Day 16 - March 18, 2011 - Tristan da Cunha

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: S 37º03’27”, W 012º18’56”
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 17ºC
Pressure: 1003 hPa
Wind: 25 knots

What a beautiful day in the middle of the South Atlantic! As far away as you can get from anywhere and hope to get ashore. Notice the word “hope” because unfortunately we haven’t been able to. We have had a great time, don’t take me wrong dear reader, the scenery, wildlife and the weather have been wonderful, but we haven’t managed to come ashore as the port has been closed by the harbour master due to heavy swells breaking straight into the only jetty on the island.

During the night at 2:30 am the MV Oliva broke in two. That is very unfortunate as the potential environmental damage could be big if you consider the amount of breeding birds that live on Nightingale Island and particularly the endemic Northern Rockhopper Penguins, which are only found in this archipelago. There are some reports today of penguins coming out of the water covered in oil… Not a pretty picture. We are hoping that the wind keeps blowing south so the oil is blown away from the islands, and that no rats from the shipwreck (which was carrying soy beans) manage to get ashore.

And so considering that going ashore was not possible, Captain Alexander Golubev sailed the ship around the island of Tristan da Cunha to the calmer eastern side, where a local boat managed to bring the local officials on board the Prince Albert II to do customs and immigration clearance. After the officials had finished their job, we sailed back to Edinburgh of the Seven Seas but the port was still closed. At 11 am guest lecturer David Guggenheim gave a lecture on Oil Spills - Lessons Learnt from the Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Very interesting and relevant, given the circumstances.

The Outdoor Grill was open and most guests enjoyed lunch on deck as we sailed south to Inaccessible Island. The amount of seabirds here is staggering: thousands of great shearwaters and broad billed prions, plus spectacled petrels, yellow-nosed albatrosses, Antarctic terns, southern giant petrels and Tristan skuas, all in great numbers. Despite the swell, the sun was out and the scenery was stunning. We then headed over to Nightingale to have a look at the shipwreck and found her now in two pieces about 100 meters away from each other. Thank goodness we managed to get those sailors off the Oliva yesterday, as today the story would have been different…

There were black blobs of oil in the water and a distinctive diesel fuel smell, as the Captain brought us close to the MV Oliva. It was interesting to see the superstructure half sunken, where we had rescued the crew just 24 hours ago, and also to see how the whole front of the ship had broken off and drifted back onto the rocky shore around the headland where it had run aground.

As we sailed away from Nightingale towards Tristan again, the hotel department hosted a cocktail party out on deck. Everybody enjoyed the nice conditions, warm temperatures, tons of birds and beautiful sunset. Towards the end of the cocktail party, Expedition Leader Robin West briefed our guests on our plans for tomorrow. We are all crossing fingers for good sea conditions so we can step onto the most remote inhabited island on Earth!