The Passage to Minerva Reef

Steve and Lynda Cooke
Fri 8 Jun 2018 01:27
24:00S 179:12W
We continued North East, with the wind on our beam, making good speed out into the Pacific Ocean, headed as much east as we could easily put into our course, knowing we would have to turn and head North when the wind came round eventually. We have another 5 days of sailing to get to Minerva reef.
1st June the weather fell during the night, gradually reducing to below 10 knots in flaky gusts, so engine on and continue out on our heading. We come across another boat. Amazing really, three days out into the blue Pacific, and suddenly 'KatyM', a Canadian couple who had the broadest Liverpool accents. They had problems with their charging systems, and were running low on power, so we offered any help to them, but they were waiting for some advice from New Zealand, so we stayed close in  convoy over the next couple of days. They managed to improve their situation, so they could get some charge into their batteries with their wind-generator.
Great to have some company, as we were keeping a similar course and speed.
The seas swell and waves reduced, to a swell of less than 1 meter, and we could enjoy the passage, eating, reading, relaxing, sleeping over the next couple of days, we crossed from 180 degrees, East to West, across the international date line without any visible difference, just that we had moved into yesterday from today, suddenly we were the last point on the earth to see the sunset instead of the first.
The only complication for our charts being that the Kingdom of Tonga decided a few years ago to join New Zealand and Fiji on the Eastern time zone, moving their clocks forward one hour, and their calendars forward by a day, even though they sit on the Eastern side of the International date line. This means calculations of dates are mixed up, and the chart plotter always wrong by a day.
Nice that we were working in hours at last, instead of days.....
It was too good to be true.
We were warned of a 'trough' developing on our route to Tonga.
Fair enough, it came, on the 1st of June. For the next 24 hours the wind increased and backed, with the sea increasing again to 3 meter waves and white horses crashing over the top of us. We reefed down again, and beat into it at an angle of 45 degrees off the wind. Balancing the main and staysail meant we had no pressure on the steering, so Nina coped really well, sailing with autopilot on 'wind'. The biggest gusts meant we accelerated up to 8 knots hull speed, and when it reduced down to 25 to 30 knots, we were slowed to a speed of about 4 to 5 knots. The waves hit the side of the boat on the bow, and the crests crashed down over the top of our coach-roof. We started to spring leaks where we had never had leaks before, and our hatch on our coach-roof and somewhere behind our galley cupboards decided to start to let in sea water. We knew how far we were leaning over, as the drips were landing on the saloon side cushion, where we put the bowl to catch them. Its not just the size of the waves, but also the frequency, with them coming very quickly together.
In the dark, with no moon, howling wind, and torrential rain, waves crashing over the top of the boat, It felt exactly like throwing yourself down a flume at a water slide at maximum velocity.
Unable to stand, cook or boil a kettle, we survived the next day with snacks, crisps, ready-made sandwiches from the freezer, and we had a duvet day, watching  DVD's and snoozing as we continued on our passage towards Minerva reef. We are both still covered in bruises, Lynda winning the prize for the biggest one, falling over on our (cold, thank goodness) kettle and breaking it with her bum.
At about 03.00 hrs on Sunday 3rd, after 24 hours of storm, the wind started to recede again, and we had to resort to the motor again, to finish our journey to South Minerva Reef.
We arrived at midday, the swell being just reduced enough to let us slip in through the dog-leg entrance between the bommies and reef entrance.
Peace and total relaxation at last, dropping the anchor in 15 meters, watching the swell all around the surrounding reef. 3 to 4 thousand meters of Pacific Ocean depth disappears to nothing as the reef rises up out of the ocean, with a little spot of some hundreds of yards of reef, no island or sand or anything to see, except complete calm in the middle of the ocean. so clear and clean, the water a beautiful blue colour, all the way down to the sand and coral on the bottom of the reef.
Other boats, who had arrived at the reef went wading on the reef at night to catch lobsters, or swam with the sharks inside the reef.
We were happy to have the roast lamb dinner we had been dreaming about, with all the trimmings, veggies, gravy and mint jelly.... and a bottle of red wine. delicious, and we just collapsed
We continued the next day, rested and calm, the wind having dropped and the swell down to less than a meter.
Tonga was three days motoring away, but we were happy to motor all the way in very light winds.