Sunday, 30 October 2011

Tristan 3 - HMS Clyde 2

Sorry for the hiatus. I've now got the key the internet cafe and can get online out of hours when it is a little faster. Well, less slow. I've got so much to tell you I hardly know where to begin. Anyway here goes. I'll fill some of the other gaps in future posts.

We don’t get many visitors! So Friday was a particularly momentous day for Tristan. The Royal Navy ship HMS Clyde visited and spent the day here. She is en route between the Falkland Islands and Cape Town. The Administrator, the UK Government rep, took the opportunity of an audience to unveil a plaque - on the summit of the Volcano whose eruption lead to the complete evacuation of the island 50 years ago to the month. And while the Administrator and his wife entertained the ship’s captain to lunch at the Residency, the Tristan football team entertained a team from the ship on the adjacent pitch, with a large audience of sheep and cattle and a few islanders watching. The island team won 3-2, maintaining its run of four consecutive wins. It was a beautiful day and only a few islanders turned out to watch as there was important work to do in the potato patches (allotments). Ensuring the continuity of food supply and ultimately survival on one of the world’s most remote islands is a deeply ingrained island instinct. 

In any website on Tristan you always see this welcome sign. But when I arrived I was puzzled because I couldn't find it anywhere. Apparently it is so windy on the island that unless there are visitors and it's calm they take all signs down - including the welcome sign, road signs and one telling you we are 5,386 miles from London! So it suddenly appeared again when the HMS Clyde was in port.

It’s been a busy week for island fishermen and the fish processing factory, with three ‘fishing days’. Let me explain. There are only two employers on the island. The Tristan da Cunha government itself is by far the biggest. It runs an administration office and a treasury including bank, and a number of departments, like agriculture, mechanical, electrical, carpentry, communications, shop, post office, health and education. The other is the lobster processing factory. But many of the government staff are fishermen and on one of the few days which are good enough to launch the boats and get in and out of the harbour safely, a bell is donged at 4.45am and normal island life is suspended for the day. Generally there are 60 fishing days a year. The number is variable and depends on catches and quotas as it is critical that the fishing is sustainable. Once offloaded the factory works flat out to process and freeze the fish catch as soon as possible to ensure freshness. 

It’s been a momentous day in my kitchen too - preparing food for the week ahead. There is no fast or prepared food in the shop. I’ve made a loaf of brown bread, two mixed fruit tea cakes; butternut squash soup and a sausage and carrot casserole. But the really momentous bit is that I’ve used my last cabbage and carrot. There are none left in the island store and won’t be for at least another two weeks when the next supply ship unloads. The only fresh vegetables available in the 'canteen', as the supermarket is called, are onions and butternut squash. There are frozen vegetables but apart from peas they aren’t great - like tomatoes. I suppose that's one of the reasons every islander has an allotment. However the islanders are very kind and generous and I’ve been given potatoes, eggs, lobsters and a huge amount of beef and lamb – all delicious and produced on Tristan. I also get a bottle of milk delivered every other morning from Sylvia Green, straight from her cow, unpasteurised and still slightly warm. Its very creamy and great with coffee and frosties (when chilled).

The weather seems to have settled down here after last week’s deluge. We’ve had several dry and sunny days, and we’ve been up on the plateau at 2,500 feet called the Base, three times in the last week. We should probably be up there again today but it is pretty exhausting and we need some time to recharge batteries (literally and metaphorically!) The ascent is as steep as anything I’ve done in the Alps and even once you get up there the going doesn’t get much easier with deep ravines (gulches) to cross every few hundred yards. The plants are pretty difficult to identify – just to add to the challenge – with a high proportion of grass and sedge species amongst the 90 native and 130 non-native plant species. Because the season is late these grasses and sedges are almost impossible to identify with only last year’s remnants of flowers to go on - which are now frayed, battered or missing after a winter of South Atlantic storms. However it should get easier with perseverance and the advancing season


  1. Good to see a mention of squash on your blog, Jim. Even if it is of the edible variety ;-)

  2. Hi Jim, this is Angus (seems I have to comment as Pa because that's what I am on my family blogspot). Anyway, good to have news of you in time for SAM. When folk asked after you, I couldn't tell them much till now. Things going fine here, with just the odd hiccup. No doubt as spring advances your ID problems will resolve themselves. Look forward to more postings.

  3. Great to catch up on the blog, Jim. Island life sounds fascinating. Good luck finding them plants. Dave