||37° 25’ S / 012° 27’ W
We arrived off Nightingale Island, with its two satellite islands of Middle and Stoltenhoff, shortly before dawn. As day broke, we were treated to a wonderful sunrise which was all the better for being quite warm - about 17˚C, and all of this in a virtually cloudless sky. Near Ortelius were the three islands, lit by the early sun that showed up the native vegetation very well, together with the little cluster of huts at the NW end of Nightingale. Around us, a significant but regular swell kept Ortelius rocking gently as we selected the best place for our zodiac operations.
We were soon launching, and one by one (with some breaks for the swell to die down!) our zodiacs were speeding across the deep blue waters towards a rendezvous off the huts. From there we spent the whole morning exploring the coast, though due to the regulations we were unable to land anywhere except Middle Island. So, we wound our way along the shores, exploring the many inlets and caves, looking for wildlife – and there was plenty. Having crept into the sheltered waters behind the long kelp weeds, we got excellent views of the hundreds of sub-Antarctic Fur seals, with their distinctive yellow-buff throats and bellies – indeed their howling echoed from the cliffs. Around us we saw Tristan skuas, Antarctic terns, and on the rocks the most characteristic terrestrial bird, the Tristan thrush or ‘Starchy’ as the locals call it. One zodiac even had a Nightingale bunting land on it, which kept the birders amongst us happy. And there was also the occasional sighting of northern Rockhopper penguins, though most had clearly moved out to sea by now.
We made our way through a tight little channel amongst the rocks into a sheltered cove on the south shore of Middle Island, and there were able to achieve brief landings, safe from the swell of the open waters. From here we continued our explorations along the shores, and some ventured across to Stoltenhoff Island, negotiating the dramatic little channels between its stacks at the SE end of that island.
Back on board, whilst we had lunch, Ortelius was under way once more for the short passage to Tristan. We were rewarded by wonderful views of the volcano as we approached and sailed slowly along the shoreline, enjoying the dramatic scenery and the homely sight of grazing sheep and cattle. Sadly due to the epidemic there, landing was out of the question but we wanted to drop off our postcards and had also undertaken to deliver some extra medicines to the little community. Accordingly these were packaged as water-tight as possible, along with an enormous ‘get well’ card, signed by lots of folk aboard. The Tristan longboat came out from the little harbour in Edinburgh, pulled alongside, and we let down the packages via ropes into their boat as it tossed next to us in the swell.
Finally, with much waving and good wishes,they pulled away. Ortelius gathered speed, and we were left with memorable views of the little ‘Settlement’, its clusters of multi-coloured cabins, the church, potato patches, and behind all of this, the looming presence of the volcano itself, the peak covered with a light dusting of snow.
Despite the breeze, some of us lingered on deck to watch Tristan recede into the distance as we pointed our bow towards St Helena. Some photograph editing was done by recap time at 6.30 pm, at which Jan talked about the weather, and what we had seen today was discussed from the geologist’s and the naturalist’s point of view. Even our Dr Lise contributed with some words on the history of epidemics on Tristan; it is interesting that in the past, ships have brought epidemics to the islanders. Now we have had to avoid landing so as not to transmit a local epidemic further afield.
The bar was quite busy since we have a number of sea days ahead of us, and therefore a later breakfast tomorrow. The after-dinner movie was an interesting one – The Lovely Bones. There was much discussion afterwards about this strange film. Did it work on different levels? Or was it, as Dmitri so succinctly put it, ‘just about a dead girl’?