Swimming with the fishes


Right now it's night time. Solstice night time, The longest night time of the year here I guess, although I suspect this close to the equator there is no real need to celebrate such things. The tiniest little sliver of moon just set behind us and it is very dark. We are just below and to the east of Tonga, heading northeast to Nuie and traveling over seas that are somtimes 10km deep. Mind boggling. But I need to backtrack a little, some days have passed.

Our final approach to Minerva Reef was a mixed bag of light winds and none at all, and the none at all part meant that we ran out of excuses to stop us taking the leap and swimming in the big big big, weirdly blue, wide, open ocean. The mind games were real. It might seem silly to overthink such a seemingly easy thing but the sense of isolation and of being in an environment that is "other" is so visceral out here. The expanse of nothingness is dense with eerie foreboding and the feeling of inconsequentiality is utterly unnerving.  And then there is the Jaws music unhelpfully brain-looping, along with stories of swimming sailors watching their boats drift off in front of them after a surprise puff of wind, just too fast for them to catch up to, and also the movies, all the movies, of freakishly unfortunate, fun gone wrong ocean catastrophes. These things are factors.

What I am trying to say is that it turns out that jumping off the only floating thing for hundreds of miles into this weirdly blue, indefinitely deep water was trickier than we had imagined, and we did it anyway.  (Trailing 150m of floating rope, locking the steering wheel hard over so Fortaleza would only drift in circles and putting two ladders down. Throwing caution to the wind, carefully - as Elliot likes to say.)

Turns out our infinity pool is delicious. Warm but not stifling, clear, my god, so clear, and the bluest blue imaginable. That photo at the top of this blog is a straight up, untouched shot over the side of the boat. Blue, energy drink blue (Gatorade specifically, if you know it, not the diet one).

Once we had finished freaking ourselves out we headed on, mostly under engine, to Minerva Reef, the strangest place on earth,

There are two reefs at Minerva, separated by about 20nm. The southern one is the shape of a number 8, the northern one is a perfect doughnut.  Essentially they are the tops of two monumental sea mountains that start 2km underwater and very steeply rise up to sea level, where they are crowned with coral. Both have been responsible for many shipwrecks, understandably so. They are hundreds of miles from land and unless you knew they were there you would easily trip over them. 

We pulled into the 8 shaped southern reef, curiously comforted to find another boat in there too. Knackered, that was us. The sort of tired you don't really feel until you relax because if you did you would stop functioning completely. We were deeply asleep by 7.30.

There is no visible land at Minerva Reef, except some random rocks that appear at low tide. There is huge surf though, that pounds along an invisible arc, ocean swell one side, calm anchorage the other. At high tide some of that swell comes over the reef wall, but mostly it is held back. There is nothing to photograph to give it any context, just endless water and endless sky.

Under the water though, is a whole other busy alive world of colour and creatures and life. The reef is stunning, 20-30m of blue hued visibility and every fish you'd imagine present and correct. Cutting through the reef are channels that drop vertically to about 20m, creating laneways and a cityscape of life. Huge fat sea trout cruising in groups of 3 or 4, looking like bored mafia bosses. Grumpy puffer fish the size of spaniels. Eyes peering out of dark recesses. Shoals of darting synchronised flashing colour. Nemos in their waving anenomes. A startled turtle dashing ungainly. White tip reef sharks, barely deigning to cast us a glance. And purse-lipped giant clams, mystifyingly all wearing different coloured garish lipsticks. Everyone going about their business amid fantastical coral shapes and colours. We swam amongst it all for hours, until cold and hunger called it a day.

The following morning, after having a couple from another boat over for a cup of tea (as you do hundreds of miles from other living souls) we tussled between staying in Minerva for ever or reluctantly getting moving. We have a sense that this could be an ongoing problem - falling in love with a place and not wanting to leave. And Minerva isn't even a place really, it's a dream state, an alluring, mesmerising dream state where nothing and everything makes sense all at once, a fitting and auspicious first stop for our trip of many stops.


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