North Minerva

Donald Begg
Fri 18 Nov 2016 03:52
Not feeling great on Saturday morning, a bit of a skirmish with Moctezuma.
But no hurry, the plan is to sail as far as North Minerva Reef and take
fresh stock of the weather there. N Minerva is 250 miles from Tonga, so two
easy days, sail after lunch on Saturday and be there on Monday afternoon.
Moctezuma seemed to be weakening by 2 pm, so at 3pm I weighed and sailed out
through the reefs in a light breeze, encouraged by "Shandon", the other
Bowman, who had sailed at 1 pm with the odd chortle of "what's keeping
you?". The breeze was enough for 4 knots under yankee alone down the lovely
Egeria Channel. It's supposed to be buoyed, but not a buoy did I see, it
would have been a little hairy without an electronic chart.
Once at sea the wind dropped, and that was the story for 36 hours, a little
bit of sailing, some motor-sailing, modest progress. By Tuesday morning
there were still 100 miles to go, so clearly we're not going to make it
today, and then the wind picked up and we were doing 7 knots in a lumpy sea.
But that's too late to be any good, because we can't get into Minerva in the
dark, so now I'm reefing and trying to slow the boat down. The result was
that we were 10 miles off Minerva at midnight, at which stage I hove to in
order to await daylight. I haven't tried heaving to in this boat before. How
do you heave to in a cutter with a self-tacking staysail? See me in the bar
afterwards! It was satisfyingly comfortable, so much so that when I got up
at the planned hour of 5 am I made a quick decision, no need for such hurry,
and went back to my bunk for another half hour.
The approach to Minerva is spooky. You can't see the reef until very close,
but there, in the middle of the South Pacific, you see the masts of yachts
clearly at anchor. It doesn't take imagination to see why Minerva was
avoided like the plague in the days before GPS. With Navionics the entrance
was easy to find and, for the record, our position was spot on and we could
have done it at night if necessary.
Minerva is a coral atoll, 5 miles in diameter, with a navigable lagoon and
good holding in the middle. It gives shelter from the waves, if not the
wind. At high tide all you can see is breakers over the reef. At low tide
the coral appears. I took the dinghy and had sort of a walk on a pinkish
moonscape surrounded by turquoise sea. Lobster catching is reputed to be a
rewarding pastime, I didn't try it. It's said to be quite sharky, so
swimming loses its appeal. I didn't see any sizeable fish, but one ray the
size of a coffee table flopped slowly past the boat.
There are some 25 yachts here, all of us waiting for a low to pass by
between us and NZ. Saturday seems to be the likely day for departure, it
will be like crowds leaving a football match. On Thursday afternoon we were
visited an RNZAF Orion which made several low passes and broke our monotony, it's been a few years since I last saw one of them.
Best wishes to all, Donald.