Travellers' tales

Recalling a mid-1950s voyage

As a seven-year-old I travelled on Calédonien in December 1955 from Vila in New Hebrides to Sydney, Australia. It took 10 days, including a five-day stay in New Caledonia.

I had the misfortune to be suffering 'coral ear', a rather nasty tropical ear infection. Whilst in Nouméa I was taken to the hospital, where the doctor spoke no English and my parents spoke no French.

I have very fond memories of the trip, where my brother and I ate with our parents for breakfast, but had lunch and dinner in the nursery. They played Disney cartoons for us, but in French. It was funny seeing Donald and Mickey speaking French.

I hope this little bit adds to you collection of information about the Calédonien.

Allan Dugan, 25 July 2015.

Maiden voyage recalled

J'ai fait le voyage inaugural du Calédonien en 1952, j'avais alors 7 ans. Avec mes parents, mes 2 soeurs et notre domestique, nous retournions à Port-Vila aux Nouvelles-Hébrides (aujourd'hui le Vanuatu), nous avons quittés Marseille et dans le golfe du Lion nous avons eu droit à une tempête. Beaucoup de passagers avaient le mal de mer. Aprés avoir fait escale à Madère et à la Martinique, nous avons passé le canal de Panama, direction Tahiti où nous sommes restés quelques jours en escale puis direction Port-Vila. Ce fut un magnifique voyage de retour sur un bateau flambant neuf.

Merci Les Messageries.

Michel Cornette, 12 February 2012.

Fun and games in Port Vila

I had the ultimate pleasure of sailing on the Calédonien from Sydney in June 1970 to arrive in Marseilles around the 11th September. I refer the trip to friends these days and all I get is absolute jealousy of my trip; the like of which is not even offered these days.

Amongst all of my memories one I will never forget was a football match under "floodlights" on the wharf in Port Vila. the ships crew and passengers against the locals. Everytime the ball went into the water, everyone would converge on some tressel tables; set up around the half way line; and enjoy a glass of wine. I nearly remember the end of the match, being carried up a gangplank by one of the crew!

I was so lucky to have had the forsight to return to England this way, it was a chance of a lifetime. My biggest regret however was that the crew never gave me a crossing the line (equator) certificate. I would love to be able to look at it framed on my wall.

George Hurst, 18 November 2011

A memorable 21st birthday

My twin sister and I sailed on the Calédonien from Sydney on December 6, 1966 to Marseilles. We had our twenty-first birthdays on the ship a few days sail east of Tahiti.

It was truly the sailing trip of a lifetime. It is too sad that these beautiful ships and their quietly elegant mode of travel have been replaced by the monstrous luxury? liners of today. It was lovely to see her again on this website.

PS: I have some really funny stories I can send when I have time. Of two 21 year olds having the times of their lives escorted by the ship's second in command and chief engineer!

Sue (Hillhouse) Erikson

Holiday romances can last forever!

This message was received from a visitor to the site who has chosen to remain anonymous:

Thank you for this website. I was a passenger on the Calédonien in 1968 and met my future husband on the ship! We are still happily married today and have fond memories of the voyage from Sydney to Marseilles.

A message from a crew member

J'ai decouvert votre site qui est tres bien grace au ancien des messageries maritimes j'ai nvigué au MM et j'etais a bord (je travaillais au bar des 1ere) quand la photo au iles marquises a ete prise felicitation encore pour votre site amities.

From Mazzoni Ange.

Three stories from a 1958 passage

My father, Jacques Nalpas, was a purser for the MM: in 1956 he was sent to Australia to serve two years on the Polynésie. The family followed. We all came back in May 1958, on the Calédonien, and we went from Sydney to Marseilles. I was only eight years old, but for us it was a fantastic adventure. Here are three short stories I guarantee happened during that trip.

The lifeboat

One afternoon, halfway between Noumea and Tahiti, a rumour spreads across the ship: a lifeboat has been spotted on the horizon, the ship is changing course to rescue the survivors of a shipwreck. All the passengers rush down to their cabins to fetch binoculars and cameras, and they run back to the highest decks to have a better view. As we draw nearer, the image becomes more clear: those using binoculars describe what they see to the surrounding crowd. The lifeboat has capsized - some of the survivors have managed to climb back on the hull, clinging to the keel. After a few minutes, the excitement grows: we can see the people on the boat waving their arms to their rescuers. The sun is low on the horizon, the sky is turning orange, the sea is absolutely flat, no wind, no waves.

The Calédonien has slowed down. All of a sudden, here and there, cries of surprise: it is not a lifeboat, it is a large timber fallen from a cargo in some storm, with big seabirds perched on top, opening their wings to the declining sun. Frightened by the approach of the big ship, they flap their wings, but none of them has flown off, which would have immediately shown us our mistake. The Calédonien describes a large circle around the timber, salutes the birds with a blast of her siren, and resumes course to Tahiti.

The line of date change

The course of the ship is followed by the passengers: every day, bets are made on the number of miles in 24 hours; every four days or five days the clocks are moved by one hour. At the time of the French Colonial Empire there was always a priest among the passengers, travelling between Europe and French Polynesia or New Caledonia. So every Sunday passengers and crew would dress up and gather for the mass celebrated in the first class smoking room. On the ships going to Madagascar at the same period, the statues decorating the smoking room had two faces: one would represent a saint or a prophet, and once the mass was over, you could rotate the statue on its base, and a more prosaic figure would appear ... I do not remember this was the case on the Calédonien. Going to the mass has never been very exciting, especially for young children. One Monday morning, my mother urges us: dress up quickly, we have to go to the mass. I complain indignantly 'But it is Monday, there is no mass on Monday!'.

No, today it is Sunday again. For kids below 10 years old, it was difficult to grab the explanation of the line of change of date. And we had to assist to the same mass as the day before, but even the priest seemed to take it more lightly than usual: the sermon was shorter, people were less attentive, and still today I can feel the frustration of having to go to the mass twice in two days, for no good reason.

The encounter with the Tahitien

The Tahitien and the Calédonien were two sister ships, nearly identical. One morning, the word goes around the boat: today, we will cross the course of the Tahitien! At the time there was no GPS, encounters at sea not too frequent when you travel across the Pacific Ocean, and meeting a ship from the same company, meeting the sister ship, was a unique experience.

By radio, the company could inform the captains at sea of the position of the nearest ships and a meeting could be arranged, the boats steering towards one another using the instruments. Before the time of the encounter, people start to scrutinize the horizon: at last, a black dot with a trail of smoke, gradually a ship becomes visible, growing quickly: 15 meters above sea level, the distance to the horizon is only 10 miles, so the maximum distance you can see the smoke of another ship is about 20 miles, and the combined speed is close to forty knots. So in fact, it takes hardly 20 minutes before the two ships come alongside. The bow waves of the two ships, identical and parallel, rush towards one another, and when they meet, the water leaps in the air, and the waves continue their course, splashing the hulls of the two ships. The Passengers and crews salute the other ship, yelling, clapping their hands, each representing the future and the past of the other: those coming from Europe going to their future, which was the past of those coming back from Australia or New Caledonia.

And all of a sudden, it is over, the Tahitien is on its way to Noumea and Sydney, the Calédonien to Papeete.

From Dominique Nalpas with thanks.