With the next weather window upon us it was a bit of an exodus from Maupehaa, Four boats left that day, Wairua, Arbutus, Tamata, and ourselves, all mates and all heading west. The current leaving that small pass was raging and we were spat back out into the pacific ocean, as if that magical gate had closed again behind us, and in a very real way it had, with the current and waves that strong I don’t think Kuhela could have made it back in if we tried. So with the bow pointed seaward, we hoisted the main to the second reef, unfurled the yankee and with a stiff breeze propelling us along, we turned our minds to life at sea again. It felt good to be sailing again; this would be a weeklong trip and the second to last of the longer legs I have to sail on this trip half way around the world. The weather forecast was for strong winds from the southeast for the first three days before settling in strength and direction to the east. We began our watch system and the routine of eating, sleeping and tending to Kuhela that would earn us our passage west. I have noticed a difference in the way I feel on passage since the crossing, I am calmer about things, know Kuhela a lot more, enjoy the feeling of her moving along even in the stronger breezes and, as funny as it sounds, am only now able to visualize myself making it to New Zealand. This enjoyable sentiment was not however enjoyed by all on board, Adam was seriously sick again and Joe was not 100% either, it was a rolly first few days and it always takes a bit to get used to the motion, even for myself. As sick as he was I give credit to Adam, for three days he could not eat, but did his watch without complaint every time. For a while I did entertain the thought of having to pull in at a little island we were due to pass in a few days for him to recover, but soon enough he came good and both he and Joe settled into the motion and we continued onwards to our next stop, Beveridge Reef.
If you thought that the last stop was remote, well this is even another level up from that, there is not even an island and only a small section of the reef sticks up at low tide, population zero and is owned by Nuie, not exactly a large place itself. The thought of dropping anchor in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and spending days surrounded by pristine reef and blue water had us all counting the miles to get there. The wind dropped as predicted after a few days and we were able to fly the spinnaker and run downwind in light conditions that made life on board a lot more pleasurable. As usual night watches were my favorite time at sea, with a gentle breeze blowing across the stern, I lay in the cockpit under an immense black sky, stars sprinkled from horizon to horizon and a waning moon retreating to her rest, this is the time when I feel truly myself and truly in tune. Days passed on by and we entertained ourselves and shared in laughs, food and watches as the little dots marking our position slowly tumbled their way across the chart. There were a few more clouds and squalls surrounding us in the last few days of the passage and we had to keep a sharp eye out for sudden wind shifts and sudden increases in the breeze, but we managed to pick our way through them and get some great breeze for sailing as well, at least until the wind left us all together.
We had to motor the last forty miles, and as there was not a breath of wind the ocean took the form of a sheet of glass and we glided along opposite our reflection. Ahead, though, were signs of the reef, breakers and lines of white visible on the blue of the horizon and the distant sound of surf drifting out to us. Crazy to think that you could be sailing along in the middle of the ocean and here laying in wait for you was a solid wall of poorly charted reef. On my electronic charts this is out of position by about a mile and is only included as a dot on some of the larger paper charts I have, this point further emphasized by the large wreck sitting, captured, upon the reef. We had only notes from the info shared around by others cruisers to guide us there and into the reef but as long as you know it is there and arrive with good light, this is enough. This is a place not only off the beaten path, there simply is no path. Conditions couldn’t have been better for our arrival and we sent Adam up the mast to film and to keep an eye out for shallow bombies as we made our way into the protection of this little mid ocean oasis. Out of the four boats that had left Maupehaa, two were there all ready and one was about was only a few hours away, a good little reunion. Around the edge of this lagoon lies a sand shelf that comes up to about ten feet of water and is visible as a line of clear turquoise against the deeper blue of the middle, the perfect anchorage and great protection from the temperamental moods of the Pacific Ocean. We dropped the dingy in and had lunch and a quick nap before Joe, Matt (off Tamata) and I shot out to the pass again to examine a few waves we had seen coming in. Dropping the anchor next to a fun looking left and there being only three of us out, for literally hundreds of miles in any direction, made for a pretty memorable time, and if that wasn’t enough a family of three whales started jumping and playing just off the back of the break, simply amazing. With the setting sun we headed on back to Kuhela and found our friends on Oceania just coming through the pass and we guided them into the safety of the lagoon. Great to have all these good people together and it wasn’t long before the call was put out that it was drinks on Oceania tonight. Being a catamaran and having much more room than any of us, it was the designated party boat.
The next day we were up and into a few jobs in the morning before gearing up to head out and go dive. Adam chose to stay in (maybe the night before chose for him) so Joe and I fueled up the dingy and shot back out towards the pass. On coming through the pass we saw Matt and Kate swimming with some whales and cut our engine up current of them and drifted down to have a look. The humpback mother and calf spent the next hour of so swimming around us and checking out what these funny looking creatures were as we would dive down and hover mid water next to them, Mom always positioned between baby and ourselves. Finally they got bored with us I guess and moved further down the reef as we got the flashers (like fishing lures but with no hooks, that attract larger fish) out to see what fish we could bring up to the surface. We drifted off the reef to the deeper water and suddenly there was movement below as shapes materialized from the blue and a river of sharks ascended from the deep to check us out. It was crazy to see so many grey sharks, maybe around thirty or so, come spiraling up from the deep to inspect what was on offer. It didn’t take them long to realize that we weren’t offering much though and as quick as they came they disappeared. We continued to work the flasher for a bit, really hoping for a marlin or some other deep water resident to drop in for a visit, but unfortunately Kate saw only the shape of one drifting back into the deep in the distance.
Moving down the reef we stopped at another spot to check it out and found some really great reef with quite a few fish hanging around. I saw some smaller doggies but didn’t bother, as the freezer was still full and no sense in shooting what you can’t eat. We worked the flasher there for a bit though and did have some really good fish come in, large doggies started to show up and on the outside green jobfish would hide just out of range as rainbow runner and trevally surrounded us and tried to make out just what we were up to. Suddenly a large doggie shot up and went straight for the flasher and swallowed it, I swore through my snorkel as I said good bye to my newly made flasher, but luckily he didn’t like the taste and spat it out. A large grey shark, around seven foot, showed up next for a look, and though at no time did he show any signs of getting excited or agitated we all kept a good eye on him, he was big enough to make you take notice for sure. Sometimes its not the big ones you have to watch though, it’s the little cheeky ones, on one of his dives Joe had a medium size grey come up to him and get a bit close so he gave it a solid punch, just to discourage any silly thoughts on the sharks end, but this tactic didn’t work so well, as the shark spun and hit him directly in the head with his nose, luckily his mouth was closed though. I'm not sure if he meant to turn on him or was just trying to get away, and to be fair Joe did through the first punch. We looked at each other for a second and gave a bit of a nervous laugh, we’ve dived with sharks lots of times, and maybe sometimes its good to have these little checks to keep you in line, especially here in the more remote areas.
The water here is noticeable colder than our last stop and we were about to call it a day when our friends from the first day surfing showed up, the family of humpback whales. They were even more curious than the first pair and the calf was actually not all black, but with equally spaced black and white splotches, quite interesting. Both mom and dad would always position themselves between us and I think the big male was the most cautious of the lot, but they all come in for a look. On one dive I had the calf and mother off to my left and was looking at them, when suddenly the sea bed below me started moving, it took a second for my brain to realize what was happening, but here was the big male flying along under me, maybe five meters away. To see something that big move that fast, and to see all the scars, marks and features on this colossal creature as he rocketed along just below me is one of the most amazing things I have witnessed in the ocean. I have swum with whales a few times before but the experiences in this dive topped everything I've been lucky enough to experience before. Joe has been getting some amazing shots and its great to see him so stoked and loving this new passion of his, and great that he was able to capture some of the experience to share with others.
That night we all crashed out tired, happy and with visions of the days happenings replaying in our minds, and looking forward to more. The Ocean decided to change her mood though, and I was snatched from sleep at about two in the morning by a loud band and the feeling that somehow I was back at sea and it had all been a dream. Kuhela bucked and rocked wildly as I jumped from bed, pulled on a jacket and glanced at the wind gauge, sitting steadily at forty knots, on the way out the hatch. Our snubber, the line I attach to the anchor chain to take the weight off the winch, had snapped and with every jerk of the waves crashing into the bow it ripped more chain out from the winch. After a hectic half an hour I managed to let some more chain out and to get another line on to take the weight and we all retreated inside to dry off and try to get some more sleep. The wind did die a bit, but was strong enough to make it impossible to get to the pass to dive, or to go do much of anything else for the next few days. So it is with working with nature, you adjust to her moods and take what you can get. The diving that first day would unfortunately be the only chance we got to explore this amazing pristine reef, conscious of the time we had and needing to make use of the good weather when we had it, so it was time to move on to the next spot when the wind started to settle a couple days later. Who knows what amazing things you would experience if you got the right weather and had the time to explore this magical place more thoroughly. Maybe one day I will find a way to make it back to find out.