Friday, November 02, 2012

Minerva Reef

It's been fun here at Big Mama's (Pangaimotu Island, Kingdom of Tonga) but now it's time to get things ready for the passage to New Zealand...engine oil change, getting some bugs out of the computer, cleaning the bottom, and preparing some offshore meals (our favourites: 4-bean salad and chili.)

We motored over to the Nuku'alofa harbour for a top-up of duty free fuel then back. After almost all the voyage prep jobs were done, we finally had time to snorkel around and through the wreck in front of Big Mama's and saw lots of fish and even some black coral.

1 of 2 wrecks very close to Big Mama's

On October 30th at 13:23, we sailed out of the harbour, through some tidal flowing narrows, around the east side of the big island, and set a course for North Minerva Reef. It was a 3-day run. At times, we were beating into the wind and waves leaving a zig zag line on our electronic chart.

We sailed through floating pumice from some distant underwater eruption. It was mostly as small as peas but we saw some as large as basketballs. It was usually in drifting beds that streaked the surface and we were concerned that it would (and did) get up into some of the through-hull openings. It was the worst just as we got close to Minerva Reef because Jordan thought the tide, at times, lifted it off the shallows of the Reef.

1 of several streaking beds of pumice

So who do the 2 reefs of North Minerva and South Minerva belong to? In 2005, Fiji claimed that they did not recognize any claims by the Kingdom of Tonga to Minerva Reef under a previous agreement and they lodged a complaint. Tonga lodged a counterclaim and the Principality of Minerva claimed to have lodged a counterclaim. In 2010 and again in 2011, the Navy of Fiji destroyed navigation lights at the entrance to Minerva Reef. A month later, 2 Tongan Navy ships replaced the lights, reasserting their claim. Fiji withdrew, hopefully averting a military conflict.

On November 2nd in the afternoon, we faintly spotted a cluster of masts at about the same time we discerned the ring of North Minerva Reef. There was not much to see, no islets, only rubble coral breaking the surface. We radioed in to the yachts at anchor for entry waypoints that safely found us our way through the pass, but not before Jordan caught a nice 15-kg yellow fin tuna.

Another fish story!

Once inside, it was dead calm as we motored over about 3 km (2 mi) to the far side of the lagoon and anchored (S23°39.641' W178°54.246') with the other yachts in 9 m (30 feet) of crystal clear water at 16:15. We could see our anchor and chain so clearly in the white sand bottom, just 60 m (200 feet) off the inside of the reef.

ANCHORED in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

Right away, Jordan cleaned the fish to the delight of a 6-foot black tip shark roaming around Sea Turtle and then radioed SV AKA to come over for some big fresh fillets.

1 comment:

VitiMother-Earth 1213 said...

Bula & Kia ora,
Stumbled on your piece on Minerva Reefs and found it fascinating. I am doing a scholarly project looking at Minerva ownership when i saw your link. Great story. Thank you.