I was lucky enough to be invited to the unveiling of a plaque on Gough Island to celebrate it receiving World Heritage Status. I managed to get Claire’s blessing and we set off at midday on 15 Feb, sailing on the Edinburgh. We covered the 220 nautical miles in just under a day and arrived in overcast, rainy conditions. The weather soon improved and we were able to land ashore via a hellish ride/lift by crane. I have never fancied heights, so to be lifted on an open sided platform about 4 feet across with 3 other people holding on for dear life was quite an unexpected rush.
After a quick tour of the weather station and watching the release of a huge hydrogen filled balloon, it was time for a stunning walk to a seal and penguin colony. The Island is apparently one of the most pristine environments left for breeding seabirds and they are absolutely everywhere. Twenty species are regular inhabitants and it is used frequently by researchers. To avoid the introduction of further alien plant species, we all had to scrub our boots before leaving the ship and again as soon as we stepped ashore. Apart from huge problems caused to eggs and young birds by the mice that have been introduced accidentally and are breeding well, the island is pretty well idyllic for the birds.After an amazing climb down a rope to the colony, I was shocked to find that the only way back to the base was back up the rope. I had assumed there was a beach to walk along! We made it back to base for a late lunch and a couple of beers in an amazing little pub they have set up for the Team, who spend an uninterrupted 12 months there from September to September. Only 20 people were on the island for the unveiling ceremony, so it was really special to be there. The permanent team consists of 6 members, 4 visiting researchers were there with 5 Tristanian observers. In addition to myself, there was a Scottish dentist and her husband , the Chief Mate of the Edinburgh and a Professor of Philosophy who happened to be on Tristan at the time and decided on the spur of the moment to tag along. It was a really interesting bunch of people to throw together and some interesting topics came up for discussion during our four days together on the trip. After the flags were pulled away to reveal the plaque, the corks popped and the cameras clicked and then we had to leave for the boat again. We had been invited to spend the night, but with the very dodgy method of getting people ashore being totally weather dependant, the skipper was not prepared to risk having us stranded ashore and thereby preventing him keeping to what is quite a tight schedule. I was quite happy to make it back down the hell ride to the boats alive for the short trip back to the Edinburgh and a bit of fishing off the stern. The fish were not too keen to be caught, so it was a bit disappointing, but we did get enough to prevent embarrassment.Excitement was provided later that night when a poacher almost anchored very close to us, obviously not expecting to find another vessel so far away from the normal shipping routes. It is a sad fact of life that the Tristan group of islands is still so heavily targeted by poachers. When challenged via radio, they started moving immediately, switched off all lights and changed direction, all signs to convince us they were indeed up to no good. We had Tristan Government Fisheries officials on board and could have tried to intercept, identify etc, but at the end of the day it is a fishing vessel and those tasks are best left to a navy vessel with the speed and arms necessary to carry things through to the end.The following day was another treat in terms of the weather and three people decided to visit the island again to ring Albatross legs with the scientists, while I was lent a boat and skipper to go fishing. Although we caught a lot of fish, the highlight was to be able to work our way around the entire island while doing so. The weather is not often that kind down there and I was extremely lucky to be able to go right around. Being a very small boat, we were able to hug the shore and could get in close to see the fur seals, penguins, birds and even a few elephant seals! The rock formations, holes through rocks and varying types of rock over such a short distance is hard to believe. We covered about 22 miles and were amazed by every one of them.After collecting the others from the “landing site,” we returned to the Edinburgh in time for supper and a much needed scrubbing. The next morning was spent watching the ship’s crew earning their living. The trip to Gough doubled as a crayfish survey, so we watched the crayfish gear being hauled and the catch processed in the on-board factory. We left immediately after that. Amazingly, the weather deteriorated again to what it was on our arrival, so we were treated to fine weather only when we really needed it. After a day’s sailing and dropping the fishing gear into the water at Nightingale Island, we were dropped back at Tristan on Monday morning 19 Feb.We were all extremely fortunate to be part of such a unique trip and get the weather we did. The dentist, her husband and the philosopher are all sailing with us when we leave for Cape Town on Friday this week, so it will be difficult not to relive the whole trip again. We are expecting a full ship of 12 passengers, although crew numbers are reduced for the survey trip, so it will definitely not be crowded. Hope you enjoy the few photos we can fit in to try and show you a little of Gough.