Cruising World - - Waypoints -

2016 was the year St. Helena was sup­posed to change. But it didn’t, and I’m glad.

The changes were to come with the open­ing of an air­port that would bring tourists, money and jobs. But things didn’t quite go as planned.

The is­land of St. Helena con­sists of an iso­lated moun­tain peak 8 miles long and 5 miles wide. It juts up from the South At­lantic, roughly 1,000 miles west of Namibia and 2,000 miles east of Brazil, and the ter­rain is all up and down. An air­port had never been built be­cause there is no nat­u­rally level space long enough for a run­way and cre­at­ing one would be ex­pen­sive. Even­tu­ally, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment, of which St. Helena is a de­pen­dency, came up with the more than $300 mil­lion cost, and a run­way and air­port were com­pleted in 2015. How­ever, in­ex­pli­ca­bly and in­cred­i­bly, it was built in the wrong place: on the edge of cliffs on the south­east cor­ner of the is­land, ex­posed to al­most con­stant trade winds. Any sailor, pi­lot or me­te­o­rol­o­gist would know that when those trade winds hit the cliffs, they’d be de­flected up­ward and in­crease in speed. A me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal re­port

pre­sented be­fore con­struc­tion be­gan said as much, but the run­way was built on the edge of the cliffs any­way. There is so much tur­bu­lence, planes can­not safely land and take off, and none do. I read that politi­cians say the “prob­lem” will be fixed. How they plan to fix trade winds and cliffs I do not know.

So St. Helena re­mains a place where, when any of the 4,000 res­i­dents see an un­fa­mil­iar face, they know you have ar­rived by sea — prob­a­bly on your own boat — and they are charm­ing and friendly. Hon­est too. Most sailors ar­rive from South Africa, where crime can be a prob­lem. On St. Helena, this isn’t the case. On a re­cent visit, a man ran af­ter me to re­turn a five-pound bill that had fallen un­no­ticed from my pocket.

Get­ting Ashore

There is no har­bor at St. Helena, just a slight in­den­ta­tion on the north side of the is­land off a deep ravine. This is where Jamestown, the is­land’s only town, is lo­cated. Since I vis­ited al­most 30 years ago, there have been some wel­come changes — most no­tably in the form of 23 moor­ings and a launch ser­vice.

In 1988, I had to an­chor in 80 feet of wa­ter and go ashore by dinghy, which was a greater ad­ven­ture than I wanted. The land­ing con­sisted of a con­crete slab with an in­verted U of metal pipe along the edge. Six hawsers hung down from the pipe. Ap­proach­ing the land­ing, I watched the swell. On the up­ward surge, my com­pan­ion, Jill, grabbed one of the hawsers and hung on for dear life, try­ing to pull the dinghy onto the con­crete be­fore the wa­ter re­treated. The pipes and hawsers are still there, but the acro­bat­ics of catch­ing them and step­ping ashore can be avoided by uti­liz­ing the is­land’s new ferry/launch. The ferry can be called on VHF Chan­nel 16 and runs from 0400 for lo­cal fish­er­men, usu­ally mak­ing a trip to the moor­ing field ev­ery hour on the hour. A ride costs about $2 per per­son, and is well worth it.

The moor­ings are on the west side of what is nom­i­nally called James Bay. They con­sist of flat, cir­cu­lar floats, about a yard in di­am­e­ter, with an eye in the mid­dle. They do not have pen­nants and are too heavy to lift, which some­times makes them dif­fi­cult to tie onto from boats with high free­board. On Gan­net, my Moore 24, I was able to lean over from the tiller and run a line through the eye.

Clear­ing in and out is re­quired with three sets of of­fi­cials, all of whom I found to be re­laxed and friendly. The port cap­tain and cus­toms are in a build­ing on the wa­ter­front, and im­mi­gra­tion is a short dis­tance away in the po­lice sta­tion. The po­lice sta­tion can be found by walk­ing up the only street lead­ing in­land from the wa­ter­front. It’s on the right, just af­ter you pass un­der an arch. Across the street, at the back of a small park, is Anne’s Place, the pri­mary yachtie hang­out with good food and In­ter­net, nei­ther of which are free.

Aside from the lack of crime, St. Helena dif­fers from South Africa in a sec­ond way: I found goods and ser­vices in St. Helena to be far more ex­pen­sive than in South Africa. Rather slow In­ter­net in St. Helena cost me the equiv­a­lent of $8 per half-hour. A box of wine that cost $7 in South Africa cost $26 in St. Helena.

The two cur­ren­cies used — the St. Helena pound and the Bri­tish pound — are of equal value, and the St. Helena pounds can be spent only on St. Helena and As­cen­sion is­lands. There is one bank, and there are no ATMS. I was told I could get a cash ad­vance on a credit card, but I ar­rived with an am­ple sup­ply of cash and only had to ex­change money.

The four small gro­cery stores on the is­land were bet­ter stocked than I re­mem­bered from 1988, but be­cause of the high prices, St. Helena is not a place I would choose to pro­vi­sion. Wa­ter, which is avail­able at the ferry-boat land­ing, must be car­ried out in jer­rycans, which is what I nor­mally do any­way.

If you go to St. Helena, I highly rec­om­mend tak­ing a tour of the is­land. Mine cost $20 per per­son in a shared taxi. You will see the house where Napoleon died, spec­tac­u­lar views and per­haps even the run­way to nowhere.

St. Helena was one of my fa­vorite stops of this cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion, and I en­joyed it even more than in 1988. I don’t know that there is any rush, but you might want to go be­fore they fix the cliffs and trade winds.

Writer and sailor Webb Chiles is in the process of com­plet­ing his sixth cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion aboard his Moore 24, Gan­net. At press time, he was in­stalling two new so­lar pan­els in Marathon, Florida. You can track his progress around the world at my.yb.tl/gan­net.

Jamestown, St. Helena’s only town, is cra­dled by a deep ravine on the is­land’s north coast. Only one road leads up to town from the wa­ter­front.

From top: Roughly 1,000 miles west of Namibia, St. Helena is truly re­mote. The dinghy land­ing can be dicey when a swell is run­ning. The an­chor­age in James Bay has 23 new moor­ings avail­able for vis­it­ing yachts.

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