Farewell Beautiful St Helena
23 January 2013 | South Atlantic Ocean - 145 miles West of St Helena
Jonathan & Heather
Yesterday at 8am we began the last big sailing leg of our circumnavigation. We have now decided to head straight for Barbados where there is a nice marina and good rum. We've read up on the place and it should be a good place for us to unwind and recharge after almost 4 weeks at sea (yes, that's right, almost 4 weeks). The distance from St Helena to Barbados is 3,650 nautical miles and we're already a day or so into it.
St Helena was a very worthwhile stop; we stayed five days in the end. We made it to the BBQ party at the yacht club and had a last drink with everyone - we should catch the rest of the fleet in Grenada in March (if our generator replacement timing allows).
The principal town is Jamestown, basically one long street in a narrow valley, and to enter the town means going through some serious defenses, including a moat. If you look up at the mountain tops above, there are forts and gun encasements everywhere, they were really serious about defending it back in the day. Most of the buildings in the town are at least 200 years old and seriously quaint. We did a tour of the island with Robert, our local tour guide - he was very friendly and welcoming, typical of the local "Saints". The local accent was a bit challenging sometimes (courtesy of the rich ethnic mix and history) but he managed to impart some fascinating facts as we trundled about. We visited the Governor's Residence, where they have five pet giant tortoises in the garden. The oldest tortoise was called Jonathan, and he was at least 160 years old. It was strange to see him in the flesh, and then to see him featured in some art work from the 1800s outside the same old house. The tour took in the house where Napoleon was held from 1815 till he died in 1821. The museum they have made of it is fascinating and well worth the visit in itself.
The highest point on St Helena is called Diana's peak. We saw this when we did our tour and resolved to walk it before we left. David joined us and we spent a lovely morning walking up, which only took 40 minutes or so. Unfortunately there is little or no signage, and there are trails everywhere, so we ended up somewhere called "Green Hill". Robert had warned us before we set off - "whatever you do, don't go to Green Hill". So of course we got lost and ended up there - it must have happened a few times before I guess. It was a hell of a long walk back to our rendezvous point along the sealed roads, but the scenery was stunning so we didn't mind too much. It was good to get some serious exercise before the long period of inactivity at sea.
Another part of our tour was a visit to the site for the new airport, which is breathing new life into the local economy. We feel privileged to have seen St Helena before it opens, because I can imagine it will be a very different place in a few years' time. From what we can gather, the population seems to be split in half on whether they want it or not, most we talked to would have preferred a decent breakwater. Currently the cruise ships stop by, but apparently the passengers often don't make it ashore. The landing platform is quite an experience, especially if there is a swell. You have to grab a rope hanging from a bar above and monkey your way ashore - you can imagine 500 or so cruise ship passengers trying this; I guess it's not worth the liability unless it's dead calm. The town was all geared-up for a party to come ashore from the MS Sinfonia on Sunday, but the sea was too rough (although it was as flat as we had seen it). They did manage to come ashore on Monday instead, so the local hotels and businesses didn't have to waste all the preparations they had made for the huge influx of visitors. The local hotel landlady was telling us that she has to prepare for 500 meals or nothing - very difficult. It made our last day on the island a little more challenging as we tried to provision and get water aboard, so in the end we stayed another night in the mooring field and left Tuesday morning.
I also managed to climb Jacob's ladder one day with David and Hillary from Peat Smoke, while Heather watched from the swimming pool below. It was quite a hard climb up but well worthwhile. I radio'd Gunvor from the top to say goodbye as we noticed them nosing out of the harbour and heading for Salvador. We can still hear a couple of the boats on the radio net each day, but that will get more difficult as we work our way further North, away from the rest of the fleet.
So far the winds have been light, and although frustrating, probably for the best as Heather has come down with the dreaded cold and so is better doing stuff horizontally that requires the strength of a toddler.