Cape Town to St Helena - Day Twelve 15 55.412S 005 43.462W

Mike and Liz Downing
Tue 25 Mar 2014 18:34
Arrived at St Helena!! Picked up a buoy at 13.30 South African time, 11.30 local - GMT (UTC). For the first time in 6 years the boat is back on British time! And on British soil (so to speak - she is still floating!). St Helena is British.

The passage was 1,730 miles and took 11 days, 22 hours and 30 minutes, averaging 145 miles a day. Once we switched the engine off leaving Table Bay in Cape Town, it didn't go on again until we approached the moorings today. So not at all bad!

The bad weather of yesterday eased in the evening and overnight. It was still quite strong, but so much better than the night before. The winds are generally not a problem, it's the sea they generate that can be. Yesterday morning the sea and waves were among the highest we've seen and possibly the highest, definitely warranting the use of the A word - Awesome! The winds were not as high as the Indian Ocean and the seas not so rough, so why such big waves? One possible answer could be that in the Indian Ocean the main swell from the Southern Ocean was in a different direction to the wind borne swell. That resulted in the wave trains colliding and possibly reducing their power (but with a lot of cross seas that were not comfortable!). In the area of the Southern Atlantic that we've just sailed through, the main swell and wind borne swell were all in the same direction and complemented one another. So perhaps the two forces work together building bigger and bigger waves. Generally the seas were around 3 to 5 metres and rough, but every so often you looked behind and "Oh my god, look what's coming!" A humungous wave and the boat would slowly rise and ride over the top, and looking forward you would see the mountain of water moving ahead of the boat, realising you were starting to go down and were now in the trough. Looking around there would be another equally huge wave and then another, but then it would settle down to 3 to 5 metres again and another huge wave might not appear for 30 minutes to an hour. But then you would get 3 or 4 in a row as before. As said, when the sun was shinning it was truly awesome, but just a little scary too!

St Helena is a high volcanic island with high cliffs most of the way around it. We spotted the island lights in the night, 34 miles away. It was a lovely clear night and for once we could see the stars. By dawn we couldn't see the island when only 10 miles away - the low cloud that we have had every morning since returning to the Tropics was back again.

The buoys here are off very dramatic looking cliffs that are around 600ft high. They are clearly volcanic and it looks like the molten lava has just been piled layer on layer. I should think it's a geologist's dream to explore. Picking up a buoy was not easy as it's still very gusty here, with the wind being funnelled along the cliffs in very strong bursts that, of course, always appear just as you're about to reach for the mooring. The buoys look very well constructed, but are circular discs (that you can stand on if brave enough to do it!) with just a ring in the centre, which lies flat. So, as the buoy is so flat to the surface of the water, the only way is to pick it up is at the stern - the bows are too high. Not easy in the conditions, but luckily the boat next door had his dinghy down and fed our rope through the ring for us. Very helpful!

The only town on the island is Jamestown and it's a one-street town nestling in a steep sided valley. The island is about 10 miles by 6 miles and has a population of about 4,000, so only very small. Customs and the Port Officer came out to see us and cleared us in, but we need to see Immigration to complete the process. We're planning to do that tomorrow, spending the rest of today on the boat taking it easy, tidying up and putting things away. We hope to get a good (uninterrupted!) night's sleep before exploring ashore tomorrow.

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