Monday, November 05, 2018

South Minerva Reef

[Kyle]We spent three days anchored in the northeast corner of the lagoon. Other boats had also stopped at Minerva, but they were all anchored at North Minerva, twenty-five miles to the northeast. Occasionally, we could hear bits of radio transmissions or static from the vessels with the stronger transmitters in the other group, but otherwise we had an ocean to ourselves.

South Minerva Reef - not much to see above the water, but beautifully protected
We were briefly joined by the friendly folks from Flying Cloud and (separately) from Katariana while we were anchored in the N end of the reef.

We spent our days snorkeling and catching up on boat jobs at the manageable pace of one per day. The coral and sea life are beautiful, but the water is noticeably cooler than it was back in Tonga. We knew that once we left to sail even further south, recreational swimming would be suspended until we were back at similar latitudes again.

Mostly our first few days were spent alone enjoying the snorkelling

On the fourth day, another catamaran (Flying Cloud from New Zealand) sailed down from North Minerva for a change of scenery before continuing on to New Zealand. They anchored near us, so we were able to spend the evening socializing with this fun group of four, before they set off the following morning. A wind shift was in the forecast, so we followed them as far as the pass and then anchored nearby, where we would have better protection from the blow. We had another night there all to ourselves before three other boats joined us from North Minerva. Apparently it was starting to get a little crowded up there.

More snorkelling after moving more to the South of the atoll

{Maryanne: I took to snorkelling with a stick "just in case" after another cruiser had warned of multiple Tiger Shark attacks in Minerva Reef. I regularly research Shark attacks using the shark attack file database but had found no reports (aside from a spear fishing incident in 2010) - later general research still found no such reports}

It blew pretty hard for a couple of days, churning up the lagoon and making it pretty rough. My daily swims were limited to keeping the bottom clean to be certain we'd comply with New Zealand’s biosecurity requirements and to check our anchor and rode for trouble.

When the wind calmed down, two of the other boats left, leaving us with just another catamaran (Pogeyan). They swung by in their dinghy after a snorkel and invited us to join them the next day for a swim.

Snorkelling outside the reef

With the use of their fast dinghy, the four of us were able to go to the far side of the lagoon, where we went into the water by a small fissure in the reef. After winding our way through the crack, we emerged on the outside of the reef. The fish were much bigger there and we could see them patrolling the coral at various depths until obscured by the black depths below.

Next, they took us to a low spot on the reef between lagoons. Unlike North Minerva or Beveridge, South Minerva is actually two lagoons connected in a figure eight shape. Northeast South Minerva has a pass, Southwest South Minerva does not. It is only accessible at half tide or higher by shallow draft dinghy. We were a bit early for that and all had to get out and wade to lighten the load. Inside the closed lagoon, we found lots of sea life that seemed not be used to or bothered by human visitors. One curious white tipped shark followed us everywhere and I saw the biggest puffer fish I have ever seen. He fled into a hole when I approached, but since he was the size of an ottoman, there weren’t many from which he could choose.

Snorkelling the reefs and channels between the lagoons - our favourite snorkel in South Minerva Reef
We knew this might well be our last snorkel in a while since the water was going to be much colder as we headed south.

Once we were all swimmed out for the day, we gave our hosts an hour or so to warm up and change into some dry clothes before we had them over for farewell drinks at Begonia. The weather window was opening up tomorrow and we would be off to sea.

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