So we have been sitting here at Minerva Reef for 10 days, moving back and forth between the south and north end as the winds dictate, but, finally now it is time to leave. There was a possible weather-window last weekend (Nov 11/12th) but it meant heading towards a nasty sub-tropical depression that would be just over the north coast of New Zealand at the end of that passage, today (Saturday). Knowing that the forecasts of the behavior of such lows can change over the week-long prediction needed for this passage, actual conditions could end-up being better or worse, earlier or later than anticipated.
Several boats left with the intention of going as fast as possible to arrive before the predicted high winds and big waves. SV Deveocean was in that group and we stayed in contact with Bavo by email the whole way. They had to motor-sail at times to maintain the 7 to 7.5 knot speed that they needed to arrive before today, and they just managed to get into Marsden Cove at 9 pm on Friday night. On the last day, they saw 37 knot winds and "impressive waves" and it was going to get worse. Our wave forecast for today showed 6.7 m (22 feet) waves just north of New Zealand. Yikes! We were so relieved to hear that Devocean had arrived safely, even if not comfortably, and we were very glad that we had not tried to catch that weather-window.
Our passage may require some motoring at the beginning and the end but there should not be anything too alarming on the way. We anticipate arriving in Marsden Cove a week from now (Saturday Nov 25th). This will put us at sea for the US Thanksgiving Day on Thursday but Randall has bravely accepted that we will try to get a turkey once we are in New Zealand. While we have plenty of food to get us through our passage, supplies of fresh produce have been running a bit low. Since such items cannot be brought into New Zealand, it is a bit of a balancing act to carry enough for this sort of delay, without having excess items that have to be surrendered to the Quarantine Officers. We gave a bag of mostly non-perishable items to one boat that was running low on food, having not anticipated this 10-day delay. There have typically been about 7 boats at North Minerva during our stay and we have not been lonely with Gail and Dean on Local Talent and Alex and Sarah on SV Bob with whom to share some evenings, and plenty of chatter (mostly about weather) on the VHF radio.
While 10 days in Minerva Reef would be joyous in good weather, we have had many days of clouds, rain, and strong winds, including gusts up to 34 knots. The sandy bottom provides good anchor-holding so the site feels relatively safe but it can be choppy or rolly when the tide is high and swell creeps over the submerged reef. Snorkeling is not particularly appealing in such conditions either so we have not been able to take full advantage of the clear water and extensive reef.
Eyeball to eyeball with a balloonfish hiding in the reef at North Minerva
Still, we have snorkeled three times; once on the wreck (with many, beautiful dotted sweetlips), once on the edge of the southern end of the atoll (after walking over the reef at low tide), and once drifting along with the dinghies in the pass. The latter provided us with sightings of two fish that we have not seen before when snorkeling; the colorful palette surgeonfish and the accelerated-heartbeat-inducing tiger shark. We had heard about the latter from other cruisers so its presence was not a complete surprise but when it appears from the shadows and cruises by below us, suddenly everything was sharply focused on that single creature. We estimate it was about 4 m (13 feet) long (quite a bit longer than our 2.7-m or 9-foot dinghy and I got a shadowy photograph of it before it disappeared into the gloom of the deep and slightly murky water flowing out through the pass.
Not a brilliant photograph of the tiger shark but I was apparently more concerned about it than where the camera was focused
We did not see the other tiger shark (there appear to be two that hang around the pass) nor the group of 15 grey reef sharks that was following it. This maybe because once the tiger shark was no longer visible, Randall and I both decided to get back into the dinghy. As we were moving the dinghy around afterwards, we saw a couple of shark fins at the water surface which made us think twice about getting back in the water.
Gail and Dean were also snorkeling and saw some of the grey reef sharks but the detailed observations came from Alex and Sarah who were below the sharks, SCUBA diving. Tiger sharks are the biggest reef sharks reaching 5.5 m (18 feet) in length (great whites are considered open- ocean sharks) and are generally considered dangerous. We were very glad that we saw this one at a respectable distance of maybe 7 to 10 m (23 to 33 feet) but one viewing was enough and peering through our masks over the side of the dinghy was quite satisfactory after that. We now are pretty certain what happened to the tuna that Bavo hooked when entering the pass but only the head of which arrived on deck. The big sharks may make for exciting snorkeling and frustrating fishing but the most important thing is that they are probably indicators of a very healthy reef. Long may that continue at the Minerva Reef Atoll!