30 January 2013 | Island of St. Helena, Atlantic Ocean
As Mark promised, I am adding more about this unique place before we blog about Brazil
St Helena landfall at dawn
On the rest of our passage across the Atlantic, Mark and I were left talking about St. Helena and decided that it really is an amazing place. We were struck by the friendliness of everyone on the island. When walking down the street, people didn't avoid eye contact but rather always smiled and said hello. Life there has not been infiltrated by cell phones, the internet, ATMs and life seems more relaxed and calmer for it. The town is very quaint and there was always activity of people walking around.
The people we met there were quite remarkable. Robert, our tour guide, knew the history of the island inside and out. He proudly carried a notebook full of pictures of important events and places on the island from years and years back. He showed us the changes on the island even bringing us to the future location for their first airport. Robert had lived the history of the island and clearly was proud of its heritage.
The two women who gave us the tour of the home where Napoleon was exiled on the island were also as enthusiastic as Robert about the historical significance of this site. They retold the history of Napoleon's captivity with exceptional detail and enthusiasm. We were standing in the room where Napoleon died and even the room where he bathed and it carried with it the air of great importance. Napoleon was held on the island under guard from 1815 until he died there in 1821. He was buried in a four coffin tomb which preserved his body quite well until the French retrieved his body 19 years later. During those years, the tomb was under guard the entire time.
Hazel was another kind and generous person on the island. She ran the Consulate Hotel which also housed one of the nicest places to eat on the island. We went in on Sunday to have lunch but soon learned that the hotel's café had closed and the only other restaurant which was open didn't have enough food to feed the 11 of us who wanted to eat. Hazel received word that we were looking to have a meal and she reopened the café for us. She even let us put the entire meal on a tab because we had all run out of St. Helena currency by Sunday and there were no ATMs on the island. Hazel even went so far as to loan another boater a good sum of cash to get him through till the bank opened. After serving us our meal, she left us alone in the café to enjoy the afternoon asking us to just shut the door on the way out.
St. Helena is certainly not an easy place to get to and we found that probably the hardest part was once we got there. At anchor, we were able to call a ferry service (a small skiff that would take about eight people at a time) from our mooring field to the dock. While we were there the swells were so large that getting onto that dock was a bit of an Olympic sporting event. The driver would time it very carefully swinging us adjacent to the concrete dock as the swell was at a low point, you then grabbed a rope which was hanging down from a bar at the dock, waited until the swell would raise the boat even with the dock, and then at the top of the swell you would swing/jump/tumble onto the concrete dock. We were quite curious at first why so many locals would stand around the dock and watch the ferry usher people to and from the anchorage. It quickly became quite clear that it was a form of entertainment on the island. Getting ourselves in and out of the boat was trouble enough never mind when some of us had full water jugs, groceries, dry/clean laundry and boat batteries to maneuver onto the boat. As with most things in boating, we got used to it, maybe even skilled at it and now it has become another great boating story to be told again and again.
Ferry boat and dock (aka Olympic event)
We were sad to leave St. Helena. We did leave with real St. Helena coffee from the Rosemary Gate Coffee Estate established in 1994 on the island. A bottle of gin and rum also accompanied us from the St. Helena Distillery - the most remote distillery in the world. Paul Hickling taught himself how to make spirits after he purchased a very expensive distillery machine from Germany in 2006.
We feel very lucky to have visited St. Helena before the airport becomes functional. Surely the culture of the island will change dramatically with the influx of people visiting the island. We hope that all future visitors enjoy the warmth and kindness of the people of St. Helena, we certainly did. There are several pictures of St Helena posted in the photo gallery.