Entries by tag: tristan da cunha

Returning to Tristan da Cunha
I am happy to report that my manager has approved my vacation request next year to return to Tristan da Cunha. I had been worried about the length of time it was taking to find out whether my request was going to be approved or not, as I had submitted it on 10 March and only got the confirmation Wednesday (three days ago). The South African research vessel S. A. Agulhas II will not be taking me to Tristan, as she only makes one trip to the island each year in September. I will be aboard the fishing vessel MV Edinburgh, seen here on 19 September as it made one of two stops at Tristan during my stay on the island, as it offloaded its catch:


The Edinburgh has capacity for 35 staff and twelve passengers. I am passenger #5 (I had reserved a tentative berth months ago), so I am relatively close to the top of the list but it would not be prudent to count this as definite, as I could certainly be bumped. I have booked the first visit of 2015, from roughly mid-January to mid-February, the middle of the summer on Tristan.

I made the papers
I am giving a photo presentation of my trip to Tristan da Cunha at the Mississauga Central Library on Tuesday 29 April. The library's publicity department sent out a press release and last Thursday I gave a telephone interview with a reporter from the Mississauga News. I was told that the article would appear on the paper's website first, then would run in the print edition closer to the presentation date.

I have found the article, oddly at the Caledon Enterprise website. It does not yet appear at the Mississauga site:


Edited later on this evening:

Found the local article here (same thing):


and when I saw that the address was exactly the same except for the name of the newspaper, I just plugged in the city that is sandwiched between Caledon and Mississauga, and voilà:


Tristan da Cunha birthday cake
Mark brought over a Tristan da Cunha birthday cake to last week's meeting of the Mississauga Scrabble Club:

Tristan cake

When he asked what kind of cake I wanted. I said "chocolate with a lot of icing". I could eat a cake with nothing but icing. No cake filler, just icing on top of icing. This cake shows a map of the island of Tristan da Cunha. I cut into it first and decided to leave the island unscathed. I ate the corner piece (for icing lovers, a corner piece is but of course) with my name on it. I sent the photo to my Tristan host family who naturally loved it. Birthdays are big on Tristan, as islanders celebrate with elaborate cakes. Each baker on Tristan could work in an upscale bakery, as some of the cakes I have seen come out of island kitchens leave me drooling in amazement.

Tristan da Cunha book run
While I was on Tristan da Cunha I made frequent visits to the Post Office & Tourism Centre, and also to the private enterprise the Rockhopper Shop. Both places, as well as the small craft shop within the supermarket (a/k/a the canteen) sold plenty of souvenir shirts, knitwear, postcards and so on. I was fortunate to buy five books about Tristan either while I was on the island or headed to it. Here are my Tristan book purchases:


Dr. Peter Ryan is an ornithologist who travelled with me aboard the Agulhas II. He was frequently seen at the Agulhas bow taking pictures of birds with a camera that had a lens as big as a cannon fitted onto the end of it. As we sailed deeper into the Atlantic, bird sightings became less frequent. On 10 September some scientists and researchers gave short presentations about their work at sea, or their upcoming projects on Nightingale Island or Gough Island. Dr. Ryan gave the most interesting lecture on conservation and the effect of pollution on the birds of the Tristan archipelago. He edited as well as contributed to Field Guide to the Animals and Plants of Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island, a book I bought on board the Agulhas from Dr. Ryan himself (he had a box of them in his cabin). He signed it for me. I have used this field guide to identify all the bird and plant species I saw on Tristan and Nightingale. Also aboard the Agulhas were seal researchers Dr. Marthán Bester and his wife Wendy. Marthán also contributed to the book and he signed it for me as well. Early on into the voyage, while I was in the ship's dining saloon, Wendy heard me talking and wondered where I came from. She recognized my southern Ontario accent, because she herself was from Guelph (Ontario)! She had been living in South Africa for well over twenty years and she still had her southern Ontario accent.


I read many books about Tristan and its idiom of English before this trip. Daniel Schreier and Karen Lavarello-Schreier, the authors of Tristan da Cunha and the Tristanians may sound familiar, as they are also the authors of Tristan da Cunha: History, People, Language, which is in fact an earlier edition of this book. The first edition from 2003 was 88 pages yet the update from 2011 was expanded to 136 pages. I brought the earlier edition with me since Karen was going to be aboard the Agulhas and I wanted to talk to her about the book and get it autographed. She signed it for me in the front, as well as next to her photo in the double-page spread of photos of Islanders. I fell over myself in politeness asking the other islanders to sign their name next to their own photos, but not everyone wanted to so I didn't push it. Karen's husband Daniel was not travelling with her and remained at home in Basel, Switzerland. I had also read Daniel's book on the Tristanian idiom of English, Isolation and Language Change: Contemporary and Sociohistorical Evidence from Tristan da Cunha English.


Tristan da Cunha: Glimpses into past history
is a short book full of vibrant illustrations and photos throughout the island's history.


In 2006 Tristan da Cunha celebrated its quincentenary and fortunately there were still copies of this oversize commemorative hardcover magazine for sale in the tourism centre. It was packed with high quality colour photos. The cover shows the Settlement from 600 m above on the edge of the Base. All that black is the lava from the 1961 eruption. Look how close it came to the houses. I climbed to the Base from a different location on my last full day on the island.


A Short Guide to Tristan da Cunha was the last of the five books I bought while on Tristan and was written by two Tristanians, former Chief Islander James Glass and Head Teacher Anne Green.

Another package from Tristan da Cunha
On Friday I received my second package from Tristan da Cunha. It was larger than the package I had received earlier in the week and thus had a 70p stamp:

TDC mail1

The date stamped on it is 10 December. Inside was a recent issue of the Tristan da Cunha Newsletter. The postmark of the stamp on the package I had received earlier was 1 December, or what looked like 1 December. That day was a Sunday and the post office would not have been open then. Thus I am led to believe that both packages were posted at the same time. There was however no trace of a zero or any ink at all after the 1 on the earlier postmark.

A package from Tristan da Cunha

Yesterday I received my first ever mail from Tristan da Cunha that was not sent by myself. In a strange twist of events I actually received mail while on the island before I ever received anything from the island. My host family sent me a Christmas package, and here is the stamp and postmark:

Tristan package1

The postmark reads 1 Dec 2013. It's only a 50p stamp! You wouldn't believe the Canadian shipping rates I paid to mail two packages to the island. Granted, one of the packages weighed over 6 kg, but still. Fifty pence? Talk about cheap!

The last mail shipment from Tristan was originally scheduled to leave aboard the MV Baltic Trader on 4 December, and post office staff always need a couple days to ensure that the mail is processed and sorted. Thus my host family had to ensure the package was posted by 2 December at the latest. When I was on Tristan, the S. A. Agulhas II took the mail back to Cape Town but islanders were alerted that all mail had to be at the post office two days before our 4 October departure. As it turned out, the Baltic Trader didn't leave Tristan until 11 December. My host family sent me a Tristan magnetic bookmark, an albatross pin and a tiny model volcano. They also forwarded a card that was sent to me c/o poste restante, which unfortunately arrived after I had already left. I will send the writer a Tristan postcard.

Christmas is however not over yet. When I sent my host family an E-mail informing them that their package had arrived, they replied "Only one?". Apparently a second package is still in the mail, and a much larger one, so I might have to go to the post office to pick it up.

Photos from Tristan da Cunha 7
Another homemade Tristanian licence plate:

A shocking discovery among the coastal lava rock:

I would often go in search of sea glass along the black sandy beaches of Tristan's northwest coast. In some areas the beach was narrow yet it was quite safe to walk on the rocks next to the cliffs. At one such rocky area I glimpsed what appeared to be an infant's limb. I was startled, and peered closer. It was, fortunately, a lost leg from a doll, who is now an amputee. The black porous rock above the leg was very light to pick up, and did not crumble into my hands.

In spite of requests I received from friends back home asking for a physical specimen from Tristan as a souvenir, I had Tristanian conservation and preservation on my mind and refused to fill my suitcase with lava rock samples or pebbles or the rare seashell. The only souvenirs I brought home for friends were those items purchased in the canteen or post office and tourism centre. I thus chose to contribute to the Tristanian economy instead of pilfer the island. That said, I do not view my collection of sea glass as booty from robbing the island. I see it as my effort to clean up the coast from pollution that had washed ashore.

The rocky coast and cliffs near Hillpiece, looking south:

More black sandy beaches, this time looking north:

I cannot go any further at risk of being washed out to sea:

Beautiful lava formations on the Tristanian northwest coast:

Panorama shot from the tip of the west arm at Calshot Harbour:

The library, located within St. Mary's School. Head teacher Anne Green is in the middle, flanked by visitors Marilyn Crawford (l.) and Ann Ashworth (r.):

I hiked to a cliff overlooking Big Point, midway along the northern coast:

This picture does not accurately depict the height I am at. The boulders at the top of the grass are at the edge of a cliff, and are not part of the rocky beach below. I sat here and rested after my hike, eating my lunch. Suddenly yellow-nosed albatrosses appeared out of nowhere, rising from below and hovering at the cliff edge, very close to me and my sandwiches.

A look from the cliff to the ocean below:

Rock formations near Big Point:

A Short Guide to Tristan da Cunha

A Short Guide to Tristan da Cunha by James Glass and Anne Green was written in 2003. A lot has happened to Tristan in the past ten years, and I admit to buying this guide mainly as a souvenir for historical purposes. I got it at the Rockhopper Shop, a privately-owned souvenir store on Tristan da Cunha. James Glass, former Chief Islander, is the husband of Felicity, the owner of the shop, and Anne Green is the Head Teacher at St. Mary's School. This guide covers the basics: history of Tristan da Cunha, its early settlement, agriculture, post office and marine resources, among many other sections. The authors even included paragraphs about each of the neighbouring islands Nightingale, Inaccessible and Gough.

The greatest changes in the past ten years are in the area of tourism and accommodations. The prices in the guide for various services like home stays and guided visits have, as expected, gone up since 2003. As for ships that make regular visits to the island, the MV Kelso no longer visits Tristan, while MV Baltic Trader now does. The guide also states that there are no self-catering facilities but there are now guest houses one can rent on a self-catered basis.

Tristan da Cunha and the Roaring Forties
Allan Crawford is considered a legend on Tristan da Cunha and by those who study the island. What started out in 1937 as an unexpected side-trip to Tristan working as a surveyor turned into a seventy-year love affair with the island and its people. Crawford is famous for creating the first ever survey of the island, and his map is still used today. When I travelled to Tristan aboard the Agulhas II I met his son Martin and daughter-in-law Marilyn. At first I had no idea who Martin's famous father was, and while I was aware of Martin and Marilyn's surname, I didn't connect it to the Allan Crawford. I was drawn to Martin because he had brought a pile of books to sell on board the ship. I had stumbled into one of the Agulhas lounges and Martin was passing around second-hand books he had acquired on the subject of the south Atlantic islands. Some of the books were going to Tristan for their local archives, yet others were for sale to any passenger who was interested. I chatted with Martin and Marilyn for a long time, and got some recommendations for second-hand bookstores in Cape Town. It wasn't until the following day when I ate with Martin and Marilyn's son Murray and his wife Candace that I learned who their famous (grand)father was. Murray told me that his granddad had produced the first ever survey map of Tristan and I had a moment right out of a movie: I dropped my fork and stopped mid-chew and asked: "You mean your grandfather was Allan Crawford?". So over the course of the rest of the voyage, the time spent on Tristan and during the trip back to Cape Town I got to know the descendants of Allan Crawford. On my final full day in Cape Town, I spent time with the Crawfords as Martin, Murray.and their dog Flicka and I climbed Table Mountain together.


While I was at Clarke's Bookshop for the second time, where I went immediately after climbing Table Mountain, I had more time to look around the room housing the rare and out-of-print books. I had only had a quick glance at those shelves when I was there two days prior. I was calm yet excited when I pulled out Tristan da Cunha and the Roaring Forties by Allan Crawford. It was an autographed copy, dated 1982, the year of its publication. Crawford's books are not easy to come by and this one just appeared after I had spent that morning with Crawford's son and grandson. Now I was spending the afternoon with the man himself in the form of an autographed edition that he had handled. (If I had any doubt as to the autograph's authenticity, I sent a scan of it to Murray who corroborated that it was in fact the real thing.)


Tristan da Cunha and the Roaring Forties was filled with photos, all of them reproduced in black and white, taken by the author himself. Crawford told the story of his first, and unexpected, trip to the island, where he served as surveyor:

"It was towards the end of 1937 that I first visited the island of Tristan da Cunha. I was travelling from Southampton to Cape Town in the mailship Arundel Castle in search of a job in South Africa, lured by posters proclaiming sunshine and opportunity. On board I was placed at the same table as Dr Erling Christophersen, leader of a Norwegian scientific expedition bound for Tristan. The other ten members of his party were sailing south separately, and more economically, on a whale-factory ship. Christophersen needed a surveyor, and, as I was otherwise uncommitted, he persuaded me to join his expedition. I had never used a theolodyte in my life before but had the opportunity of a crash course in surveying at the University of Cape Town. The understanding was that, if I failed to produce a satisfactory new map of Tristan, I should undertake other duties. This was the first scientific expedition to the island: it was virgin territory for us all."

In my Tristan da Cunha blog posts, I wrote about the local idiomatic characteristic of placing an aspirate H before any word that starts with a vowel or a vowel sound. Thus one hears h'Internet and h'Admin (the short form for the island's Administrator). I loved to hear the initial H, and it was a trait exhibited by all generations. I will cherish most of all hearing two-year-old Lucas Swain when he visited the home of Shaun and Renée Green, where I stayed while on the island. He said, repeatedly, "Can I have a h'apple?". Note that there is no need to say an when the word that follows starts with an aspirate H. I pleasantly recalled little Lucas when I read the following reminiscence:

"Captain Roberts was amused to witness a heated argument on the beach, as the boats were preparing to depart, in which one irate islander accused another of having taken 'his h'oar'. Roberts was unaware of the islanders' habit of adding an 'h' before words starting with a vowel, and in his innocence could hardly blame the first man's anger!"

On Crawford's third trip to Tristan in 1946, he was entrusted with the authority to change from Greenwich Mean Time to the local Zone Time. This changed was welcomed by the islanders however sometime in the last 67 years the official time zone of Tristan da Cunha has reverted to Greenwich Mean Time.

He then spent the next decades in various roles such as meteorologist and postmaster. Crawford wrote with excitement of the various special occasions which led to new stamp issues, although I felt he was more excited in his descriptions of the stamps and first-day covers themselves, some of which he had designed himself. In 1948 Crawford was appointed head of the new weather station that was to be built on Marion Island, a South African island located 1769 km from the mainland. It was chapters such as this, which detailed Crawford's excursions to other south Atlantic islands, that captivated my interest most of all. So little has been written about Marion, and little has been written about Gough Island or the ultima Thule of all islands, Bouvet. Crawford wrote one chapter about Gough and three about Bouvet Island, where he was able to visit in 1955 and 1964. Tristan da Cunha may be known as the most isolated permanently inhabited island on the planet. Bouvet, however, is the most isolated island, period, be it inhabited or not. The Tristan da Cunha group is just that: a small archipelago, with the uninhabited Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands nearby. I even visited Nightingale Island. But there's nothing anywhere near Bouvet, so if you're on that island, you're further away from any other land mass on the planet. That Crawford had the opportunity to visit Bouvet twice, and to include so many photos from these trips, made Tristan da Cunha and the Roaring Forties such an exciting read.

When the volcano on Tristan erupted in 1961, the entire population was evacuated, first to Cape Town and then to England. By then Crawford had been appointed by the Colonial Office as Honorary Welfare Officer for Tristan. He was inundated with letters from unhappy Tristanians who wrote to him in desperate longing to return to their island home. The Tristanians spent eighteen months in England, suffering one of the worst winters England had had that century:

"Newspaper reporters meantime seemed to thrive on their misery, descending in hordes to interview not only the islanders but also medical and sociological experts, and others connected with their welfare. Pessimists prognosticated that if the community returned to isolation, hereditary influences would begin to have adverse effects on their health. Some went so far as to predict a high incidence of blindness resulting from the rectinitis pigmentosa [sic] which already existed...Unhappily, scientists and medical research teams were beginning to make the islanders' daily lives a misery, insisting on endless tests and intruding into the most personal aspects of their lives. The islanders felt they were being treated more as guinea pigs than human beings."

The Tristanians have Crawford to thank for his efforts in convincing the authorities to investigate the island after the volcanic eruption, and then for their eventual repatriation.

Since I have travelled to Tristan I have received countless questions about what life on the island is like. Near the end of Tristan da Cunha and the Roaring Forties, Crawford writes about questions he often hears, such as:

"I have often been asked what it is like living in such a remote place, and whether the people in Tristan are happy. In such an isolated, close group, every member of the community is involved in what happens to everyone else: the birth of a child is an occasion for general rejoicing and even subsequent birthdays (especially the first and twenty-first) involve the whole village in tea parties and dances. Similarly, when somebody dies the whole community is in some way involved...
"On the whole, I believe, the islanders are contented.".

Everyone depends on each other in all aspects of life, from house building, fishing to boat operation. No one can truly live as an island while on the most isolated inhabited island on Earth. Crawford wrote one line that puzzled me:

"All medical services are free for both islanders and outsiders."

which may have been the case in 1982, but I don't believe the same applies now. I was speaking to some Tristanians who had returned to the island after living many years abroad. They were telling me that in order to qualify for free health care, they had to regain their status as resident Tristanians. In spite of being longtime residents of the island at one time in the past, they had to live on Tristan for two consecutive years since their return to requalify as Tristanian residents.

After a visit to Tristan da Cunha, it seems right that I should read a personal account of one frequent visitor. Allan Crawford's Tristan da Cunha and the Roaring Forties was a memoir written with wide-eyed enthusiasm and wonder, capturing events that had happened decades ago with as much ebullience as if they had happened only yesterday.

A trip to Nightingale Island...with photos Part 2
Stoltenhoff Island, which lies to the north of Nightingale. It is all cliff, highest point 99 metres.

It is nesting season for the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross. These birds nest on mud stools and did not flinch when we walked past them. There are about five thousand pairs which nest on Nightingale Island, and I saw them as well on Tristan da Cunha after I had climbed to the top of the Base.

An Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross atop its mud nest.

An affectionate moment between albatrosses.

The forested area of Nightingale Island atop the "Base", where the albatrosses nest.

The Tristan thrush, known locally as the starchy, is a very tame bird. I rarely saw them fly, and they often hopped across our paths as we walked through the high tussock grass. They are not a flightless species, but with no predators or humans on Nightingale, they have no great need to fly. These thrushes hopped about, poking in and out of the grass, and would stay still long enough to get extremely close photos like this.

Nesting albatrosses amid the Blechnum palmiforme, or bog ferns. These ferns look like miniature palm trees. This area is a marsh and my shoes squelched through the icy cold water which seeped to the surface whenever I took a step. I should have brought my boots on this trip as my socks got soaked. Not that it mattered much, as I would be knee-deep in water while waiting to board the small inflatable raft for transfer to Arctic Tern for the trip back to Tristan da Cunha.

Albatrosses nesting amidst Scirpus bicolor, or small bog grass. Our group took a lunch break here and kept our behinds dry by sitting on these grassy stools.

Stoltenhoff Island on the left, Alex (or Middle) Island on the right, and Tristan da Cunha 38 km to the north.

It was also nesting season for northern rockhopper penguins, so they weren't doing what they were named after and were keeping themselves occupied with more important matters like caring for their eggs. In order to see them, we had to crawl into the nesting area among the tall tussock grass. Two scientists were based on the island for three months to study rockhopper breeding habits, and the nesting areas were all marked. We had permission to see the penguins, to do which we had to crawl on our stomachs to get down to their level.

A rockhopper penguin spots me looking in.

A rockhopper deep within the tussock grass.

I have just climbed down to the west landing and am standing by the natural pool frequented by the seal population.

This seal swam across the small inland pool, climbed onto the rocks and then jumped into the turquoise water surrounding Nightingale.

The turquoise water at the west landing.

Pieter "Toast" Coetzer, a writer for the South African travel magazine go! after our RIB Arctic Tern returned to Calshot Harbour. Karen Lavarello-Schreier stands to the right. Murray Crawford is on the left removing his red life jacket. Marilyn Crawford stands between Murray and Toast. Read about the trip to Nightingale in my earlier post here, where I talk about the mid-sea breakdown of the other RIB, Svitzer, and its seasicky four-hour trip back to Tristan.


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