top of page

Journal de bord #10 : Le mystérieux récif Minerva

Quelques rares rochers à la surface

Samedi 18 mai – JOUR 9. À 6h, l’excitation est palpable sur le bateau, à tel point que ça me réveille. Tous les hommes sont sur le pont pour le lever du soleil, nous sommes à deux heures du récif de corail Minerva. Ces deux zones uniques au monde ont un statut de légende dans le Pacifique. Ils peuvent être très difficiles à repérer, car aucune langue de terre ne les annonce, juste quelques rochers qui pointent à marée basse. À cinq milles de Minerva Sud, on sort les jumelles. On peut tout juste distinguer la chevelure des vagues qui cassent sur le récif à l’horizon. Elles forment une barrière qui s’étend à vue d’œil, impressionnante. En se rapprochant, on aperçoit 4 mâts à l’horizon. Les vagues se font de plus en plus grosses créant ça et là des petits geysers en cassant sur le reef.

Minerva Sud a la forme d’un 8. Seule la boucle du haut possède un passage qui permet aux bateaux d’ancrer à l’abri. On distingue un cinquième mât beaucoup plus épais. Ross nous explique que c’est un phare. Il a dû être installé récemment. Le dernier a été détruit par Fidji suite à conflit sur les droits de propriété de Minerva. Finalement, il semblerait que la partie sud appartienne à Fidji, et la partie nord à Tonga. Mais tout cela est flou et nous sommes avant tout en eaux internationales.

La boucle sud et le cercle nord

On contourne le récif sud et on continue notre route vers la partie nord, car le soleil est dans notre trajectoire pour accoster, rendant les manœuvres en eau peu profonde délicates. En effet la profondeur, qui était de 18 mètres aux abords du récif, rechute dramatiquement au-delà de 100 mètres en quelques secondes : Minerva est issu d’une éruption volcanique.

Vers midi, on commence à apercevoir les vagues qui découpent parfaitement le récif de Minerva Nord. Ça a beau être le deuxième en 4h, c’est toujours aussi impressionnant. En s’approchant, les fonds remontent à 25 mètres, et on distingue un drop-off majestueux, sorte de falaise sous-marine. À la surface, des ploufs de poissons volants et de barracudas. Sur les fonds sablonneux, les ombres d’une ou deux raies timides. Plus on s’approche et plus le récif semble s’étendre à l’infini. On le contourne un moment par l’ouest avant d’atteindre le passage. Minerva Nord forme un grand cercle parfait, ouvert sur un segment seulement. Ross y engouffre le Shard et on voit les vagues casser des deux côtés du bateau.

Darren chez le barbier

Une fois dans le cercle, nous sommes dans une piscine naturelle, entourés par la barrière de corail, à l’abri du courant. Le Shard prend une pause bien méritée au milieu de NULLE PART, seul face à l’immensité du Pacifique. En moins de 10 minutes, tout le monde est à l’eau, barbotant dans un bain cristallin à 25°. On s’est bien gardé de saigner les poissons pêchés en route, pour ne pas attirer les requins-tigres vers notre lieu de baignade.

Baignade tant attendue

Armés de nos masques et tubas, nous explorons les fonds déserts. Le sable est couvert de vieux coraux, coquillages en tous genres et éclats de rochers. La baignade nous sert aussi de douche. Nous sommes comme des pirates non contents de nous pomponner. Une bande de pirates du Pacifique menée par l’intrépide Spanker (surnom donné à Ross d’après le verbe « rosser ») et son bras droit Groundhog (la marmotte) a.k.a Darren, pour qui il est toujours « nap’o’clock ». Quant à Steph, s’il avait un surnom ce serait sûrement SoundEffect, vu que tout le monde apprécie son talent pour les bruitages en tous genres, du craquement de la radio au bouchon de champagne qui saute en passant par le survol d’un avion et un tir en rafale. Et moi TapeWorm, mais ça on le savait déjà.

En remontant à bord on se rince à l’eau claire et on sert le vin blanc gardé au frais avec quelques apéritifs. Profitant à 100%, je me demande franchement ce qui pourrait rendre ce moment encore plus magique. À la proue du bateau, Stéphane répond par une demande en mariage. On se promet toujours plus d’aventures, alors forcément, je dis OUI.

On approche du récif sud

Bonne pioche

On s'apprête à ancrer


Pas si petites, ces vagues!


Le bateau vu de l’eau

Le phare de Minerva nord


ENGLISH corner : read Stephane’s contribution

Excitement is the word. It’s like getting ready for the first day of school, or getting organized to go on your first ski vacation – actually it’s neither cause school isn’t fun and we’re already on « vacation » – but I couldn’t sleep nonetheless. This was of no matter since it was my shift anyhow. I kept busy plotting the GPS and establishing an ETA for South Minerva. I got all the footage equipment prepped and sorted out the fishing kit as the sun came up.

Once our navigation gear indicated that we were within ten nautical miles off and within visual range from the reef, Sandie and I were on the lookout in a way only akin to pirates seeking out an approaching ship to plunder: binoculars in hands, hair in the wind holding the mast and off the bow. It would be the first land we’d see in eight days and we were keen, illustrating the undeniable human appeal for reference. Only Ross had been here before. Soon enough we could perceive the telltale mist on the horizon coming from the crashing surf, where the Pacific meets its only barrier in miles. The prospect of being in crystal clear waters, fishing, swimming and showering was grand. The plan was to chill out for a couple of hours, a much-needed break after the past three days of uneventfulness but more for the four days preceding those! The fishing was poor overall given the natural magnet for biodiversity that Minerva represents. If this place has been fished out, damaged or otherwise affected by human activity, then there is no refuge, all ecosystems are indeed in decline.

As soon as our depth gage caught a glimpse of the seabed, we caught our first fish. The line pulls, tugs and then a splash. We venture to guess: whaoo, tuna, mahi-mahi… Ross called it the Fiji fish for no better reason that he caught loads in Fiji. It was a Spanish mackerel. Sandie and I spotted five other yachts anchored inside the reef, they got hit by the same storm as us but rode it out. Their boats were bigger, better equipped and the crew surely more audacious. All they said over the radio about it was: “we have some stories to tell.” The pass was dodgy at best and given that this wasn’t anyone’s boat, we intended to push to the North Minerva reef. The setting was nothing short of amazing, it was that particular setting of atolls as I remembered them in the FSM. We could’ve turned around right then and gone back to New Zealand, I was satisfied.

We had a infinitesimal chance of coming here in the first place and Darren noted, “thanks to the French dude for the detour… lost time is time gained.” There were no clouds, no wind, no currents so we didn’t go fast. We were motoring, so we didn’t go too slow either, all was how it was meant to be. We had three hours of down time until the next halt, time we used effectively to marvel over the pummeling waves, the offbeat nature of the setting, and contemplating what it would be like to be here in a storm like we had. In short, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near this place during any storm. It looks like it’s sheltered and it is until it’s too late. It’s a death trap becoming a washing mashine and even if you were anchored inside you’d drag until you’re shipwrecked. Basically steer clear when in bad weather, in or out and at night. Ross added: “if you wash up on the reef, stay with the boat until nothing is left of it”, “and then what?” “And then you’re dead.”

This underwater Mount Everest surges out of waters three to four thousand meters deep and lies two feet under its surface. There is no land to speak of. There is still one natural passage in, and it felt as if it were meant for us. Getting in still requires some skill and a lot of organization: one on the helm, one on the GPS, one on the bow and one on the fishing lines in case we get a hit. We didn’t gut the fish we caught but conserved them in buckets. Darren points out that “tiger sharks could trail us” and this wouldn’t bode well for our little swim session.

We anchor at 4.6 meters in the middle of this floating ocean crater. I check that there are no Tiger sharks and we all dip in, shower up, clean the hull and propeller. Once we all had our fun we dumped the chum in the water and with a little “here kitty kitty kitty” we waited for our guests from the safety of the boat. A major splash later all of it was gone but not the shadow of a fin could be seen. This is when Ross drops my dive knife in. Three meters deep, visible from the boat, but no one volunteers to jump in to get it. Bummer.

There are some occasions in life that must be seized. This was the time or never to propose. I attempted to “pop the question” over several occurrences, first during a planned dive cruise in the red sea but the Army graciously canceled my vacation. I thought doing it during another panned trip that would bring us on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, which fell through as well. Finally, Sandie was set to join me in the FSM and I had found THE islet where it would happen, but alas that trip went to hell and she never came.

Minerva is lost, unique, you don’t hear about it ever, and you’d never go again. From one adventure to another, and one still yet to come, what more could we ask for. Plus we almost died – ok let’s not dramatize. There is no perfect timing, you can’t wait for everything to be right. As far as I was concerned, in the here and now, all was right. It had to be something true to us and something worth remembering in the place and time of my choosing. She said yes.

0 vue0 commentaire


bottom of page