Originally, our path across the middle of the southern Indian Ocean (IO) was planned to be further south to get under the “normal” position of the IO high-pressure zone, somewhere in the order of 40-44 degrees. During the actual crossing, under Clouds’ guidance, our optimum path turned out to be more like 38-39 degrees south, opening up a rather special opportunity.
At 38 degrees 43′ south, 77 degrees 34′ east, just on dawn, we turned north into the lee of a remarkable place, Isle de Saint Paul. Among the most remote islands in the world, 3,000 km from any continent, situated between Antarctica, Africa, and Australia, IdSP is a small volcanic island about 7 square kms.
Saint-Paul’s volcanic crater is flooded, open to the sea on the eastern side, creating an enclosed harbor with cliffs rising vertically from the water. Absolutely spectacular, as we rested in the shallower water near the break in the caldera wall, a weather window opened, bathing the place in sunshine.
The collapsed arms of the flooded crater provide a platform for a joyous mass of sunbathing, squabbling fur seals, the spurs down to the arms from the high, still intact volcano walls are a parade of marching, bobbing Rock Hopper penguins heading out for a days fishing, sea-birds soar from the cliffs beyond – the island is a photographers paradise, a hymn to digital cameras, unlimited shots and telephoto lenses.
Two tales link the island and cray-fishing. One, possibly apocryphal, tells of piratical WA cray-fishermen raiding the pristine island fishery. Purchasing an Asian processing ship and a fleet of pot-hauling jet boats, working 19 hours a day they reputedly came away undetected with millions of dollars of frozen crayfish.
The other is altogether sadder. In the 1920s the French ran a crayfish cannery on the island. Early in 1930 the company went bankrupt and 6 adults and a newborn were left there, abandoned in the ruins of corporate failure. Eventually in December of that year 2 survivors were picked up, the others including the newborn had perished from starvation, never to return from the southern Indian Ocean. Les “Oublies” de l’Isle St Paul.
Rested, heart-warmed by the sheer beauty of the place and having paid our respects to the Forgotten, we sailed off our anchor, turned our backs to one of the remotest places on our planet and headed east, to Australia and home.
Main photo: Southern Rockhopper Penguin. antarctica.gov.au