Friday, 25 November 2011

Sounds of Silence?

You might think that the remotest inhabited island in the world is a silent place. Far from it. Wind noise is pervasive. The mean wind speed is 40km/hour.  When the wind is strong the New Zealand flax shelter belts makes additional thrashing noise. Rain frequently accompanies wind – and it sounds really heavy on the village’s corrugated steel roofs. If you can't hear wind or rain then almost certainly you hear the South Atlantic Ocean swell crashing onto Tristan's rocky volcanic shores. The ocean is very rarely calm and it’s a very peaceful noise to fall asleep to. The sound travels far.  One of the few times I've not heard wind or waves was 1100 metres up and well back from the edge of the base.

Tristan has one of the highest rates of vehicle ownership of any country in the world. Surprising you might think when there is only about 4 km of tarred road and a similar length of dirt track. All the vehicles seemed to be owned by men and I’m sure it is a status thing. The vehicles are mostly 125cc motorbikes and 4x4 bakkies (pickup trucks). So for about ten minutes every morning there is regular traffic noise. Fishing days, when government offices close and the men go fishing, are heralded at 4.30am by the ringing of the ‘dong’ - an old red gas cylinder near the Albatross pub.  Suddenly there is a stream of traffic heading to the harbour and later in the day, when the catch is landed a siren calls workers to the fish processing factory.

Tristan men at work
We heard a very rare noise this week - a jet!  Tristan is not on any scheduled flight path and it is very unusual to hear jets. Such events are reported in the local newspaper. While jets are rare we do have a natural equivalent - the low-flying albatross!  Which makes an astonishing and beautiful whooshing noise. They seem to aim for humans but unlike the Antarctic Skuas there is no menace – just curiosity.  It’s spring here but there is no dawn chorus as neither of the two breeding landbirds on Tristan nest in the settlement.  But I’ll tell you more about Starchies and Island Cocks another time - both of which are quite noisy.

On Wednesday we heard another rare sound - gunshot - as we watched island men kill then butcher a bullock.  There are no abattoirs on the island, so when the meat supply runs low a sheep or bullock is culled – often in some remote part of the island.  No easy task as livestock is very wary of men with guns (sensibly) and runs fast in the opposite direction.  But the men seem to enjoy the hunt.   In less than 30 minutes deft work with knives and axe, the beast was skinned, disembowelled, quartered and bagged up for the return journey to the settlement by boat. We were camping in a hut nearby and were kindly given some beef for our braai (barbeque).  Very nice too - if a bit chewy. 

We fell asleep to the sound of breaking waves, distant fur seals and rats rustling round the hut.

Fur Seals taken a little earlier in the day.

PS Exciting news – visitors from the outside world! A broken down round-the-world racing yacht is due to limp into Tristan harbour tomorrow morning. 


  1. Great post Jim, keep them coming! :-)

  2. Hi Jim,

    My cycling against a wind today doesn't sound so bad now! I suspect you'll never be fitter (assuming you survive!) after this work. Great blogs by the way..keep them up..finally managed to open them today.

    All the best,

    Lindsay fae NTS!