Friday, 23 September 2011

Leaving Cape Town

Dolpins swimming alongside
It’s a beautiful morning. It’s warm and sunny. The sea is sparkling but there is a pretty big swell and we are rolling along. Despite scanning the sea with binoculars there is not much to see – no land, the occasional distant ship and a few albatrosses and petrels - I’ll update you once I figure out what species they are. Just a lot of sea and sky.

I didn’t sleep much last night – it’s hard getting used to the motion and engine noise. But the bunk is comfortable and there is a little light and air from a nearby port hole. There is an excellent shower but otherwise the plumbing is pretty dodgy but I’ll spare you the details.

Delicious fried eggs and bacon with lovely toast made from dense wholemeal bread for breakfast. And proper filter coffee. But it might have been a mistake because I didn’t feel too well a couple hours later. Anyway I survived but didn’t risk lunch. Actually I’m beginning to wonder how good my motion sickness tablets are. I explained to my doc that I was on a six day sail from Cape Town to Tristan and asked him for extra strong tablets. He prescribed Buccastem which you don’t swallow, but let dissolve slowly between your gum and cheek.

I’ve being trying to befriend the captain. But it’s quite hard work. He is Latvian and is a man of few words and even fewer in English. What I gleaned was that we are doing 7.2 knots and at 10am were only 160 kilometres from Cape Town. Our speed is (to me) surprisingly slow but not untypical for a cargo ship in a big swell. Even here the sea is over 2300m deep according to the charts. A straight line course direct to Tristan would be 260 degrees. However we are on a slightly more southerly course of 252 degrees to increase the angle with the swell and reduce roll. Just another 1600km to go....

To while away the hours I’ve been variously sleeping, reading, chatting and listening to music. For a bit of fun I’ve been listening to all my tracks which come up when you search for the word “Wave”. Not many as it turns out - Love is the Seventh Wave, by Sting; The Name of the Wave, by William Orbit and Brainwaves by Nitin Sawhney.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

MV Baltic Trader

I've said a sad farewell to my partner.  Nine months is a very long time.  And I'm now on the MV Baltic Trader and through a miracle of technology now posting this blog using my mobile phone. (This is going to be an expensive phone bill, but hey it will be the last for a while as there is no mobile service on Tristan.) There is just one little problem. We are still in the dock in Cape Town. It took much longer than anticipated to load, and now the cargo is being secured in the hold.  Everything takes longer in Africa.  The sun has gone down and so a nice shot of Table Mountain will have to wait until my return in 9 or 10 months.

Let me tell you about my fellow passengers. There is a Tristan couple and their young boy and three goldfish, returning home after a holiday in the UK. A BBC Radio Southampton reporter going out for 6 days to do a piece to mark 50 years since the evacuation of the island (to Southampton). An electrical engineer going out to do maintenance work on the island's electricity diesel generators. A doctor who is going out at 5 days notice for 3 months to relieve the island doctor. (Nobody is sure why the resident doctor has become indisposed so suddenly.) And two tourists who are both fulfilling a lifetime dream to visit the island  - even if only for 6 days before returning on the MV Batic Trader.

The ship is owned by a British company, crewed by Russians and flies a Panamanian flag. I'm not quite sure what nationality the captain and the first officer are but the engineer is South African.  Pretty international eh?!

We have just had pan fried lamb with boiled rice, followed by canned fruit for dinner.  But I've taken the precaution of stocking up on nibbles, crisps and chocolates before boarding.  And special sea sickness tablets you don't have to swallow - you put them between your gum and cheek and let them dissolve slowly. 

I think we might be about to go as a siren has just sounded. Ah yes the engines have just been started up. Better go... The forecast is good so I hope I'll be able to speak to you in 6 days time (or so).

Departure Day

Ok its bad but it could be worse. I’ve just had emergency root canal treatment yesterday afternoon and have another appointment this morning at 8.30. Hopefully the painkillers will work eventually and I’ll get some sleep. The dentist is sure that the treatment is essential as the tooth was definitely infected.  They use minature flexible round files and worryingly the tip of one of them has snapped off in the root. She is going to try to remove it tomorrow. (Sorry was that too much information?)  I really hope it’s not going to play up on Tristan – 1750 miles and at least 6 days away from the nearest dentist.

Meanwhile I’ve dropped my hold luggage off at Table Bay Marine, done some last minute shopping and made arrangements for the Tristan da Cunha agent in Cape Town to pick me up and take me to the MV Baltic Trader at 1300 today, 22nd September.  Its actually a small (82m length) cargo ship that takes up to 12 passengers as well as freight and its Russian crew.

Once on board there will be no further blogs until I land on Tristan. But I’ll do some off-line blogs, conditions allowing. Meantime you might like to do a bit of reading about Tristan yourself.  Just in case you haven’t discovered it the main island website is   There are loads of interesting stuff on this site – you just have to dig around a bit. Take a look at the Shipping Schedule on the Shipping page for example Just 10 Cape Town - Tristan return sailings a year!

Kew provides information about the vegetation at Take a look at the Alien Plant Reports on the Resources page.  Pretty interesting stuff. And there is a good general history site at

Also see and for more general information.

Here are a selection of photos from our holiday in Cape Town:
We did see them - African Penguins - at Boulder Bay!
Boulder Bay

Living with the penguins at Boulder Bay, Rock Hyraxes - apparently the closest relative to the elephant.

Hydobanche sanguinea, nice eh!?

Baboon near Cape Point

Carpobrotus edulis, Hottentot Fig (I think)


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Dentist

I didn't mention it before but I've had toothache on and off this week. So I'm seeing a Cape Town dentist this morning.

Just the last thing I want on a remote island which won't have too many dentists, I guess. Wish me luck!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Penguins, whales and seals

Its great being on holiday!  We arranged to meet up with friends for lunch today on the way to see the African Penguin colony at Boulder Beach - one of only three mainland colonies in the world.   It was great to see our friends, eat lovely seafood and watch Southern right whales and Cape fur seals frollicking in a sparkling ocean right in front of the restaurant. (The Harbour House, Kalke Bay - I'd thoroughly recommend it.)  The seals have learnt an amazing trick of clapping their flippers to encourage visitors to part with food.

Our lunch ran over a bit and we left three hours later, so the penguins will have to wait. But that did mean more time for our return journey along the stunningly scenic Chapman's Peak Drive and sunset over the South Atlantic.

Arriving in Cape Town

Ok we have arrived in Cape Town. Got through security checks and immigration without incident. I was worried as my bags contained a load of specialised survey equipment which might have appeared a bit weird to an inspector (like boxes of batteries and wires and plant presses).  Passport control was similarly uneventful: the Officer had never heard of Tristan da Cunha and looked faintly bored when I explained it was half way between Cape Town and South America.
Table Mountain from Cape Town harbour
In Cape Town, everything is strangely different but similar. It's weird, at least for an unseasoned traveller like me, to go abroad and end up in an English speaking country driving on the left!  Talking about driving, we hired a car, Simon drove and I navigated and I took a 180 degree wrong turning when I forgot that in the Southern Hemisphere the sun is in the northern sky!  (Tests on which way the water goes down the plug hole have so far been inconclusive, but Brian Cox says that business is a myth - its completely random!)

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Adventure Begins

The bags are packed, farewells said and we leave for a flight to Cape Town in 30 minutes. It's taken meticulous planning to get everything I'm likely to need for the next 9 or 10 months for a botanical survey of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean.  One of the world's most isolated inhabited islands. 

I've just spent the last couple hours hoovering clothes velcro, pockets and rucksacks (after washing)  to make sure I'm not importing any British plant seeds into South Africa and Tristan da Cunha.  It would be pretty bad if I made the problem of invasive species worse than it already is.  The survey is a baseline systematic survey to allow an assessment of the impacts of climate change and the spread of non-native species. Here we go...