letter from St Helena first of two

Fri 16 Apr 2021 11:08

Position 5:51.25S 14:28.91W


First of Two Letters from St Helena

So, we have emerged from our fortnight on St Helena equipped with our first Covid vaccination and a negative test result letter; modern armoury for entry to The Azores.

After four days of being moored to the substantial yellow buoy and unable to go ashore, but relishing the ambience, in the remaining 10 days we certainly made up for the slow start.

Our explorations began at the harbour area. Walking across the bridge over the moat, and through the arched town gate, the castle on the left is now used as government accommodation and offices, a group of substantial buildings lay to our right including the two oldest buildings which are still in use. One used to be an old theatre.  Between them the 669 steps of Jacob’s Ladder ascended straight up the steep slope on the right and at the top donkeys would be harnessed to a turnstile and haul military supplies slowly upwards. Today of course it is a physical challenge to everyone who takes it on for fun. We never did get around to it, or should I say, up it.

The Anglican Church received its new spire just five years ago and opposite, nestling in the pretty Castle Gardens is Ann’s Place, a bar/restaurant immensely popular with yachties especially for many years and now run by Ann’s daughter Jane. Ann resides in a care home on the island. We patronised the bar many times as you can imagine and the internet there was good enough to send all my photos to you.

Further up the hill on the same side and amongst numerous shops, is the Consulate Hotel, where Napoleon stands on the balcony at present surveying the scene and looking decidedly peaky in the face. A remarkable place full with memorabilia and where one could have a very comfortable stay. Just beyond there the road splits and more shops, pretty painted homes, the bank and a couple more bars plus the market can be found. The town is well supplied with shops but as the growing season is slowing for the very few horticulturalists on the island, fresh produce is only brought in to town on a Thursday and distributed around the two supermarkets.

We came in early that day and had a great time gathering food for our long passage, including 2 dozen eggs, as rare as, well, hen’s teeth. Also, butternut squash, big tasty tomatoes, appropriately French beans, onions, potatoes, beautiful shiny aubergines, carrots and lettuce, all island grown.

Rob’s daughter, Charly, is about to have a little girl. Her due date was last Wednesday and she has a caesarean booked for two days before her own birthday on the 18th if little one doesn’t make an appearance before then! She will be about two months old when we see her and almost exactly a decade younger than our first granddaughter, Ruby!

One day while on our mooring buoy we inflated the canoe and went for a paddle along the cliffs near us. It seems everyone but us has been visited by the local whale shark, the worlds largest shark and quite harmless to man and we were hoping we might be lucky. He usually comes along the coast in the morning feeding off small fish near the cliff edge. We didn’t see one sadly; another reason apart from Jacob’s ladder to return one day. Their distribution is usually from Australia’s east coast right along to Cape Town so seeing them this far north is interesting.

The fish are plentiful around here. A red Spanish fishing boat drifted off St Helena for the days we were there because 8 of their crew had Covid and one had to be rushed ashore for emergency treatment. Another cruiser caught a massive tuna, much bigger than they could eat, so the skipper came around the moorings and gave each yacht a big chunk. We accepted because otherwise it would have gone to waste and it lasted us 9 days. But I’d rather he had left it in the ocean!

On Sunday we went ashore, our second sortie after the island opened up for us, and we chatted with Steve, Commodore of the Yacht club and Secondary School science teacher. We hoped to visit Longwood during our day tour, but the hitch was a French film crew who were in quarantine there while filming a programme to commemorate the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death on May 5th. Exactly 100 years before mum’s birth!

Another tiny crop on the island is coffee, which sells in Harrods at an extravagant price but can be drunk in the little café by the moat with it’s fabulous views at a reasonable price; so that was our experience of it, and very nice it was too, but then I’m no expert.

The highlight of this trip ashore was a buffet lunch at Ann’s Place for eight of us, the place you see in the photos with lots of flags overhead and red hangings, making it a really colourful and warm venue in both senses of the word. It overlooks the small castle gardens and there are some fine titus trees nearby with their colourful birds, including the red cardinal, always busy from one tree to the next.

Covid Vaccination Controversy

Six of us walked the long way up the hill to the hospital on 6th April for our first Covid vaccinations and we shown into a small cool room near the container which now acts as a vaccinations centre. I was in my doubts from the start that the Covid nurse who did our tests, and the Port Officer, were actually in a position to give offer us a free vaccination before the islanders had all had their second. The lady Senior Health Officer came out and tactfully suggested she would prefer to wait the few days it would take to vaccinate everybody on the island first; and I sympathised with her sentiments, but after the promise and the long hot climb up the hill, she was out voted and we got our jabs.

We didn’t play the ‘we’re British and our country supplied the vaccine’ card because we wouldn’t do that and because our friends were Dutch and South African.

Immediately afterwards Rob and I walked on up the valley beyond where the road curved around to the left, in search of the Heartshaped Waterfall, which was beautiful. The water falls over an overhang, so it falls through the air as a fine mist in which one can picture elfin figures just like we do with clouds. We relaxed in the shade on a wooden lookout before making our way back downhill through the very young gumwood plantation, the island’s attempt to replace some of the indigenous woodland.

On the way back we joined Henk and Marjolein from Jori, on the balcony at the Consulate with Boney (affectionate historic name for Napoleon) for lunch and a cool beer.

The next morning my calves were on fire and I determined it was the walk and not the jab.

The Spasmodic Ferry Service.

When we first arrived our ferry boat skipper told us proudly that the ferry operated from 4.00am to 8.00pm which we thought was brilliant. But when we tried to call for a 7.00am ferry ashore we were then advised by the skip that they don’t run until 8.00am! They can be easily distracted too by such as a trip along the shore to collect some fishermen, the perambulations of the Covid Nurse who needed to get her samples to the lab by 9.00am and of course a break down, which happened just before we left and the radio commentary went something,

“Ever Hopeful, Ever Hopeful, harbour ferry” (Fictitious name)

“Harbour ferry this is Ever Hopeful”

“Ever Hopeful please tell other cruisers, ferry is broken down and spare boat has just dropped its prop. Diver is on his way!”

Which is not what you want to hear when you have been stuck aboard on the mooring for 8 days and have just received a negative Covid test result.

The ferry boats are interesting. Many of the craft in the small boat mooring field are very old and wooden, including the robust little ferry boats, thick with protective grey paint. The skipper pointed out to me the little craft used to take the Queen and Prince Phillip ashore for their 1957 visit, and another craft that was over a hundred years old. It looked very much like the traditional Azorean whaling boats, little more than skiffs with a mast and single sail, and it still had the rowlock holes from when it was propelled by oars.