Posted by: catamarantwooceans | February 27, 2014

Crossing the South Atlantic–part 2

St. Helena and Ascension

8.2.14 – Saturday – In the morning, after coordinating with St. Helena radio, a lady customs officer and the port control representative came aboard. Everything was completed efficiently and pleasantly and then we went ashore on the ferry service boat, to the immigrations office, which is right by the church and H.M prison, concluding the entry procedure. We then walked around town, which seemed not to have changed a bit since my visit here four years ago.

There is a lot of talking about an airport to be built and hopes of development for this dreamy island, with its 4000 inhabitants, but right now they have yet to introduce a cellular phone system, a faster and less expensive internet service, ATM’s and a lot more selection in the shops. We changed U.S dollars in the bank and got a cutthroat rate – 1.7449 dollars for the local pound and a bit more for the GBP. We went shopping, hoping to get fresh veggies, but tomatoes were scarce, no potatoes, cabbage or cauliflower to be found anywhere. Still, Jamestown is a lovely, relaxed place.

9.2.14 – Sunday – As I woke up, I saw a newcomer yacht moored near us; it was the ketch Josi, which left Walvis bay a day ahead of us. The trip took them two days more! I later spoke to Jorgen, who was celebrating his 74th birthday that very day; he and his wife Ingrid have been sailing for the last 20 years and this is their second circumnavigation.

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As we sat for breakfast, a shape emerged from the water about half a mile offshore; we could see a dorsal fin and the tail fin of a shark, a very big shark. Reg, the ferry driver, told us it was a whale shark. “People pay 20 pounds for a trip to see it, you got it for free” he said. If it appears again tomorrow, we’ll take the dinghy over.

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The pressing task for the day was filling up water. We did three rounds with our two 25 liters jerry-cans to the dock, where drinking water is available. After that, I took Dany, who decided not to do the “Napoleon Trail” tour of the island but rather climb Jacob’s Ladder, with its 699 steps and walk around town. I elected to stay on the boat, took him over to the dock arranging to meet him at Ann’s place later. On Sunday the town is asleep, the streets empty and businesses closed. Even Ann’s, which had an “We’re Open” sign, had a scribbled message on their wall menu to the effect that they were closing at 1400. They did agree to fix some lunch for us.

10.2.14 – Monday – Today we went diving with the “Into the Blue” dive club. Craig Yon, the owner, who is also the ferry service manager, took us to a place called “Long Ledge”. Very different from all the tropical dives I did in places like Palau or the Maldives but still quite nice. It turned out Craig also arranged fuel delivery to the moored yachts. He came over with his work-boat and filled our tanks from a 200 liters container, just the quantity we needed. Diesel fuel here is very expensive at 1.2 pounds a liter.

11.2.14 – Tuesday – In the morning we went to town and completed our shopping. Coming early to the shops was a good idea; we were able to get good tomatoes and even two dozen eggs which the lady vendor said were “like gold on the island right now”.

Next we visited immigrations, customs and port control and were free to leave for Ascension – 704 miles away. The forecast – light east southeast winds; it’ll probably take us 5 days.

Forecast turned true; pleasant sailing at about 5 knots. As night fell the moon, three quarters full, lit the scene magically.

12.2.14 – Wednesday – The pace did not change. One gets used to the boat’s motion, the sound of the hulls passing through the water and all the different noises and creaks of the boat. At noon the plotter showed we did 126 miles since yesterday. We do hope for some more wind.

13.2.14 – Thursday – 128 miles in the last 24 hours. I manufactured a new gaff; the one we had was broken when we took the big tuna on the way to St. Helena.

14.2.14 – Friday – Stronger wind in the morning, forecasted to stay like that during the day, then back to 10 knots for the remainder of the trip. 137 n.m since yesterday midday. We planned on Hummus for lunch so I baked some Pita bread. Small things can bring joy during a long passage.

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15.2.14 – Saturday – Not enough wind – 130 miles in 24 hours. A ray of hope shined for a few hours when it picked up, giving us 6.5 knots and showing ETA of Sunday early evening but this was replaced soon by very light wind and our speed was halved. Using an engine would have only resulted in a night-time arrival which is not recommended. So – gritting our teeth we carried on; I’m not worried about our Ascension arrival, I’m already thinking about our next leg, 1107 miles to Fernando de Noronha archipelago which at normal speed would take eight and a half days and with what we’re having now could stretch to eleven…

16.2.14 – Sunday – 106 miles in the last 24 hours…We resigned ourselves to a Monday arrival and decided to just sail and not care about the ETA. We’ll get there when we get there.

17.2.14 – Monday – Just after 3 a.m we glided into Clarence bay, Ascension; aided by the almost full moon we could easily see and avoid the many local work-boats and buoys. We passed a yacht at anchor and dropped ours at 0340 on a sandy surface 12 meters deep.

A drink to celebrate and then to bed. Dany woke up first and was the first to find out a fact we were not aware about regarding the island. Opposite our anchorage there is a white sandy beach which is a nesting ground for turtles. The anchored yacht we saw as we came in turned out to be “Haven” which we met in quite a few places including Mauritius and South Africa. Kerry and Bruce came to say hello; we all sat down to have a coffee and then went ashore.

Going ashore was a bit tricky. You have to tie the dinghy to a span, a sort of stainless steel banister near the stairs of the pier and keep it away from banging into it by a longish rope aft tied to a long, thick mooring rope the local boats use.

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We learnt the swell here can sometimes be very big and strong. You can get the R.A.F’s swell forecast at the police/immigration office.

Georgetown, the main Ascension settlement, is a laid back, sleepy town of 800 inhabitants.

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We wanted to have dinner at the only hotel in town, the Obsidian, but were told they were fully booked for the next two evenings. The other restaurant, near the U.S Air-Force base, is closed on Mondays, a fact discovered too late, so we had a simple pasta dinner at home.

After that we went ashore for the Turtle Tour that the Conservation Center does; we stood by a turtle laying her eggs for quite a while and then the conservation people told us we needed to go away as we were disturbing the turtles; a bit of a disappointment.

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century18.2.14 – Tuesday – We rented a car at the Obsidian hotel and drove to the Green Mountain National Park. This park’s history goes back to the beginning of the 19th century when many plants were brought over from abroad; the whole area is now a forest lush with vegetation and is simply the opposite of the volcanic, almost moonscape terrain of the island.

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                                     Moonscape

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Green Mountain

Tony Blendall, a young woman who is port control and tourist information officer, arranged a dive for us. “Who do we dive with?” we asked. “With Dr. Bill” she answered. “Be at his place at 1330” giving us a map of town with the location. Bill Harding and his wife, Felicity, who are natives of South Africa and are now completing a four years stay on the island, provided all the equipment and we followed their car to English bay, where we went on a shore dive of about 50 minutes. We saw a lot of fish, notably many groupers and moray eels, some times teaming up and staying in the same crevice.

Bill and Felicity are members of a local dive club and the only cost for us was a tax of 5 pounds each.

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Felicity and Bill Harding

After the dive, we went back to the boat and filled our water tanks, making three rounds with our jerry-cans; a tap on the pier is activated by inserting a one pound coin, dispensing 45 liters at a time.

We had dinner at the restaurant and bar in the U.S Air Force base, where suddenly all the prices were in U.S dollars and very tired returned to the boat for a well deserved sleep.

Ascension Island is a very special place and merits a longer stay; one could do a lot more hiking around Green Mountain, where some volcano craters beckon. The local people are very friendly. Where on earth can you leave your car open with the keys in the ignition, your belongings visible inside and not worry one bit about finding them where you left them? Tomorrow we’ll leave for Fernando de Noronha archipelago and BRAZIL!

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