We finished our usual post passage tidy up and were down below when we heard the unmistakable reach-the-back-of-theatre voice of Allison from Saraoni anchored about 200 feet away from us. “Escape Velocity, you brought the heat on the entire anchorage!” We ran outside to find an airplane overhead. Let me reiterate that we are anchored in the lagoon of a mid-ocean reef about 250 miles from the nearest land, a place Jack and I had just been wondering who had jurisdiction, if anyone. Huh, we thought. We don’t often see planes anymore, which is probably hard to imagine when you live in civilization.
We went back to our business but the VHF radio crackled to life and a voice called, “All vessels in North Minerva Reef, please switch to channel 6 and identify yourselves by boat name.” It was the New Zealand Navy in an Orion search and rescue plane. Well, that answers our question about jurisdiction, I thought. And then hard on the heels of that thought another, dreaded thought crept into my mind. Is there serious weather coming and are they going to tell us to leave the reef? We had just settled in and the idea of going back out there was not appealing in the least.
We changed the channel on the radio and of the five boats at anchor, three of us answered with our boat names. The crews of the other two were together on one boat and apparently didn’t have the radio on. The Navy guy asked the names of the other two boats and we told him. Then he went one by one and asked us a list of questions. Boat name, last port, date of departure, destination port and expected arrival, port of registration, hailing port, registration number, name of captain, number of people on board, whether we had any animals or weapons on board. We all answered very business-like, following marine radio protocol.
All this time the plane was circling the reef, making dramatic banking turns and flying so close sometimes that twice I had to wait until he passed us before answering the questions. “You’re very loud,” I said at one point.
By the time he finished with the three of us that initially answered his hail the other two crews noticed what was up and got on the radio. The last boat to answer was Oceanna, the catamaran with the two young and fun-loving Canadians who’d organized the beach bocce tournament with coconuts months ago in the Marquesas. The skipper, Greg, answered the call, then exclaimed, “It’s so cool to see you up there!” There was a long pause, then a deadpan reply, “It’s nice to see you too.”
Greg answered all the questions on ports and people and weapons and animals, and at the end, when the officer thanked him Greg asked, in his inimitable surfer dude voice, “Did you see my backflip off the back of the boat?!” Another, longer pause, during which Jack and I nearly doubled over with laughter. We hadn’t been watching Oceanna but we could well imagine Greg timing some kind of perfect performance for the plane at just the right moment. Then the deadpan voice came back. “We did. It was pretty spectacular. We got it on video.”
“Awesome!” said Greg. And with that the plane signed off, wishing us a safe passage, and was gone.