May 312012
 

Sorry to everyone who was worried about us on our trip up to Fiji. We’d planned on stopping at North Minerva Reef for a couple of days on the way up, but were having too good a time. We ended up going to both South and North Minerva Reefs and spending a total of 10 days out there. Check out the post down below for the details. Here’s a photo album with some more of our adventures:

That’s right. I shaved on the second day of the passage, but don’t worry it’s already filling back in.

Also Ricky’s got a blog up and running now. Check out www.svguavajelly.com for more pics and stories.

 Posted by at 10:02 am
May 312012
 

Ricky, Mercedes and I all checked out and ready to leave New Zealand:
RickyMercyJasonCustoms

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:
SouthMinerva

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:
MercyTuna

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:
GuavaNZ

Guava meeting up with us 400 miles offshore:
GuavaRendezvous

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:
SteeringOar

Mercedes sewing up the UV cover on the jib:
MercySewing

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:
MercyTuna

Migration anchored at South Minerva:
MercyTuna

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:
SouthMinervaWeather

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:
SouthMinervaCoral

Mercedes has a real knack for whipping up 6 course meals:
MercyJasonLunch

Bruce, Mercedes, Eileen and Ricky sitting down to crayfish crepes on Migration:
BruceMercyEileenRicky

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:
JasonYellowfin

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:
MercyRig

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:
SnorkelGroup

White tip outside the reef in North Minerva:
NorthMinervaShark

Ruins of a failed attempt to build a structure on North Minerva:
NorthMinervaRuins

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!!!!

 Posted by at 9:32 am
May 072012
 

Beach at Mimiwhangata
MimiBeach

The leaves are falling off the trees and there’s woodsmoke in the air. Sure signs that I’ve stayed in New Zealand too long. Cyclone season officially ended a week ago. There was one mediocre weather window last week. Another one will be opening up Wednesday evening or Thursday. It doesn’t look that great, but I’m anxious to get Bodhran back up to the tropics. I have all four of my blankets on my bed. I’m going to have to start adding sleeping bags if I don’t leave soon.

Rick had to fly home to take care of some business, so I’ve spent most of the last month cruising solo. After spending just over a month waiting for Asus to replace a fried motherboard on my new laptop, I finally made it down the Hatea River and out of Whangarei about a month ago. The forecast had been for 35 knot southwesterlies and it was no time to leave, but I was anxious to be underway again. So I moved halfway down the river and hid in the nook off Parua bay for a few days. Once the wind settled a bit, I had a beautiful sunny downwind sail up to Mimi-whangata where I spent almost a week hiking, taking pics, and getting some painting done on Bodhran. After an abysmal March, it was the best little bit of sunny weather that I’ve had all (austral) summer.

Mimiwhangata
Mimiwhangata

More Mimiwhangata
Mimiwhangata

Me at Mimiwhangata
Mimiwhangata

I’d wanted to move up to Whangamumu after that, but the forecast was calling for northeast winds to fill in. I decided to make it around Cape Brett and into the Bay of Islands before they did. Two days later I found myself back in civilization anchored off Opua. I set out walking around trying to find out about a weekly music session that Dave on Sidewinder had told me about. Of course it’s just a bunch of guys playing at a house up on the hill and there’s nothing posted about it. Fortunately this Scottish ex-pat, Rachael, recognized me as I was walking by the Opua Community Hall. She’d seen me playing at the Irish Pub down in Whangarei and invited me up to the house jam on Friday night. It always amazes me when these coincidences occur.

Pic a French catamaran took of Bodhran near Cape Brett
BodhranSpin

The next day (Friday), I ended up meeting a couple of woofers ( woofing = working on organic farms, a cheap way of traveling where you trade labor for room and board ) in the marina parking lot. Dave, from Wales, is a guitar player and aspiring sailor. His partner Kerttu, from Estonia, was really keen on getting out sailing as well. After a few rounds of beers out on Bodhran I invited them up to the music night that I was going to and to head out into the islands for a few days afterward.

Dave and Kerttu on Urupukapuka Island
DaveKertu

It was a lot of fun having a couple of people really psyched on sailing on board. Kerttu, Dave and I spent 5 days out in the Bay, sailing, hiking, fishing and playing some music. They had to get moving on and I wanted to go to the music night again, so Thursday morning we went back in to Opua and they hitched their way to Kawakawa. The weather was looking like it would be good for the following week and I really enjoyed having some crew with me. So I moved up to Paihia, the tourist hub for the Bay of Islands. I put up a flyer offering free day sails at 3 of the backpackers (hostels). As I was walking around town, I saw an interesting looking tattoo parlor and decided that it was time to add to my Maori tattoo. The artists weren’t in, but I set up an appointment the next day.

I had two tattoos on my leg. One from Huihine in the Society Islands and the other from Whangarei. They are both pretty meaningful to me, but they didn’t fit together well. I asked Lani, the tattoo artist to tie the two together. I told him about my father passing this last year and my new energy and exuberance with my diet and life changes. He ended up embellishing the original Maori tattoo to fit the style of my Tahitian turtle and added a Maori guardian figure and a new lifeline between the two original pieces to tie it all together. I’m really happy with the result. I’m sure that my Mom is shuddering a bit as she reads this, but I’ve now got half of my lower leg done. I’d like to eventually fill the whole lower leg with different tats from Polynesia, but we’ll see. I’d forgotten how much they hurt and I probably won’t be ready for another one for a while.

Lani plying his trade
LaniJason

Can’t get the whole picture in one shot these days, but this is the new bit
Tat

My flyers at the backpackers ended up getting 4 responses, but I only got two of them out sailing. The day after getting my leg done, I took a couple of young Scots, Mercedes and James out to the Black Rocks on a beautiful downwind run. We weaved our way through the rocks to a nice little anchorage where we stopped to get a little fishing in. We caught a few snapper, but only one keeper. We were only 5 miles out of Paihia, so I pulled up the hook an hour before sunset thinking we’d be back in plenty of time. Of course the wind was blowing 30 right on the nose by the time we got around the rocks and back into the bay. To make matters worse, the tide was ebbing. Fortunately I know the Bay well enough to be comfortable sailing back in the dark. We bashed into a good head sea for an hour until the sun went down and the wind went with it. It took us another two hours to tack our way under a ¾ moon into the anchorage off Paihia while taking a slug off a bottle of scotch on each tack to keep hypothermia at bay.

James and Mercedes sailing by the Black Rocks
JamesMercedes

I’ve met up with Mercedes a few times since our sail. She’s done some work on delivery crews and aspires to get into cruising and ocean racing. I’ve really enjoyed having some fresh, enthusiastic people around the last few weeks. Mercy’s excitement for sailing and eagerness to learn is hard to resist, so I’ve invited her to sail with me up to Fiji. I’ve never taken on crew that I didn’t know before, but I’ve got a good feeling and I’m sure it’ll work out well.

Rick made it up here a couple of days ago. We’ve both been finishing up our pre-departure maintenance and getting ready to leave. Hopefully the window will open this week and my next blog post will be coming from Savusavu, Fiji. It’ll probably take 10-14 days depending on weather and whether we decide to stop off at Minerva Reef on the way.

 Posted by at 5:27 pm