Westward over the South Atlantic Ocean
After great days in Hout Bay and Cape Town, done with Christmas- and New Year celebrations and after a couple of postponements, we threw off from Hout Bay and South Africa. The course was set toward the island of St. Helena.
The Danish yacht Exabyte with Kirsten, Kresten, Jørgen and Jens threw off a couple of hours before Empire. It stood to be a regatta towards St. Helena. Though it has to be told, Exabyte is a light IMX40 with four working crew, four plates and four cups on board - while Empire is a heavy loaded Bavaria with two small kids and we can easily line up a table for twelve. In the light winds to come we did not stand a chance!
Since we threw off just after a low pressure system was done blowing strong winds in Hout Bay, we expected a couple of days with light head winds, before the wind shifted to west and south west. And so it was.
The first half day out of Hout Bay we motor sailed, until the wind got stronger and we finally could turn of the engine. The third day the wind shifted to west and later south west, before it strengthened to 30 knots from WSW. We experienced excellent sailing conditions for about one day, before the wind calmed down a bit. Luckily the wind stayed from the same direction. Slowly but steady we headed towards the target out there in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, 1800 nautical miles north west from Cape Town.
The first days underway we had lots of big ships around us. 200 and 300 meter long carriers passed within sight several times a day. Again we had good use of the AIS (Automatic Identification System) we bought from Swedish s/y Satumaa when we arrived in South Africa last November. When we called a big ship on the VHF radio with its name (which we can see from the AIS), we got an immediate replay. Earlier when we called ships on the VHF radio with position or relative bearing, we had to call several times before finally getting an answer. The AIS also gives a good overview over where ships beyond the limit of sight are.
Still we have to be careful! Ships under the length of 50 meters are not obliged to transmit their position over the AIS-system. About half way between Cape Town and St. Helena we came very close to an Asian fishing boat that did not use AIS. Not that that was the reason for not discovering the boat… The Captain on duty aboard Empire was too busy with watching the kids and with making new fishing hooks. Luckily we discovered the boat in time, but we were still too close…
A few days underway and the first fish was on the hook. A beautiful 6kg Albacore (a very delicious variant of Tuna) found its way to Empire`s fridge and pot. We did not know at this stage that this was the only fish we would catch during the entire voyage across the South Atlantic Ocean. The voyage from St. Helena via Ascension to the Caribbean was to be completely without any fish in our cockpit – with the exception of Flying Fish…
Every third/fourth day is nappy washing day on board Empire. That said, the washing detergent does the job soaking for half a day in salt water, but our small 220 volt spinner gets the water out of the nappies after every salt water rinse. We were hoping that Eirik during the Atlantic crossing no longer would need to use nappies – at least not during the day. Especially the Captain was looking forward to such a happening, since nappy wash on passage is his responsibility…
As its reputation
The South Atlantic Ocean is said to have pretty stable and relatively calm conditions throughout the year – at least as soon as you are underway a bit north of Cape Town. After the little bit “bumpy” voyage across the Indian Ocean where we “always” had cross seas from at least three directions, the sailing toward St. Helena felt like a dream voyage. After a few days with a bit too calm conditions about midway in the voyage, we had nice winds the last days toward St. Helena. The sea temperature rose from cold 12˚C near Cape Town to more pleasant 23˚C near St. Helena. It was lovely to just enjoy, and let Empire move on.
Children on board
By the way, enjoy and enjoy… It is not always peace and quiet on board, with two small sailors flying high and low demanding attention. Before we had Eirik and Marius we found time for a book or time to fix small things while under way. With two young fellows on board, it is only during the night watch we can take out a book – or only listen to the quietness for a few hours.
Two small sailors on a long voyage is a demanding “full time job” - raising two children on land is probably also demanding, though you have kindergarten, grandparents, neighbors and friends…!
Of course we feel lucky to be able to spend this much time with our children. It is also very special to be able to have so much time together as a family. If we had been living “regular lives” on land, mum and dad would most probably been out of the door every morning to work, and the kids off to kindergarten…
Not only fishing boats
A few days after the almost accident with the Asian fishing boat, the Captain tried to lead Eirik`s attention away from something, and said; “Look, a big ship” and pointed out to what he thought was an empty horizon. Just as Eirik is looking, Eivind said “Oh no, she`s gone”, because there was no ship there in the first place. “No, look there she is” Eirik said – and pointed towards a yacht 2nm away, that none of us had seen!
We altered our course and sailed over to the yacht. “Freebase” was underway from port Elisabeth in South Africa probably direct to St. Lucia in the Caribbean. Nicolas was sailing single handed and all was well aboard. We hadn`t seen people for a long time, and Nicolas hadn`t seen people for even longer – and we all thought a meeting on the ocean like this was very amasing.
When we rounded north of St. Helena and headed towards the anchorage, a big cruise ship was anchored just outside the town. Cruise passengers were shipped between the cruise ship and St. Helena in lifeboats. The cruise ship`s name was Seabourn Quest – and is designed by the architects company Yran & Storbraaten, where Heidi previously worked.
Heidi called the ship over the VHF radio and got the Norwegian Captain on the line. When Heidi told that she was previously employed by Yran & Storbraaten, Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen almost thought of us as old acquaintances. He apologized that the ship was in such a hurry and was about to hoist the anchor.
From the ship`s loudspeaker system we heard the Captain announce that everybody on board “had to” go on deck to waive to the little Norwegian yacht anchored just under the cruise ship`s bow. With the anchor safely back on board, Captain Thue-Nilsen took the cruise ship as close to Empire as he dared, before turning the ship 360˚ around, to the honor of Empire. Then the ship headed towards Africa…
Together with Ascension and Tristan da Cunha St. Helena is part of British Overseas Territory. When we stepped ashore from the dinghy, the Customs officer welcomed us to the island. Already before the check-in procedures were completed, we were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people on the island. Where ever we walked, people said “hello” or waved “good day” – and we did the same back.
Walking through Jamestown was as stepping back in time. The buildings were most of them built in the 18th century and credit cards were only accepted by the bank. The bank itself was an interesting place – in a fashionable old building where we had to stand in line, just as in the old days. PAPER forms had to be filled out before we were able to withdraw St. Helena Pound – or GBR Sterling equal in value – from the credit card. ATMs did not exist in St. Helena.
St. Helena is 10 x 17 km in size. The island is rising up from the bottom of the sea more than 5000 meters below, with its highest peak 823 meters above sea level. In addition to the capital there are a few settlements on the island. There is no airport at St. Helena – though one is under construction expected to be operating in 2015. Today the only regular communication with the rest of the world is with the honorable ship RMS (Royal Mail Ship) St. Helena, arriving at the island about every 14th day. There is no real harbor. Passengers and cargo are transported back and forth between shore and the anchored ship in small boats and barges.
A fantastic island
We travelled the island with a hire car for three days. Both hands should have been on the steering wheel to control the car on the curvy and steep roads, but one hand was mostly waving “hello”. It was not only in Jamestown everybody were polite.
St. Helena offered everything from almost dessert to tropical forest in the more elevated areas. We met nice and friendly people everywhere. Marius and Eirik were invited to a birthday party in the kindergarten and we challenged our selves (at least Eivind) on Jacob`s Ladder. It took Eivind about 6½ minute to run up the 699 high steps from lower Jamestown to the upper part of the town. The run gave him the taste of blood in the mouth – and stiff legs for 6 days. Only Diego from the American yacht “Bubbles” was able to beat that time during our stay at the island. He ran the stairs in 5.58. The “world record” recorded at St. Helena museum was 5 minutes and 11 seconds…
Napoleon and his army
St. Helena is maybe best known as Napoleons exile, where he spent his last days. To place the small island on the map is easier after we have visited the historic island ourselves.
Napoleon was held in exile after he was captured by the British in 1815. He then lived on the island for 6 years - until his death. There are many speculations around the reason for his death. He was a notorious flirt. Maybe it was a jealous husband who caused his death...? Some say he was poisoned by arsenic. This has later been rejected. The small amount of arsenic that was found in his body probably came from the tapestry where he lived. More likely he died because of stomach cancer.
We visited two of the houses where Napoleon lived while exiled on the island. Both properties now belong to France and are open after appointment. Napoleons tomb is also situated on St. Helena. His body was sent back to France 20 years after his death, the tomb today stands as a memory of Napoleon.
Never the same
We fell in love with St. Helena and the people living there. Even though the island is remotely situated the modern world is catching up. Eivind would have liked to start a small business on the islands and settle there. Heidi was a little more reluctant the island being so far away from Norway.
After 11 days at anchor outside Jamestown it was time to say goodbye to St. Helena. 700 nautical miles north north west the island of Ascension was waiting.
Next time we visit St. Helena, the island will probably no longer be the same…