St Helena Jewel of the South Atlantic

Sitting in the plush blue lounge of the colonial hotel – The Consulate Hotel feels a million miles away form from the fast crossing we had getting here. I’m surrounded by antique furniture, stamps dating back through all of last century, pictures and paintings of days gone by, Wedgewood crockery and a library full of books. Its quintesential British colonialism set off by the chirping of tropical birds outside the window.

We arrived here at 1am yesterday morning – for the first time in this rally, we were the first mono hull to arrive here, some half an hour ahead of A Plus 2 after a fast racy 1700 miles. Our strategic move of heading much further West to stay in the breeze before heading North paying off and closing down some 40-50 miles on A Plus to steal it over the line. We caught Dorado in the last few days and continued eating well – fish pie joining the growing list of “Jani Magic” emanating from the Aretha galley.

Arriving here was tricky. Pitch black and a host of unlit and unmarked buoys and boats. We first heard and then saw dolpins as we started to head into James Bay – the bay in front of the tiny capital Jamestown. Luc from Makena very kindly came out to guide us in in his dinghy and helped us pick up one of the big mooring buoys. After a beer and Jagermeister to celebrate reaching this tiny rock in the vastness of the South Atlantic Ocean it was to bed at 2:30 ready for a 7am start to clear customs and as we found out to reposition Aretha to a larger mooring suited to larger boats like Aretha.

Since then, its been moving rapidly. Ashore via Water Taxi landing at the extremely precarious jetty where you literally grab a rope and swing ashore as the taxi lurches on the ocean swells. Along to the Yacht Club and then police and immigration to clear in and for the very important check that you have your own health insurance. The medical facilities are limited and there are no flights here (that’s likely to change later this year with the opening of the airport). The transport in and out is the RMS Helena (used during the Falklands War) and was due in last night. Their plans have changed and rather than leaving on Monday, they are heading out straight away again today as there are 2 medical emergencies (one premature birth and one renal failure) that they need to get to the mainland ASAP – the closest is Walvis Bay on the Namibian Coast. That’s how medical care works out here – hence needing the insurance.

Walking around the tiny high street, its very British and you could be walking down the mainstreet in Dartmouth or any English coastal town. Everyone is very friendly and stops to chat. You stand out as a visitor – its a place where everyone knows everyone in this Island populated by some 4000 people.

Lunch with Makena, Hugur and A Plus at the Consulate Hotel, a quick trip to the Post Office to buy St Helena First Day Covers and then after a wander around town back to Aretha. There, LUc and Sarah kindly offered to have the children for a sleepover whilst we checked into the Conuslate Hotel. Hot showers and unrestricted running water a welcome bonus.

The evening was spent at Anne’s restaurant where a guest chef for the evening cooked a great four course meal for £25 a head. Our company for the evening was Hugur, A Plus 2, Exody and the yacht club commodore and his wife. He is also the auditor appointed by the British Government to oversee British taxpayer investment here. Brits pay around £20m to keep the island ticking over and have recently invested £200m to build the first airport here. The first planes are expected in July at around the same time when the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) is decommissioned. Currently, apart from sailing here, you can only get on and off the island on the RMS which comes every 3 weeks and takes a maximum of 150 passengers. We watched this morning as to unload containers (and apparently cars get brought onto the island the same way), the crane on the ship swings the containers over the side and into a floating barge. The floating barge is then towed ashore and anchored a short way off the coast. Then a crane onshored picks up the container and swings it onto shore. Its not straightforward and weather dependent.

This truly is a remote gem of an island with a genuine warmth and many things from the past (including a glut of cars – there are more cars than people on the island – cars from the 80’s in Britain – Ford Sierras, Escorts, Fiestas – truly a blast from the past!)

Next – off to discover more about Napoleon who was imprisoned by the British here for the last 5 years of his life and was buried here, to meet the Worlds oldest inhabitant who lives on the Island, to climb Jacobs ladder and discover more about the huge Whale Sharks who frequent the harbour here and the many indiginous species only found here in St Helena such as the wire bird.

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