A Different Island
After 11 days anchored in James Bay at the island of St. Helena we were sad to leave. The last day – after we had checked out – we were invited home to some newly returned ”Saints”, but we had to decline. Our passports were already stamped and the Empire cleared for departure...
With the anchor back on board we set sail and discovered that the reefing line to the 2nd reef had come loose from its block inside the mainsail boom. We couldn’t do much but lower the mainsail and let Empire keep her course NNW under genoa only.
We tied the boom tight so it couldn’t fly around in the swell, before taking out the parts inside it. Also the reefing line for the 1st reef had come almost loose. We were lucky we didn’t discover the problems a dark evening just after the wind had picked up. That wouldn’t have been fun. With both reefing lines fixed properly to their blocks, we hoisted the mainsail again.
The sail towards Ascension became a relaxing voyage, with one “almost” Mahimahi/Dolphin Fish/Dorad brought in to cockpit. The fish came loose after a short fight. Sadly – the chef had already planned how to use the fish, when it ran off... The 6th morning we saw lights in the horizon just before sunrise. Together with the day light we saw more and more of the island with its peak hidden in the clouds.
In the afternoon we dropped the anchor in Clarence Bay outside Georgetown, the “capital” of Ascension. Eivind took the dinghy ashore to check in – and to check out the conditions for going ashore before taking the rest of the crew ashore the next morning. The dinghy had to be tied of to a tiny barge. Then the barge had to be pulled by ropes in to the wharf. In the big swell always present it was important to time the moment to jump ashore – or thewhen to throw Eirik or Marius ashore – accurately. Luckily it went well every time. Actually it went better and better for every time, as we got the routine on how and when to throw the small ones up on the wharf…
Ascension at first seemed to be “without soul”. Maybe it was because none of the people living on the island could call it home. Or maybe it was because all the streets in Georgetown were without people during daytime. Or maybe it was because at first sight it seemed there was “nothing” in Georgetown.
Anybody living at Ascension for a longer period has to be working on the island. If you are visiting for a short time only – like us – you have to apply for a visitors permit, preferably in advance. The lady at the shipping office had been living and working at Ascension for 25 years, but still couldn’t call the island for home. Home was the island of St. Helena, where she also planned to move back the day she could no longer work at Ascension.
When we later left the island we had filled up with many new impressions and met many nice people. After a while we understood that Ascension only is a “bit different”.
Few visiting sailors
Four sailboats on a long voyage were anchored in i Clarence Bay when we arrived. Normally about 30 yachts visit Ascension every year. With the ongoing piracy in the Indian Ocean, more boats than before are sailing around Africa’s southern cape and then visiting Ascension enroute Caribbean. In 2012 about 100 yachts were expected to visit the island.
From a distance a part of the island look like a spider web of wire- and parabola antennas. Ascension is a RAF (British Royal Air Force) base and a USAF (US Air Force) base, a relay station for BBC and a base station for the Ariane rocket program, in addition of also being one of several communication stations for the Space Shuttle and one of several base stations for the GPS system. From a long distance the wire antennas were not that easy to see, but when we drove around the island it was like we almost got caught “in the net” a few places…
It was hot at St. Helena, but when we arrived in Ascension we really got to feel the heat. With the sun more or less straight above our heads we felt we had to run from tree to tree to stay in the shade.
Beaches good for swimming were none existent nearby the anchorage, and swimming from the boat could be a bit rough in the swell and winds always present - especially for our two young sailors. Therefore we frequently visited the salt water swimming pool in Georgetown, preferably late in the afternoon. Without any shade over the pool it was impossible to stay there during the middle of the day.
With a hire car we drove towards the peak of the island. The walk in the forest on top of Green Mountain, which most of the time was hidden in the clouds, gave needed cooling in humid surroundings. The highest point itself was not easy to see, except that there was a chain lying on the ground across the track. The path itself went inside the bamboo forest with no view. In the old days – before the forest was planted – the chain was used to “make” rain. You stood on the top point swinging the chain round and round…
Vacation at Ascension
During our hike to the top we met an English family with three children. They lived on the Falkland Islands where Kenny was employed by RAF. Now they were on holidays at Ascension. With RAF represented also at Ascension they had free transport to and from and a free hut for accommodation. They invited us to their little cabin, and it did not take many minutes for Eirik and Marius to be friends with Angus, Anna and Finlay.
The next day we invited the family aboard. First they all had to pass the “dinghy test” getting safely on board our little boat. Later lunch was served on board Empire followed by swimming from the yacht. Fun for us and fun for our visiting friends.
Every year a big number of Green Turtles gather at Ascension to hatch. When we visited the island it was still early in the hatching season. On the beach just inside the anchorage between 50 and 100 turtles crawled on to the beach every night to lay their eggs. Later in the season more than 200 turtles were expected to come ashore every night.
From the boat, if we got up very early, we could see the last turtles crawling back toward the ocean after the night’s excitement. Every morning the turtle tracks on the beach made it look as if several tractors had been driving straight out to sea…
We got up extra very early one morning to have a closer look at the turtles. When we in the dinghy closed in on the barge to get ashore, we only found another dinghy tied up to the wreck of the barge on the ocean floor outside the wharf. We recognized the “moored” dinghy as our Swedish friends Panacea’s tender, and called them from our portable VHF radio. Luckily all was well, even though three out of four got wet… When they were about to jump ashore, the barge was caught under the ladder on the wharf and flipped over, with the result that three persons went overboard…
The barge being on the ocean floor, we had to return to Empire without any tasks done. Next morning with another small barge in place, we made a new attempt to go turtle-watching. This time we found the barge afloat and got ashore – and over to the beach before sunrise.
At first we thought we came ashore too late. No turtles were to be seen. We had almost given up and walked all the way to the opposite side of the beach, when we “suddenly” behind us saw a turtle moving on the beach towards the ocean. Carefully we listed over not to disturb her. The turtle breathed heavily and seemed tired after the night’s hard work. After several pauses the turtle finally arrived at the water’s edge, where the big waves pulled her to sea.
Later one night we joined a few biology students from an English University studying turtles, on a late night walk at the beach to look closer at the “hatching ceremony” itself. It was very interesting to come that close to the big animals. The biggest ones weighed up to 300kg. After first digging a hole, the turtle laid about 100 ping pong ball sized eggs before she used about an hour covering the eggs in sand. When the work was done, it was almost impossible to see where the nest was positioned. During the “cover up operation” she had moved several meters away from the place of the nest.
Sailing on, sailing on
10 days passed quickly at Ascension. The island we at first found “cold” and deserted turned out to be interesting and full of surprises. If we were heading on toward Barbados, Tobago or Martinique – all in the Caribbean – we hadn’t decided when we hoisted the anchor. We had neither decided which route to choose from the Caribbean to Norway. We made those decisions during the first week – towards Martinique. Our friend Bosse on s/y Sawubona, whom we got to know when we sailed around Cape Horn, was awaiting us with champagne and good cheese when we dropped the anchor in Cul de Sac du Marin at Martinique...