27-Sep-2005 -- En route from Sepetiba (State of Río de Janeiro, Brazil) to Cape Town (South Africa), today we arrived in the Tristan da Cunha group. As we are in the warm sector of a low pressure, which was following us already since several days, the visibility is not as good as we did wish. But we have to try, as I do not visit too frequently the Tristan da Cunha group.
The closest land to this confluence 37S 13W is Inaccessible Island, in the SE. Inaccessible Island is the second largest island of the Tristan da Cunha group. As its name implies, it is the least known and visited of the group. It is about 6 km in length and 5 km wide. Inaccessible, however, is of great scientific interest to botanists and biologists, and the conservation of its undisturbed environment far outweighs any potential for agricultural or human use. The island was declared a nature reserve in 1994. Landing is not allowed without a permit from the Administrator of Tristan da Cunha, and such permits are normally only granted for scientific purposes.
Inaccessible is a high mass of rock with a table summit. Its highest peak, situated on the west side of the island, rises to an elevation of 561 m, and is said to be a crater with water in it. Thence the summit slopes irregularly, terminating on all sides in precipitous cliffs about 330 m high. The northwest coast, which we can see from the Confluence, is lower and the cliffs there recede sufficiently to allow the summit to be gained without difficulty (the difficulty will be to get the permit to land there). The island was once inhabited for a short time, and cattle, sheep and pigs were kept, but it is now uninhabited.
Another close-by island is Nightingale. Unfortunately, it cannot be seen from the Confluence, as it is obscured by Inaccessible Island. The radar screenshot clearly shows this problem. Even later, when the bearing to Nightingale changed and it should have become free, I did not see it, as it is too low. Nightingale Island, about 2 km in diameter, is visited by the settlers of Tristan da Cunha several times a year for birds, eggs and guano. During the breeding season penguins and Great Shearwaters are walking on the island. Their nests and burrows occupy almost the entire ground. Tussoc grass 2-3 m in height overruns the island.
Looking towards ESE there is Tristan da Cunha, heavily wrapped in low clouds. Tristan da Cunha is the largest island of the group, and has an area of 100 km². The population is about 300. When I was there last in January 2001, there were exactly 284 inhabitants. The capital of Tristan da Cunha is Edinburgh Of The Seven Seas.
Tristan Island is in the form of a truncated cone about 11 km in diameter with its sides rising at an angle of about 45° to a central peak, about 2,000 m in height. It was once a major breeding place for oceanic birds but its importance declined with the advent of man and the introduction of animals. Following a shipwreck in 1882, the island became infested with rats, and these - together with wild cats, goats and pigs, were mainly responsible for the reduction in the bird life on the island. Wild cattle may be found in many parts of Tristan da Cunha Island and the islanders approach them only if armed.
If weather is permitting it, I usually pay a visit to Tristan da Cunha Island, when passing. This time, however, when approaching Edinburgh anchorage, I realized that wind and especially swell from the Northwest were too heavy in order to go ashore by boat.
I would like, however, not to fail to show readers a few pictures from my last visit. See first how Tristan da Cunha looks in fine weather, then see the catholic church with its beautiful windows, the administration, and finally Tristan Island's well equipped public library. British readers may feel offended by seeing the Royal Coat of Arms not hung up properly, but "HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE..." :-) I may reassure them that the Tristanians are all good and valuable British citizens.
Finally let's learn something about the Tristan da Cunha Group in general:
The group was discovered by Admiral Tristão da Cunha, a Portuguese seafarer, in 1506. It was explored and described by the Dutch in 1643, and by the French in 1767. Captain Patton of the American ship "Industry", and a part of his crew resided temporarily on Tristan Island, engaged in collecting seal skins from August 1790 to April 1791. Captain Heywood, HMS "Nereus", who visited the island in January 1811, found three Americans there who then proposed to remain for a few years collecting seal skin and oil for sale to ships touching at the island. One of these men, Jonathan Lambert, by a curious edict, declared himself the proprietor of the island in 1811. He cleared a quantity of land and planted various seeds which were supplied to him by the American Consul at Río de Janeiro. The whole, however, was afterwards abandoned, and formal possession was taken in the name of the British Government in 1816, by a detachment of troops sent from Cape Town.
During the incarceration of Napoleon at Saint Helena, a detachment of artillery was stationed on Tristan Island, and on its withdrawal in 1817, one of the detachment, Corporal William Glass who died in 1852, and two seamen of the St. Helena squadron obtained leave to remain on the island. These were joined by men engaged in whaling and shipwrecked mariners, especially the ones from the Italian warship "Italia". Many present inhabitants are descendents from these latter ones, and this explains the presence of a catholic church and the family names "Repetto" and "Lavarello" to be very common on Tristan Island. In January 1949, the Tristan Development Company established a fishing industry.
The only indication of volcanic activity was a slight earthquake which occurred in 1849 - during the residence of Governor Glass on Tristan Island. The terrible eruption of 1961 was entirely unexpected. But let us talk about this eruption in another confluence visit we will make today, namely 37S 12W.
Information about Tristan da Cunha Group obtained partly from Nautical Publication Nr. 2, Africa Pilot, Vol II, 14th
ed. 2004, Hydrographer of the Navy, Taunton, England.