Should I stay or should I go

The Edinburgh was nine days late in leaving for Tristan. This delay would have serious ramifications for me and my decision whether or not I should even visit the island. Mark and I have a trip planned to Australia and New Zealand very soon after my arrival back home in Canada–provided the ship kept to its original schedule. I am a daily visitor to the official Tristan da Cunha website and I know from its shipping updates that more often than not, the Edinburgh has a delayed departure, usually two or three days. I factored this into my schedule when I should fly home from Cape Town. I did not however budget as many as nine extra days and when I got the word about the Edinburgh’s eventual departure date, I needed to think about whether or not I should make the trip at all with Australia and New Zealand looming.

Simply put, I would not make my flight to Melbourne if I took the Edinburgh from Tristan back to Cape Town on its new departure date (now set for October 15 with arrival in Cape Town on October 21). I would have to hope for passage on the Agulhas, which fortunately did have two berths available. So I had to think what I was going to do. I had come all the way to Cape Town and spent eight extra nights here, all in the hope of making it back to Tristan da Cunha. Should I just pack up and go home? I decided to go to Tristan, and hope for a berth on the Agulhas on the way back.

For the worrier that I am, this was a bad decision. I had the burden of finding my way back to Cape Town hanging over me from the time I set foot on this island. It occupied my thoughts day and night–mostly at night. I could not get a good night’s rest and I was stressing myself out when I should have been counting sheep.

Once on the island I found out that the two spots on the Agulhas had now been taken by medevacs and that the ship was full. I spoke to as high as I could go, from the Chief Islander, to the Administrator, to the guy on the Agulhas whose job it is to assign berths to everyone, including crew, scientists, the Gough Island team, as well as Tristanians. Every spot was filled.

Then I had an idea. I felt terrible suggesting it, as I felt it was as bad as prostituting myself, but I had to make an attempt for a berth since I was desperate. I got the word out that I would offer 500 UK pounds (Tristan da Cunha uses the pound sterling) to anyone who would switch his (preferably a man’s) spot on the Agulhas for my spot on the Edinburgh. If anyone felt that a ten-day delay to his own holiday or business trip was worth the bonus of 500 pounds then I was willing to offer this sizable sum as an incentive. I was not going to offer mere peanuts; I had to make it lucrative. The airlines would charge me more than that if I had to cancel my trip back home and then rebook my flight to Melbourne. I was a bit worried that this offer would not be allowed no matter how much money I offered, yet the Administrator said I could ask. And he is the top man on Tristan.

Many people tried to help me out. Visiting dentist Trisha Granger was the champion among them. She spread the word among her patients and I circulated the offer at a movie screening about the ecology within the Tristan da Cunha archipelago. Everyone comes out to Prince Philip Hall for this sort of event. I even circulated among the guests at a party at the new hospital for the departing medical staff. I tried as best as I could yet no one took the bait. I was not going home on the Agulhas.

I would be going back on the ship that brought me here. There was nothing I could do to get me back to Cape Town any sooner. This is Tristan da Cunha, where even the Tristanians can’t get off the island sometimes. Few ships and limited berths must be allocated according to a strict hierarchy of passenger order. I as a visitor fall last on this list. Government officials, visiting professionals, medevacs, Tristanians and family members of Tristanians living off the island, among others, all outrank me. I understand this. That is how Tristan works.

I am in the process now of reworking my travel plans to get me from Cape Town to Melbourne, or, failing that, to Auckland. I am hopeful that I will still make it to the first stop of our Australia and New Zealand trip. The extra days I factored into my stay and the brief time I have at home between trips will all now be spent on the Edinburgh going back to Cape Town. I also do not lose a day as I will not be crossing the International Date Line. I am definitely not going to book any flights until I am standing on solid ground in Cape Town. As I look at my Australia and New Zealand itinerary I realize that I can still make it to Melbourne if the Edinburgh doesn’t arrive in Cape Town until October 24. I will miss Tasmania, but still make Melbourne. The best-case scenario, provided the Edinburgh does leave Tristan on October 15 and arrives in Cape Town on October 21, is that I only miss two days into our trip.

Although I did not make it on the Agulhas, from last Thursday on I have finally had long nights of sleep. I can deal with rebooking my holiday (and paying the airline penalties to do so is, honestly, not stressing me out) but it was the stress of not knowing whether or not I was going to make it on the Agulhas that was killing me. What a burden to have unloaded.

The weather has been beautiful and hot from Friday on. Had I made it on the Agulhas I would have missed the best weather so far. I hiked to Pigbite, east of the settlement, because I had heard that seals were seen there. I packed a lunch and sat on the rocks on the shore to look for them. It didn’t take long. At first I thought I was looking at floating rocks. This is not an unreasonable thought, since the porous volcanic stone you see all over Tristan does indeed float. It wasn’t rocks, it was seals! One bounded up onto the stones and stretched itself tall. This was the biggest seal I had ever seen. It headed straight for me. Did it smell my lunch? That mass of blubber glided effortlessly over the rocks and I got up and ran. The seal must have been more scared of me than I was of it, as it then emitted a loud snort and dove back into the water. I saw it frolicking with other seals so I mustn’t have scared it away.

I walked around the settlement on the night of the full moon. Just wisps of clouds and the brightest moon you have ever seen.

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