A week of ships

I have mentioned, from time to time, how very few ships there are that come to Tristan, and how their visits are irregular.  Never was this more the case than in the period since our arrival back from leave last September.

Between mid-September and mid-March, a period of six months, we were visited by four yachts, all of which were making their way to Cape Town.  We were also visited by the two deep-sea fishing ships that are operated by Ovenstones, the company with the concession for fishing in these waters.  These two ships, the Edinburgh and the Geo Searcher, normally visit a total of just 9 times each year, and in the six-month period mentioned we had five visits from these fishing vessels.  Apart from the four yachts and these fishing ships, in the whole of the six month period we had NO ships visit!

All of a sudden, this dearth of ships turned into a glut, with visits from a yacht, three cruise ships and a research ship all in the space of six days!

The yacht was a 45’ sloop called Jonathan.  This is one of the more interesting yachts to have visited here.  She was built to withstand the challenges of polar regions, with an extra-thick alloy hull and with generous insulation.  She is owned and operated by a Canadian / Dutch team, and she carries out personal charters for up to five people.  For some time she has been specialising in cruises in Patagonia and Antarctica, but now she is going to move on to new cruising waters.  I suspect that the new waters will be announced once they arrive in Cape Town – if I were in their shoes I would definitely choose warmer waters!  Jonathan dropped anchor here on March 15th, during a spell of particularly nasty weather.

The following day, on March 16th we had the arrival of Le Lyriol.  This small cruise ship is one of the nine ships in the French Companie de Ponant, which bizarrely is the only ocean cruise ship company based in France. This marked a repeat visit since she visited last year also.  She carries 264 passengers and 139 crew, many of whom of course are engaged with the excursions.  They were lucky because weather conditions were good, allowing the passengers to come ashore, to enjoy the unique ambience of the island, to buy handcrafts and souvenirs, and to frequent the pub that had been specially opened for them.

Le Lyriol, with yacht Jonathan in the foreground
A zodiac load of passengers from Le Lyriol coming into the harbour

Sharing the island with the passengers of Le Lyriol were the passengers of the Barque Europa, which also arrived on the 16th of March.  Again the Europa was an old friend, having visited Tristan last year.  The Europa is also a cruise ship, but a very different kettle of fish in that she is a barque rigged sailing ship, carrying only about 45 passengers.  The passengers were of some 25 different nationalities.  As you will see from the photograph, a barque rig is a 3-master, with the for’ard two masts rigged with square sails and the aft mast rigged fore-and-aft.

Barque Europa from the harbour

All these ships had departed by the 19th, in time for the arrival of another cruise ship.  The Silver Cloud is part of Silversea Cruises, based in Monaco and with its main administrative offices in London.  You can get an idea of this vessel with a few simple figures – maximum 296 passengers, 222 crew, and 18 brand new zodiacs!

Silver Cloud

The final ship to arrive in this busy week was the RRS Discovery, which arrived on March 21st.  This Royal Research Ship represents the serious end of research into resources in the southern ocean, and I hope to dedicate a future article on research and strategic efforts on fishing in these waters.  She was here on a joint expedition shared by the Blue Belt Programme and BAS (British Antarctic Surveys).   The Discovery arrived here after a program of work around the Falkland Islands, and she was to go on to spend time based on St Helena and the waters around that island.  When she arrived here, she dropped off three specialists to work ashore, and then she went off to carry out ten days research work on the seamounts that lie within the 200-mile Tristan da Cunha Marine Protected Area, then she returned to Tristan to pick up the three specialists, to give a presentation on the fisheries-based observations and deductions so far, to pick up two island hitch-hikers who are off to spend six months on St Helens, and to take a large quantity of potatoes that are being sent from Tristan da Cunha to Saint Helena.

RRS Discovery

There is a particularly interesting historical link between the present RRS Discovery that visited us in March, with the original RRS Discovery that was built in Dundee in 1901 which is now a museum ship in the City of Dundee.  The original Discovery was in fact a Barque.  One clever concept that the original Discovery carried was that the fore two masts, and their sails and rigging, were identical.  This meant that the design carried exchangeability, and that spares of all sorts that had to be carried on board could be standardised across the two masts.  The Discovery headed off in 1901 on the British National Antarctic Expedition, with Scott and Shackleton on board.  Later, in 1925, the Discovery headed off on an Oceanographic Expedition to South Georgia.  One of her duties on the way there was to deliver mail to the island of  –  Tristan da Cunha!




Elections on Tristan da Cunha

With democratic process coming under scrutiny in many parts of the world, and elections being held in many countries including in Europe, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Venezuela, it could be interesting to have a look at the recent elections held on the world’s most remote inhabited island.

Every three years Tristan da Cunha holds elections.  The object of the elections is for the islanders to select members of the Island Council, and at the same time the Chief Islander is selected.  All islanders aged 18 and over are allowed to vote – currently there are 213 persons on the electoral roll, out of a total population of 247.  In order to stand on the Island Council, a person has to be aged 21 or over.

The 2019 election team – the Council Clerk Geraldine Repetto and myself as Presiding Officer

The electoral process on the island is quite straightforward, as you would expect with such a limited population.  I became quite involved in the process since I was appointed Presiding Officer for this year’s elections.  The election was set for 26 March, and this meant that around four weeks before Election Day we announced Nomination Day, with notices announcing that day being pinned up on the notice boards and being sent around the Departments.  This gave the people time to discuss within the community whom they would like to see on the Island Council, and whom they would like to see as Chief Islander.

Nomination Day was fixed for the 11th March.  There were eight positions to be filled on the Island Council, and each person being nominated had to submit a form containing his or her name together with the signature of two supporters.  Each Nomination Form covered two separate events, that is the election for a place on the Island Council, and the election to be selected as Chief Islander.  By the closing time on that date we had 13 nominations for the Council and 2 nominations for the Chief Islander – the battle had started!  It should be mentioned that there are no party politics – the contest is every man for himself.

This way to vote!

The Election itself was held in the Council Chambers.  Voting started off being brisk, but by the time the afternoon came along it was decidedly quiet, with just four or five votes being cast an hour.

There are two ‘variations’ to the voting process, which could be described as ‘Tristan specials’, and which are only possible because of the few number of people and the fact that everyone knows everyone.  Firstly, the Council Clerk went around all the pensioners on the island, to see if they wanted to vote and to offer them help them fill in the ballot paper.  This service was very much appreciated, especially by some of the more infirm pensioners who would have found it difficult or impossible to get to the Council Chambers.  There are 70 pensioners on the island at present, which is 33% of the registered voters, and clearly it is really good to be inclusive towards this large sector of the population.

The second variation can be called the Postal Vote, although it cannot really be described as ‘postal’.  At any one time there are always numerous islanders who are off-island.  For example, at present there are quite a number of people who have gone to Cape Town as medivacs, or for other reasons.  There is a Tristan Fisheries man and his wife in the UK helping the refurbishment of a fisheries protection vessel, and there are two girls at school in Winchester who have just recently turned 18. All told there are 23 islanders who are off island and who are registered to vote.  We arranged with these people that we would accept votes being sent by email, since there would be no problem with being sure of the identity of the individual.  We even arranged to take telephone votes if the people so wanted – the Council Clark would confirm the identity of the voter by voice, and then hand me the phone so that I could record the vote, thus the voter would have the confidence of their voting preferences being handled by a neutral expat.  These ‘postal votes’ reflect the personal touch that we can manage on election day thanks to having such a very small population.

The pile of voting papers before the count started. Each paper contained up to 9 votes

At 6.00 in the evening, we checked our emails to make sure there were no last-minute postal votes, and we started the count.  By 7.30 it was all done, subject to the figures being double-checked in the morning, and the provisional results were telephoned through to the Administrator.

There was one last step needed to complete the list of members of the Island Council.  The Constitution provides for 8 elected members on the Island Council, and for 3 further members to be appointed by the Administrator.  He had the task of judging which three islanders would best make up a good balance to complete a strong and effective Island Council – and then to persuade his three chosen people to accept the position.

We had a poll of 74.6% of the electorate.  We have a brand new Island Council, with only 3 people who were also on the council during the previous term.  And we have a new Chief Islander, after the retiring one served for three terms in succession.  Job done – for another three years!