Sunday, 27 May 2012


The Tristan da Cunha archipelago comprises three islands – Tristan itself, the biggest and only permanently inhabited, and two smaller islands some 30-32km to the south west, Nightingale and Inaccessible.  Yesterday I visited Inaccessible with some island men and fellow ex-pat Adriano in the Wave Dancer.  It is always good to get away from the Settlement given that you can’t normally go much further than 5 km at most.  It was a stunningly beautiful day.  It was good to see the 2000m high Peak, now with a light dusting of fresh snow on patches of older snow.  The high escarpment around the island makes it impossible to see it from anywhere on coastal plains.  The sun is low in the sky and much of the western side of the island is in shadow.  I decide to wait until the return journey before taking a photograph, foolishly as it turns out because by that time the island is cloud capped.
Tristan with cloud cap from Inaccessible
It doesn’t take long in the Wave Dancer at 22 knots – maybe an hour and an half, even with a short pause to set four crayfish (lobster) pots.  We carry a small RIB (Rubber Inflatable Boat) half on deck, and half hanging off the back.  It is used to make a beach landing.  Which turns out not to be as inaccessible as the name suggests.  Apparently there are four places where you can land, depending on sea and weather conditions.  The name might better describe the fact that once landed there is only one easy route up the escarpment which entirely surrounds the island.  Unusually we make the landing with dry feet and haul the RIB up and secure it, disturbing some snoozing Sub-Antarctic Fur Seal pups in the process.

Inaccessible from the boulder beach, Blenden Hall
We land at Blenden Hall, a small coastal plain at the westernmost extremity and make for the hut used by visiting islanders and scientists.  It’s really well equipped with cooking equipment, mattresses and sleeping bags.  It even has solar powered lights and sockets.  A stream runs  nearby conveniently.

The plain and lower escarpment are almost entirely covered by coarse, dense and tall Tussock grass (Spartina arundinacea).  Well apart from Skua Pond, which like many Tristan da Cunha ‘ponds’ isn’t actually a pond but a floating bog.  This one is dominated by Big Bog Grass (Isolepis sulcata) with Pig Dock (Rumex frutescens) and Hydrocotyle filipes.  And true to name there is a gang of loafing Tristan Skuas - a local subspecies of the Antarctic Skua.  Which is remarkably similar to the Great Skua (Bonxie) in the northern hemisphere and similarly vicious and murderous.

After exploring Skua Pond and boulder beach combing, we return to the hut and continue up to the orchard.  A collection of old gnarled windswept apple trees with masses of fallen apples with only a few still on the trees – due to last weekend’s storm no doubt.  The air is full of the sweet smell of rotting apples.  But we still manage to fill 6 huge grain sacks of reasonably sound fruit.  When I said the Tussock is tall – I meant tall.  Up to 2.5m in fact, and this makes carrying the heavy apple sacks to the shore difficult. Here is Adriano taking the strain...
While we’ve been on the island the skipper and his mate have been fishing.  They’ve caught some massive Bluefish (Southern Butterfish), a beautiful Cape Mackerel and a dozen Five-fingers, a bream like fish which is my personal favourite.  We return to Tristan only stopping briefly to collect the lobster pots we set earlier.  We land a great haul of lobster, fish, apples (and beach-comb fish trays).  After scaling, skinning, gutting and filleting the fish – the haul is divided equally.  The highlight of the day is going round everyone’s house dropping off the fish and apples and stopping for a celebratory drink - or two.  It’s a late night...

News Headlines

The worse storm in over 10 years lashed Tristan last weekend.  It was awesomely violent. The noise of rain, wind and sea prevented much sleep.  The 100 foot TV mast collapsed, narrowly missing offices.  Otherwise there is not too much damage – just the usual leaky house roofs and some damaged huts.  However, TV pictures are restored in double quick time because of the UEFA Cup final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich!

Hottentot waterfall above the village
It's pretty unusual to actually see water in waterfalls or in gulches when it's not actually raining as the ground is so porous. But water flowed for a whole day after the storm.

The main road out of the village.

Not long now until the next scheduled sailing to Cape Town - just over two weeks. I had hoped to do some additional fieldwork in this period of Extra Time on Tristan, but it is getting more and more difficult as the weather worsens and the days shorten and get colder. So I’m concentrating on extracting and analyzing the data we’ve collected and writing up the report.

I was the observer at a Major Incident Plan exercise to test the island’s emergency response on Tuesday.  A fire at the school injured a teacher and six children and would lead to the death of another.  The main thing it revealed was the lack of resources (beds, equipment, nurses) at the hospital. Some of the patients had to stay on trolleys or even share hospital beds!

Culinary feats this week include another batch of Cape Gooseberry Jam – the biggest I’ve made to date (4kg), the best ever loaf of bread, and some new firsts: lasagne and sweet corn and butterbean soup.


  1. sounds as if your enforced stay has yielded some interesting additions to the Tristan adventure

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