Thursday, February 26th, 2015
The Picton Castle crew always find a meeting place in every port we sail into. Ann’s Place is a sweet café set deep into a lovely park near the waterfront under tall shade trees with cats sleeping lazily in the sun and birds chattering away high above. It was closed on Sunday but Jane saw the Picton Castle come to anchor and she knew two things: 1) we would want her to be open and; 2) we would have no St Helena pounds. So she opened up and extended credit to the free watch ashore. This was extremely nice of her. Over the week we were at St Helena many a fine meal (great fish) and cool drink were partaken at Ann’s Place. Hats off to Jane and Richard for their excellent hospitality and fond greetings to Ann who has retired from trade.
The Consulate – Sailmaking
An outstanding spot in Jamestown is The Consulate. This is a wonderful old grand hotel that was once the US Consulate in 19th century whale ship days when many whale ships from UK and the US put in there. This lovely old hotel is owned and operated by Peter and Hazel whom we first met in South Africa some years ago. Beautifully appointed and with ancient teak floors, bits and pieces of old sailing ships elegantly fused into the architecture and décor, lovely rooms, sitting and meeting spaces and best of all, a ballroom with a beautiful wooden floor, made from the decking of a full-rigged ship lost to fire not far from where we were anchored. This Peter offered to us as a sailloft as there were no fancy dress balls on the schedule that week. So here the sailmakers laid out and sewed up some sails for our small boats which we intend to rig up and sail in the Caribbean soon.
The Pancake Race
Now being a small island far from any others one might think that St Helena lacks for major sporting events. Not so. It turns out that a big sports spectacular was to take place, and it was of such a dimension that the police needed to shut down the streets for public safety. Calgary has its annual Stampede, Monte Carlo has its annual rally; Jamestown has its annual Pancake Race.
With streets cordoned off, music blaring, vendors selling hot dogs and cool drinks the announcer warned all of the first heat of this race series. The test was for the determined contestants to run the length of the Main Street, with a frying pan in hand. In the frying pan was a recently cooked pancake. At the bottom of the hill the racers, mostly out of breath had to flip the pancake ten times then run back up the hill to the finish line amidst much cheering and fanfare. The 3 to 5 year olds class came first. Some pancakes made it to the bottom of the hill, few made it to the top and it was a bit like herding cats with this lot anyway. Next came 6 to 9 year olds, then 10 to 13. After that it was 14 to 16, but perhaps they were too busy thumbing their phones or whatever that age group does. It seems that they rarely race for pancakes as none showed up for the starting line.
The last heat was all hands repeating the whole race all over again in a mêlée of whoops and shrieks and detours over parked cars, delayed only by the need to cook up some new pancakes. The cheerful but winded contestants, both victors and last across seemingly equally pleased with events dispersed peacefully without any hooligan activity which sadly so often mars great sporting spectacles such as this.
The big project on St Helena is Her Majesty’s government building an airport. Never had one before, but in a few hundred million pounds the island will have one that connects St Helena with the world. For so long the only way on and off the island has been the R.M.S. (Royal Mail Ship) St Helena, a handsome cargo passenger vessel. In fact she came in while we were there, even brought us some mail from Cape Town. The idea seems to be that once the airport is fully operational to retire the RMS St Helena and just use planes to service the island. Seems to me they will still need a ship from time to time. Those big cranes on the jetty and those many Land Rovers are not going to come on planes. Big discussion and worries abound that the air connection will hurt the character of the island. No doubt will change it some but probably more for the good on the people in long run. But I am glad we got to sail here in the days before air travel, just like Cook and Dampier and how many others over the centuries during the age of sail.
Sailing Off The Hook
It is simple enough for a sailing ship (or yacht) to sail away from St. Helena. It is just a broad roadstead anchorage in the lee of the island off the town. Just up anchor and drift off into the ocean, nothing to it. No rocks, not points of land, no reefs, no obstacles of any kind, no way to hit land without working hard to do it, as long as the wind remains offshore as is the norm here. Seems so odd to see yachts fire up engines and motor a mile or more out away from the small seas of the lee and into the large ocean swell to bang and slat about in order to round up under power and set sail, when literally all you have to do is heave up and get blown offshore setting sail at your leisure, and with no fear of hitting anything until you get near Ascension Island 700 miles to the northwest. This the crew did, heaved up four shots of chain and the anchor from 35 metres. Loosed and set sail and we were off bound for the West Indies in fine fresh trade winds.