I was most interested to read Captain Peter King’s letter about the Icelandic ship Hekla in the April 2017 edition of Sea Breezes, and the ship’s subsequent career as the Edinburgh owned by Premier Fishing of Cape Town and flying the flag of Belize.
In his letter, Capt King describes her as one of two mother ships for the lobster fishing fleet operating around Tristan da Cunha. This is indeed correct. However, I had a smile at his sentence in which he states “….. with tiers of lobster pots stacked high abaft the funnel where I had envisaged deck passengers 33 years earlier.” Capt King will be pleased to know that when the lobster fishing season is closed, the Edinburgh changes her role to become the “Tristan mail boat” and carries general cargo, mail and 12 passengers from Cape Town down to the island and back.
I had the good fortune to be Supernumerary Master of the Edinburgh in 2000 for such a run. The regular Master, Captain Peter Warren, was doing his last voyage before retiring and I went along to understudy him, with the intention that I should relieve him on conclusion of the voyage. Although I had never met him before, he and I had both served our time in Southern Steamships and thus immediately had something in common. This made for a good working relationship and I learnt a lot from him about the tricky conditions involved in working off the island.
She was a well appointed and handy little ship and took any heavy weather in her stride, so the voyage was a very pleasant one. The open deck behind the funnel was supplied with canvas deck chairs and here the passengers would gather in the lee of the funnel and deck house to catch the sun. Amongst the passengers for the outward voyage, was the headman of the island and his wife and, after anchoring off Edinburgh, he organised a quick run ashore for me. Although the island only has 12 kilometres of road, cars are very much a status symbol, and we were discharging two of them into a lighter. I was thus given a ride ashore on one of its trips.
It was a cold day, with occasional sleet, and after jumping ashore I found a deserted village of a mixture of modern bungalows and traditional stone houses. A walk along the High Street brought me to the administrative offices, which were standing wide open, but also deserted. A short walk further on and up above the jetty brought me to the edge of town where I encountered an elderly lady out on a walk. A friendly discussion revealed that all the inhabitants were gathered at the community centre to welcome the headman and his wife back home and I was very welcome to attend the party if I so wished. I declined with thanks and set off back down the road, where I then encountered a group of teenagers doing what all teenagers tend to do – chatting to the girls and having a surreptitious smoke. Apparently, not everyone was all that interested in welcoming the headman! By then, I was cold and miserable and returned to the ship after an extremely short, but interesting run ashore.
On discharging the general cargo, we then shifted ship to close in off the beach and started pumping fuel oil ashore and the above photo shows the ship engaged in this activity. On completion, we moved back to the vicinity of the jetty and commenced loading boxed lobster and scrap to be returned to the mainland. This was a touching time as we then embarked 12 new passengers for Cape Town and the ship was over-run by visitors coming aboard to see them off, and also to say farewell to Captain Warren who had served the island so favourably for a number of years. He was presented with a large number of personal gifts from some of his former passengers and island friends, as well as an official parchment of appreciation.
Amongst the new passengers was the local Anglican priest, Fr Bernie Wrankmore and his wife, who had completed their stint on the island and who were accompanied aboard by a large number of his parishioners. I knew him well as he was previously a well-liked padre at the Cape Town Missions to Seamen, before getting involved as an anti-apartheid activist. I have a strong suspicion that his subsequent posting to the island was probably to keep him out of further trouble. With the cargo loaded, we finally cleared all the visitors ashore and to the sound of much shouting, and not a few tears, weighed anchor and set off out to sea. I still have vivid memories of the people streaming back up off the jetty towards the town as their last contact with the mainland steamed away for at least another month.
The passage back was completed in record time as we had a strong following gale, which the little Edinburgh rode like a duck. This time there were no passengers on the after deck and the dining saloon became the place to be for cards, jigsaw puzzles and just good fellowship. Just before we got back to Cape Town, I received a message to join the diamond dredger Moonstar in Saldanha Bay as Master, and so my time in this little ship had been nothing more than a most interesting break. However, I was very touched to receive a beautifully woven and knotted ship’s bell rope as a present from the Master, plus a pocket of Tristan potatoes and a box of frozen fish from the ship’s company.
A few years later, in 2010, I was wandering around Cape Town Waterfront and, much to my surprise, came upon the Edinburgh in the Robinson dry dock. Like Capt King, I did not have the right gear to go aboard, but I was pleased to see her still in commission and, like Captain King, even more pleased to hear that even now she is still quietly going about her lawful occasions. There are some ships which are a joy to sail in and the Edinburgh, ex Hekla, was one of them.
CAPTAIN IVOR C LITTLE