Striking the North Minerva reef with gigantic force, the Strathcoma has almost dry docked herself Photo by J lilburn

The Minerva Reefs in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 200 miles south of both Fiji and Tonga, first came to attention of European mariners in September 1829 when the whaler Minerva drove high upon a reef (today known South Minerva Reef) in the middle of the night. All crew took to the boats and were eventually rescued, an adventure story for another time although her name ‘Minerva’ remains forever.

Then in 1914 along came the brand new kauri vessel Strathcoma (Baileys built in Auckland) on her maiden voyage, loaded up with supplies for Fanning Island. In the middle of the night she too drove up hard upon a reef—this time on North Minerva Reef. Once again, the crew were all able to get into the lifeboats and begin their adventure of survival in one of the world’s most remote and isolated locations.

After floating about in their lifeboats inside the reef, assessing their uncomfortable and cramped situation, it was decided that they would build a large raft using the masts off their ship and shelter from the extreme heat under the sails. They also erected a rainwater system and rescued many of the supplies from Strathcoma as they floated past.

On this raft made from the masts of the wrecked schooner, her crew lived in a precarious state, until rescued by H.M cable ship Iris Photo by J lilburn

On the sixteenth day in these precarious conditions, with very little hope of rescue, it was decided that the ‘Captains boat’ would set out to try and reach help on an island somewhere.

Then on the 25th day on their raft the men spotted a vessel heading in their direction—the schooner Iris.

At the same time, rescue was also on its way by those in the Captain’s boat, who had managed to charter an island trader.

Iris eventually returned them to Auckland, although most were in poor health and suffering from septic coral cuts and malnutrition.

Well charted, the Minerva and Strathcoma were not the only vessels to be snared by Minerva. In 1960 a Japanese fishing boat was wrecked on South Minerva with no loss of life, but in July 1962 the cutter Tuaikaepau ran aground and was wrecked within a few hours. The Tongan crew pulled together and set about living on the reef where the majority of them managed to survive for 102 days, eventually building their own rescue boat.

Their full story can be found in the book ‘Minerva Reef’ by Olaf Ruhen,1963.

Editor Note:

Last issue we ran the wrong photo with the article on the Windward. We in fact used the the photo of the Strathcoma as pictured above .

We apologise to our readers.

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