National Geographic Explorer and BBC presenter Paul Rose describes the feeling of arriving at the remote Tristan da Cunha for a Pristine Seas expedition.
With Cape Town 450 miles behind us and another 1,150 miles of open ocean before we arrive at Tristan da Cunha you could be excused for presuming we are feeling a bit lonely. But luckily we have the great Tristan da Cunha spirit with us as we are carrying the Chief Islander, Ian Lavarello and the Swain and Green families back home to their island.
Sharing our passage with the islanders is a special, rare experience for us and we’re not at all surprised that the seabirds feel it too - not only are we accompanied by wandering albatross, blackbrowed albatross, giant petrels and shearwaters but some Tristan da Cunha endemic birds too ( Tristan da Cunha is the only place on Earth that they can be found). They have made a rare journey of over 1,000 miles to escort us and here we are rolling along in the big South Atlantic oceanic swells with Tristan skuas, Atlantic yellownosed albatross and spectacled petrels for company. We’ve still got five days of sailing to do, but feel at home already!
And what a home - it’s a powerful place. Tristan da Cunha is a volcanic island sitting right between the South Atlantic Current to the north and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to the south. These ocean currents create massive upwellings making the islands one of the world’s rarest, most productive and important hotspots of life.
The oceanic swells are coming from the south so we’ve had a lively non-stop roll that slowed down our preparation work, but now that the swells are more from the southwest life is comfortable and our ship has come alive: Our containerised compressor system is commissioned and is pumping the right nitrox mix. The air bank is full and we’re now filling cylinders.
Our two-man recompression chamber has been blown down three times and is ready to go. The RIBS are being washed and checked, the inflatables are inflated and for the first time in history I didn’t lose any skin assembling them. GPS’S are initialised, VHFS charged, the Inmarsat system is up - so we’ve posted the first blog and the satphones are running hot.
It’s a big relief when our operational support systems are up and running and then we have the real pleasure of bringing the science systems to life. Energised by the fabulous accompaniment of seabirds the RSPB team are rigging a few hundred bird tags and I couldn’t help but notice that when the tags came out on deck the albatrosses seemed to give them a highly suspicious glance. The seal team has all of their gear along the starboard side - it’s great stuff and it looks as if it’s had a tough life on muddy beaches. The drop-cameras are assembled, charged-up and ready. Pelagic camera rigs and the remote shallow water video systems are next in line. The hydro-acoustic unit and the shark tags are ready to go. The marine science dive team have their measuring tapes, slates, cameras all set up and are mostly studying the charts and reports so that they can hit the ground running.
There is a lot of work to finish before we arrive at Tristan da Cunha and yet, as on so many ocean passages, it does feel as if time is moving slowly. So we’re eating too much, offsetting this by exer- cising on deck and each specialist is running briefing sessions. Today we have the RSPB with their talk, imaginatively titled Squawk! Tomorrow morning we have the all important biosecurity session.
Tristan da Cunha is vulnerable to invasive species and so in the morning we will wash all of our work gear, including wellies, rucksacks, waterproofs and equipment with Virkon and will give Velcro and any areas that might be carrying seeds a good vacuum. We’ll do this in teams and I’m keen to cleverly position myself so that I don’t have the seal team as partners!
I’m working hard on the expedition. At the moment I feel that we have about 12 months work to do in 3 weeks, but we thrive on an ambitious schedule and with some luck and fair weather we’ll get it all done.
One very important date that we have to work around is Tristan da Cunha’s Queen’s Day. It’s a holiday at the end of January with sports of all kinds. We’ve entered of course and hope for big wins in the welly throwing, target shooting and running. If we keep eating like this, we might even stand a chance in the tug-of-war!
“The seal team has all of their gear along the starboard side - it’s great stuff and it looks as if it’s had a tough life on muddy beaches“