Friday, 20 April 2018
However Tin Tin was making very slow progress across the South Atlantic, with reports from Mark and Justin of very little wind. My main anxiety was about the steady failure of etc batteries and the possibility that the autopilot would stop working which would force Mark and Justin than steer the whole way. It's tiring anyway standing 4 hour watches, and over that distance I was worried thatchy might get exhausted. I spent time trying to find battery solutions, and to get advice from people in etc industry and was reassured to find that we can probably get replacements in French Guyana.
Meanwhile it was wonderful to get swept up in family life again as all my daughters and my six grand-children came to stay. Was kept busy with the many jobs that needed doing around the house and took great pleasure in doing things such as re-roofing a shed. Our central heating had broken down so the cold weather of April kept me busy feeding the log fire, or staying close to the Aga. It was also lovely to spend a couple of days with my parents and generally catch up with friends on the 'phone. It's almost as though the voyage has already ended, even though Ive got another month of exploration ahead.
Now the summer weather has come, with the hottest April days for 70-odd years, and on Monday 23rd April I am flying to French Guiana to meet Mark and Justin. Their progress has speeded up a lot now that the wind has finally settled in and it will be interesting to see who gets there first. Justin will be looking for a flight home to get to a wedding, and Mark and I will be joined by Richard and his friend who are coming to explore Papillon's Devils Island, poke our noses up some steamy jungle rivers, and then explore along to Dutch Suriname and the ex-British country of Guyana.
Here's Tin Tin's position approaching the mouth of the Amazon which, I heard on the news, has a newly discovered and rather unique coral reef which is now at risk from oil drilling.
Below is the map showing historical hurricane tracks, with the few that have passed near Trinidad highlighted. We are aiming to store Tin Tin in Trinidad which is at the southernmost reach of hurricanes. If Cayenne in French Guiana had better facilities I'd probably park there as it has never been affected.
Sunday, 15 April 2018
Friday, 6 April 2018
Unfortunately I have to be flown out because of a possible detached retina, which has sufficiently serious potential to warrant the insurers flying me home. However this is the most difficult place to do it from. I may be allowed onto the RAF flight to Cape Verde and then shipped back by commercial flight to the UK.
It may still take quite a while to get home, while I dream of being on board Tin Tin, kicking my heels in the NAAFI canteen!
Tuesday, 3 April 2018
Without transport we have been a bit confined to Georgetown, exploring the Museum and Fort, the old Exiles Club (closed) with its deepset verandahs to maintain a cool interior. The clock tower above it stands eternally at 11:47 and was erected to avoid having to fire the cannon every hour! It is said that time hangs so heavy on those stationed here that when the new clock struck every quarter hour, it is said to have elicited groans of “Oh Gawd!” from the Exiles Club Members..
We walked a hot road up to the US Army base, where we found hot dogs and pizzas, and a lively bar with cheap beers. On an island riven with the stress of infrequent supplies of fresh vegetables, the Volcano Club is currently the only place we could get a salad. The British and US military bases independently stock produce, but don’t seem to share it, much to the annoyance of islanders. A hydroponic farm produces some fresh vegetables, but we met its manager who is struggling with a blight that has swept through the tomatoes and other produce, and getting irate customers desperate for their vegetables.
Ascension really is one of the most remote places on earth. There’s a monthly air service from South Africa via St Helena, due on the 14th April. Military flights arrive from Florida or Brize Norton every two weeks but no longer carry any civilian passengers. A ship comes every month, but the last one had technical problems, and the cargo of fresh vegetables was on the verge of being sold off in St Helena when a cruise ship was commandeered to deliver it next week. So the island’s few shops are very low on stock. There are two places to eat out on the two bases, but each offer only burgers or pizza (although I did get fish n chips at the US Volcano Club).
Finally on Easter Monday we made contact with Serena, who runs a little shop and B&B up at Two Boats village, and managed to rent a car. As always it’s a great liberation to be able to set off to explore by road and we were soon grinding in first gear up the steep single track hairpins of Green Mountain. Suddenly the cooler air was refreshed with scents of eucalyptus, and the smell of moist earth and ferns. Lush rainforest vegetation has been established since the 19th century initiative of Sir Joseph Hooker and Charles Darwin which planted the mountain to change its microclimate to a wetter one. We passed the Residency of the Island Admiistrator, and then up to The Red Lion, an abandoned social club with a fine clock tower perched high above the island. I found a shady bench at a deserted cottage called Cronks, overlooking the amazing view down to the harbour and settled down Tom try a bit of sketching while Mark and Justin headed off for a couple of hours of adventure on Elliot’s Trail round the mountain through various tunnels.
That evening we met the Nature Comservancy team just before 9pm and, after an excellent video about the wildlife of Ascension, we walked through the brightest moonlight to the silver sands where huge turtles were hauling themselves slowly out of the surf, digging huge pits and then laboriously laying hundreds of eggs. We watched one 200kg female finish laying her brood, then carefully covering the hole with sand using her back flippers, before disguising the whole site with her powerful front flippers. The little hatchlings will emerge in 60 days and struggle to the sea, from which perhaps one in a thousand will survive to adulthood to return to the place of their birth. They aren’t mature until about 20 years old, and until that time circulate on the currents of te Atlantic, finally returning the 1200 miles from Brazil when they are ready to mate at the full moon. No one as yet understands how they navigate, although like many animals they do detect magnetic lines of force.
Sunday, 1 April 2018
Wednesday, 28 March 2018
We must have had 20 people on board, new friends and old, Claudia and Juergen from "La Belle Epoque" brought a cake she had baked, Matthieu, Anne-Laure and three children from "Saba Deux" presented a T-shirt which we all signed and Mark got a couple more hats for his collection. I produced chilli con carne with rice and then Emma, fresh in from her single handed voyage from Tristan da Cunha in "Caprice", played my ukulele and we sang French drinking songs. It was a rare occasion.
The following morning the anchorage seemed quiet as we set off, but the crew of Saba Deux came out to wave goodbye. The wind was good and we set our twin headsails and set off on the 700miles to Ascension Island. Later that day Saba Deux could be seen far behind, her white sails against the dark slab of St Helena as she set sail for Brazil.
A day later and the wind died, and the forecasts show a big wind hole to get through. Now at midnight on the 27th of March we have been motoring steadily for 2days and hope to arrive on Saturday 30th.
The sea is an unbroken circle of blue, reflecting the endless blue of the sky punctuated by little white clouds at regular spaces. We trail two fishing lines, but every bite seems to result in the wire being snapped and we lose the lure. There must be some monsters out here.
Inevitably there's a lot of reading, and I have resumed Jack London, discovering that he was an ardent socialist, writing novels about the overthrow of capitalism in America. Surprisingly he also went to London and disguised himself as a poor American sailor to live in poverty in the East End. His account of life in London in 1902 is absolutely shocking, and he denounces the Government and wealthy aristocrats of Britain for mismanaging the economy so badly. The awful thing is that I suspect that his description of the poverty of that time now applies to the poverty of the majority in South Africa, from the little that I heard from my talks with Sibusiso in Cape Town.
Friday, 23 March 2018
James, from Yacht Services, came over to greet us from his boat Carpe Diem, registered in Gosport. A Saint, working with Oyster in Southampton, he bought her in Mylor and sailed her home to St. Helena before circumnavigating with his young family, finally getting back in December. He then decided to set up his yacht support service and is amazing at arranging anything one needs, whilst continuing to live on board.
Getting ashore is a challenge in the swell, and we always took the ferry service which comes round the yachts. At £4 return it's not cheap, but it's very congenial to meet other people. We found friends Mathieu, Anne Laure and children and Aude from Saba Deux, Dirk and Gretchen on Peregrine (who ran the radio net across the Pacific) and new acquaintances of Wavy on Hayward Davies (550,000 miles and 39 Atlantic crossings!), Whistler, and Emma, a new arrival single handing up from Tristan da Cunha, in 32 foot Caprice.
Ashore we arrived on a dock stacked with containers, and a line of white sheds with blue doors built under the overhang of the cliff. Two big cranes on caterpillar tracks are regularly lifting boats out for repair. Further along there are black cannon poking out of the sea defence wall, but a cheerful blue swimming pool has been located in the moat. Across the drawbridge and through the town gates we found a charming little town, with church, castle, a main street reminiscent of the West Country in style of buildings with a couple of old hotels. On the left there is a green and shady public garden by the long white painted building that houses the Police station, Courthouse and Library. Here we found a plaque commemorating the 1895 visit of Joshua Slocum, on the first solo circumnavigation. Overlooking the garden there is a long verandah overhung with flowering creepers, which is Anne's Place. Here we were able to get lunch, beer and and advance of £60 in cash on tick until the banks opened the next day. Everyone here is so welcoming and relaxed.
Jacobs Ladder climbs 700 steps straight up the cliffs at about 45degrees or more to reach the garrison at the top. We climbed it of course, discovering that it was wise to look at the view every 50 steps! It feels very vertiginous. However the two handrails help one up, and boys used to slide down at great speed to get home from school, or to get a football kicked over from the playing field above. When there was a garrison here the soldiers would pay a boy to run up to get their lunch. The boy would be back in about 8 minutes sliding down with the soup tureen balanced on his tummy, shoulders and arms on one rail and feet on the other! I don't know how long it took me to climb up, but it took me at least 8 minutes to come down the 700 steps as fast as I dared.
Whilst here we have taken our ailing batteries out and had them recharged ashore. Two turn out to be effectively dead, which is shocking after only a month of service. However the remaining ones seem to behave better now, so if they hold out I trust we will be able to function for the rest of the trip.
We hired a car through the tourist office from Brendan Motors at £15/day and enjoyed exploring for two days. Once up the narrow single track road hugging the cliffs, one emerges on top to find more residential areas and vegetation which gets much greener in the rainforest interior. So surprising to drive along little winding tarmac lanes often sunken in the West Country style, with road signs and white finger-signposts, and other hints of Britishness. Great trees, dense stands of ginger plants, or sisal leaves lap the banks. Often there are steep green meadows grazed by red and brown cattle. Reaching the windward side, the trees are all windswept into an aerodynamic shield up the cliff face, and it's here that most of the rain falls ask the air is forced upwards and cools. The temperature is delightfully warm, with cool breezes, and not much humidity.
We visited the places that Napoleon was incarcerated, first at the charming Briars, where he stayed with a family for 7 weeks before moving to Longwood House. Both properties are now owned by France. We had excellent tours of both with Trevor Magellan as our personal guide at the Briars, and very good audio guides at Longwood. He did his best to maintain his Imperial standards here, despite his isolation. On his death he left a considerable fortune (£50million in 2016 value) to his faithful retainers and generals who had stayed with him. Then we also strolled down the leafy green lane to Napoleons's Tomb, in a wonderfully peaceful spot by a spring surrounded by flowering plants.
The other exciting thing we did was to go on a whale shark watching trip. The sharks, up to 60 feet long, come to circle a reef that rises steeply and brings nutrients and krill to the surface. Our skipper Johnny found the sharks circling a fishing boat and we had to stand off until they came over to us. Then we were all allowed to jump in and swim with these placid giant fish. I found one circling up towards me from the deep and flippered hard to get out of its way, only to find another one right behind me so that I was in a whale shark sandwich! Here are some pictures from my video of the encounter on my Go Pro.
Yesterday we drove out to see the Governors residence at Plantation House, which is a delightful mansion painted Pale blue with white trimmings, set on grand lawns in a wooded valley looking down to the sea far below. The grass is kept cropped by Jonathan the 200 year old tortoise and his friend. Beyond the green railings is the Tortoise Viewing Corridor, which we were allowed through, and below that were laid out impeccable vegetable gardens. We went on into the woods beyond, which immediately felt tropical with giant trees and massive stands of bamboo. Here lie the Butcher's Graves, headstones from 1777 for two slaves, one still legible to the wife of the butcher. Beyond that the path rose steadily to Big Rock, with a great view over the valley. Here the fluttering white Fairy Terns came and hovered round Mark as he stood near the edge.
We could easily have stayed longer here as it is a great island for walking, with the Post Box trails which take one through spectacular scenery with the objective of getting a stamp on one's card at each Post Box.
Tomorrow it is Mark's birthday and we will set sail for the 700 miles to Ascension Island, where we will be over Easter.
I have re planned our next legs with provisional dates as follows, deciding to miss out Recife and Natal.
29 March-1 April. Ascension
11-13 April . Fernando Do Noronha, Brazil. Steve arrives?
17-20 April. Fortaleza, Brazil. Justin flies home. Meet Marli and Hur Ben!
27 April - 1 May. Belem, Amazonia, Brazil. Richard et al arrive.
8 - 14 May Cayenne, French Guyana. Anne arrives. Richard et al depart.
16-19 May Paramirabo, Surinam
24-28 May Tobago
2-6 June Bonaire
8-11 June Curaçao
14- 21 June Aruba - laying up Tin Tin until December.