Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Mon 29 Apr 2013 15:54
Monday morning finds your correspondent in the Green Lounge of the Consulate Hotel, Main Street, Jamestown, St Helena. The Green Lounge is airy and peaceful, occupied only by your lone blogger, and above the bustle of the café and bar on the floor below. The Blue Lounge is sometimes quieter but today is occupied by four people engaged in business. Just along the corridor is the bathroom where the excellent hotelier encourages one to “have the water up to your neck, dear, with a glass of beer at your elbow”. It is easy to warm to the Consulate Hotel.
We closed the island early Friday morning and called “St Helena Radio” on channel 16. The operator’s beautifully modulated southern English accent was an immediate delight; she sounded like a character straight out of Foyle’s War. Two hours later “Port Control”, while outwardly rough and tough was nevertheless full of welcome bonhomie. We picked up one of the new mooring buoys, Mags doing some pretty nifty work with one hand on the stanchion, one hand for the rope, one leg on the ladder, one on the buoy. It could have gone horribly wrong, but it didn’t. She was encouraged as we approached to see a Frenchman sitting on his buoy like a frog on a lily pad - it gave her confidence for the one leg trick.
It was a glorious, sunny day and I mused on the passage just completed. It started with brisk winds contributing to good daily runs and later became a little frustrating as we chose to use the engine rather than wallow with everything flapping. Morale was boosted at the end as the breeze picked up and we enjoyed another good sail. One of the happiest of our longer passages. As we sat waiting for Immigration, Customs and the Port Authority I confess I became quite emotional. Most of Jamestown was hidden from our position but we lay right under the guns of the battery high on the cliffs above. Here we were in St Helena, an historic lump of fortified volcanic rock in the middle of the south Atlantic, 1000 miles* from anywhere else and we got here by ourselves. What a moment!
The officials arrived on the ferry boat after half an hour and the paperwork was completed in the cockpit. All very straightforward. The Port Authority is very proud of its new yacht moorings and they are certainly
impressive – wide, soft, brightly coloured and flat like huge Swiss cheeses – very securely anchored. We were given a handsomely produced booklet outlining the design parameters, method of construction and names of engineers and contractors. There are two pages of detailed hints on the recommended method of tying on. It is rather interesting but perhaps overlooks the fact that by the time cruisers get the helpful booklet they are already tied on and secure.
We caught the ferryman on his 1300 round, handing over Fleck’s spreaders and masthead light as we did so - a very simple transaction giving great satisfaction all round. Skipper Richard spent the afternoon and early evening up his mast getting everything set up. We explored Main Street up as far as the bank. Jamestown (population 840) lies along the floor of a deep valley or gut running down to the sea. It has been described by previous visitors as like a quaint English town, but it isn’t – I hope. It is not unattractive but perhaps reminiscent of a rather run-down English village of the 1960s. But what it lacks in style and modernity is made up for by the extraordinarily friendly welcome offered by the people. There is nowhere like it; almost everybody one encounters in the street will offer a greeting and given half a chance will pass the time of day. The tellers in the bank smiled, were helpful and buzzed about efficiently. Cash in exchange for euros or drawn on a UK bank account was handed over with the minimum of fuss. I am very doubtful whether fat cats at the Bank of St Helena contributed much to the world’s financial crisis. St Helena pounds exchange one for one with pounds sterling but nowhere else recognizes them so before we leave we shall have the pleasure of returning to the bank to have any surplus local money exchanged for sterling.
We have enjoyed a very pleasant lunch with Fleck’s owner, Richard; Mags has been to the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere and we have booked to take a tour of the island including of course Longwood House, Napoleon’s final home. We have become interested in saving the Wirebird, St Helena’s only remaining endemic species and also the Bastard Gumwood Tree, recently the world’s rarest tree, there being only one known example. However, following clever work by the horticulturists 200 young plants have been introduced and I am glad to report that there are now dozens of the little bastards.
We have ordered fuel to be delivered by ferry but what we haven’t yet done is cross off many (any?) of the items on the maintenance list. There are just too many good things to look at and enjoy.
* Poetic license: Ascension Island is only 700 miles away.