We are still anchored off Ilot Mato, which we mistakenly called Ilot Mata in our last blog entry. We took this photo just an hour ago. We decided to brave the venomous sea snakes and land on the island once again. There is a steep hill that ascends right from the shore from which we expected a beautiful view of the southern lagoon of New Caledonia. To our surprise, we did not see any snakes on the beach this time, except for one large dead snake that looked like someone had bitten it’s head off. With shoes and socks to protect our feet and ankles from rocks and snakes, instead of flip-flops, we headed up the rocky hill to the summit and found wonderful views in all directions.
The water was so clear, that even from the top Laura spotted a big group of large fish swimming in the shallow water right next to our dinghy. As we descended part way down the hill, she declared the fish to be sharks, an idea that I immediately dismissed. The water was too shallow and the group of fish was too numerous to be sharks. Laura vision is keener that mine — they were sharks. At least a dozen blacktipped sharks cruising just behind the dinghy, which was parked in the only bit of beach on Ilot Mato. They were not too big – ranging from 3 – 5 feet – but big enough that walking into the water to launch the dinghy seemed unwise. Blacktipped sharks do not go after humans, but we still not wish to venture into a shark convention uninvited. The presence of the sharks may explain the absence of sea snakes, and the dead one on the beach. I would rather swim with a blacktipped shark than a creepy seasnake, so bon appetit sharks!
After a few minutes, we realized that the sharks were not leaving anytime soon. We threw some rocks into the water but that did not seem to scare the sharks away. Finally, we decided it would be best to push the dinghy into the water from the edge of the beach and then leap in. Laura did a perfect dive from the beach into the dinghy and seeing the dinghy float away, I dove as well, grabbing onto to a tube. When we started the outboard motor, the sharks moved back a few feet but did not leave the area. They are persistent.
After Intiaq left us three days ago, we had two days of storms followed by a day of high winds and sunshine. There were a number of wind shifts, typically from NE to SW and then back, which set off the anchor alarm (GPS-based proximity alarm) and kept us a little bit on the alert. Sabbatical III is anchored in a relatively narrow pass between two long coral reefs situated to the east of the small, uninhabited Ilot Mato. If we drag anchor here, we will be hard up on a reef very quickly. The photograph shows it well.
There was also another tsunami alert which we missed altogether. An earthquake in Vanuatu prompted the alert that led officials here in New Caledonia to sound horns and send text messages to cell phones. We have a New Caledonia cell phone but we did not get a text message, and we are too far from civilization to hear a horn. Schools were evacuated along the east coast of Grande Terre and on the nearby Loyalty Islands. We were blissfully unaware and there is little that we could have done had we heard the alert. It would have taken us too long to get our anchor up and move into open water given the shortness of the warning. Our friends on Intiaq heard the warning at Ilot Amadee and were able to head out into open water. (As it turned out, the tsunami wave was only 1 foot tall, and was not felt.) We first heard about the tsunami in an email from my sister Fran. So, if you hear of some danger coming our way, please let us know.