Minerva Reef

What a fascinating place. Cruisers everywhere love to talk about it as if they’ve reached Nirvana once there. Nirvana; it is not. Fascinating it is.

We arrived in the early am. The only entrance for boats is on the W side and quite easy to transit. I wouldn’t do it at night, even having a gps track. There are no man made navigational aids in the channel. In daylight you can see the reef shallows. At night not. Further; at night you don’t see any of the eddies from water flowing out of the lagoon.

Waves breaking on the outside of the reef.

And water is always flowing out of the lagoon. Slower during High Tide and faster during Low Tide. That’s because while the volcano rim acts as a fringing reef it is not high enough above the surf break to keep water out. Twenty four hours per day waves are breaking against and over the reef all the way around.

And for us; anchored anywhere in the lagoon provides plenty of slop. Generally there are 2 High Tides and 2 Low Tides per day. With the low tides the wave breaks on the outer rim of the volcano washing over the top. There is constant flow of water over the top but limited wave action gets through. This flow of water reaches the inside lip and there we have a constant 1-2’ water fall. The sounds of the waves against the reef or the water fall is 24/7. Not what one would think of as … peaceful!

During High Tide the waves and seas break against the outer rim still. The main energy is taken away and spread over a larger area. This energy continues with the smaller waves inside the lagoon. The smallish waves create a constant washing machine. The motion wasn’t bad enough to keep us away but it was down right annoying.

Remember – I complained about no shake downs. Three of our items never checked are; the dinghy, the 15hp engine and the 2 1/2 hp engine. There are more items still not checked but here those are the ones important. Besides that; we prefer to not travel off shore with gasoline on board. This left us at the mercy of other cruisers. Fortunately Art and Nancy from sv Second Wind were kind enough to share their dinghy ride to the top of the volcano rim and to do a day’s snorkeling.

They day after we arrived we were lucky. Those in the lagoon were lucky. The Tongan Navy arrived and said they had planned to do some war games here. Every yacht would need to move to S. Minerva. Yuck! They never told us. South Minerva is 30 nm S of where we are and not as well protected from the seas. Moving there requires motoring into the winds and the seas. I said we were lucky. One of the yachts here was a leader in the rally from New Zealand to Tonga. The rally had planned a stop in North Minerva and they had permission from the Tongan King! Whew. When they informed the Navy of the Kings permission they asked the sailors to clear the change with the Tongan King. Wisely the sailors might be in their interest to play the war games at South Minerva. Sometimes we are lucky. Sometimes.

A wide reef top at N. Minerva

The top of the rim was wider than I would have guessed. We arrived; secured the dinghy and stepped up to a river of ocean water flowing into the lagoon. Depth; about 1-2 feet. In reality Lewis (Quizotic Charters) told me to look for lobsters under the coral bommies on the volcano rim. We all were hoping for a nice haul. All were disappointed. I looked, Art looked, W/ looked. Nancy and Keith (sv Sadiqi) were smart enough to not be too enamored with looking. We were snookered. None, Nada, Zip.

We had always heard how abundant lobsters were here. Ha! You could fool me. I guess it’s like land in Arizona or Florida; how wonderful and “cheap” it is. That is …until you try to live there or build there.

Wendy, Keith, Nancy, and Art

We didn’t find lobsters there. What we found was a world of constant motion. Water flowing over the rim as a stream over shallows. At low tide the waves broke on the outside of the volcano rim and wash atop of it. The flow was continuous to the lagoon. During high tide it was rougher and a bit deeper over the rim. Yet the reef broke up the seas to a barely tolerable action such that one could hide inside in relative safety. We’ve friends that have stayed anchored in winds up to about 40 kts. I wouldn’t want to be there then. That however doesn’t mean it is unsafe. Uncomfortable maybe, not unsafe. The winds were changing to the east so we moved from the S lee to the E lee. There we would spend another couple of days watching the weather and looking for passage N.

After returning to the boats another fellow cruiser stopped by. They gifted a HUGE Lobster each to sv Second Wind and us. How sweet it is. They are lobster fishermen from the S. Island in NZ and I guess they mostly have had enough anyway. That evening everyone arrived at our boat to share in the feast. Yum!

Daily we looked for weather window heading to New Cal but Mother Nature was having none of it. Time and again we would think this was it and prepare to go. Time and again, David from Gulf Harbor Radio and the GRIBS would say “oh-oh”. A Low is forming between New Cal and Fiji or there is a mean frontal system that is arriving there in the next couple of days. We waited.

After being in Minerva for over a week, limited on what we could do, looking for a way out, we made a sacrifice. We decided we would burn the diesel if need be and motor to…. Fiji That opportunity to motor came and we left. Fiji it is.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

Leaving NZ

Over half way. And it wasn’t an easy half. Sailing in the mid latitudes is not fun. We had been informed by a retired meteorologist that if we made it N of 30 S we would be for the most part on the up and up. Not so. Here too is where not having an adequate shake down enters the equation.
We were N of 30. Listening on the SSB that am we were informed that we would have two fronts pass over us. For most of us tropical and sub tropical sailors that means an hour or so of crappy weather and then fair winds. Not here.
The first front wasn’t bad at all. I turned down wind, pulled the sails flat and ran with it for an hour. Once it had passed we came back on course. Four hours later a second front crossed our path. And it was nasty. Maybe; I ought to say NASTY !
We saw it coming. I reefed the mainsail and we furled some jib. The winds struck and if you ever heard of heavy air; that is what it was. The colder, dense air in the higher latitudes can be more problematic. Less than an hour later I reefed our main again. I couldn’t put the third reef in because I didn’t have the lines run. Remember: shakedown!
The winds kept increasing. Without the third reef heaving to in this stuff wouldn’t work. By now we had pulled in the headsail and I had up the staysail. Time to reef that. I went forward to reef it and I didn’t have it rigged right. I needed a snap shackle on the clew instead of a D shackle. I got the clew pulled down but couldn’t get the sail set right. Now this is where memory is sketchy. I didn’t ease the outhaul on the stay sail so getting it down and setting of the reef didn’t work. Frustrated and with the wind speed still increasing I furled the sail. We were moving faster than I wanted to go but with only the main up it was manageable. I’m glad we had the new main built heavier than the last and glad we had full battens. For the most part it was setting pretty and the wind vane was doing all the work steering.
I cleaned up around the deck. Some lines had freed themselves from the belaying pins and I secured them. After cleaning up the deck I hid behind the dodger. We don’t have a high latitude boat. We don’t have a “Florida room” as I like to call it. High latitude boats generally have an enclosed cockpit. Most of the NZ boats have enclosed cockpits I call…. “Florida Rooms”.
I use to laugh at boats with Florida rooms. Not any more. I understand the need. Th the cold wind, the wind chill can easily be deadly. This front stayed around for about 10 hours. Never in our 35k miles of sailing had we had conditions like that and as is often the case, a good part of it was in the dark. One improvement that worked awesome was our new spreader lights. The forward deck light and spreader lights made deck work quite safer. There was not doubt about where things were; what I could do even in the blowing rain. By midnight things had eased a bit and we pulled out some jib continuing our course N.
As a side note; the vessel Second Wind was about 60 nm from us and they didn’t have any of this frontal event. I say didn’t have any; I believe they said they had a slight wind increase but nothing memorable.
As the day wore on the winds slowly disappeared. W/ wasn’t happy because if we tried to keep sailing that put Minerva another day away. Once we were below 4 kts it was time to start the engine. Generally neither of us complain about sailing at 3-4 kts. But North and South Minerva can be dangerous sailing near them at night.
During high tide nothing above the water is visible. I doubt one would even see the breaking waves. There is a light on each reef but the chart doesn’t say how high it is. At least my three charting programs didn’t. Knowing the height of the light and the placement will guide you in how far away from it you are. After visiting Minerva I would say it is about 15’ above sea level and not all that bright. Tonga is responsible for the lights but I have a feeling they are maintained by the NZ Navy.
We needed to pass S Minerva in the day light. At least that was my wish and then enter N Minerva in day light. Attempting a night pass passage was not prudent even if one has a gps track. With the engine running we could manage our speed better and our entry time as well.
However; as mentioned in our previous post our engine temp was still a bit problematic. W/ was worried, knowing if we had to sail the arrival could well be dangerous. I started the engine and just as before, it rose to the correct operating temp and then kept climbing. I shut it down and waited 15 minutes. Once the temp fell below the normal operating temp I started it again and viola’ ! The operating temp moved into the correct range and we were off.
Now we switched from wind vane steering to our tiller pilot pushing the arm of the vane. We powered for a good half day and finally there was enough breeze to sail. A few hours sail, then back to powering. I ran through the starting method that worked and Minerva was our destination.
We passed S Minerva earlier than I wished but I did pick up the light on it. I stayed about 2 miles off the edge; closer than I wanted. By all appearances we were fine. 30 nm further N was N Minerva. Arriving in the late morning we could see some boats anchored. We tried calling Second Wind on the radio. We could barely hear them. We were using our hand held VHF as it seems our mast mounted antenna or the bigger boat VHF isn’t transmitting properly. Did I complain about a lack of a shakedown yet ! 🙂
As we got closer the communication was clearer and we could see the entrance and checked our charts for a match. . For the most part it was easier than some of the passes in the Tuamotus. I could see a few eddies as water flowed out of the lagoon but nothing enough to physically move the boat about. W/ powered right on in.
We had been told to drag a line entering the lagoon and the fish there will grab anything. Earlier in the day we had a small fish hitch a ride and ran a hook through it. Who ever told us must be a real-estate broker in Florida because it was a tall tale and we didn’t even get a nibble.
45 minutes later we were anchored in the lee of the S part of the volcano rim and ready for a good sleep. That was not to be. Art and Nancy offered to make lunch for us; and even to pick us up. W/ couldn’t refuse so we spent lunch with them sharing tall tales. . After, we returned to Elysium with the goal of counting stars from our berth. A great night sleep was honestly earned.
Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long
ps  As mentioned earlier I will move this to the correct date after a day or so. It is out of order so anyone wishing to check up on our blog will see it first. Cheers….