New Caledonia.

Reference:New Caledonia -1

Title: No sharks at Noumea.

Length: 900 words.

Publishing rights: All rights.

Travel companies: Orient Lines and Air New Zealand.

Copyright: Derrick Grover.

(Please click on thumbnails of photographs on this page to see enlargement, there is sometimes distortion when they are reduced.)

No sharks at Noumea.


"Would you like to take the helm?"

"Yes of course I would."

We were sailing out of Baie de la Moselle the main harbour of Noumea the capital of New Caledonia. This South Pacific Island was discovered by Captain Cook in 1774 but became French in 1853 under Napoleon III. It is now a French overseas territory administered by a High Commissioner.

"Keep her on course while I unfurl the jib. We can point more into the wind than the catamaran and we'll get to the reef first."

The catamaran cut through the waves ahead of us. Once out of the protection of the harbour, the sea soon became choppy at the conjunction of two island currents. The wind was only force 4-5 but our yacht leant into the sea and slapped the waves. It was 77 degrees F and the sea breeze was welcome in the summer the temperature can be as high as 95 degrees F.

"Did you see that turtle?"

"Yes, but what about the sharks?"

"No there aren't any sharks this side of the reef, they want 20 metres of water to find the bigger fish. You never find them in the shallow water here." Our skipper was French but so conversant with English that his repartee was endless.

We anchored near a coral reef by Canard Island some three miles to the south of the harbour.

"There are fees for landing on the beach of this private island, so we will anchor off the reef. Who wants a mask and snorkel? If you follow the anchor chain you'll come to the reef."

Marine life.

There were no flippers but the sea was only 12 feet deep and it was easy to reach the bottom. Unusually my ears did not hurt when I reached the sand but there were few fish. I returned to the surface for air and swam to the bows of the boat. The anchor chain was pulling out from the reef at an angle, which I followed. This time I was rewarded by a blaze of colour. Fish, some 10 - 12 inches long, darted away in front of me to seek shelter amongst the cracks in the coral, but smaller fish in blue, yellow and striped like a zebra, swam by in shoals.

I gave chase to a large zebra fish but suddenly in front of me were giant sea urchins some ten times the size of my previous encounter in the Mediterranean. The long spiky barbs stood out menacingly into the water. Previously the spikes had been so sharp they had gone through the rubber of my flippers like a hot knife through butter but, without even that protection, they would probably have gone through my foot. I was careful not to kick at them as I swam away; I was lucky the current helped me.

Back on board, our party was imbibing drinks - courtesy of the skipper. Suddenly a racing catamaran came from nowhere. It was expertly handled and I marvelled at the skill with which it was pulled up alongside the stern. There was a torrent of French with our skipper. The helmsman had been hit in the eye and blood was oozing onto his cheek.

I assumed he got in the way of the boom of his catamaran, but my wife thought he had had an argument with his lady crew who retaliated. She certainly looked angry. Commanding her to hold the catamaran steady he climbed aboard. A first aid box was produced and a repair put in place; sufficient for him to complete his return to shore. In a moment he was off leaving us to our drinks.

Volunteers were needed to raise the anchor. With a lookout to guide us we steered the boat in the direction of the chain and the anchor was levered aboard. Then we were away on a broad reach with a full genoa. The wind was brisk and we ploughed easily through the waves. Many had not sailed before and found it exhilarating. For the more experienced it was a comfortable ride without any worries. A fin raced under the boat and away to the side.

"What was that?" I asked, "was it a shark?"

"No, a dolphin. You don't get sharks here. The dolphins are more powerful than sharks and will attack them if they are a danger to their young. Otherwise they swim and fish together - but not this side of the reef."

"How does a dolphin attack without the shark's teeth?"

"They butt them in the side."

Our skipper was a mine of information. "I lost my own boat in a typhoon," he said, "the insurance didn't cover it and now I am earning a living with support from a sponsor.

Navigation is always difficult when the shoreline is unfamiliar.

"Aim for that yellow crane in between the hills."

What crane I wondered as I lifted my sunglasses to get a better view. I could just make out the thin line of yellow stretching into the sky. It helped if you knew what was there.

"Keep to the starboard side as we approach the harbour." It seemed the wind would play tricks as we moved away from the protection of the rocks and we might need the extra space. The sails were furled and we motored back to the wharf.

It was time for dinner and maybe a shark steak on the menu.

View some photographs supporting this article here.

View of harbour


Flora and forna.

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