My previous post on Ascension (click here to read it), described most of our time there, so I'll try not to repeat too much, but as for St. Helena, it really is nice to have pictures to illustrate what I was describing.
Tuesday morning revealed the island to us...beautiful, blue water, a white, sandy beach, and stark, arid mountains! The exception to this, was the mountain in the middle, "Green Mountain", aptly named since it is completely covered in dense vegetation (more on that later)!
|Our first view of Ascension Island from the anchorage in Clarence Bay|
|The floating pipeline: a lifeline for the island.. a navigational hazard for yachties!!|
|Ben and Gaby went to explore the dinghy dock on day 1 and decided it was not a good idea to go ashore. Even port control radioed us and told us not to come!|
|Negotiating the dinghy dock on a good day!|
Having spent the day aboard on Tuesday, we were happy to get ashore on Wednesday! We cleared in together with "Tangled Up", who had arrived that morning, and whom we had met in St. Helena. Check in was easy and Kitty at Port Control was very friendly. The immigration officer came down to the port and checked us into the country. An FYI for any cruisers interested in going to Ascension: they do require that you carry health insurance, similar to what was required in Chagos. They are looking for general medical coverage, and in particular for medical evacuation coverage up to $500,000 per person. Our insurance did have this, so we were OK. Apparently, you can purchase health insurance if you don't have any or the appropriate coverage.
We then explored the tiny settlement of Georgetown. There are no permanent residents here, only contract workers or military personnell. It is a mix of ex-pats and Saints (St. Helena natives). Even if they are born here, they do not have citizenship, and if they finish school and can't get a job here, they need to leave. Georgetown was eerily deserted, there are no tourists here, and the small hotel that used to operate is closed. There are no restaurants like in St. Helena, just the grocery store where we managed to get the last 2 meat pies, and a drink, and then we walked the streets, baking in the heat thanks to the black, volcanic stones that make up the streets and sidewalks.
|Georgetown, with St. Mary's church in the background|
|2015 marked Ascension Island's 200 year anniversary. Organised settlement of Ascension Island began in 1815, when the British garrisoned it as a precaution against rescue attempts to free Napoleon after he was imprisoned on Saint Helena.|
|I always love the contrast of color against stark, barren hills!|
|Donkeys in the streets! The donkeys here are ferel, as are the sheep. They used to use the donkeys to transport goods, but eventually they just left them to roam around when they were no longer needed.|
|They were very sweet and friendly|
|The inside of the fort: very different to what we had been used to seeing when visiting old forts!|
|A view of Georgetown from the fort|
|Looking towards the docks from the fort.|
|And one more...|
|Gaby in the museum: History lesson!|
|Ascension was a fairly important communications hub, with huge cables being laid on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. This is a submarine cable test desk displayed in the museum|
|A display on turtle capture in the museum.|
Turtle capture was a big industry in Ascension, until the 1930's when it was banned. Prior to that, however, as many as 50 turtles could be caught in one night. "Turtle Turners" would wait for the turtles to come ashore at night, usually to lay their eggs, then they would simply catch them and turn them on the backs. The turtles were then totally immobile. They were then transferred to turtle pens, where they were kept until they were either killed for local consumption, or, more likely, loaded onto ships for transport to England. Unfortunately, many of the turtles didn't survive the trip to England, making it a bit of a futile exercise. The turtle pens are still visible in Ascension today. More on the turtles later...the good news is that there is a big conservation effort to save and protect the green turtles of Ascension, and we saw many of them happily swimming around our boat! 😊💓🐢
|A turtle swimming around Cool Runnings, poking its little head up for a look and a gulp of air!|
With Andy, we also had access to the inside of the fort, where we saw many interesting and old artifacts on display.
|Hundreds, upon thousands of old bottles!! There were displays of old bottles everywhere! Because there was a shortage of water on the island, soldiers drank lots of beer and rum!!|
|Beautiful old stained glass windows from St. Mary's church|
|Walking around the fort, this time with Andy as a guide|
|This pictures shows the height and thickness of the fort walls in relation to Gaby and Ben|
|Driving up Green Mountain|
|A view from Green Mountain down towards the ocean|
|We came across a land crab. Once a year, from March to May, these crabs make the long journey down the mountain, across lava fields to the coast to lay their eggs.|
|Another view of the island from Green Mountain|
|Army barracks were built on Green Mountain. These old buildings are now deserted|
|Ben hiking one of the Green Mountain trails|
|This was a lava tunnel that we came across!|
|These hillsides were covered in concrete to provide run-off of rainwater into a collection system below. This was done in the 1800's!|
|A view of the runway on Wideawake airfield in the distance. This is the US Military base on the island. There is also a British Military base.|
Because of the increase in air traffic during the Falklands War, Wideawake airfield, the US military base, with up to 400 movements of all types each day, was one of the busiest airfields in the world for a short period! The Royal Navy's fleet stopped at Ascension for refuelling on the way. Following the war, the British retained an increased presence on the island, establishing RAF Ascension Island, and providing a refuelling stop for the regular airlink between RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, and RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands. (info from Wikipedia)
|One last view from Green Mountain. One would think, looking at this scene, that there are multiple volcanoes on Ascension, however, it is one volcano, with 47 vents!|
|Boatswain Bird Island. a lava flow is clearly visible|
|Maybe a little difficult to see, but there are many antennae on the left of the picture|
|One of the "golf ball" radar domes contrasted against black, volcanic rock|
|Walking down to English Bay|
|Beautiful water of Comfortless Cove. Sadly all swimming was banned when we were there, due to 2 relatively recent shark attacks|
|The cemetary behind Comfortless Cove, so named because is is where they brought the poor souls that were dying of Yellow Fever (and left them to die). There is a small cemetary with some very old graves.|
|With Andy Hobson, our most excellent tour guide! Thank you, Andy for taking the day to take us around your beautiful island!|
For us the day was not yet over as we had booked to go on a turtle tour that evening at 9pm. A huge conservation effort is going on and scientists studying the green turtles, seabirds, land crabs and working on saving endemic plant species exists on the island today. So at 8.30pm we launched the dingy again and made a night landing at this tough pier. We walked up to the conservation center to wait for our tour. We could not believe our eyes when in walks one of the guides for the night, no other than Simon, who was the official that checked us in on Chagos Island last year July! It turned out that Simon's wife works on Ascension Island and he was visiting and volunteering with the turtle conservation efforts!
So after a brief catch up with Simon, watching a video on the turtles, we headed down to the beach in the dark to see if we could spot some laying eggs. These particular green turtles are pretty big and actually live and feed off Brazil, but come just to Ascension Island to lay eggs.... Quite a distance just to nest! We could see at least 6 turtles at various stages of making their way up the beach to laying eggs and making their way back to the water. The whole cycle takes a few hours. We found a turtle in the midst of laying her eggs. With the guide's direction we positioned ourselves behind the turtle and with a red light (they can't see) watched as ping-pong sized egg after egg fell from her into a carefully dug nest. Apparently in this stage of laying eggs they go into a trance and are not even aware we were watching. It was truly spectacular to witness this miracle of nature and one we will always remember. We watched as she finished laying her eggs and then covered them up at a painfully slow speed, obviously exhausted from the nights efforts. She rested for a while and then began the long journey of about 100 meters back to the ocean.
|One of the few pictures we got on our cell phone of the turtle laying her eggs|
After saying our goodbyes to Simon we headed back to the boat in awe of what a day we had just experienced.
The following day we decided to just chill, and the day after on Saturday marked the final voyage of the resupply ship RMS St Helena, that has brought supplies and passengers from Cape Town to St Helena and Ascension Island for many years. I believe it was built in the 1980's and has become obsolete now that an airport has opened on St. Helena and is also too costly to continue running. Ascension has a military airport and receives some items through that as it is primarily a military island and population. With this being a historic day for the RMS St Helena a big celebration was planned on the island which included guided tours of the ship on Saturday before its departure on Sunday. We were lucky enough to secure a tour, and along with the two other sailboats moored with us, Tangled Up and Alma, we enjoyed a trip out to the ship and a guided tour around.... Very cool to see and quite a historic event we were able to be part of.
|The RMS St. Helena|
|Ben, Dave and Gaby in the dining room of the RMS St. Helena|
|The pool on the deck|
|Gaby enjoying the deck|
|Ben relaxing in the lounge|
After the tour we headed into the grocery store for one last stock up on some limited fresh produce, as well as topping up with diesel, before heading back to our boat for one last goodnight sleep.
|A kind soul delivers our jerry cans of diesel to the stairs for easier loading onto the dinghy|
The following Sunday morning we upped anchor at around 9am, waved goodbye to the island and RMS St Helena, and headed off into the deep blue South Atlantic Ocean. Ahead of us lay a huge distance of over 3,000 miles, which now, thankfully, is behind us!
|Cool Runnings at anchor in Ascension Island|