Wednesday, April 12th, 2006
The Island of St. Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic, besides being a striking piece of volcanic rock in the middle an ocean far from anywhere, is quite the cross-roads, literally. St. Helena is best known probably for the incarceration of Napoleon Bonaparte but on a larger scale of thinking that would have to stand as some sort of footnote. This island is one of the last remnants of the British Empire, an empire that was largely gracefully surrendered over the last 60 years.It is only accessed by sea and although the talk of building an airport has been going since the last time we were here, it will not happen for at least another five or six years, with a bill of about 400 million pounds. Wow! There is only really one town and that is Jamestown, built up along the valley. It is one long, steep main street consisting of some great little stores that sell everything from cat toys and Easter eggs to carpenters’ tools. There are a few guest houses and a hotel, which very nicely put up with us for several nights of dancing in their bar! The main street is a mixture of the old and new, with pleasant colonial architecture. It’s a very interesting little spot. The buildings are all very old; most date back to early 1800s, and some from the early 1700s. Many have solid teak floors and timbering to keep termites away. Jamestown looks a bit like some little town in Cornwall. As in England, it rains off and on for most of the day in St. Helena also!
The crew spent time going up to see Longwood where Napoleon was kept, a nice cottage, even by today’s standards, with superb gardens. They even still have his jello molds up there! I would say three-quarters of the crew climbed Jacob’s ladder, all 700 steps, although Kjetil swears blind there are only 698! We ate at Donny’s, down on the waterfront, where we could see all the action of the mail ship, and in Ann’s café, where, if I do say so myself, they make rather a smashing bacon sandwich.
One of the most exciting events in the annual St. Helena calendar happened while we were there—the arrival of the mail and supply ship. The HMS St. Helena is the last of the royal mail ships. It comes from the UK twice a year, and on it this time were the returning Commonwealth Games team, returning islanders, and a LOT of mail (it was bigger by far than any mail call we have ever had!) Also on board were 70 cars and a bus, as well as all the supplies for the supermarkets and shops. When I went to clear out the Picton Castle , the customs warehouse was crazy; they had islanders coming to pick up their mail in trucks. I happily said it was like Christmas. The customs officers laughed and said that at Christmas it was five times worse! Holy moley!
The Saga Rose Cruise ship also came in for an afternoon while we were there. We had an engineering question, so Danie, our chief engineer, went over to ask for some help and advice. Danie came back to the Picton Castle wide eyed, exclaiming that their engine room was “Wild—three stories high, with its own cafeteria and everything!” I think it was the best birthday present Danie had ever had, visiting their enormous engine room. Dave, the engineer on the Saga Rose, helped us out, and many thanks to him and the engineers onboard the HMS St. Helena, as well as to all those Islanders who helped us with our port Lister generator. It was more than greatly appreciated!
But time was escaping us and soon it was time to go. The wind had been blowing us off the island for the previous five days, and we were going to make the most of it and sail off the hook. We did, but just as we were leaving the wind died down a little. Ho hum. It would come back, we hoped!