Saved By the People of the Most Remote Inhabited Island in the World

  • Inspector of Police/Immigration, Tristan da Cunha
  • Written on:
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Tristan da Cunha Helps PUMA's Mar Mostro in the Volvo Ocean Race

Monday 21 November 2011: I was on duty in the world's most remote Police Station, on Tristan da Cunha, when HM Administrator, Sean Burns dropped in to inform me, as Head of Search & Rescue, that a yacht from the Volvo Ocean Race had broken its mast 600 miles away and would be calling in at Tristan. They were short of fuel and hoping to get some from a passing vessel, and the fishing concessionaires who operate a crayfish-processing plant on the island (Ovenstone Agencies (PTY) Ltd had been contacted to see if their fishing ship MFV Edinburgh could help. The yacht’s sponsors, PUMA, had been in contact with Tristan Radio to find out what facilities the world’s most remote inhabited island could offer.

I clicked onto the Volvo Ocean Race website, to follow PUMA's Mar Mostro progress of the yacht and Tristan Radio kept me in the loop, with e-mail updates from the yacht. The news soon spread about the community, and was the main topic of conversation.

Tristanians are no strangers to helping sailors in distress, and have a long and successful history going to the aid of stricken vessels to rescue sailors. It has not come without cost. Over a hundred years ago, out of the 18 able bodied men who lived on the island at the time, 15 lost their lives trying to get to a passing ship to barter much needed flour, sugar, salt, coffee and clothing. It left a community of widows, old men and young boys. The community survived by team work, and their Faith in God. It was all for one and one for all that saw our ancestors pull through. In the past 20 years, we have rescued more than a few yachts with broken masts.

We got our boats ready to go to the aid of PUMA's Mar Mostro if needed—news came through that the yacht had received supplies of fuel from a passing vessel, and would be able to motor into Tristan. We would not have to travel the 40 miles to reach her with fuel from Tristan. The men were interested to know how the mast had broken in a 25 knot wind, as they have often sailed their open 10 metre long boats, 30 miles between Tristan and Nightingale Island in such wind, surfing down the waves at 14 + knots.

At 05.30hrs on Saturday 26 November PUMA's Mar Mostro limped in towards the anchorage. The fisheries patrol boat Wave Dancer made a dash to escort her the last few hundred metres in. The police rescue RIB went out to clear immigration and bring the guys ashore, for a shower and a much anticipated cold beer.

True to Tristanian custom, the Tristan ladies saw to it they were well catered for. The community welcomed the guys as one of their own people, as being a seafaring culture with many people descended from shipwrecked sailors, they could relate to fellow sailors in need. As one of our great aunts once said her father told her: “Be kind to strangers, for once I was a stranger to Tristan”. So true to form, they were given a tour of island life, visits to the pub, handicraft centre, café, school, fish factory, hiked up the mountain, and golf -- which got off to a tee!

Tristan is the remotest community in the world, we are 1,750 land miles from the nearest port, which is Cape Town, in South Africa. (St Helena is 1,500 land miles away – Buenos Aires in Argentina and Montevideo in Uruguay, more than 2,200). We are not the loneliest, having internet, phones, and satellite TV. Tristan was discovered by the Portuguese in 1506, but settled by the British in 1816 and have remained so since, the community are British Citizens. It’s like walking into a Scottish village with Italian looking people. The Founder and First Governor of the island was a Scotsman, William Glass. The ethics and influence of his legacy can be found on the island today. His decree that all men (and women) are equal, despite colour, creed, rank or status, should help each other and share food with their neighbours, is what holds our unique community together.

On the last day, the crew were on the island, I asked them what stood out for them as a reminder of their visit. Tristanian hospitality was the top, friendly people, easy going lifestyle, followed by the hike up the mountain, the beauty of the island and its wildlife are some things they will never forget.

To get them on their way, we used the Police and Conservation Department RIBs to assist getting PUMA's Mar Mostro hoisted onto the MS Team Bremen, which had come from Cape Town to collect yacht and crew.

As we waved goodbye for the last time, I know wherever they travel, they will take a part of Tristan with them -- their departure after their brief visit created a vacuum in the hearts of the community they befriended. So, on behalf of the community I will not say goodbye, but bon voyage, (until we meet again) and who knows someday a small sail on the horizon may be bringing some of our friends from PUMA's Mar Mostro.

I was the first islander to write a book about life on Tristan, Rockhopper Copper, and so was pleased when some of the crew bought copies to learn more about our island. www.polperropress.co.uk is the website of my publisher, who can send copies anywhere in the world or I'll autograph a copy and send it anywhere for £15 (or $ equivalent) – the ISBN number of Rockhopper Copper is ISBN 978-0955364877 . It's available in UK book stores and from on-line retailers such as Tesco.com and Amazon.com. To learn more of our way of life, go to our website www.tristandc.com

Conrad J Glass.
Inspector of Police/Immigration
S&R Visits Liaison Officer
The Police Station
Edinburgh-of-the-Seven- Seas
Tristan da Cunha
South Atlantic Ocean
TDCU 1ZZ

Sailing