SVS Grenville travels from Tristan da Cunha via Nightingale Island to the World Heritage Site of Gough Island

Tristan to Gough via Nightingale

Report from Expedition Leader Paul Rose on 23rd January 2017

Rockhopper penguins at Nightingale Island. Photo by Ryan Jenkinson

Gough Island, 225 miles to southwest of the main island of Tristan, had an almost mythical quality in our expedition planning: It’s hard to reach, hard to land on, and there is very little shelter because the winds are so strong that they whip completely around the island—and yet we absolutely had to get to Gough.

Our Tristan friends advised that we should sail for Gough as soon as the winds turned to the northwest. And so two days ago, when the wind quickly shifted, it was a lively time collecting Mike Fay from his Tristan botanical trek, the RSPB team from their beloved birds, the media team from filming the local fishermen, and the science team from their dives—all while making our ship ready for the passage.

We routed via Nightingale Island so that we could collect essential seal trackers, complete some albatross chick tagging, film the seals, albatrosses, rare plants, and Rockhopper penguins, and deliver Christmas mail to the two scientists at the research station. I fell in love with Nightingale Island and it became yet another remote spot where I would happily live for a year or two.

After an exciting passage Gough Island makes a dramatic and welcome appearance. Photo by Dave McAloney

Our passage here to Gough was idyllic (at first): The strong northwesterlies picked up a powerful swell and with dolphins for company we surfed through the night across the Antarctic Circumpolar Current into colder waters and the infamous Roaring Forties—a region of the Southern Ocean at 40° south with a fearsome reputation for storms and massive seas.

While we happily celebrated our arrival into new waters by fine-tuning our Gough work plan, the ship’s engine unhappily celebrated by stopping dead. It was a decidedly odd feeling to be one moment surfing down 12-foot following seas and then in the next moment to be silently adrift, the ship slowing and then lurching sideways onto the the waves and rolling heavily.

The sea temperature change was so dramatic that more water condensed out of the fuel than usual. This water got into the fuel system and stopped the engine. The excellent on-board engineering team only took two hours to drain the water and make repairs—but that was a long enough time wallowing around dead in the water to give us a little taste of the real power of the ocean. The ship coming alive when the engine started brought some cheers of relief and we spent the final 20 miles of the passage catching ever increasing glimpses of Gough through curtains of heavy cloud.