This is all you see when you approach North Minerva Reef on a calm day. Minerva Reef, North and South, are atolls that sit in the middle of nowhere, 250 nautical miles from Tonga. In the ‘good old days’ of sextant based navigation the prudent thing to do was to avoid these reefs by many miles. Today, with GPS navigation, they make a nice place to stop to rest up and wait for a good weather window to continue southward on the passage to New Zealand. Plus, it’s so cool to drop your anchor in the middle of the Pacific Ocean without a spec of land around you!
In a straight-line from Tonga to Opua, NZ, it is a little over 1,000 miles. We managed to actually sail about 1,398 miles to get there. This includes the stop in North Minerva and then traveling west to about 28*30S 173*14E before travelling south. You travel west for a few reasons – mainly to deal with the SW winds you are likely to encounter as you approach the north cape of NZ and also to try and take any of the fronts which blow up the Tasman Sea from the Southern Ocean north of 28-30* latitude where they should have less punch.
Many of the boats that were on passage with us used land based weather routers. We got our weather by downloading GRIB files via our SSB radio, which show predicted wind and seas over the next few days, and by listening to Gulf Harbour Radio out of NZ. Some of the boats were routed very far west – almost close enough so they could wave at Australia. This added a lot of miles to their route and a lot of extra motoring. It was supposed to make the frontal passages less strong. In practice they got the same thing we did – 25-28kts sustained with 33 gusts on the nose – for 24 hours. We ended up turning toward NZ as soon as the wind moved a smidgen past south toward the west. This turned out to be a lucky call and we had a good sail into Opua for the last 3 days. It wasn’t lucky like you just won the lottery, it was more lucky like you are driving in a strange part of town looking for an address and you come to an intersection, rather than asking for directions, something intuitive says turn here. In a block and half of driving the address you want shows up – it’s a guy thing.
Our trip to NZ:
10 days from Tonga to Opua including 1-1/2 days in N. Minerva Reef,
1.5 days of motoring,
about 12 hours sailing on a nice reach, all the rest of the time close hauled and beating into it.
Georgia sitting at the quarantine dock in the morning after tying up at midnight. First onboard was NZ Biosecurity. They managed to go through every locker and confiscate a large trash bag of our frozen food, salami, honey plus some items in the freezer that even we couldn’t identify. Most important, Chris got to keep all her shells.