Pete’s blog Feb 20
Sun 21 Feb 2021 12:09
Updated 03.45 hrs Sunday 20.02.21
Good evening readers - sorry for no updates over the last few days but we had much "land based stuff" to do and during the first 24 hours of this leg I have been looking for my sea legs again.
After the evening "Mooring Party" and West Ham win celebrations it was surprising that all of us were up and about, bright eyed and bushy tailed by 7.30 am. However, during the night I think I saw where my "Flying Saucers" have been coming from. In the darkness I could make out the shape of a strange looking building and flashing outside it were the unmistakable flashing red, green and occasional blue lights I had seen in the sky on previous nights. Anyhow more on that later.
After what seemed an eternity I finally got a reply (9.30 am) from the same lovely voice we had spoken with the evening before in Harbour Control. Basic questions about who we were, nationalities and last port of call etc were quickly dealt with but then some probing questions about our last Covid 19 tests, when we were last ashore etc. had me a little concerned. Then the message I feared "Thank you for that Dawnbreaker, I will be referring the information you have given to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for his consideration and decision. Please stay on board and await further instruction".
Ever negative Jeremy converted this into meaning either not being allowed ashore at all or a further Covid test and 3 days quarantine, Lars just smiled and Kenneth regurgitated much of the Covid 19 facts and theory I had been sharing over the last few weeks. I just hoped for a "Yes O.K come ashore" or a rapid test PCR.
2 hours later (11.30 am) came the message that the CMO (Dr Bill) wanted us to come ashore for Covid tests and then to return to our boat to await the result. I quickly clarified that it would be a "Quick Test PCR" and that the results would be available after an hour or so ...... Phew.
At the allotted hour (mid day) we were bobbing up and down in the dinghy about 50 metres from the "very interesting" landing area - A 6 metre high concrete wall with a stainless steel ladder on one side of the corner and a set of steps, set into the concrete, on the other. All very easy I feel you think - now throw in a 1 to 2 metre swell !!!!
As we were surveying and discussing the various "landing" options one of the contractor water taxi boats arrived and showed us how the skilled locals do it. The driver of the boat also warned Jeremy not to sit on the side of our dinghy with his feet in the water - thinking this was ""Silly Covid Concerns" Jeremy asked "Why"?
Sharks was the quick response, seen recently and had been nudging/bumping boats near the pier head. Hmmm ..... "That's the last time any of us will be swimming in the Ocean", I thought. WRONG !!!
Anyhow this didn't matter much because we continued to bob up and down for a further 40 minutes until we saw a Land Rover ambulance drive up to the pier head. Then an official looking lady wearing a fluorescent jacket appeared and beckoned us in. Shouted instructions were that 2 of us should come ashore, be tested, return to the dinghy and then the process be repeated for the other 2. In less time than it takes to say, "Wow why did that take about 40 minutes" we were all back in the Dinghy and heading back to Dawnbreaker, realising that we were late for beer o'clock and that I should have put some sunscreen on before we had left.
Beer and lunch ate into much of the next hour and a half and then the call we had all hoped for "Dawnbreaker, your Covid Tests were negative, please come ashore and report to the Harbour Masters (HM) Office for landing formalities" - RESULT .
In the HM Office we met with Kitty (a St. Helenian), the Asst. HM and quickly sorted through the necessary paperwork. Then it would have been a short walk to the Police Station for immigration formalities but Kitty insisted on driving us there and giving us a guided tour of Georgetown on the way.
At the Police Station I finally got to meet with Sgt Cyndi (another St. Helenian) with whom I have been outrageously flirting and schmoozing since leaving Cape Town. Anyhow, ably assisted by Constable Ruby our passports were stamped and our 7 day "Transit Visa" clock started - "Where's the nearest pub ?" After Sgt Cyndi and Ruby had stopped laughing we learned that the only watering hole was the "Saints Members Club" which would be open at 4 pm. The only other delights of note in the "town" (large village) other than the Police Station and adjoining Magistrates Court were the Bank (which closed at 3 pm) a salt water swimming pool with free showers, 2 mini markets, the SURE (Telephone Company/Internet provider) Office/Shop, a museum and the Island's main/only hospital where Dr Bill Hardy (CMO) was based.
We checked out the Supermarket and made some small purchases so that I could get some "Cash Back" so that we had some GBP (remember I had used up my last reserves in St Helena).
A short walk to the SURE Shop equipped us with 24 hours "HotSpot" Wi-Fi, on one device at a time for the princely sum of 20 GBP (6 GBP for 1 hour !!!). However, said "HotSpots" were only at or outside the SURE office, Saints Club or the dining facilities at either the British or USAF Bases. So it was back to the Saints Club for some HotSpot and wait for 4 pm.
The Club is run by Sue - yes also a St. Helenian, who as well as serving very drinkable cold beers was a mine of useful information, albeit that she didn't know what the Americans were doing here (more later). We asked about food and were told that the nearest place was the Volcano Club (VC) on the American Base about 4 miles away. "Don't worry my husband will drive you there and you can phone us up when you are ready to be picked up". Wow is this service above and beyond or what ? Jeremy, not unusually, decided he didn't want to eat with us, so Lars, Kenneth and I jumped into the car with the very jovial "Elvis" who drove us up to the base.
I don't know what I expected the (VC) to be like but it was nothing like what I expected it would be like. The complex was split into 3 main areas - Dining, Bar and Outside Beer Garden/Sitting Area.
The Dining Area consisted of -
an ordering/till station and long counter with a high glass screen through which you could see the food being cooked and 2 food "pick up" spots
a seating area very similar to a McDonalds, Burger King or KFC with about a dozen fixed tables and bench seats, each for 4 people.
At the rear of the Dining area were swing doors which led through to the toilets and then the bar area.
In the doors were 2 large glass panels etched with the words "Air Force Space Command" and "45th Space Wing" ....... Ah Ha - mystery solved. That's what the Americans are doing - "Project Flying Saucer".
The Bar area was a VERY big Bar area with a number of Large Screen TV's each set on different channels and some Video Games. There was limited seating along the walls.
At the side of the Bar area were large open doors giving access to the Beer Garden.
Food was ordered and paid for in GBP, and we were told to expect a 20 minute wait. We checked out the Bar and Kenneth was delighted to see that they had Guinness and I was even happier to see that they had Yuengling, a beer I had been introduced to last year by Commodore Bill Paviol of Moraine Sailing Club, Pittsburgh.
Food arrived and we took it to the Beer Garden for some Al Fresco dining.
With beers drunk and food eaten "Elvis" was soon back to pick us up. Back at the Club Jeremy had met Mike the owner of the beautiful looking "Pascha" which was anchored near to us. Turns out she had won the Sydney to Hobart race in the 1970's. At 50 years old she still looks sleek and very fast and has the classic lines of a Sparkman and Stevens design.
Also at the club were some of the people who work on the conservation projects of the Island. It was lovely to talk to people who are so passionate about the work they do. Of note was that everyone cautioned us regarding the sharks.
Mike gave us a lift down to the pier head in/on his truck (Kenneth and I were sitting outside on the rear) and some useful advice on navigating back to Dawnbreaker in the dark.
Wednesday morning saw us planning what we both needed and wanted to do - Take on extra water, Washing, Shopping and Exploring - then putting it into action.
A very slick arrival at the pier head was orchestrated by Capt. Lars and we were soon pestering Kitty in the HM Office for hire car details and coins for the washing machine. Unfortunately she had neither so the "Dawnbreaker Expeditionary Force" moved on to its Forward Operating Point (FOP) at the Saints Members Club. Jeremy was armed with the Wi-Fi codes and did much research, Capt Lars sat on a comfy chair and kept look out whilst Kenneth and I took on the supermarket and negotiated a trade with the opposing (very friendly shop staff) forces and exchanged my credit card details for Washing Powder, more beer, tooth paste for our leader and more Cash (including coins for the washing machine) via a concept called "Cash Back".
Back at the (FOP) Jeremy was still involved in his "intelligence" work on Facebook but gave up the Hot Spot codes because Kenneth needed some Wi-Fi time. Under the cover of daylight Capt. Lars and I retraced our steps to the pier head where we located and then isolated the laundry room. After much "oohing" and "aahing" we identified how the machine worked and so loaded it with dirty washing, newly acquired washing powder, 3 One Pound coins and then Capt. Lars bravely stepped forward and pressed the "Red Button" . We then retreated to the (FOP) and rejoined our colleagues to await the 11 am opening of the bar and the opportunity to get more info on hire cars from Sue.
A short while later "local friendlies" (the conservation people) stopped by for a chat. Our Intelligence Officer (Jeremy) extracted much useful information from them about the Islands flora, fauna and wild life. Unfortunately Jeremy was so distracted by 2 of the friendlies youth and beauty that he failed to notice they were carrying what appeared to be freshly baked meat pies. I quickly took over the interrogation and elicited that the NAAFI (Navy, Army, Air Force Institute) Truck which sold such produce was in the area.
Armed only with my wallet I went in search of said Truck which I quickly located 50 metres away outside the Police Station (no surprise there). The wares they had were a gastronomic delight so I purchased a selection of 4 and then made the bold decision to pre order a further 16 for the following day. I returned to the (FOP) where my colleagues were already extracting hire car info from Sue under the guise of ordering mid day (at 11am !) beers. Beer and a Pie - how good does a sunny Wednesday morning get. The Hot Spot codes were passed to Capt. Lars and I kept returning to check on the washing but it appeared to be operating on Ascension time and wasn't in any particular hurry.
At 2 pm the first load was finished. We took it to the pier head and I also collected our 2 x 25 litre water containers. Capt. Lars then took them back to Dawnbreaker. I returned to the (FOP) and now had my Wi-Fi time. A delightful video call to my mum, who had just come out of hospital following COPD breathing issue. Anyhow she was in good form and enjoyed meeting and chatting with Capt. and Crew. I could have done without Jeremy telling her I was a bad boy or my mum replying "You don't know the half of it".
Sue kindly left us her phone when she left the bar because we were waiting on a call from "Serena" who was apparently our last option for a hire car. By 3.30 pm we still hadn't heard anything so I took the bold step of phoning her up. What followed was perhaps my best negotiation, schmooze, flirt, chat up ever. It even had Kenneth saying "Peter, that was brilliant".
Bottom line - no hire cars on the island because of the recent influx of contractors, no public transport BUT Serena will come and pick us up tomorrow at 11 and take us round the island including a trip to Green Mountain ..... RESULT !
Our internet time was now done so we decided to relocate to the Swimming Pool. Capt Lars went to check on the second load of washing and was soon back with the alarming news that the washing machine had stopped mid cycle and our undies and sheets were being held hostage. Now in a previous life I served on the Thin Blue Line so such emergencies are not unknown to me. Remembering the conflicting views during "Operation Get the SIM Card to Work" in St. Helena I decided this was a job best left to me, so leaving the guys at the pool I took on the persona of a Hotpoint Washing Machine technician and following a quick situation review decided to turn the machine off at the wall and wait for 5 minutes. Then without concern for the risk to me or the laundry room floor I opened the door - Whoosh ...... Laundry rescued, rinsed 3 times and led away to safety in a dustbin liner.
I returned to the pool, quick swim, shower and then we were all heading back to the pier head, collecting washing and second batch of water. Yet another slick return to the dinghy and we were motoring back to (DB) discussing amongst other things - The Sharks.
As we approached the rear of DB there was a discussion between Kenneth and Jeremy as to who would get off first. Because Jeremy was already holding the painter (rope attached to front of the dinghy) he positioned himself at the front of the dinghy. Capt. Lars expertly approached the swim platform at just the right speed so that Jeremy could replicate the gazelle like moves we have seen Kenneth do many times. Oh YES readers - you just know what is coming now .....
The sight of Jeremy, who had only just had a cleansing shower and was wearing clean clothes, falling backwards, gracefully if not regally into the shark infested waters has been indelibly etched into my memory forever. What a Numpty - anyhow in less time than it takes to say "Shark" Jeremy had clambered up onto the swim platform. I then put my recently updated First Aid certificate to use and asked if he was alright - fortunately he was.
By now we were late for G & T Time but quickly made up for lost time.
Of concern to us all is that Jeremy has found out that he HAS to be back in Europe by mid March. We have also just learned that Fernando de Noronha (our next intended port of call) has been "Covid Closed" and many other places on the east side of South America are following suit. Some messaging to Thomas (our Shore based Admin Officer and Blog Miester) in Brazil and it has been decided that we will punch straight across to Cabedelo which is near to Joao Pessoa and will give easy to access international flights from Recife.
Thursday morning saw us back on shore by 10 am. We had a presentation (gift) for Sgt Cyndi, more water to get and the Pies to collect before our 11 am date with "Serena".
If I started to tell you how wonderful the day was I would be writing through this watch and into the next. The friendliness and hospitality of the residents (actually there are no residents on Ascension - Everyone is a contractor effectively employed by the Administration on short term but often renewed contracts) is unbelievable. Green Mountain with its walks, spectacular views and the most wonderful range of colours, flora, fauna and wildlife is an absolute joy.
With everything considered I think Ascension Island is the most beautiful place I have ever visited.
On the way back "Serena" took us to the UK Garrison where we stocked up more provisions (guess who found a 4 pack of John Smith's Bitter) at the NAAFI Shop.
Initially Jeremy had wanted to go to the Conservation Groups Turtle Watch event at 9 pm so the rest of us decided that we would meet Sgt Cyndi for a post work drink and see if I could schmooze her into giving us a lift to the Volcano Club (VC) for a "Last Supper" so that we would all be back together at the (FOP) by 10.30 pm.
Jeremy then decided that he didn't want to go the the Turtle thing or come with us for a meal so Lars took him back to the boat and Kenneth and I explored the Post Office bought Post Cards plus some extra coffee and 2 dozen eggs from the supermarket.
I then walked down to the HM Office in order to pay Kitty for our last load of water. On the way I met a young guy who turned out to be her son Chay, in his gorgeous looking Subaru Imprezza STi. Unfortunately no amount of schmoozing could get me a test drive so I was just treated to the sound of him driving up the hill changing gears on the rev limiter. I then went and reported his hooliganism to his mum and cleared our debts. As I came out of the office I saw Lars walking up from the Pier Head so I waited for him.
As we walked up the hill the beautiful Ships Mast with the Union Jack flying proudly from the mast head sort of spoke to me like a Siren from the Rocks.
Well it had to be done, the mast at HMS Ganges, the flag poles at the Le Mans Racing Circuit or outside Rouen Police Headquarters are no stranger to me. So far on this trip I have climbed Table Top Mountain, Dune 7 and Green Mountain so why not the mast.
O.K. - I admit I only went half way up. The wind was gusting and of more concern to me was how rotten some of the timber slats looked, but the photo of me "Look Mum - No hands" will be framed and join many other similar works of idiocy on my toilet wall sometime in the future.
I then went to confirm that Sgt Cyndi would be joining us - she was, but she then advised that the VC is closed on Thursday. We had a farewell drink with her, She and I introduced Lars and Kenneth to Bar Skittles which Kenneth won with an outstanding last roll which defied the rules of physics and gravity and somehow cleared 3 remaining skittles. Sgt Cyndi was disappointed that we were leaving the next morning because she had been planning to bake us a farewell cake - something of a tradition apparently.
Like I said - what a wonderful Island, such hospitable people.
We then returned to the pier head, collected our last load of water and made our way down the steps to the dinghy. There was a really heavy chop to the water with a swell of almost 2 metres which made loading and getting into the dinghy very difficult. Oh YES readers - you just know what is coming now .....
With Lars, the water and the shopping safely in the dinghy it was now my turn to board. The only problem was that Capt. Lars had strategically placed the water and the 2 dozen eggs in the area of the dinghy which you would normally step into, in addition he wasn't controlling the dinghy very well (my version !!!!) and Kenneth's timing of wait, wait, wait was slightly out. Anyhow as the dinghy rose up towards the landing area I stepped out hoping that I had judged the moment to perfection, spin round and lower myself into the dinghy without stepping on the eggs. Unfortunately the dinghy didn't rise as much as I expected, fell away much faster than I expected and as I dropped the metre and a half onto the nose of, the now rising, dinghy - the outcome was obvious. With the words of my dear and departed father ringing in my ears "If you are going to have an accident end up somewhere soft". O.K. Concrete Sea Wall, Lars/the outboard engine, break the eggs ? The Ocean got my vote and I just allowed myself to fall backwards. Ladies and Gentleman - Numpty 2.
Warm water - Nice : Sharks - Not so nice : Losing my glasses - Not an option, already removed and passed up to Laughing Lars : Being crushed between the Dinghy and the Sea Wall - Not a preferred option : Swim around the Dinghy to the ladder on the other side of the wall - Genius.
However what came as a surprise, but shouldn't because we had seen how the dinghy would always hold station about 3 metres from the sea wall, was the back swell from the wall behind the ladder. It took me 6 good power strokes to make it to the safety of the ladder. Anyhow much merriment and "P" taking at my expense and we returned to DB where we discovered that Jeremy had not only found the missing bottle of 53% Proof White Rum but had drunk a lot of it as well. However an even greater surprise was in store for us - Jeremy had created his own floating aquarium - The Huge Blue Washing bowl was now the home to about a dozen Trigger Fish - lord knows how he caught them and the state he was in it would have been too difficult to find out. I decided I was in shock and in danger of Hypothermia so joined Jeremy in "Operation - Wow this White Rum is nice". We then ceremonially returned the fish to the ocean. This involved much hilarity as 4 somewhat inebriated sailors plunged their hands into the bowl trying to catch a fish and throw it over the side. The evening ended at some time (I don't know when) but I awoke at just after 8 having had the best/longest sleep I have had in months.
Everyone else was up and we busied ourselves getting ready for sea. It was with a bit of a lump in my throat that I called up Kitty in the HM Office to tell her we were underway "Dawnbreaker, Dawnbreaker, Dawnbreaker - It has been our pleasure to host you. Safe travels and fair winds to your next port of call, this is Port Control standing by on Channel 16".
Like I said earlier - Wonderful People.
We are now underway, making good speed.
Deck Hand Pete