Minerva Reef

Sailing Blog

Motoring down the Hotea River to Marsden Cove Marina to get ready for a departure.

We finally escaped the clutches of New Zealand weather. We staged the boat at Marsden Cove Marina just down the river from Whangarei, our home for the past few months. After waiting for 3 weeks, we finally had what appeared to be a decent window to head northward. Not a great window, but doable.

At last, the day came and we cleared out with customs and immigration and set sail. The first day was great, but then the wind died sooner than expected and we spent the next five days motoring. The winds were expected to die but forecasts showed winds for two, maybe three, days before entering the doldrums.  We had a bit of a situation. Normally, we’d be happy putting along 4 knots but we needed to move north quickly to escape yet another nasty system heading toward New Zealand. We had 4 days to get north of a certain latitude to escape this weather, or else.

Looking back at New Zealand, we both agree we enjoyed our visit but would not like to live there. Our travels on the islands rewarded us with some stunning vistas and memories we’ll cherish for a long time. Is it on the list of places to revisit? Nope.

As I write this, we are currently at Minerva Reef. North Minerva Reef, to be precise. Where the heck is that you may ask. I usually insert a link to a Google map at the bottom of my post so interested people can look in detail out the location. However, I am placing it here to make a point. You should see a map zoomed into an atoll. Click on it and it’ll open it in Google Maps (top left corner – view larger map). Now zoom out. Yep, that’s where we anchored. We’re in the middle of nowhere.



Obviously, Minerva Reef is a short stopover for us since it is completely uninhabited and has only a few bits barely above sea level. The reef is named after a whaling ship that hit it in 1829. When you think about it, making such a colossal screw-up (like hitting a reef) and having it named after you is quite an accomplishment. I’m just glad there’s not a Cream Puff reef.

Most of the countries in the South Pacific recognize the reef as a part of Tonga. I say most because the one who doesn’t recognize it as Tonga is Fiji. A few weeks ago, we received word from some friends that the Fiji Navy had a vessel inside the reef and were checking boats. As for what the check entailed, we have no idea. I have read that when Fiji sends a navy ship to Minerva, Tonga gets word. Then, Tonga will send one. Before it arrives, the Fijian ship leaves. Apparently, this game has been going on for a long time.

The only way to reach Minerva is by boat or perhaps seaplane if conditions are ideal. Once inside, the reef offers 360-degree protection against the Pacific swells and waves. It is truly an amazing feeling to navigate the narrow cut (which is charted and extremely accurate) and all of a sudden have tranquility.

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A look out our ship’s computer with our red track line and position at anchor inside the reef (AIS shows other boat on the chart)

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A little bit of tranquility inside the reef. The other boats are much closer to the edge and you can see the ocean breaking over the reef on the horizon.

As with everything in this lifestyle, weather plays an important factor. We’d hoped to hang at Minerva for about four or five days taking some time to launch the dinghy and explore. And, perhaps a little snorkeling would be nice. However, St. Elmo has other ideas. If we don’t head out later today, we’ll be stuck here until the weather improves in Fiji. This might be as long as a week. Also, after putting a toe in the water, its darn cold.

Stopping also gave us a chance to make a quick repair. A block used to hold up our downwind poles located about halfway up the mast broke. Well, it didn’t actually break until it hit the deck. The shackle pin came out and it fell down. Amazing how things self-destruct on a boat. Of course, we carry spares and took advantage of the calm conditions inside the reef to replace the necessary hardware.

We did manage to get a little star gazing in. Just before a front started to move in and cloud things up, we were able to enjoy the southern constellations on a moonless night. I know I have said this before but, the stars on the ocean at night when the moon is on a daylight cycle are incredible.

To give you an idea of how dark it is, consider this. This morning I woke up from a nice long deep sleep in our comfy bed in the aft cabin and thought I had gone blind. I opened my eyes, nothing. I closed my eyes, same thing. I opened them again, still nothing. It was so dark I couldn’t tell the difference with my eyes open or closed. I reached for my clock that I keep under the pillow and pushed the button to illuminate the LED display to discover it is 0500 and my eyes are working just fine.

A few interesting things about Minerva

Like all atolls, Minerva is the very tip-top of a volcano that rises hundreds of meters from the ocean floor to the surface. We are anchored in the crater. The crater is approximately 3 km (2 miles) across.  Inside it is mostly sand with an occasional bommie (corral head). We need to keep our eyes open and forward sonar on when moving about inside. Hitting a bommie out here would be catastrophic.

The most famous modern shipwreck at Minerva Reef involved the yacht “Rose Noelle” in 1989. The yacht, with four crew members aboard, was caught in a severe storm and driven onto the reef. Remarkably, the crew survived for 119 days on the wrecked yacht before being discovered and rescued by a passing fishing vessel. Their survival story captivated the world and highlighted the resilience and resourcefulness of sailors in extreme situations.

Minerva Reef gained international attention in 1972 when a group of American libertarian activists attempted to establish the Republic of Minerva as a micronation on the reef, hoping to create a libertarian utopia free from government interference. This attempt was short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful, but it added to the reef’s lore and intrigue.

Apparently, these Americans didn’t know that only the British can plant a flag and claim land as their own. “Welcome to the Colony – By the way, your taxes are overdue”.

As I look about, there are five other boats here this morning. There are less people here than will climb to the summit of Mount Everest today.




Categories: Minerva Reef, New Zealand, Sailing Blog, South Pacific Ocean

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