Shark Attack

We anchored in Gambier, French Polynesia near the Airport Island, aside the Fausse Passe, False Pass, a beautiful shallow snorkeling spot. We took the dinghy to the corner of the channel, my 2 crew members went for a free dive, snorkeling. They were going to the ocean side and let the incoming tide slowly take them into the channel again. The spot is, on a sunny day, beautiful. Coral, sandy bottom, little fish and small black tip reefs shark, on an incoming tide there is a lot of activity. And safe because you are pushed into the lagoon. More data as always on NoForeignland.

Snorkeling area and new Danger marker for Shark Attack
False Pass near the Airport, Gambier

The attack of the Shark

Swimming close together, 10-15 meters my two crew members entered the the channel close to the shallow part with 50 cm of water on top of big coral formations. Out of the ocean came a single bigger, 2-3 meters, shark, properly a Grey Reef shark. It swam directly toward A. and bit him in his underarm.

A. reacted promptly and stabbed him multiple times in the gills which resulted in the Shark letting him go. He managed to get on top of a coral bank bleeding badly from the bite running from below his elbow to above his wrist. D. swam ashore safely.

I managed to launch the dinghy from the beach, had to go around some very swallow parts and row the last 10 meters. Hoist him in the dinghy. It was obvious, this was a severe bite. Big open wound trauma, lots of blood.

First response

From that moment on, we went into crisis modes and did a few things right. We applied a tourniquet with a dinghy rope and twig and used a long leave shirt to make a pressure bandage over his wet suit and arm. On board we give hem a sugary, salty drink. And kept talking to him.

We motored back on maximum power, taking a few safe shortcuts. 45 minutes later we were in Rikitea, which has a medical center with two trauma Nurses.

After the first actions of stabilizing, IV, cutting his 5 mm wet suit off, replace our twig with a professional tourniquet etc, they consulted the ER doctor in Tahiti. A medical emergency was declared and the hospital ordered a medevac. At that time it was about 14 hours local time, all ready two hours after the attack. A. was put on pain medicine as well as antibiotics to counter any infections from the dirty bite.

The follow up

Gambier has an airport, but it’s not equipped for night flights, there are a very limited amount of lights on the runway. So the medivac was performed by the French Air force which flew in a midsize transport plane. They landed at 21:30 and departed an hour later. Flying time to Tahiti is about 3-4 hours.

The transport from the Medical Center to the Airport was performed by a Gendarmarie Pickup truck for the stretcher and the local ferry of the Rikitea community to the airport island. Ta’aone Hospital in Tahiti is the next stop for surgery.

Medevac transport after Shark Attack
French Air force Medevac

Update: A. is “ok”, surgery is today (24 may) reconstruct blood vessels, muscle tissue etc. Later an skin reconstruction, common with shark bits. An X-ray revealed two shark teeth in his arm. An unusual souvenir of a very scary event.

Things to learn

There is local knowledge about Sharks and there are stories about them (semi) attacking. Also that it is most likely a Grey Reef Shark which are know to be aggressive when their territory is invaded. We learned this stories afterwards. I would be skeptical about swimming in that channel having this info on forehand.

A. was not Speer fishing but wears a wet suit that was used multiple times while fishing. I called it his smelly suit. Don’t know if its a factor. Its a dark suit, opinions differs on colors attractive for game fish.

We called out a pan-pan-pan multiple time but nobody reacted. We called the Gendarmarie on cell phone but got an answering machine, between 12-14 its siesta time. Translate a short message in French for VHF. A local harbor master has almost no knowledge of English.

In this case the medical center was one to 1,5 hours away. If we were more remote we would have add three steps to our first aid. Start immediately on a maximum dose of Paracetamol and add a max dose of a broad span antibiotics like Amoxicillin from the Kiskadee board pharmacy, 8to fight on upcoming infection. Second, replace the improvised t-shirt bandage with a real pressure bandage. Third, release the tourniquet a bit after 1,5 hours to start a blood flow to his hand. Look for bleeding, if it occurs you have no choice then tightening it again. Releasing the flow will increase the pain.

For comfort and against a shock, cut his wet suit off, except the arm peace covering the wounds, and rap him in a few blankets.

Words of Thanks

We are in deep gratitude for so much help and kindness. From the professionals to the lady on the dock handing us a bottle of water. Numerous people where involved by transporting him to Tahiti. My second crew member was allowed to fly with him to Tahiti. Also unusual.

So my final words, sailing is beautiful and dangerous. Therese and I are always super grateful that dangerous thus not go all the way to fatal. We are privileged.

12 thoughts on “Shark Attack”

  1. So grateful the awful bite was not worse. Thank you for learning proper medical action so we do not have yet another sailing horror experience because captain and/or crew had no knowledge how to proceed. Sailing & cruising can be danger; more so when no one knows safety procedures. It is an awful situation that could have been worse.
    Thank you for writing about the experience. It has exposed me and has made me a bit more prepared. I need to think about having a mobile waterproof emergency kit in the dinghy.

  2. Oh my goodness. This is my friend’s son!! Thank you for the amazing account of what is an absolute scary event. Thanks indeed to everyone involved. Also to YOU for being so knowledgeable and handling the situation with such care and expertise.

  3. What a terrible story. Always bring a knife when swimming. It seems you handled the situation very well. Let’s hope for a good recovery. Take care.

  4. So sorry this happened Angus….thinking of you constantly.
    Claire and Anna huge positive thoughts to you.
    I believe in my heart all will be well

  5. Wow, that’s a bit more adventure than you hoped for. Hope he gets well. Can you continue to sail with two crew members missing or what is your plan now.

    (Ps, we get news about killer whales bumping into sailing vessels and sinking them in the strait of Gibraltar and think that is nasty, but you are far away for that to bother you)

  6. Thinking of you. Thanks for relaying information. Sending quick recovery wishes to your crew. Missing you two. Karen and Tim, Crow’s Nest

  7. Oh my…. Thinking of you and sending all my best wishes for a speedy and safe recovery. Stay safe… stay free.
    Please let us know if there is anything we can do.

  8. So grateful to D. and Skipper and first mate (wife) and the long line of assistants . I was only informed last night in Australia, by 94 yr old ex-mother-in-law , whom, I’ve called , Mom, for 40yrs. She lives in Sth Afr now. We are so grateful to everyone who helped A. to be delivered to good medical care.
    WOW! The helpers were quick thinking and were the reason A. didn’t lose his arm. Thank you , thank you, thank you 🙏🏻
    My love and respect go to you all. Big love and healing ❤️‍🩹 vibes to A. A. is my nephew by marriage (complicated!) Sally from Byron Bay
    Fair winds, Kiskadee ⛵️

  9. I have had grey reef sharks race right up to me in South Pass at Fakarava in the Tuamotus, and in Beveridge Reef. I was not spear fishing. It was very scary, as each time I was alone (single-handed sailor). I am also aware of an attack in Beveridge Reef similar to this some years ago. You don’t know when a grey reef shark will suddenly approach you, they have a completely different demeanor from the other reef sharks. I hope your crew recovers well.

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