it was attached by a retrieval line and I was able to get it back up and working. The UV cover to the jib also began to rip off during the big winds at the beginning of the trip. Mercy and I did some hand sewing underway and then ran it through the sewing machine when we anchored up in South Minerva. I still need to haul out somewhere and replace Bodhran’s cutlass bearing. I also need to pick the mast so I can finish installing the radar, but all in all Bodhran performed well and I’m happy with this years improvements/repairs.
Snapped steering oar from the windvane:
Mercedes sewing up the UV cover on the jib:
My words are inadequate to describe the experience of coming into one of the Minerva Reefs. We’d suffered through a couple of nights of heavy seas and had beat into fresh winds for 36 hours before that. Now we were navigating a smooth water channel outlined by the green coral shallows on either side. There’s no land. Squalls march across the horizon and a thick cloud cover hinders navigation. Breaking waves mark the perimeter of the reef almost 360 degrees around. You’re still in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but now you’re dropping the hook in 8 fathoms of water between Guava Jelly and Migration. At high tide the waves make it part way across the reef. Not proper ocean waves, but the slop left over from breaking on the shallows. As the tide goes out, the reef peeks through knocking all the power out of the waves and leaving the lagoon as calm as one could wish.
Guava anchored at South Minerva:
Migration anchored at South Minerva:
Guava Jelly was 15 miles ahead of us when we made the decision to divert to South Minerva. Fortunately he’d been listening to the net and had also diverted and come in 3 hours before us. Mercedes, Ricky and I skiffed over to Migration and had a celebratory landfall dinner though of course land was nowhere to be seen. Along with Grace and Riada II, a couple of Kiwi boats we spent the next 5 days exploring all South Minerva had to offer. We snorkeled inside and outside the reef. We walked up on the reef at low tide. The highlight was taking the dinghies over to the west lagoon at high tide. There’s no pass to the west lagoon, so as the tide went out, we were nearly stranded. We flew through narrow coral canyons propelled by the increasing current as the water over the reef got shallower and shallower.
Rex and Yvonne rowing back to Grace with a nasty squall coming in:
I’m not really happy with my new underwater camera, but here’s one of the better coral shots from south minerva. It really doesn’t do it justice:
Mercedes has a real knack for whipping up 6 course meals:
Bruce, Mercedes, Eileen and Ricky sitting down to crayfish crepes on Migration:
After 5 days on South Minerva, the weather cleared and we had a beautiful 25 mile day sail up to North Minerva Reef. Still a degree south of the Tropic of Capricorn, it finally felt like we were in the trade winds with a warm sun and puffy cumulus clouds scattered across the horizon. We flew the spinnaker most of the way finally taking it down so that we could make a pass along the reef to try for another fish. It took a couple of turns, but I landed a 20lb yellowfin an hour before sunset and we headed through the well defined pass and into the reef.
The yellowfin that kept Bodhran, Migration and Guava stuffed on sashimi for days:
There was one boat already in the lagoon, but oddly enough they were anchored just to the north of the pass. With the wind out of the Southeast, there was 2 miles of fetch across the lagoon leaving them in what seemed to be an uncomfortable spot. Mercy and I motored the the South end of the lagoon and dropped anchor in 7 fathoms, soon to be joined by Guava and Migration. Within a couple of days there would be 18 boats in this corner of this reef in the middle of nowhere.
Mercedes keeping watch for coral heads coming into North Minerva:
We spent another 5 days at North Minerva Reef. Bruce and Eileen took crews off the other boats aboard Migration for snorkeling and dive missions outside the reef. Merkava and Sidewinder, more friends from Whangarei joined in the fun. Dinners were had, music was played, fish were caught and memories were made. The only problem was the weather. All 5 days were filled with strong winds and squalls. The wind waves inside the lagoon were enough to ensure a good soaking whenever you skiffed from one boat to another. Finally after 10 days between the Minervas, it was time to get up to Fiji.
Getting ready to go snorkeling/diving from Migration:
White tip outside the reef in North Minerva:
Ruins of a failed attempt to build a structure on North Minerva:
Bodhran was the first to get her hook up out of the coral sand and make her way out the pass, but soon we were being passed left and right by faster, more modern boat. The weather at North Minerva was going to turn and everyone had the same idea. We all had a brilliant sail with 25 knots on the stern quarter and as the sun went down, the horizon lit up with nav lights in every direction. Eventually the fleet spread out and the wind died off. We ended up motoring the last 30 hours into Savusavu. Let the Fijian adventures begin!!!!