Friday, 27 May 2016

A week at Minerva Reef


I am writing to you under an absolutely clear and star-filled sky, so much so that Miriam just came running down the companionway stairs exclaiming that we all had to go up and look! During the first part of our passage last week, the moon was up by sunset, so we didn't have many stars in the early evening, but now it is absolutely pitch dark all around us. The only artificial lights are from one lighthouse and two other anchor lights. Even in the islands, we don't get this no-lights-from-the-village experience very often, and I find it awe-inspiring to consider the vastness.

After almost a week here at anchor, we are making preparations to leave tomorrow morning to continue our journey to Savusavu, Fiji. We have seen a little bit of everything from totally calm and clear to stormy with 5m seas outside the reef.

We knew when we arrived that the weather was going to change soon, so we headed outside the pass to snorkel as soon as we could. It was lovely to be back in the areas that we remembered from our visit here in Nov 14. For Miriam, it was her first time snorkelling - it seems like we have helped her develop some high standards! Without the influence of Hans (SV Nautilus) and the rest of the kid-boat fraternity, Max elected not to dive on the 100 ft blue hole by himself, and I was grateful for his prudence! Both Victoria and Johnathan are very (and increasingly) comfortable in the water, while Benjamin stays in the dinghy and takes delight in pushing the rest of the family overboard.

We certainly weren't lonely that first night: the Island Cruising Association (ICA) as well as a group of Sea Mercy boats were all here to welcome us (I counted about 30 anchor lights!) We were glad to reconnect with fellow Canadians on Amelie IV, whom we hadn't seen since March; given that they were leaving the next day, Victoria didn't waste any time inviting their daughter over for a movie night.

The wind picked up that night, and we woke up to a different lagoon on Sunday morning. Flat calm had been replaced by choppy seas, and the sky was grey and heavy. Despite a forecast for big and building swell (it was expected to peak at just over 5m overnight on Sunday night), the ICA fleet departed for Fiji, and most of the first wave of Sea Mercy boats left as well. Max demonstrated his true love and devotion (!) by going out in the dinghy to meet the Sea Mercy lead boat as they were leaving so I could have the Sea Mercy flag that I was wishing for (and that we would have gotten in Opua if we hadn't left from Auckland).

Given the chilly temperatures (and the empty bread box) I was grateful to Victoria who took it upon herself to make our first batch of "Grampy Bread" of the season. She understudied carefully while my Dad was visiting with us, so she produced "quite an acceptable loaf" as he would say :) While Victoria was at work in the kitchen, Miriam and I got talking about breads in Germany; as a result, Miriam and Victoria worked together the following day to make some yummy, salty, German pretzels. It wasn't all practical in the galley, though - she and Johnathan also decided to make some chocolate chip cookies. Most of the recent batches have gone off the boat for fundraising, so it was nice to have a batch keep onboard! We invited the only remaining boat in the anchorage (Code Blue) to come over for sundowners, and they seemed quite appreciative of home-made cookies as well :) We have known Judy and Steve since our first season, but we have rarely had an evening to spend together, so it was really enjoyable to get to know them a bit better.

The real event of the week was the huge surf that pounded in over the reef. The boat would stay pretty steady during the low tide, but at high tide, we were rolling and pitching as if we were at sea (or in the Auckland Harbour when the high-speed ferries went by!) It was good to know that we had a strong anchor and tackle, because even in the lagoon, the swell was at times burying the bow. Max found it especially challenging when he went out on his paddleboard. Even though he went upwind first, I was always glad when he finished his jaunts and was safely back at Fluenta

For the first few days, it was too rough to consider snorkelling outside the pass, but Max was able to take Miriam and the kids to snorkel in the lee of the reef every day (in fact, the kids preferred it to the deep waters outside because of the colours). By Tuesday, we were ready to try again outside the lagoon. It turned out to be too rough for snorkelling, but we did drag our fishing lure up and down the pass a few times, getting a couple of bites but no fish. We used the same gear as we use on Fluenta: Johnathan reeled out the line and the lure behind the dinghy, and then held the line in his hand as we drove along. Benjamin didn't last long when we went out the pass - the combination of the bouncing dinghy and the sound of the motor literally put him to sleep standing up! He fell asleep with his head braced on my leg to keep from falling, and then slept in my lap for well over an hour. The others enjoyed another snorkel near the boat, but I decided to give it a miss: by the time Benjamin woke up, it was getting late and cold, the sun was going behind a big bank of clouds, and even at the suggestion that I should jump in, Benjamin was crying, "No Mummy swim. No Mummy swim." I vowed, instead, to swim the next day, which was scheduled to be our last.

On Wednesday morning, we set up our spinnaker pole so the kids (and the grownups!) could swing from it and jump into the water. Everyone gave it a go, and yet again, Benjamin's favourite part of the excitement was to push his family overboard. By the afternoon, the kids had had their fill of swimming (and Victoria wanted to make biscuits for the passage), so Max and I got to go alone over to the nearby reef during Benjamin's nap. It was like a rare date! Once we were finished our swim, he went hunting with his speargun and came back with a nice-size sweetlips for dinner. This got us talking about our weather window. According to our guru (Bob McDavitt), there wasn't much coming up this week. We were planning on leaving on Thurs (his 3rd best choice) vs Friday (his 2nd best), and didn't want to wait until Tuesday (his first pick). While snorkelling in a reef within a reef in the middle of the ocean, it occurred to us that there was really no rush to get to Savusavu, especially if it meant arriving on Sunday when all the officials charge fees and overtime; just like that, we had decided to stay here another day! Victoria gave Miriam a filleting lesson when we got back to the boat, and then we did our usual "carcass dangle" to see if there were any sharks in the water. It took a while longer than usual, but eventually someone with big teeth came to eat the rest of the fish.

Since we were nearly ready to go anyway, Thursday was an out-of-character for us play day - we had time to swing from the boat, go snorkeling in an amazing ring of reefs where we saw a turtle, loads of big fish, a sting ray, and enormous clams, and enjoy another sweetlips for dinner, thanks to Max and his speargun. When we got back to Fluenta, there was more baking, swinging, swimming, studying (Life of Fred Math and Brave Writer copywork) and stowing. We have only a few last minute chores to do in the morning (like swinging from the spin pole one more time, I mean dishes, generator, and stowing the pole), and feel more prepared for the passage than we would have done last night. It looks like we will have light winds from every direction, so it may take us a bit of extra time, but the swell has come down, so we are hoping for a decent passage.

Next stop Savusavu,

Love to all,
At 2016-05-23 6:52 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 23°38.55'S 178°56.02'W

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