The nearest land to Tristan de Cunha is Cape Town some 1600 miles to the west. Its over 2000 miles to South America, 2,500 Miles to Antarctica, & according to the Guinness Book of Records, this is the remotest inhabited island on the planet.
280 people live here today relatively cut off from the modern world. There is no airport, nowhere for a ship to dock & it is too far for a helicopter to reach, making a yacht one of the best ways to visit, other than the annual visit by the .RMS St Helena.
Th original settlers were whalers are sealers who arrived in the early 1800s, from America. The garrison was established on the Island &, by the British government, worried that the French might use the island in any attempt to rescue Napoleon from St Helena. When they left Corporal William Glass from Scotland, together with his wife & children asked to stay, accompanied by two Plymouth Stonemasons.
Over the next few years a few more settlers joined the island, until in 1820 five of the Bachelors asked a naval Captain if they could arrange for five wives to be brought to the island from St Helena. Seven years later their wish was granted, & the community started to grow once more.
The Islanders made a subsistence living from bartering their fresh fruit & vegetables with passing ships, however with the advent of steam. The ships sailing the trade routes started to decline, together with the economy. In 1876 the Island was formally declared to be part of the British Empire, & an annual resupply ship was started.
Today the Island is still partly forgotten due to its inaccessibility, & really only made the headline in 1961 when the previously dormant volcano that forms the island started to take a few breaths. The only settlement, Edinburgh, it seamed was the epicentre for a new eruption. The islanders took to their canvas covered longboats & made for the uninhabited island & of Nightingale, some 25 miles to the south.
By good fortune a passing Dutch liner was able to evacuate them to Cape Town, & then onwards to the UK, while the Island & bubbled away.
Each family today is limited to 2 cows & 7 sheep, to conserve the grazing, but the main crop is potatoes, grown in patches about two miles from Edinburgh. There is a local shop, which is re-supplied infrequently when the fishing boats come from Cape Town to collect the crayfish from the island, which is their only source of income.
After 10 days of sailing the South Atlantic the island finally comes into view, the peak being over 2,000 meters high, & visible for about 90 miles away.
Edinburgh is perched on the NW corner of the island & is exposed to the huge southern ocean swells sweeping across the roaring forties just a few degrees below the islands. The bottom shelves steeply, so finding a decent anchorage involves being quite close in to the breakers & the rolling is almost unbearable.
However, once ashore you step into a time warp, where history is still being made. The Immigration officer Connie - (also customs & the only policeman) met us at the landing & was able to take us by landrover to the police station, some two hundred meters up the hill. There are a few cars here on the island, but with the only road being the 1,5-mile drive to the Potato patches, one wonders why?
We were then invited to meet with the Administrator, Bill Dickson, who has only been on the Island for 2 months, but who is here on a 2-3 year duty. It was so nice to be ashore for a while, having tea & cakes, while we watched the yacht roll around at anchorage with the other half of the crew trying to hold on as best as they could.
The Island way of life is simple & pure, & we could do well to learn a few things from this little community. Everyone knows everyone else; everyone has his or her own resource cows, sheep & vegetable patch. There is no crime, in fact the community is so close knit that there are no locks on the doors, & it is a daily event that when you return home, something will actually be left for you, rather than stolen.
If the Islanders have had a good harvest of lettuce then you will find some left on your kitchen table, & if it has been a fishing day there will be crayfish left in your sink.
There was a notice displayed outside the police station, that summed it all up:
Someones dog has bitten one of my cows. If the said dog does it again, then action will be taken against the said dog Signed the Chief of Police.
Wouldnt be good if that was the height of crime where we lived?
With the weather in charge of events, if there is a calm day, the community bell is rung at 0530 & a fishing day is declared. All available h&s set to the task of launching the boats, & setting & emptying the crayfish traps, & quite simply tons of crayfish are pulled from the sea.
We stayed ashore for a night with Herbert & Barbara Glass, which was a great insight to how the community works. Barbara made us a great Crayfish bake while Herbert told us about the island life. It turned out that Herbert was the Champion fisherman on Tristan, as earlier in the year, he managed to catch 2,300 pounds of crayfish in one day, which is just over a ton. There was so many crayfish that he had to tow some of his traps over the side loaded with fish, as there was no room in his tiny boat for such a load! The waters round the island are so rich in saline, that the annual quota of crayfish, 180 Tons, is caught in about 19 days, which is simply mind boggling.
For the rest of the year there are only 20 or so permanent employees in the factory maintaining the equipment. The remaining time is spent on community projects & government work such as renewing the road, painting & general maintenance.
The islanders work hard, up at 6am to start work, milking the cows, then off to work, followed at 4pm by a couple of hours in the patches tending to the crops. This way of life has made them very fit & healthy, & we were amazed to her that Herbert was 62 as he didnt look a day over 40.
I went to the school; to talk to the children about our project in Antarctica, not sure of the reception that I might get, as the day before all the children would hide when we came around. This fear of strangers was understandable with the community being is so close, & everyone being related in one way or another.
The 35 or so, children were very well behaved & listened with great interest, as they could relate to the wildlife, having penguins & seals on their own island. The day before the school had just finished setting up a new computer room, with 17 state of the art PCs, printers, scanners & digital cameras. I was able to show them some digital pictures saved onto a CD
Their life was about to change, for they would be able to have access to the Internet, & email, & would start to see what happens in the outside world. I am sure that this generation will grow up very differently armed with this knowledge & technology.