Queen’s Day

Every year, normally in February, the island holds Queen’s Day. This is rather like a combination of Village Fete, Highland Games, and Barbecue / Party. Sometimes it is difficult to find a suitable day for the event, because it falls at a time of year when a Fishing Day could be declared – or if a ship is in the weather could be suitable for an Unloading Day. Queen’s Day is normally held on a Friday, which leaves people free to ‘do their own thing’ during the weekend. If the decision is made to hold the day on a Saturday, then the following Monday is declared a public holiday instead. Clearly, it is important for people to be given time to ‘do their own thing’.

Everyone knows beforehand that the day is to be Queen’s Day, but tradition dictates that this is confirmed around 7.30 in the morning by the Chief Islander ringing the gong. This year, on February 24th, we heard the gong. The big day has started!

Different events are organised by different Departments. For example, the fishing competition is appropriately enough organised by the Fisheries Department.

The event is held in St. Mary’s School, and in American Fence which is just to the north of the school. On Tristan the word ‘fence’ can mean two things. It can mean a livestock barrier made of posts and wire, or it can mean ‘field’, all depending on the context. Hence, for example, you may have ‘the fence down the side of Hottentot Point Fence’. Simple really.

First and second prize-winning pictures of the Yellow Nosed Albatross

Most of the expats are charged with being judges in the Art, Produce and Vegetable events. For some reason I was in the team judging garden produce and flowers. Behind closed doors our little team had to judge entries such as funniest potato, best three carrots, and best wild flower arrangement, while other teams were tasked with judging the Swiss rolls, the children’s art, and the portraits of a Yellow Nosed Albatross.

Island Produce

Outside, the day was warming up and participants and spectators were gathering. Jonathan, from the Public Works Department, set up the air rifle shooting competition, with targets at 20 metres. It was a fun event taken seriously! It was not easy with just three shots, no sighting shots, using air rifles that could have their sights out of adjustment, aiming towards the sun with clouds casting moving patterns on the sea behind the targets, but at least it was the same for all!

That’s me going back about 50 years, shooting in the prone position!

For the numbers of spectators watching from the benches beside the school wall, one of the most entertaining events was the ‘wibbly wobbly’ race. Against the clock, competitors had to drink a glass of beer, run to a stick planted in the ground where with hand on stick and head on hand they had to do 10 dizzy-inducing circles around the stick, then they had to kick a football into a goal. Sounds simple, perhaps – but the results were really entertaining. I am sure it was the rotating around the stick that induced the dizziness, and not the beer, but you could not imagine anyone kicking a ball showing such total leglessness.

The races around the cemetery (ladies and gents) were astonishing, if only for the breakneck speed with which the men headed down the hill from the start.

Start of the men’s race, with speed and determination

As the day wore on, folk drifted away, so that they could take a bit of time out before heading up to the braii (barbecue). Preparations for this were made the day before, with two athletic young men going up to the Base to harvest some mutton. Fires were lit, drinks were served, and a good level of mellowness was achieved before one of the main events of the day – the Wheelbarrow Race. The pictures tell it all! The timing of this event was important, in that competitors were sufficiently relaxed to be able to avoid injury if they fell, without being so relaxed that falls were inevitable!

Start of the first Wheelbarrow Race

The braii itself was memorable, with a team of people (largely from the Agriculture Department) looking after the barbecue, and queues inside the Prince Philip Hall as folk filled their plates.

A busy Braii!]

The prize-giving ceremony was the last event of the day, with Administrator Sean Burns giving out a mountain of prizes to all the winners. It was of course a day in which everyone were winners – a fun and relaxing social day that everyone seemed to enjoy.

National Geographic Visit

Firstly, it is time to apologise. The process of getting these ‘letters from Tristan’ onto the site is a slightly protracted one, and we have been having problems.   The last time I myself was able to put the blog onto the website was when we were in Cape Town, three months ago.   It is out of the question to do it from here – the internet system is not nearly good enough.   So I have had to do it the long-winded way.   I write the posts and I edit the photographs, reducing them in size and adding the water-mark and a caption. Then this all gets emailed to a friend in the UK, two at a time as far as the photographs are concerned. This is the same process that even the Tristan News website has to go through.   Then my friend finds time in his busy diary to spend the 15 minutes needed to put it all on WordPress. Trouble is, he has become even busier.   Hence, for example, poor Nena and Mike’s wedding had to wait four weeks before my contact was able to get the blog published. The knock-on effect of this has been that my creative pen has been put to one side, so as not to create a huge log-jam of posts!

Apologies for this. Hopefully we are sorted now and there will be a regular flow of observations from these remote shores.

Rockhopper Penguins nearing the end of their moult

We had a three-week visit from a team from the National Geographic, which will probably have far-reaching consequences for the Island.   This was largely a research visit, as part of their Pristine Seas project. The team travelled on a chartered ship called Grenville, and they spent their three weeks on and around the four main islands (Tristan, Nightingale, Inaccessible and Gough Islands)

As you may expect from the Pristine Seas title, the scientists on board focussed very largely on the seas around the islands. A huge range of scientific processes were carried out, and there seemed to be specialists in everything imaginable. Not surprisingly, one of the main conclusions was that the seas around the islands of Tristan da Cunha are in extremely good health, outstandingly so when compared with anywhere else that they have done these studies so far. I say ‘not surprisingly’ because we are a dot in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean, with a tiny permanent population of 263 persons for a sea area of thousands of square miles, and with the only exploitation being a crayfish industry working to a managed quota system and the very occasional ship being allowed under licence to fish for pelagic fish (always with an observer from the Tristan Fisheries Department on board)   The waters should be pristine!

Looking north from the Big Gulch

The team included a top-level film crew, and the aim is to produce film footage of Tristan which is likely to go global later in the year. It is for this reason that I mentioned ‘far reaching consequences’, for it seems likely that the image and reputation of the island will be greatly enhanced. We were all invited to a presentation in Prince Philip Hall on their final night, with a short film summary of the three weeks they spent and short technical summaries from the leading specialists.   The idea is that some of the team come back later in the year to share with us all the meat of their findings, and finished footage of their filming. We are so much looking forward to this, and I will place on this website details of when their details will appear on television.

An unusual visitor to these shores – a King Penguin here to moult. Note – check out the tail of the South Atlantic Fur Seal behind him!

One important feature of the National Geographic visit was that they enjoyed exceptional weather! They had factored in a 40% weather-related down-time in their planning – but in reality they were able to operate 100% of the time. This meant that they were able to achieve far more than they had hoped, and the film crew nearly ran out of digital memory!!

The team managed nearly 300 dives during their three weeks. On every dive they sighted crayfish, which gives an idea as to how well-stocked these waters are. They also filmed a fish that remains unidentified – evidently a never-seen-before species, or one that is exceptionally rare. Also they saw a porbeagle shark, the first one ever seen in the Southern Atlantic. Readers on the west coast of Scotland will be very familiar with the porbeagle. Talking of sharks, they carried out a shark tagging programme (rather them than me!) These tags are implanted onto the shark’s side; after six months the tag is released from its implanted stem and floats to the surface, whereupon it tunes into a satellite and ‘calls home’ with all the data of its travels in six months, – where it has been and at what depth.

The last of the National Geographic team going out to Grenville

It was a pleasure to meet many of the National Geographic team, and we look forward to seeing them again.

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