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Enjoyable day ashore at the remotest inhabited island in the planet

Today we woken up to a beautiful day. The morning stroll on the deck was quite a memorable one. In front of us were the shores of majestic Tristan da Cunha Island bathed on the sunrising light. High above the 600 to 700m high coastal cliffs we can almost have a glimpse of the island’s top, the 2060m high massive shield volcano that rise up from the abyssal depths of the South Atlantic Ocean, more than 3000 m deep. With such a sight even the morning coffee tastes better. Tristan da Cunha is the largest of several mountainous islands in the central South Atlantic Ocean, mid-way between the southern tip of Africa and South America. Gough Island, 350 km south-east, is the nearest other land. Nightingale and Inaccessible roughly 20 km apart, and Tristan 30-32 km from both of them. They lay to the east of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the African and South American tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart. The Tristan archipelago  is associated with a ‘hotspot’, where fault in the earth’s crust allows volcanism over a long period. Potassium-Argon dating of rocks shows that Nightingale Island is u to 18 million years old, whereas the oldest rocks on Tristan are only some 200,000 years old. The islands were built by series of volcanic eruptions and intrusions, resulting in complex geological structures. The group of islands never had been linked to any continental land mass,
offering a great spot for the speciation of animal and plant species that eventually arrived here. As such, their biodiversity is not very high, but it counts with several endemics, that nowhere else can be found. Not just the wildlife and natural history are extremely interesting here, but the Human history as well. The main island of Tristan has been inhabited since the early 1800s and currently has a permanent population of about 270 people. Accessible only by sea, and more than 2,400 km from the nearest human settlement at St. Helena, it is widely regarded as the most isolated human community. They live in what is officially named 'Edinburgh of the seven seas', but usually referred to as 'the Settlement'. Today the ocean is calm – on a day like today one can only imagine the storms that have written many chapters in Tristan history. The remoteness and the fierce waters around the island have had a profound influence on its history. It took over 3 centuries after it was first sighted before people settled on Tristan.Tristan was discovered in 1506, by the Portuguese under command of Tristao da Cunha. But remote as it can be, today two more ships besides the Europa share
its coasts. The French Lyrial cruise ship and the small yacht Jonathan. The weather at Tristan quite often prevents landings due to strong winds and swell. But today everything looked perfect and the presence of the other vessels meant we will be sharing our activities ashore today with their passengers. With the prospect of a nice day ahead, Jordi and captain Janke went ashore early morning to take care of all the paper work such as indemnity signatures, biosecurity and ship customs forms. With all that out of the way soon they radioed back to Europa to proceed with landing preparations.
As we have arrived quite sudden – life on board in the early morning is not as calm as the waters that surround us. Some of us have had quite a short night – continuing watches until the anchor dropped around 03:15 - and on top of that we are still one hour behind of Tristan time. This means that life on land is in full swing, while we drink our morning coffees on deck in the sun. Before we are ready to go we see zodiacs going back and forward between land and an enormous cruise ships delivering red dressed people. Since we arrived a few hours before them we can proudly state that we are the first 'cruise' ship, lets say expedition vessel, to arrive at Tristan this year. Together with the Lyrial we will double the amount of people on the island today. Halfway breakfast we finally start landing – and soon we are all ready to set foot on land of the island we have been looking forward to the last ten days, as we were trying not to hope too much for a landing, but really wanting to. Getting into the zodiac is not all that easy – since even on an extremely calm day like today there is still a lot of swell. As we come closer to shore we see the small harbour, made out of concrete and with the typical tripods as breakwaters, giving some protection to the endless ocean. The harbour is called Calshot Harbour – built after the two famous volcano years. As we could see clearly from
the ship already, the settlement is situated  very close to a volcano that does not look all that old. In fact it is just over half a century ago it last erupted. In the summer of 1961 many earthquakes were felt in town, growing more and more intense toward the spring. As a cone started appearing just North of the settlement, everyone evacuated to the potatoe patches, and on to the island of Nightingale the next night. The volcano erupted the same night and lava started flowing towards the settlement. The Tristanians where brought to Cape Town by the Dutch ship Tsjisadane, and from there on they went to England. The government did not quite know what to do with the islanders, but soon found an old royal air force camp for them where they could live. Jobs where found, children went to school, and the islanders adapted pretty well to the swinging sixties. The place where they lived was called Calshot Camp. As the lava flow covered the only suitable beach they had close to the settlement – a new harbour had to be constructed.- and was named after their time in England. The government assumed the evacuation would be final, but however swinging the sixties where, the islanders wanted to come back to Tristan. As the lava had missed the settlement by 100 meters and only one house was affected – it was decided that resettlement would be a possibility. Just two years after the eruption, most islanders were already back. With them they had brought the outside world. After the volcano years Tristan has managed to balance her traditions, with the developments that are going on in the outside world. The photo we make of the Welcome sign of the remotest island in the world for example – can be send straight away to anywhere else in the world over a tourists office 5G network. Dawn from Tristan tourist office sent through the planned activity schedule for us earlier this morning. Even though the Tristan community and settlement is small they have a few interesting attractions and activities planned for us. Dawn personally welcomed every one of us upon landing which was very nice. Once everybody was ashore we all moved to post office where we had some refreshments in forms of coffee and sandwiches. Shortly after we started with our activities. Many of us have chosen independent exploration of the island. Others preferred guided walk with local guides. The most popular guided tours included Walking tour to the 1961 Volcano, long walk to the famous potato patches, fishing factory tour and St. Mary’s School tour. Funny as it sounds, the potato patches often pop up in conversations about Tristan – they have played an extremely important role in the history, and still are a part of daily life. One could say that the potatoes is what has made it possible for the Tristanians to be independent. The first type of money that rotated on the island was based on potatoes: they were called the potato stamps, with the value of 4 potatoes/one shilling.
There are very few Tristan recipes that do not include potato, even cakes are originally made from a mixture of flour and potatoes. Income now is largely base on stamps, handicraft and crayfish, but at the patches, potatoes are still grown carefully to supply food. At the same time the patches are a way to get away from the busy city life – many of the small huts and buildings are used in weekends or on holidays. There was either Jordi, Sarah and Richard at the office to help Dawn gather people for the tours. Those who wanted a different kind of refreshments visited the local Albatross Pub. Many of us re-supplied ourselves with some goods from the local supermarket. Guides also resupplied Europa with two bags of fresh potatoes and green salad. There was lot to do and explore but we also had a whole day to spend on the land. The locals were very nice and ladies in the post office and cafe very kind and helpful. The scenery surrounding the town of Edinburg of Seven Seas was breathtaking. The is a lot to take in starting with a picturesque Edinburgh, pastures with lots of cattle and lookalike dogs, dramatically rising cliffs all covered in saturated fresh green colour, so refreshing
to our eyes. Those of us who had chosen to walk to the 1961 volcano had a great view to the setting where Edinburgh was built with all the houses, pastures, harbour and few km of paved roads. And all that happened in beautiful warm weather conditions with shining sun. About 18:00h it was time to make our way back to the harbour, where Jack, the local harbour Master coordinates and help with the zodiac embarkation procedures, and tell us that the seas and weather for tomorrow look also good for another landfall. We have just finished  our first day of landing enjoying unusually beautiful and sunny weather for the entire day. Back on board for dinner, in the evening we celebrated Sarah’s birthday, and also our first night on quiet and calm waters meant that we scheduled the South
Georgia photo competition result announcement for tonight. The things have been a little hectic today with too many things going on but we made it. After the landing Richard disappeared in the library spending some time judging the entries. Due to lack of time no other crew member was involved in the judging this time. But winners have been eventually selected from a much stronger entries this time around. We made some little change and we allowed  every photographer to have three entries per category. That also made the judging little more challenging. Especially the wildlife category was very strong with some really good photographs. Announcement started just half an hour after “8 o’clocky”. Passengers had time to get some drinks from the bar and give Richard some time to set up the projector. As the winners and runner ups were announced, Richard also gave a short explanation why the particular images were chosen. The whole even ended up on high note and some entertainment in form of poem that Richard wrote during the time on sea between South Georgia and Tristan.

Written by:
Jordi, Sarah, Richard | Guides

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