Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Evanston: the vanishing reef; the hurricane that prevented a war (maybe); of mice and men

        In musing about my route across the Pacific next year, I’ve tried to think of places I haven’t been that I’d like to visit, and have come up only with Hawaii and the Minerva Reefs.   I’ve sailed close to Minerva Reefs a couple of times; but once at sea I have a strong tendency to stay there.  
        During my CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE voyage I met a Dutch sailor who ran onto one of the reefs.  He confessed that he and his American wife were making love at the time.  The earth truly did move for them.
        She was a very attractive woman and I have long been an advocate of passion, both of spirit and flesh, and as an old man still am; but I think that I would waited until we were inside the lagoon and the anchor was down.
        His boat was 35’ long and made of steel.  
        Unable to get off to windward and helped by crews of the few yachts who were anchored there, they moved everything possible off the boat, ran out lines, and over several days bounced her inch by inch over the reef.  He was a credible man and I would have believed him anyway, but he had photos.
        Only a steel hull would have survived; and despite a bent rudder, they were able to sail on to New Zealand.  
        Some might take this as a lesson that you should have a steel hull.  I disagree.  Steel boats are too heavy to sail well.  The lesson is don’t put your boat on a reef.
        I went looking for the Minerva Reefs on my electronic charts.  Even with the exact coordinates, it took a while to find them, particularly on the Navionics in the iPads.  One problem with electronic charts is that small features, such as isolated atolls, don’t appear until you zoom in.  How far you have to zoom varies, and you can’t possibly zoom in to inspect every mile of a thousand mile or more passage.  
        With a chartplotter set to a scale normally used at sea, there would not be the least indication that anything was in your way.  Until the earth moved.


        In viewing images of Apia, a possible stop on GANNET’s way from San Diego to Opua, I came across several of the hurricane of 1889, including the one above of “The USS TRENTON Dragging Along the Reefs,” which led me to an interesting page at the Naval Historical Center.
        Briefly, German and American warships were anchored at Apia on the verge of hostilities over control of the islands that now comprise Samoa and American Samoa when a hurricane blew the fleets to pieces.  I had read of this before.  
        You can find more images and details at the link above.


        Everyone knows “the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley,” but I read the poem, “To a Mouse:  on turning up her nest with the plow” again a few days ago, and the ending is something more.