Three and a half weeks after first sailing from Cape Town, passengers on the beleaguered MV Edinburgh finally reached Tristan da Cunha on Monday 17 June 2013 – only to find they could not go ashore.
Sea conditions were too rough at Calshot Harbour and Captain Clarence October decided to sit out the weather in the lee of the island.
They finally got ashore – along with fresh provisions and long-awaited mail for the islanders – on Tuesday 18 June.
The ship departed from South Africa on 23 May 2013 on what should have been a seven-day voyage, but turned back only 403 nautical miles from the island because of technical problems.
A tug was sent out to intercept the vessel, taking spare parts that were used to carry out repairs at sea.
The ship reached Cape Town on 6 June for further repairs and sea trials, while the 11 passengers – including children and a Foreign Office official – spent the weekend at Tristan House.
The vessel set out for the island again on Monday 10 June, with the Tristan website commenting: “If any voyage deserves good weather with a following wind, the possibility of a six-day transit and an immediate landing of passengers, it is this particular sailing.”
It was not to be.
Islanders were also keenly awaiting the landing of supplies: rationing had been introduced at the store in the settlement.
Rationing has been introduced at the store on Tristan da Cunha after the supply ship MV Edinburgh was forced to turn back while en route to the island.
The ship was 500 miles from Tristan on 30 May 2013 when Captain Clarence October MBE decided to return to Cape Town because of technical problems.
The last delivery of fresh produce and mail was on 26 March 2013. The Edinburgh is not expected to reach the island until 18 June, meaning a gap of 12 weeks without fresh supplies.
The Tristan website has reported that the island store was rationing flour and milk, and stocks of tea had sold out.
It quoted islander Dawn Repetto, saying: “The children are longing for fruit as we have been out of apples and oranges for quite a while.”
The 11 passengers on board the Edinburgh will have spent a fortnight at sea by the time the ship reaches South Africa, probably on Thursday 6 June 2013.
According to the island website, www.tristandc.com, they include the Tristan desk officer at the Foreign Office, the administrator’s daughter, and two children.
A tug sent out to meet the vessel has successfully transferred spares and repairs have been carried out to enable the ship to continue under its own power, travelling at about nine knots.
If further repairs and sea trials go well, the Edinburgh is scheduled to set out on 11 June 2013 for the week-long voyage to the island – a trip of 1,700 miles.
By the time the passengers reach the island, they will have sailed more than 4,000 miles.
Despite “challenging” weather conditions, all those on board were said to be well.
The island website listed the passengers as: education adviser Carl Lander, his wife and two children; locum medical officer Dr D’Silva; an Ovenstone factory engineer; administrator Sean Burns’ daughter, Kelly; Ian Cramman, the Tristan desk officer at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and islanders Shaun and Renee Green and Glenys Swain.
Fresh produce and perishables aboard the MV Edinburgh are to be inspected when the vessel arrives in Cape Town, and replaced if required.
The master of Tristan da Cunha’s fisheries vessel has told how he was caught up in the MS Oliva shipwreck disaster – after his efforts was recognised by the Queen.
Captain Clarence October could see the cargo ship’s lights when it ran aground on Nightingale island on 16 March 2011.
He and his crew aboard the MV Edinburgh were instrumental in saving seamen from the Oliva. Then they turned their energies to the resulting mission to ferry 3,500 oil-covered penguins to Tristan – where most died, despite a three-month rescue operation.
The Queen has now awarded the Trinidad-born captain an honourary MBE for his services to the people of Tristan.
In an interview with The Cape Times, conducted over ship’s radio, Captain October said: “Me and my crew just did want any other decent crew would have done.
“We called the vessel from around 5am to 7am, but there was no response. Then at 7.10am they told us they had run aground.”
Captain October steamed to the scene and lowered his small lobster boats to help get the first of the crew off the Oliva. Some stayed aboard – but when the vessel started to break up, it was no longer possible for the Edinburgh’s boats to take them off.
“That first day the captain didn’t want to leave the vessel. He thought he could get it off. The next day the wind got up and the vessel swung around and started to break up.
“But because she had swung around there was no leeway to get in and pick the crew up.
“Then we got a one-hour window the next day and we went in and got them off. It was also thanks to a passenger ship that came to help. They had zodiacs that we needed.”
Sean Burns, Tristan’s administrator, said: “It was MV Edinburgh that first learned that the MS Oliva had run aground at Nightingale in the early hours of 16 March 2011. Clarence and his crew were first on the scene and provided valuable assistance.
“An environmental disaster unfolded as 1,600 tonnes of fuel and 65,000 tonnes of soya beans polluted the waters threatening wildlife around Inaccessible (a World Heritage site) and Nightingale.
“MV Edinburgh quickly transformed from a working fishing boat to a platform for volunteers to rescue the 3,500 penguins and transport them to Tristan for rehabilitation.
“The hours were long, the circumstances challenging, but Clarence showed excellent judgement and sound leadership throughout.
“The island would not have been able to respond to this disaster without the help of Clarence and his crew.”
The Edinburgh is the island’s main supply line, visiting six times a year to bring passengers and cargo, and to fish for lobster off the islands of Gough, Inaccessible and Nightingale. Captain October has served on the ship since 1997, initially as first mate.
“Clarence is deeply respected by the Tristan community and has built up a close relationship with many islanders over the years,” said Mr Burns.
“We are all delighted that his contribution has been recognised by Her Majesty.”
Botanist Jim McIntosh had been looking forward to a week’s holiday in Cape Town after a seven-month stint working on Tristan da Cunha. Instead, he watched the MV Edinburgh sail away without him.
Jim was dropped from the passenger list to make way for a medical patient, with his belongings already packed.
Now he’s been left trying to hitch a lift on any ships that might be passing nearby. In the meantime, he’s got a place booked on the next scheduled sailing from the island – six weeks after he should have left for home in the UK.
He writes about his frustration on his internet journal: “Andy, the Tristan Radio Operator, and Kobus, the Chief Executive, are contacting passing ships to ask if they could divert to Tristan and give me a lift, including one to the British Antarctic Survey, whose two ships are currently in transit between the Falkland Islands and the UK.
Meantime I’m packed up and ready to go – and I’ve got to stay ready as there might not be much notice of a ship arriving.
Jim has been on the island since 3 October 2011. His blog is full of detail on Tristan life.
It also tells how he had a lucky discovery when he had a nagging toothache in Cape Town and went to a dentist, just as he was about to embark for the island in Cape Town: “Ok, it’s bad but it could be worse. I’ve just had emergency root canal treatment.”
As he says, it would have been a lot worse if he’d had the toothache a week later.