Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Tonga to Minerva Reef (and a special friend to greet us)


After two nights and three days, we have arrived at Minerva Reef. Our passage provided a little bit of everything from bouncy two-reefs-in-the-main close reaching on Saturday to glassy-ocean motoring today.

All of our friends left Tonga within a couple of hours of each other on Saturday morning, and we had several within VHF range for the entire passage. After months of feeling like we were the only boat on the ocean while offshore, it was kind of surreal to look out on the horizon and see sails or lights. Deanne (SV Exodus) was kind enough to organize an afternoon HF radio net, but we actually checked in via VHF because we were all so close!

As with the last couple of passages, I was seasick for much of this trip, so Doug and Max took the lion's share of watches and food preparation. The kids seem to like it when Max cooks ... he always finds something yummy in the cupboard [nutrition however takes a hit when I cook ... I figure they will not get scurvy over a few days.]!

Although our freezer is pretty full of fish already, we couldn't resist putting our lines out once we started hearing the fishing reports from our friends, and sure enough, a nice-sized mahi mahi was kind enough to take our lure. (I think one of the other boats must have caught its mate, because it seemed that we were sailing down "dorado alley": this is what everyone was catching!) Fish caught on passage is OK to take into NZ, so we don't mind if we have lots when we arrive :)

Even though it was bouncy, and hard on the people aboard, the winds the first day were great for Fluenta - we averaged 6.7 kts. The winds tapered on day 2 so that we were squeezing every last ounce of drive out of the boat. During the afternoon radio net, the others reported a mix of motoring and sailing. We sailed until about 11pm, then as the winds dropped further and backed to the point that we weren't even pointing at our destination (ie negative "VMC" Velocity Made on Course) we started our engine. Ever the optimist, I hoped that we would motor for a while, and then (despite a forecast to the contrary) the winds would fill in and we would sail the rest of the way. Instead, when I came up to the cockpit mid morning, the seas were as glassy as I have ever seen them, and the wind was hovering between 2-3 kts. Along with five other boats, we motored into the anchorage just after 4pm.

We had hardly set our anchor and started the post-passage chores (lines coiled, tethers & harnesses stowed, dinghy & outboard launched, cabin tidied) when there was great excitement on the aft deck - a huge tiger shark had just swum by Fluenta. We have seen lots of sharks over the last few months, but we have seen nothing like this. It was easily twice as big as any shark we have seen before. We watched him for a few minutes as he circled our boat just below the surface of the (incredibly clear) water, then went on with our chores. A short while later, we heard similar shouts from a neighbouring boat - they had spotted him. Before long, three boat families (ourselves included) had converged on SV Nirvana to watch the shark (and film him on GoPro cameras, of course!). His tail fin was taller than the dinghies we were arriving in, and he seemed to have a penchant for bumping into them. It would seem that this shark knows a dinghy when he sees one! The cries of excitement from the children reminded me of the soundtrack of an amusement park - constant shrieks of excitement. The kids did laps of the upper deck as the shark did laps under water. Nirvana had just caught a big grouper, and as it was filleted and the carcass thrown overboard, the shark came in for the feast. We figured that he was at least as long as our dinghies, which put him at around 11 feet. He was a heavy, menacing creature, and no one was in a rush to go snorkelling anytime soon! He actually bumped our dinghy as Doug and Johnathan were bringing it around from one side of Nirvana to the other, and it seemed like he was following Nautilus's dingy as Hans went over to pick up Katrien and bring her back to Nirvana. A visit from a shark is definitely a quick way to get to know your neighbours! {Aside - I just read an email from our friends from Niue who passed through Minerva a week or so ago - they were feeding a "3-4m shark" from their stern - it seems like this shark makes friends with all the yachties!}

Dinner tonight (and lunch as well) was bbq'd mahi mahi with pasta and veggies (it is so nice to have fresh veg after so many weeks without them!). Lunch was a first for us - it was so calm that Max bbq'd the fish while we were under way. We will be here in Minerva for a few days, and then as the weather shapes up for our passage, we will head out to Whangarei, NZ.

Love to all,
At 2014/11/17 5:40 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 23°37.73'S 178°55.73'W
At 2014/11/17 5:40 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 23°37.73'S 178°55.73'W

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