Lat: 20 00.333′ S
Lon: 167 44.740′ W

After six days of mostly light and frequently contrary winds, we finally neared Beveridge Reef at dawn Thursday. It really is just a reef, and at three miles we could barely make out the breakers with binoculars. Once we got closer, we could see five masts inside the lagoon in addition to the catamaran that was also waiting outside.

The charts of the lagoon and reef are so inaccurate that they’re useless for anything except avoiding the place, but we had photos of a couple of hand sketches with GPS co-ordinates that previous visiting boats had made. They turned out to be pretty accurate, but even though this pass was much wider than the last couple we’ve been through, coming into a completely unmarked lagoon with the sun relatively low in the sky and ahead of us had me a bit tenser than usual.

Several boats left within an hour of our arrival, leaving only the new catamaran, us, and our friends Silvio and Lilian on Matajusi. We had a nice chat with Matajusi on the radio when we got in, and Silvio let us know about the good snorkeling places and also caught us up on the tsunami news from the cruiser’s perspective. If it makes anyone feel any better, Matajusi and a number of other boats were here at the time, and they felt absolutely no effects. When they heard it had hit farther north, Silvio took Matajusi outside the lagoon and hove-to (adjusting a small sail and the rudder to “sail” with almost zero speed through the water while maintaining a fixed angle to the wind) for a while just to be safe, but he noticed nothing unusual, and the boats that stayed inside the lagoon didn’t notice anything either. Our understanding is that one sailor was killed in Samoa when he was trapped between two boats, but other than that there was only damage to a few boats that were swept onto land or rocks.

Beveridge Reef itself is a sort of kidney-shaped lagoon with pass on the west side. It’s about 30-40 feet deep in the middle with occasional coral heads. Just inside the fringing reef is a ring of coral as much about 150 feet wide, and inside that is a white sand shelf with varying width (something like a quarter mile) that is covered with about 10-12 feet of water. The water here is probably the clearest I’ve ever seen — clearer than many swimming pools. I think I could read a book on the bottom of the sand shelf while snorkeling at the surface, and we could easily see the details of the bottom as we motored over the 40-foot sections of the lagoon.

After a nap, the first order of business was to try fixing the outboard prop. Martin had suggested drilling and tapping a radial hole through the outer aluminum, through the rubber bushing, and into the inner part of the prop that attaches to the shaft, then inserting a bolt to keep the whole thing from moving. The risk is that if you hit something, you’ve defeated the sacrificial prop mechanism and could damage something more serious, but it was worth a shot for a while. Luckily, I have one tap (1/4″) on board, and the length of the required bolt turned out to be exactly 1″, which I also had. The repair was done in 15 minutes and actually worked!

We are anchored on the eastern sand shelf (coordinates above are where the boat’s at right now), and our first snorkeling stop was the inner coral ring around the reef. The coral seemed healthier here than in other places, and there was a nice selection of fish, but the current from the thundering waves breaking on the reef and then sweeping into the lagoon was so bad that it was hard to swim forward at times, and Lauren and I definitely got a workout. I took a Hawaiian sling (6-foot spear with a 1-foot band of rubber on the other end) to try catching a grouper or parrotfish, and we had a lot of fun with that. You have to be pretty close to get anything with the sling, and it was so dull that when I finally did get a good shot on a grouper through a hole in the coral, the spear bounced off of him. Using a sling to catch a parrotfish is not a fair game at all. They’re much more skiddish, and very agile and quick, so with the strong current, that was just a long game of wear-Dallas-out.

DSC_0723 Matajusi is the boat on the left.  The light water is about 10-12 ft deep above the sandy shelf and the darker water is about 40 feet deep.

DSC_0724 The breakers on the reef just east of where we were anchored.  The wreck was an offshore fishing boat.

We took a break back at the boat and then headed out for another area of the fringing coral. This time, I had sharpened the spear and was ready for another round with the purple-spotted groupers. Unfortunately, the prop fix failed on the way over, so we’re back to idle speed until I try another fix or get a new prop. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but I’ll pull it apart and see. The story was pretty much the same this time, but I did eventually manage to hit a nice-sized grouper right in the side while he was hiding under some coral. To my amazement, he shook until he was off of the tip of the spear and then swam off into the coral catacombs. Not only are fish fast and agile, they’re also very tough. Ah well, no grouper dinner for the non-vegetarians.

After sunset we headed over to Matajusi for a nice evening of a few drinks, conversation, and sharks-sticks (fish sticks made with Beveridge Reef shark). Lauren really liked them, but I don’t think I’ll take up trying to spear the white tips in the lagoon for her culinary benefit any time soon. Silvio was a competition-level free diver and spear fisherman and has some amazing stories. He also taught us some breathing techniques that should give us a better shot. I don’t think we’ll be imitating his 3-4 minute dives down to as deep at 30 meters anytime soon, but there may be a fresh fish dinner in it at some point. I think we’ll also skip the hyperventilating technique he used in competition when he was younger that resulted in a vision black-out for the first 6-7 meters of most dives.

Today we got a chance to go spear-fishing with Silvio in the deeper part of the lagoon just behind his boat. That pretty much consisted of Lauren and I trying to get halfway down to the bottom almost 40 feet below while Silvio went down at will, hung out for a while, and speared fish (did we mention Silvio’s 61st birthday was in Aitutaki last week?). His breathing techniques definitely helped, but neither of us could equalize fast enough to get close to the bottom without hurting our ears. Meanwhile, he speared two jacks, three small grouper, and another red fish for us to enjoy for dinner (Lauren & Tiff report that the jack sashimi is excellent). We finally saw our first shark when we were out in the water on our own. It was about 5 feet long, but as it didn’t get too close it was actually not too intimidating.

DSC_0743 Silvio’s catch (groupers on the left and jack on the right)

DSC_0742 Hello Mr. Grouper

One of the jacks Silvio shot at was actually one of a pair swimming just above a stingray. Evidently the jacks eat the shrimp that are stirred up by the stingray as it swims along the bottom. Even though he waited for just the right moment to shoot the jack and miss the ray, from the surface it looked like he was shooting the ray, and it took its tail-up defensive posture on the bottom right after he shot. It’s interesting to hear about the behavior of the different fish and how to take advantage of that to spear them. For instance, with a grouper you usually have 3 seconds after it sees you to make a shot before it swims into cover. With a red snapper, wait for the 3rd time it comes back to check you out. With a jack, leave the speared fish near the bottom and other jacks will come around, allowing you to pick a bigger one and take them both home.

After a big rain storm last night, the weather is looking good, so tonight will be our last night here. We’ll start the 140 nm passage to Niue tomorrow morning. If things go as planned, we only have about 4 days of sailing left before we leave for New Zealand (1 day to Niue, 2 days to Tonga – Vavau, and 1 day to Tonga – Nukualofa).