St Helena

19 February 2018   Jamestown, St Helena
Being a Monday, we went into town to sort out a few things.  We exchanged money at the Bank of St Helena - a tiny little building.  They charge 5% to give cash on a Credit Card, so instead, we exchanged our left-over South African Rand and $500 US dollars from our emergency cash.  St Helena Pounds are not exchangeable anywhere else in the world, so any money that we have left, we’ll have to change back into British Pounds before we leave.

We called in at the Tourist Office and picked up a few brochures on tours and tourist attractions on the island.  The Post Office is next to the Tourist Office, so we called in.  Postage stamps of St Helena have always been popular amongst stamp collectors and I can remember having some colourful stamps in my school boy collection.  Glenys bought some postcards to send to family and I bought some first day covers, showing the now decommissioned RMS St Helena and the new airport.

wreck of the Papanui

Immigration were our next stop, where we had our passports stamped and paid £14 for the privilege.  After eating some sandwiches in the pleasant park, we sat in the Consulate Hotel, bought an hour’s worth of Internet for £6.50 and caught up with our emails.  The internet is not too bad considering that it all comes via satellite - we’ve seen worse.

Back at Alba, we went snorkelling on the wreck of the Papanui.  The wreck has been flattened over time, but there’s a lot of sea life and it’s great to be back in the water taking photos.  I messed up most of my pictures because I accidently changed the shutter speed to 1/40th , which made everything blurred.  It was a beginner’s mistake because I didn’t keep checking the settings, but I got a reasonable picture of a St Helena Butterflyfish and a very well camouflaged Scorpionfish .

20 February 2018   Jamestown, St Helena
James from “Carpe Diem” (who we met 4 years ago in the Marquesas), was born on St Helena and has set up St Helena Yacht Services.  He arranged for the yachts in the mooring field to get diesel. It was all very simple with a boat coming alongside and pumping the fuel through a normal filling hose.  I only needed 75 litres, confirming that we only use 2 litres per hour when motoring at 1500-1600 rpm.

When we’d all filled up with fuel, eight cruisers went out on “Carpe Diem” to look for Whale Sharks.  There are three established boat operators who take people out to snorkel with Whale Sharks and I was a little sceptical about James’ ability to match their success rate in his 38 foot sailing yacht.  However, it only cost £20 per person,  so I went along with the flow and it proved to be a very good three hour trip.

Whale Shark

We snorkelled with 4 or 5 individual Whale Sharks, which are 10-15 metre long.  James dropped us off alongside the huge creatures and we got very close to some of them, as they swam slowly along, 3-10 metres below the surface.  Their tails are 10 foot high and their mouths are 1.5 metres wide – more than enough to swallow a man.  Fortunately, the Whales Sharks are plankton eaters and move very slowly, so there is very little danger.

The weather was overcast and the water was slightly cloudy, so photography was a challenge, but I snapped a few photos and enjoyed being in the water with these gentle giants.

Later in the afternoon, I jumped on the ferry boat and nipped into town to use the Internet.  The ferry is a little expensive at £2 per return trip, but it’s interesting to chat to Paul, the driver.  Today, there was quite a swell at the landing dock, so I was glad that I didn’t have to worry about my dinghy being damaged against the concrete dock. A couple of cruisers are taking their own dinghies to the dock, but then have to mess about with anchors and long shore lines.

I checked the weather forecast and there’s a 2 metre Northern swell coming in on the 24th or 25th.  Known locally as North Rollers, I’m told that these waves directly hit the shoreline at Jamestown and intensify when they hit the shallower water.  It looks like the swell will be here for 3 or 4 days, making the mooring field very rolly and it will be very difficult or even impossible to get ashore.  We’re not sure whether to stay or leave.

21 February 2018   Jamestown, St Helena
Together with “Jomaro”, we went on a island tour with Robert Peters, who is 82 years old and a real nice guy.  He calls his tour “History on Wheels” and he drove us around the island, telling us about both the history and more recent tales about St Helena.

Longwood - not too a bad prison

Our first couple of stops were about Napoleon. Following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815, Napoleon was transported to St Helena, arriving on the 15th October 1815.  We were shown the small house at the top of Jamestown where Napoleon lived for 1 month until his permanent accommodation was completed.  Longwood House used to be a barn, but was converted into a lovely house where Napoleon was incarcerated for 6 years until his death in Jun 1821.  It’s now owned by the French government. Napoleon’s remains were relocated to France in 1840.

Robert took us to a place where we could see the airport runway.  The UK government took 6 years and £300 million to build the runway – they had to level some hills and fill in a valley to make the runway long enough.  It’s an impressive piece of civil engineering, but it’s easy to see how they get the turbulence on the approach.

The most striking thing about the island is the varied landscape.  The coastline is mostly high rugged cliffs showing the island’s volcanic origins, but high on the hills, there’s lush vegetation and pasture land where cattle graze.  In the 18th Century, much of the landscape was covered by a small tree called the Gumwood , but this indigenous tree was nearly wiped out by the indiscriminate release and grazing of goats. There are projects to re-introduce the Gumwood forests, which is now attracting birds like the colourful Madagascar Fody .

Flax plants were introduced in 1907 and the harvesting and production of Flax fibre was a major industry on the island.  Although very poorly paid, the work was steady and several Flax mills were constructed. The major customer was the British Postal Service, who used Flax fibre to tie up bundles of mail.  

Beautiful Scenery

Then in 1966, a British bureaucrat issued an edict that nylon twine would be used for the job and almost overnight the St Helena Flax industry was destroyed. Some of the highland slopes are still dominated by huge fields of Flax Plants .  There is no incentive to replace the plants with anything else and at least the plants are minimising soil erosion.

We stopped at the Plantation House, which is a beautiful Georgian country house and is the Governor’s Residence.  There are a few Giant Tortoises in the extensive grounds, one of which is called George and at 185 years old is said to be the oldest animal in the world.  A short stop at High Knoll Fort completed our interesting day – a bargain for £15 each.

22 February 2018   Jamestown, St Helena
The North Rollers are definitely coming in.  We’ve had mixed reports about how bad it will be.  James from “Carpe Diem” says that it’s okay on the moorings, but one of the ferry boat drivers says that it’s mayhem with boats being pushed around everywhere.  Most people agree that landing at the dock will be “challenging” or “impossible” for a few days and the local radio is advising people not to drive their cars on the sea front because of the danger of waves breaking over the sea wall.

We’ve seen most of what we wanted to see on St Helena.  If we were in a nice protected anchorage, we’d probably stay for another week to do some of the many hikes inland; some more snorkelling; and maybe a scuba dive, but the prospect of being trapped on a rolling boat for several days is not very attractive and we’ve decided to leave on the 24th. 

Mooring Field

We were planning to visit Ascension Island, which is 500 miles north west of here, but the anchorage is not very good at the best of times and it’s badly affected by North Rollers.  Talking to the locals here, they say that Ascension Island is slowly closing down – it’s no longer possible to buy any fuel on the island and there’s nothing to do.  There’s also a problem with sharks, so nobody is allowed to swim.  We’ve decided to give it a miss and go straight to Jacaré in Brazil which is 1,800 miles away.

Glenys went into town to do some provisioning – the locals said that vegetables come into town on Thursday morning, but Glenys couldn’t find anything special. The lack of fruit and vegetables is shocking.  The islanders have become reliant on food coming in from South Africa on the RMS St Helena, but now that the ship has been retired, they are having to become more self sufficient.  Unfortunately, it will take years before there will be sufficient locally grown produce. 

Eggs are almost impossible to obtain because there has been a ban on importing eggs from South Africa due to worries about avian flu.  Of course, it will take years for the locals to breed chickens and start to produce more eggs. 

During our passage from Namibia, one of the gimbal studs on the cooker had sheared off, so I removed the cooker from the galley.  It was a simple job to replace the stud  - thankfully, I have some spares.  I only replaced it five months ago, so I’m not sure why it had failed - perhaps the nuts behind had come loose?  It took longer to clean everything than to do the repair.

Fixing the Cooker

Glenys removed the sprayhood to repair a three in tear that has appeared next to the zip.  It was a simple repair because some stitching has perished and a seam had come undone.  Most of the three hour job was unpicking some old velcro and tidying up the area to re-sew.

When she went to get her sewing machine from the locker under the front berth, Glenys discovered that two of the boxes of wine that we bought in South Africa had developed pin holes and leaked over everything below them.  The sewing machine was okay because it’s in a substantial case, but there was mouldy red wine all over our rucksacks and cargo bags – yuk.  This is a bit worrying because we thought that the bags inside the wine boxes were very tough and we have 40 litres of wine stowed in various places.

I popped into town in the afternoon to check the weather forecast and it looks good to leave in the 24th.  I ordered two large brown loaves for tomorrow and then walked up to the hospital to buy a few over-the-counter medicines.  The pharmacy was surprisingly cheap – I guess that it’s heavily subsidised.