|Tristan, part 2
||[Nov. 6th, 2015|09:37 pm]
There are 96 berths on the ships which make scheduled runs from Cape Town to Tristan: the SA Agulhas II, the Edinburgh and the Baltic Trader.
These berths are in high demand. First, there is medivac and returning medivac. There seem to be two births a year, so that's 4 of your 96 gone, before anyone gets ill. Then there are government officials and workers, who come on 3, 6 or 12 month contracts. The UN nuclear monitoring person (12 months). And professionals who come for shorter visits: our boat had, for example, a Dentist, a Dental Technician, an X-ray technican, an opthalmologist, someone conducting a child protection audit, a team from the RNIB and someone to service the UN's monitors. People on Tristan go overseas to work, to study, and for holidays. And people from the Tristan communnities in the UK and South Africa come over for holidays - all of which means that the number of berths available for tourists is very, very small. There were four tourists on our boat: ExMemSec and myself, Marmite Andrew (to distinguish him from Child Protection Andrew) and Tomaz.
The three boats are very different. MS Edinburgh is a fishing boat. MS Baltic Trader is a cargo boat. SA Agulhas II is a scientific research ice-breaker. About half the berths are on the Agulhasa, which is by far the most popular, because she has a reasonable turn-around, and helicopters. People have gone to Tristan, and returned to Cape Town, without being able to get on shore, as the swell there is massive (no continental shelf!) and there are frequent storms, and the little Calshot Harbour is tiny, and does not offer great protection. It was a very calm day when we arrived, but even so, some of our luggage arrived wet. We went by helicopter.
It was my first time in a helicopter, and I was a little apprehensive, but it turned out to be quite disappointing. I was expecting to have more sensation of flying than one gets in a small aircraft, but it was quite the reverse. The ground appeared at angles which were quite unexpected, as if felt as if we were flying along straight.
The Agulhas is owned and run by South Africa's Environment department. She makes an annual trip to Tristan, and then on to Gough Island, another island in the group but about 200 miles to the south. She has about 150 berths: 50 are crew, 50 are for Tristan to allocate, and 50 are the team of 9 who are going down to spend a year on Gough, and those going for 3 weeks. The nine are a leader/doctor, an electrical engineer, a diesel engineer, three metrologists and three ecologists. Their support team of builders, and more ecologists of various kinds make up the other 40 places.
The Agulhas isn't a cruise ship: she's new (this was only her second year on the trip) and overall has the air of a quite nice student block. There are lectures each afternoon from the scientists on board. The food is generally good, but throws up some weird combinations. The evening meal often has very little carbohydrate (2 roast potatoes is not unusual). As the days go on, fresh fruit and veg get very scarce - 'choice of salad' at lunch turns into pasta salad vs egg in chilli sauce vs rice and pea salad. There are no hot drinks (or alcohol) with meals.
We had sort-of assumed we would be sharing a double cabin, but on the way out found ourselves in a four-birth with the dentist and his wife. This turned out, on balance, to be a good thing, as I think it involved us more in the community than we would have otherwise. Plus they gave us some black plastic sacks which meant we could protect our luggage somewhat for the boat transfer. On the way back, we luxuriated in a cabin the same size, but two beds rather than two pairs of bunks.