After a relatively trouble-free passage from Cape Town, we arrived St. Helena late afternoon January 11, safely moored in James Bay, and given it was too late to clear customs, got a great night’s sleep. Since there no place to land a dinghy in this, or any other harbor on St. Helena, we hailed the shore ferry at 0800 the next morning and were promptly picked up and dropped off on a wave-swept concrete slab, where one has to time the swell exactly right, grab one of the four polypropylene lines hanging over the water, and haul oneself off the pitching shore boat to safety. It’s no wonder there are so few handicapped world cruisers.
Since it was Saturday, the financial institution in town, Bank of St. Helena, was not open, and ATM’s do not exist on the island. We had nothing but US dollars, which are not accepted, but everyone assured us that this was no problem, and that we could pay them on Monday when the bank opened. We first met with a kind and courteous gentleman at Customs and Immigration, completed formalities and headed back to the wharf for our first St. Helena adventure, diving with whale sharks. Travis has covered this in his recent blog, Whale Shark.
Back from the whale shark excursion, we adjourned to a pretty open-air restaurant called Anne’s Café, where we got expensive wifi (delivered slowly by satellite and about $4.00 for 30 minutes), caught up on 3 weeks of emails, and had a nice late lunch. Again, bereft of acceptable currency, the proprietor dutifully recorded our purchases in a notebook and we left without paying. Later we had dinner at a nice hotel that took credit cards. Well fed and feeling somewhat back in touch with friends and family, we caught the last ferry back to “Nor’easter” for a great night’s sleep.
Our whale shark company was also offered scuba diving, so the next morning, broke but well-intentioned, we set off in an open dive boat for a two fairly interesting reef dives in 15′ to 35′ of water, but after the spectacular underwater experiences we’ve had in the Fiji, Tonga, Niue, and Vanuatu, St. Helena’s offerings were pretty tame. We did get to dive a 300′ wreck in the middle of the harbor, but it was a shambles, having been blown up several times after grounding to make the waters above it navigable.
Now owing several enterprises lots of money, we walked downtown to the local bank, which unfortunately was experiencing problems with their communications link with the rest of the world, so my Master Card debit function would not work on their terminal. After perhaps 30 minutes of frustration, I asked if I could just exchange some dollars for Pounds, which was accomplished forthwith. The rest of the day was spent, sadly, just paying back creditors, dropping off laundry, arranging for fuel delivery, and trying to take care of personal matters on the Internet. It was frustrating spending so much time looking at my i-phone instead of exploring St. Helena, but stuff needed to get done after being at sea for 11 days.
Since the last ferry to moored boats like ours makes its last run at 1900, we had asked the captain if he could arrange a special trip for us that night, so we could enjoy a leisurely dinner at a mountain top restaurant called “Rosie’s Taste 4 Life,” He agreed to pick us up at the restaurant around 2100, as he lived next door, drive us back to the docks and run us out to the “Nor’easter. Getting to Rosie’s, however was an adventure.
The restaurant was located a short distance from the top of “Jacob’s Ladder,” which was built in 1829 for the St. Helena Railway Company, and rebuilt in 1871 by the Royal Engineers. It was built to last, with a vertical height of 180 meters and 699 steps. Travis and I figured we needed some cardio work after being stuck on a sailboat for the past 2 weeks, so around 1700, when the sun had gone behind the mountain, we started climbing, knowing we had cold beer and hot pizza waiting for us at Rosie’s.
We had both put on “decent” shirts for our special dinner out, so neither of us was going to try for the record ascent, 5 minutes and 16.8 seconds done in 2013. Travis could’ve given it a go, but I was wearing my last clean shirt, so stopped every 100 steps just to let my heart rate return to the low 100’s. We completed the trek without breaking a sweat, and my good friend Dr. Rick Keller, upon reading I survived this, will probably waive my “stress EKG” for the year.
Our one “non-work” day on St. Helena included an all-day guided tour of the island, masterfully executed by Robert, an 84 year old 4th generation “Saint,” who was a font of local lore. We visited Napoleon’s residence, the Governor’s Mansion, the French Counsel’s plush digs, and several forts, which are studded all over this rocky island. Interestingly, none of these forts, built mostly in the 17th Century, have ever fired a shot in anger, although the island did have a British ship topedoed and sunk just off the harbor during WWII.
We loved everything about St. Helena and the “Saints,” as the natives call themselves, who were so kind to us “Yachties.” “No money, no problem” was the recurring theme wherever we went. If ever there was an island frozen in time, this is it, but in the nicest way possible. There were big plans several years ago for a major airport, which would have drastically changed the charming character of this remote, idyllic rock. Funds were secured to develop a facility capable of handling big, commercial airliners, and the terminal, runways, and underground fuel storage tanks were built at the cost of hundreds of millions. However, the orientation of the runways, due to a major design oversight, required planes landing either in a tailwind or a dangerous cross wind, hence only smaller planes use the airport, and only when wind conditions permit. Tourism is severely limited as a result.
As Travis had a friend from college joining our crew February 8 in Barbados, our time in St. Helena was limited to just four days. On our final afternoon, after loading up on canned goods, of which there was a great selection, and topping off our fuel and water tanks, we pointed the “Nor’easter” northwest for the 3,700 NM slog to the Caribbean. As this fairy-tale island receded in our wake, I vowed to come back some day when I could spend a lot more time.