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After the Captain’s tale of the Somali pirates, most of us would have followed him anywhere. So, when we approached the first of our supposed excursions around the Tristan da Cunha group (Gough Island) if he had said ‘Jump!’, to get into the zodiacs, we might have done it! However, the seas were rough and it was decided it was unsafe for our planned excursion, so we would have to view the island from the ship. The ship was manoeuvred as close as safety would allow and through the mists we could see it was a wild and not easily accessible place.

The mists are clearing…
Another bit of good fortune for our afternoon excursion.
Exploring around Tristan da Cunha’s rugged coastline.

The next day was better for excursions and during that day we also got a look at the community of Tristan da Cunha…from afar. After exploring the coast of the island, it was nearing the end of the day and the light was gorgeous. Most of us gathered on deck to enjoy the light and the splendid sunset.

Marcus and Laura and the community of Tristan in the distance.

This photo, taken on that glorious sunset evening, shows Marcus Bergstrom, from Sweden, and Laura Jordan from France, both Naturalists. They also had excellent command of English, were licensed zodiac drivers, and were excellent photographers. Marcus was the ‘bird guy’ who loved Albatrosses, and Laura has an Instagram feed (@laurajordan_) specialising in photos and videos from this cruise and others. There were ten naturalists in all, some with many years of education and experience and who spoke several languages.

During our visit to Tristan da Cunha there was a very sweet little background story developing. Our local expert, Conrad, had been supposed to stay at his home on Tristan once our tour of the islands finished. However, the town was not even allowing him to disembark! And worse, the town, whose speciality is fresh lobster, was not going to supply the lobster our chef had ordered! This was dire. Conrad would have to accompany us to CapeTown and figure out how to get home later. There are no airstrips so his only choice would be sea travel. Our very creative thinking crew hatched another idea. The afternoon, after we had completed our zodiac cruises of Tristan, we saw a zodiac with Conrad ripping through the waters back toward the ship. In the boat, piled around him, were bags of fresh lobsters, and his lovely wife huddled against him to accompany him for the remainder of his quarantine in CapeTown, however long that might be. His wife had loaded the lobsters and then herself into the zodiac to join her husband and preserve everyone’s safety. Knowing what we do now, we think Conrad and his wife were probably not able to leave South Africa. I guess we will never know.

Before leaving the archipelago we had excursions to the other two islands in this group, Nightingale and Inaccessible. To be perfectly honest, our schedule was now so different from plan A and plan B, I have no idea which of these photos were from which island. Normally when I am confused I just check the metadata on the photos and it will have the place name. But in the Southern Ocean, the photos mostly just say ‘Southern Ocean’. Helpful. It doesn’t really matter, they were very close together and both quite wild and, as the name of the latter would indicate, mostly inaccessible except by zodiac.

I couldn’t believe I captured this photo of an Antarctic Tern with the island in the background. Antarctic Terns have a wingspan of about 3 feet, so a relatively large bird, but compared to Albatrosses, quite small!
The rockhopper penguins are everywhere in this region.
The water was so clear and a beautiful colour, but it was the seaweed I loved. It was growing up from the floor of the ocean and had amazing textures. Those little bulbous pieces are full of air and help the seaweed float so it can reach the light.
Seals and more seals.
The coastline was full of caves and alcoves growing lichens, fungi and tussock.
These Antarctic Fur Seals had found their own little rock pool, perfect for splashing.

COVID-19 news was becoming more and more worrisome with each day. At about this point in the trip, again, the Captain called everyone to the theatre, this time, at 9.30 in the evening. I was beyond tired and Don agreed to attend and tell me the outcome. Based on recent experience we thought it would be serious. It was. The Ponant company had decided to ask all ships to go to the nearest port, disembark passengers and head for home port in Marseilles. This turned out to be extremely good judgement on their part. We were still four days from CapeTown which was the soonest we could get anywhere. All of the crew except for 21, would also have to disembark there, as would those passengers who had been supposed to take the cruise on to Durbin and the Seychelles. The anxiety became palpable. We compared stories of where we were supposed to travel next and how we might amend our plans, while sharing with each other any information we had. Good access to internet meant that we were aware of the rapid changes in conditions since we had departed Ushuaia, but there was not a single thing we could do except communicate with our travel agents and revise plans, until we got to CapeTown. We weren’t even certain if we would be allowed off the ship once we arrived, but somehow the crew kept smiling, all the while working on our behalf behind the scenes.

when is she ever going to end this saga??…soon my pretties, soon…