Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Beveridge Reef (Niue)

{Maryanne:Beveridge Reef is just a shallow submerged atoll in the middle of nowhere - with a small sand-spit peaking above water to the west at very low water - but normally there is just the breaking surf to let you know it is there. The surf may just show as a thin white line on the horizon as you approach - but as you can see from the photo of the dinghy exploring from inside of the atoll, that surf is big and very powerful even on a relatively normal day. Add to this that some electronic charts don't clearly show the reef except at certain zoom levels, and that the reef is marked 3 nautical miles SW of its actual position - it is not surprising that boats sometimes hit it.}

[Kyle]There are actually two obvious wrecks on Beveridge at the moment: the very recent. The catamaran Avanti was one (Wrecked in the early hours of August 27th 2017, but still floating), the other is a steel fishing boat just a little way from where we were anchored (wrecked several years ago, and sitting on the bottom in shallow water, and with some of the structure clear of the water). We swam across the sand shelf to the fishing boat. It was a real struggle against the wind and current. Small pieces of the hull were strewn in a path to the main wreck. The prop and keel were badly damaged. Rust and growth were already taking over and several fish had moved in, the boat has been stripped of anything useful long ago.

Exploring a wrecked Steel Fishing Boat on Beveridge Reef
The wreck is of the MV Liberty - apparently Niuean trawler

Next, we let the current take us to the new wreck, a 15 meter catamaran. From our conversation on the radio the day before, we knew they had hit the reef from the outside. Their keels, drive legs and rudders were sheared off, as they crashed into the reef where they sat (most likely bounced) until high tide eventually nudged them into the lagoon and they dropped anchor. The weather had been horrible here that night, so it must have been terribly violent and very frightening. The family seemed surprisingly good-humoured about it, describing their path as “a shortcut”, humour that is only possible after the fact.

The catamaran Avanti still floating after some severe damage to her undersides

From the look of their debris path, it looked like they very nearly also hit the fishing boat along the way. We found their anchor at the end of the trough it had plowed. We followed the chain to the boat and were surprised to find it not resting on the bottom, but afloat, with the stern submerged to the cockpit. Most catamarans (including Begonia) have foam-filled buoyancy compartments that are designed to prevent even a breached boat from sinking (and here they were clearly functioning well). I swam under the hulls and found a giant hole in one and the bottom basically gone from the other. We took lots of pictures as a record for the owners to have of the progress of the state of the wreck in their absence .

We climbed aboard and found lots of heartbreaking damage. Stanchions had been bent. Hatches had been torn off. Everything in the cockpit was underwater and a life jacket that had auto-inflated was waving uselessly in the current.

We didn't go into the cabin, but we opened the door just enough to get a record of the water level inside. Whew! It had the smell of rotting food and wet everything. Some items were piled out of the water on top of the salon table, but condensation had the walls and ceiling dripping onto everything. The scene brought back memories of the slurry we had to wade through to recover what we could from Footprint's cabin. Those poor people.

We slid back into the water and swam back to Begonia, pleased that she was floating on her lines.

Along the way, we were in the almost constant company of a handful of Almaco Jacks (fish) who were very curious and swam so close they practically seemed like they were trying to cuddle. A little further off were a series of gray reef sharks who would come charging up ominously from behind until they were five or six feet away, at which point they would wander off. All of their prey is less than two feet long. Maryanne thinks they race up to see what we are and then stop their pursuit once they realize we're not two-foot fish.

Some of the underwater company on Beveridge Reef:
Amber Jacks, Peacock Flounder, Reef Sharks, Sting Rays, Black Jacks (there were many others), and Kyle checking on the anchor

We had a couple of really windy days after that. Beveridge has no land. At high tide, more of the outside swell makes it over the reef and it gets a little boisterous. At low tide, it calms down considerably. This makes it easy to feel the state of the tide by how tranquil or rough it is. Still, we were glad to be given a break from having to be in the big seas outside.

The Catamaran Jadean, a familiar boat to us during this year's Pacific travels, arrived followed shortly by the rest of this season’s flotilla. They promptly arranged a BBQ amongst themselves and left us to ponder the end of the peace from radio chatter. A couple more boats came in that were not attached and soon the anchorage swelled to the wreck plus eight more. We met a couple from the boat Matilda personally, and spoke on the radio to others to explain the deal with the wrecked catamaran.

They all knew about it. Apparently, it has been front-page news on all of the islands in the region and has been all over the television.

Maryanne especially has taken her role as protector and recorder of the wreck very seriously. She makes sure we swim over at least every other day to take more photos of the waterline and anything succumbing to wave action. She then compiles a summary and emails it to the owners every time we upload our weather files. She understands well how knowing the state of the boat, even if the news isn't good, is better than not knowing and letting your worries get the best of you.

This area of the Pacific has a lot of areas like Beveridge, where the charts, which are based on old surveys, are wildly inaccurate or just plain wrong. Not only that, but volcanic activity around Tonga is making new islands that weren't even there before. There are extensive lists of all of these anomalies, which almost everyone we have met keeps in their onboard library. Maryanne took it one step further and spent a whole day actually transferring them to one of the electronic chart programs we all seem to have. This converted a list of numbers into a series of big, red circles on the actual charts, each the size of the object, if known, plus a good margin. Now it will be much easier when plotting a route to see if there are areas of concern or to be avoided entirely. She put it on a chip to share so hopefully more and more boats coming into the area will have access to the information as people trade around the files.

Our last day at Beveridge was supposed to be spent snorkelling in the clear, flat water after the winds finally died off. They did, but then it was cloudy and drizzly all day. After Maryanne did her regular swim to the wreck, we spent the day doing this and preparing for the overnight trip to Niue. It looks like it will be tailwinds and following seas this time. That will be a welcome change.

{Maryanne}National Geographic have recently completed filming for a documentary about Beveridge Reef and Niue and we'll certainly be keeping an eye out for it once published (and recommend you do too) - these are special and beautiful places on planet earth.

1 comment:

Mommy Carla said...

Shipwrecks and islands that aren't really. I can barely believe the size of the surf your camera captured. Your photos are stupendous. I suspect and hope Maryanne's efforts to chart the areas hazards will keep others from the sad looking catamaran half-submerged. Sending all my love.