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Wear the old coat and buy the new book.
Austin Phelps

Read how St Helena has been reported in the world’s media.

This page is in indexes: Island Detail

St Helena is one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands, but despite that it occasionally manages to feature in main-stream news. The following are news items featuring St Helena. Unless stated otherwise they are reproduced{1} in full and unedited, even where they contain errors. These are the most recent items; older items are here.

Our Library, next to Castle Gardens in Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Our Library, next to Castle Gardens in Jamestown

Please note that this does not claim to be a comprehensive or exhaustive list of everything ever published about St Helena. That would be a massive task and would require a government grant to complete the work{2}. This selection represents items that a) came to our attention; and b) interested us enough for us to transcribe them. If you have published something about St Helena and it isn’t included here you might want to contact us and tell us about it.

If you want to read about how St Helena has been mis-reported, see our Do they mean us? page.

 

Below: Unusual Coverage!Is world’s oldest tortoise GAY?Napoleon, tourists, divers and flu: flight opens up remote St HelenaFirst commercial flight touches down at St HelenaDate set for final voyage of last Aberdeen-built shipNew Air Link and Luxury Hotel Will Transform Tourism on Tiny, Remote St HelenaSt Helena inches closer to commercial air serviceSaint of HeartA St Helena Fisherman’s Wish Comes TrueSailing to Saint Helena - one of the world’s most remote communities


Unusual Coverage!

Published in ‘Le Petit Quotidien’, 25th October 2017{1}

You can download and read this article in a French children’s newspaper (1.6Mb) (but NB it is in French - you’ll figure it out!)

Our Comment: We think the cartoon strip pontificates that the weight of the aircraft landing sinks the island. So far we haven’t noticed any evidence of this, but we’ll keep you informed!

See also: Visitor InformationFly here

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Is world’s oldest tortoise GAY?

By Fiona Parker, Daily Mail, 19th October 2017{1}

Daily Mail 20171019 Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena

Long-term relationships often lead to slowly uncovered secrets about partners, but Jonathan, the world’s oldest tortoise, was in for a shock after 26 years of enjoying a physical relationship with what keepers thought was a female. Elderly Frederica who lives on St Helena with Jonathan is actually Frederic.

Many people who have been in long-term relationships will tell you they slowly uncovered secrets about their partner over the years. But none of them are likely to have been as surprised as Jonathan, the world’s oldest tortoise, when he discovered something ground-breaking about his lover of 26 years.

Jonathan 1990 Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Not a 1900 photo

At 186 years old, Jonathan is the most senior resident of St Helena, a British Overseas Territory 1,200 miles off the coast of southern Africa. He arrived on St Helena in his thirties, as a gift to the governor. He also famously once posed with prisoners held captive on the island during the Boer war.

But late into his eighties, Jonathan became irritable and began knocking over benches and interrupting cricket games between residents on the lawn in front of the governor’s Georgian mansion.

Vets decided he needed a girlfriend and in 1991 he was given a mate. Romance blossomed with Frederica and it wasn’t long before the couple began enjoying regular mating sessions every Sunday morning, The Times reported. But despite their amorous antics, the pair never had any young. Now, almost three decades after the romance began, the reason has been revealed. When vets went to repair a lesion on the tortoise’s shell it was discovered that Frederica was actually a Frederic, putting a whole new spin on the relationship.

The island’s vet Catherine Man said the pair were creatures of habit and ate and slept at set times, living off a healthy diet of vegetable titbits and vitamins. But Jonathan now suffers from cataracts and his sense of smell is gone.

A bill was introduced last year to allow same-sex marriage on the island, which has a population of 4,255, but it was withdrawn after local outrage. Consultations are being held across the island to canvass opinion on whether a bill should be presented to the council before a court case that is set to challenge the current law on discrimination grounds.

Our Comment: This piece is amusing but, typically, full of errors. Frederik[a] could hardly be described as ‘elderly’ Jonathan arrived aged at least 50; the photo was pre-1886 and not with Boer prisoners; and only a few noisy people objected to the Marriage Bill - most Saints treat minorities equally. Still at least they didn’t manage to make yet another dig at our “most useless airport”…

See also: Jonathan the tortoiseGet Married Here

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Napoleon, tourists, divers and flu: flight opens up remote St Helena

By Ed Cropley, Reuters, 14th October 2017{1}

JAMESTOWN, St Helena (Reuters) - On St Helena, the remote volcanic outcrop in the South Atlantic where Napoleon breathed his last, big changes are afoot - well, big by St Helena standards.

Onlookers peer through windows shortly after the first ever commercial flight landed at St Helena airport near Jamestown, October 14, 2017 Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Onlookers peer through windows shortly after the first ever commercial flight landed at St Helena airport near Jamestown, October 14, 2017

In the heart of the capital, Jamestown (population 600), Constable Cowie is worried about the Christmas traffic; Craig, the dive-master, is checking his emails twice a day; and Lucille, the local taxi magnate, is introducing 24-hour shifts.

For the 4,500 residents of the island, separated from Africa by nearly 2,000 km (1,240 miles) of ocean, the arrival this past weekend of the first ever commercial flight was cause for celebration and marked another step closer to their inclusion in the 21st century.

Saints, as locals are known, only got mobile phones and the Internet 18 months ago, supplementing the five-day boat trip to Cape Town that represented their only connection with the outside world.

Now, there is a weekly flight from Johannesburg - via Namibia’s Windhoek - to the spectacular St Helena airport, perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. Locals are hoping for a steady trickle of aviation thrill-seekers, French history buffs and whale-watchers.

According to Craig Yon, owner of diving company Into the Blue, a group of Swedish divers who had been contemplating a trip to see whale sharks next year booked within minutes of reading online that the inaugural flight had landed safely.

Things are really picking up,” he said. “Before, I’d only check my emails once a day. Now I have to check them in the morning and the afternoon.

FLU IMPORTS?

There has been talk since the 1930s of an airport on St Helena, the involuntary abode of British colonial adversaries ranging from French emperor Napoleon to the Zulu King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo and 6,000 Afrikaners taken prisoner in the Boer War.

The current site was selected a decade ago after the prime location on the notoriously craggy 16x8 km (10x5 mile) island was ruled out because it was home to an important colony of the endangered wire bird, a type of indigenous plover.

Even after its construction, a mammoth engineering feat involving 8 million cubic metres (yards) of rock and 285 million pounds ($378 million) of British taxpayer money, the airport nearly didn’t happen.

The first test flights were buffeted by vicious cross-winds, making it too dangerous for large aircraft to land and leading to an 18-month delay in its opening, during which time the British press dubbed it the “world’s most useless airport”.

Saturday’s landing, in a 100-seater Embraer, involved a pre-touch-down briefing about emergency “go-around” procedures but passed off smoothly, to the cheers and delight of those on board and hundreds of Saints crammed into the glass-fronted terminal.

I was quite happy to see the plane land safely because there have been a lot of problems around that, with the wind shear,” said 22-year-old police officer Sophie Cowie, whose beat is managing the traffic on Main St., Jamestown’s one road.

While some in Britain may question the value for money of the airport - more than 60,000 pounds per Saint - for the islanders it has already proved its worth, enabling several emergency medical evacuations, including a newborn child.

However, one possible unintended consequence of more arrivals is the increased spread of disease to an island whose animal and human inhabitants have been protected from many of the world’s germs.

In the past week, the island’s schools have been almost empty due to a bout of flu. Said to have been brought in on the boat from Cape Town, it has laid low 80 percent of pupils.

Our Comment: Mobile ‘phones came 18 months ago; the Internet has been here for 20+ years; and there are two pricipal roads in Jamestown, not one!

See also: Fly hereVisitor Information

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First commercial flight touches down at St Helena

www.itv.com/news, 14th October 2017{1}

St Helena Airport was built with £285 million of funding from the Department for International Development Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
St Helena Airport was built with £285 million of funding from the Department for International Development

The long-awaited first scheduled airline service to the British overseas territory of St Helena has landed on the remote South Atlantic island.

True to the much-maligned airport’s chequered history, it was late.

The UK taxpayer-funded development saw 78 commercial airline passengers land just before 2pm on Saturday, approximately 45 minutes behind schedule, following their departure from South Africa.

St Helena Airport, built with £285 million of funding from the Department for International Development (Dfid), was due to open last year but the launch of commercial flights was delayed because of dangerous wind conditions.

Further trials were carried out in August and the airport was given the go-ahead to begin operations by South African aviation authorities.

Airlink’s Embraer E190-100IGW aircraft was due to land at 1.15pm local time (2.15pm BST) on Saturday but ended up touching down at 1.58pm (2.58pm BST).

Our Comment: We’d just like to point out that, yes - the plane was 45 minutes late, but that was due to a delay in Namibia. Nothing to do with our ‘much-maligned’ Airport!

See also: Fly hereVisitor Information

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Date set for final voyage of last Aberdeen-built ship

BBC NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland, 10th October 2017{1}

The RMS St Helena was built in 1989 Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The RMS St Helena was built in 1989

A date has been set for the final voyage of the last ship to be built in Aberdeen.

The RMS St Helena is being retired from service as it will not be needed due to the long-awaited opening of an airport on the remote South Atlantic island it was built to serve.

The final official voyage serving the island of St Helena will be next February.

RMS St Helena is being offered for sale so could operate elsewhere.

The vessel - built at the Hall Russell yard in 1989 - can carry 3,000 tonnes of cargo and more than 150 passengers.

The passenger service to St Helena is being replaced by flights Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The passenger service to St Helena is being replaced by flights

Situated in the middle of the South Atlantic, St Helena is 1,200 miles from the coast of West Africa.

It is just 10 miles (16km) long and six miles (10km) wide.

See also: RMS St HelenaGetting Here

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New Air Link and Luxury Hotel Will Transform Tourism on Tiny, Remote St Helena

skift.com, 7th October 2017{1}

While it will still be pretty hard to get to (unless you live in Namibia or South Africa), St Helena is likely to see a significant increase in the number of tourists, especially from those keen to go to a place that not many other people have visited.

Jacob’s Ladder Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena

One of the remotest islands in the world is about to enter the modern tourist age.

When the British exiled Napoleon Bonaparte to St Helena in 1815, it took the conquered emperor a full 10 weeks to reach the island. Two centuries later, it’s still a five-day trip by mail boat - assuming you happen to be starting from somewhere as close as Cape Town, South Africa.

But on Oct. 14, the tiny British overseas territory will get its first-ever scheduled flights. Two weeks later, St Helena’s first luxury hotel, a 30-room property in a trio of Georgian buildings, will open its doors.

Located about 1,200 miles off the western coast of Africa, St Helena is best known (for those who know it at all) as the place where Napoleon was banished after being defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. The house where he lived - complete with the original furnishings - is one of the island’s main tourist attractions.

But it’s not the only draw. The 47-square-mile tropical island offers mountain biking, sportfishing, and scuba diving in waters where visibility is up to 100 feet. St Helena is one of a handful of places in the world where humans can swim with massive (and passive) whale sharks. It’s home to a 185-year-old tortoise named Jonathan, the world’s longest straight staircase, and a double-hole golf course that players go around twice, trying not to hit any goats along the way.

Then there’s St Helena distillery, said to be the world’s most remote. Its specialty is Tungi (TOON-jee), a white spirit made from prickly pear and bottled in a beveled glass flask shaped to evoke the island’s famous (-ish) staircase.

Because of the limited transportation options, only a couple of thousand tourists make it to the island each year. The Royal Mail Ship St Helena, a combination cargo-passenger ship, makes the trip just a few times a month. And until now, the airport was able to accept only private flights.

The world’s most useless airport,” as some have called it, cost 285 million British pounds [more than $400 million] and was meant to push St Helena toward economic self-sufficiency. A month before it opened in 2016, test flights revealed dangerous wind conditions, and commercial flights were put on hold. The airport has been taking only private and medical evacuation flights.

But now, South African airline Airlink will run weekly from Johannesburg to Windhoek, Namibia, and on to St Helena.

The Independent reported that Airlink won’t fill its Embraer jets to capacity. To keep the plane light enough to use less of the runway and avoid the spots with most dangerous winds, it will fill only 76 of the 99 seats. It’s hoping to bump that up to 87 in 2018.

Meanwhile, the new hotel by resort developer Mantis, which owns five-star safari lodges in Africa, Explora resorts in Chile, and other high-end properties, promises to be a game-changer. St Helena’s official tourism website lists just two B&Bs and a half-dozen hotels and guest houses, most of which have no websites.

As relatively speedy as the flights may be, this might actually be the perfect time to reserve a berth to St Helena. Not only is the island on its way to changes, but the mail ship will eventually be decommissioned. Book now, or permanently miss the boat.

Our Comment: This is a strange, un-focussed article - it announces the flights and then recommends coming by ship. It also has some noteable errors: there already is a luxury hotel on the island (Farm Lodge); and goats are not loose on the golf course (though they may be tethered nearby). But on the “Any publicity is good publicity” theory…

The www.nzherald.co.nz on 9th October 2017 reported broadly the same article, but omitting the advice to come by ship.

See also: Fly hereVisitor Information

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St Helena inches closer to commercial air service

www.breakingtravelnews.com, 12th June 2017{1}

SA Airlink Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena

The government of Saint Helena has announced that SA Airlink has been chosen as the preferred bidder for the provision of a scheduled commercial air service to St Helena.

SA Airlink is a privately owned airline registered in South Africa. It is a franchisee to South African Airways. SA Airlink is a member of the International Air Transport Association and as such is IATA Operational Safety Audit accredited. SA Airlink is a well-established airline operating on a scheduled network with domestic and regional passenger and cargo services.

The government will now enter into a period of contractual negotiations with SA Airlink. It is anticipated that a formal announcement will be made in the coming weeks on completion of negotiations and contract signing. It is at this point SHG will be able to confirm details such as the commencement date, frequency, aircraft type, the international hub and connecting airports, explained a statement from the local government. Details on the cost of fares and sales distribution will be released shortly after contract signing.

The news marks the end of a torturous period for aviation on the island, with a newly built airport forced to close shortly after construction last year after safety fears were raised over wind levels.

Our Comment: We’d like to contradict the statement that our airport was not “forced to close shortly after construction last year”. It has been open all the time and, as at 1st May 2017, had serviced around 50 flights.

See also: Fly here

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Saint of Heart

By Diane Selkirk, The Globe And Mail, 30th March 2017{1}

A view from St Helena looking toward the Atlantic Ocean Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
A view from St Helena looking toward the Atlantic Ocean
The island features impressive hiking viewpoints Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The island features impressive hiking viewpoints
Jamestown, the capital of St Helena, offers scenic vistas Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Jamestown, the capital of St Helena, offers scenic vistas
A 185-year-old giant tortoise called Jonathan, who likes his thighs tickled, is just one of the many wonders of the island Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
A 185-year-old giant tortoise called Jonathan, who likes his thighs tickled, is just one of the many wonders of the island
The charming island has a silent appeal, which will soon change Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The charming island has a silent appeal, which will soon change
Visitors can wander around the island with rescue donkeys Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Visitors can wander around the island with rescue donkeys

Saint Helena, an enchanted little island of 4,500 in the South Atlantic, has wondrous things: a giant, ancient tortoise; a bell boulder; a retirement home for donkeys. But its best quality is its sweetly bizarre nature

I don’t recall the instant I fell in love with St Helena. If I had to pin it down, I’d say it happened on a walk with Dominic the rescue donkey, somewhere on the road between Fairy Land and High Peak, where the views stretch over impossibly green pasture land past granite spires studded with cannons and out to the place where blue sky and blue sea merge.

My family and I had been on the island of 4,500 for a week. Each day we’d encountered a new wonder: a 185-year-old giant tortoise called Jonathan who likes his thighs tickled; a boulder that rings out like a bell when struck; a historic shipwreck in warm, clear water; and the rarest single-origin coffee in the world were just a few highlights. But when Dominic stopped for some juicy grass and I looked out over that singular landscape, St Helena struck me as enchanted.

It felt as if it was a moment from a fairy tale. Remote and uninhabited, the South Atlantic island first appeared to a Portuguese ship on May 23, 1502. St Helena then went on to become a major mid-ocean provisioning stop between South Africa and Brazil (or Europe) and was populated by British, Malay, Indian, African and Chinese settlers and slaves as well some of the greatest figures in seafaring history. Captains Cook, Dampier and Bligh as well as Napoleon, Darwin and Edmond Halley all left their marks here. But then the era of exploration ended and the island faded into obscurity.

Yet here I was, wandering around with a donkey in a place where the locals are called ‘saints.’ I was captivated.

For more than 500 years, the only way to reach the 120-square-kilometre British overseas territory has been by sea. Before the Suez Canal opened, some thousand ships a year called at the East India Co. pier in Jamestown. In the more recent past, the island’s visitors have come from Cape Town on the supply ship RMS St Helena, by cruise ship or on board a handful of intrepid yachts.

The end of St Helena’s isolation was meant to come in May, 2016, when the island’s first airport opened. But like all good fairy tales, the island’s curse (or charm) of isolation wasn’t so easily broken. Unexpected wind sheer delayed the airport’s launch. So the island set out on a quest to find an air-service provider that could make a steeper landing on a shortened runway - while still carrying a full load of passengers. But now the airline bids are in, and 515 years after its discovery, St Helena will end its isolated slumber.

Rising like a rugged castle from the middle of the sea, the island is a place of improbable beauty: both welcoming and imposing. The capital of Jamestown, with its candy-coloured buildings, defines picturesque.

With buildings that date back to 1700, it could be mistaken for a historic film set, complete with friendly saints who stop to chat about the weather, your day’s plans or the hard-to-find bananas and lettuce that are just now available in the Queen Anne{5} (“Hurry!”).

Meandering out from the town centre is a collection of single-lane roads best suited to donkeys (which is how they were used until not so long ago). Winding through forests and hills of overgrown flax, the roads pass sites which include Halley’s Observatory (where he catalogued the southern sky), Napoleon’s prison home and tomb as well as Plantation House, the Governor’s mansion, where giant tortoises roam the front yard.

Around the island’s perimeter, stone batteries cut into red-hued cliffs protected the bucolic interior from long-ago Dutch and French invaders. But now the defences just make impressive hiking viewpoints, overlooking the vibrant tropical sea.

History feels tangible on St Helena - as though the island is caught between an idealized past and a time that’s not quite today. And perhaps only here is it possible to have a favourite fortification.

Mine was a toss-up.

There was the magnificent High Knoll Fort built in 1790 as a redoubt to hold the island’s entire population, should it be invaded. The fort was restored using traditional techniques and reopened in 2015. Exploring the High Knoll put us in the dreamlike state that becomes so familiar on St Helena. Our daughter claimed there should be dragons flying overhead. And when we passed through a wall she waved her imaginary sword and yelled, “For the love of Camelot!” before running into the fort’s depths.

Lemon Valley’s fortifications edged ahead as my favourite during our second visit to the spot. It’s hard to deny the rugged beauty of Half Moon Battery on its perch above a sparkling blue-water bay, which comes complete with a tidy defensive wall and historic whitewashed quarantine building. But add a barbecue site at the mouth of a mysterious cave and excellent snorkelling and you have a popular picnic spot.

It was here we first sampled plo. If there’s a dish that represents the rich heritage of the saints, it’s this one-pot curried rice dish. Calling to mind a pilau or paella, fresh tuna, as well as whatever meats and vegetables are currently available, make up the dish.

What makes it distinct is that while no version is the same, each one is declared the best. This good-natured debate occurs in the local, near-incomprehensible dialect - a linguistic mash-up that adds and subtracts syllables and letters, and speeds by at a dizzying rate.

The first time I actually followed this argument (realizing I grasped what was being said), I appreciated that St Helena had cast her spell so surely I became weepy at the thought of leaving.

With our deepening affection for the island, my family grew protective. We wondered how the saints would manage when their isolation ends. While we knew there are positives - new businesses have energized the island and brought the return of younger saints who had gone away for work - we were fearful that outsiders wouldn’t love the island the way we did. Or even worse, that they’d make fun of it.

For all its beauty, St Helena is, as my daughter put it, a sweetly bizarre place. A few weeks in, the oddities had begun to add up. The island is more British than Great Britain and each home sports at least one picture of a monarch. While Queen Elizabeth is a popular choice, King George VI or even Queen Victoria are viable options.

The island also has a retirement home for donkeys that have been replaced by cars, just got mobile phone service in the past couple of years and has a tiny bit of France (literally) in its fertile interior.

It was while visiting this lush bit of France that the tourism director congratulated us on graduating from typical tourist activities to “the weirder stuff”: a memorial service for Napoleon Bonaparte. Despite the fact Napoleon’s tomb is empty (his remains were returned to France in 1840), islanders hold an annual service for their most famous prisoner.

The Bug-eyed Tuners and Brass Monkeys provided music and sang the English and French anthems as the Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and English and French dignitaries looked on.

While we stood shoulder to shoulder with the saints in that shady grove, I couldn’t help but send up a silent appeal for the enchanted little island. My wish was that its remoteness, which made St Helena so wondrous, gives way gently to change. And I hoped that the magical castle in the middle of the sea never fully finds its way into the modern world.

IF YOU GO

The RMS St Helena will retire after the airport is fully operational, but for those wanting to go by sea, bookings are still being accepted through the end of the year: Rates from Cape Town are £860 ($1,425) return.

Passenger air service to the island from South Africa is expected to be confirmed April or May, 2017.

Several new lodging options are open or are opening on the island including the historic Bertrand’s Cottage and the Mantis St Helena Hotel.

Our Comment: For the record:

  • May 23, 1502 is not actually one of the dates proposed for the discovery of St Helena. 21st May 1502 is the generally accepted date (thought we believe 3rd May 1502 is more likely).

  • The ‘Queen Anne’ is actually the Queen Mary, in Napoleon Street{4}.

  • If you want help understanding our ‘near-incomprehensible dialect’ see our Speak Saint page.

See also: Visitor InformationDonkeysFly hereRMS St HelenaForts and Batteries

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A St Helena Fisherman’s Wish Comes True

www.bluemarinefoundation.com Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena

Published by Blue Marine Foundation, 20thFebruary 2017{1}

Family Photo of Trevor Thomas Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Family Photo of Trevor Thomas

In 1990, a fisherman, Trevor Otto Thomas, dressed himself in St Helena’s flag and led a march down Main Street in Jamestown, the island’s capital, to protest against a decision by his government to sell licences to Japanese industrial vessels which he believed would plunder the island’s waters. His family still have the petition he handed in to the governor.

As skipper of the offshore fishing vessel, the Westerdam, in the 1980s he had made an arrest at sea of a poacher and brought the vessel back to James Bay to show that St Helena’s waters were regularly being invaded. Thomas, who was born in Hout Bay, Cape Town to a St Helenian father and a South African mother, was that remarkable thing, a fisherman conservationist. In a picture of him revered by his family, he stands in fisherman’s dress tending a sick bird. Sadly Thomas did not live to see his wish come true - but his vision survived and became reality. Last autumn the waters of St Helena were declared a marine protected area which will allow sustainable fishing only by local vessels, to protect both the island’s fish stocks and its rich marine diversity. Thomas’s son, Waylon, was in place as chairman of the fishermen’s association, and the decision has become his father’s legacy.

Anyone who loves the sea will find the story of Thomas father and son intensely moving, for it sums up the achievement of this remote island in the south Atlantic in taking a huge decision to restrict fishing to highly selective fishing methods used only by boats from the island.

In a world of declining tuna stocks, the idea resonates. It seems entirely reasonable to believe that it is possible to create a niche product for the island’s yellowfin and skipjack not unlike that which the island’s coffee already enjoys on the shelves of Harrods and Fortnum and Mason. But first a lot of work must be done because right now St Helena’s fishermen sometimes get less than a pound a kilo for their tuna.

I was there on a fact-finding trip to see if Blue and our allies in the GB Oceans coalition could do anything to help the island now it has announced its intention to create a meaningful marine protected area with sustainable fishing, thereby protecting St Helena’s extraordinary marine biodiversity. In theory, an MPA should enable St Helena’s fishermen to create a high-quality, low-volume tuna brand with appeal to markets in London and elsewhere where buyers are willing to pay top prices for tuna with a strong conservation story behind it.

On our trip I quizzed the governor, Lisa Phillips, about the airport, now due to open by June with smaller aircraft than the wide-bodied jets which were shown last year to suffer from wind-shear. The airport is only one of several changes coming to the island. A huge EU-funded £18m project to lay a fibre optical cable from Cape Town should improve the island’s currently expensive and unreliable satellite broadband by 2020 making it easier to conduct business.

There is talk of new tourist developments and some are being built.

An upmarket South African hotel chain is converting three town houses on Jamestown’s lovely Georgian Main Street into a hotel. There is a proposal for a massive golf development - on land where thousands of South African prisoners were encamped during the Boer War - which seems less in tune with what this unique island has to offer. Despite the £30 million a year that Britain spends on St Helena - the overseas territories are meant to have first call on the overseas aid budget - it seems there is little spent on the rich heritage of historic fortifications, some of which are actively falling down. If tourists are to be lured by a marine reserve, and the opportunity to dive with whale sharks just outside the harbour, they are going to want other attractions to be in good shape.

At present the only way to St Helena is via its own now unique Royal Mail Ship, which leaves Cape Town and five days later arrives at the island. It then sails on to Ascension, from where some passengers fly back to England while some return to the Cape. The RMS, as it is called, gives an insight into a former age of ocean liners, with a rigid programme of deck quoits and beef tea at 11, followed by lunch, then a film, a quiz or other entertainments and then a six-course dinner. It is easy to become institutionalised into this pattern of being looked after and enjoyable to spend hours talking to the band of influential locals travelling back to the island. It is also all too easy to put on weight if you do not spend time in the boat’s gym.

When we boarded the ship again for Ascension, it felt extraordinarily like home. At present the plan is for the RMS to be decommissioned next year after the airport opens and when a new cargo ship takes over the freight that it carries. There are few who will see it go without a pang of regret.

The island is full of surprises. Saint Helena’s cliffs seem vertiginous from the sea and the land looks impossibly arid. But after driving up hairpin bends there is a moment when you burst out into the valleys of the interior where everything is green and there are pairs of white fairy terns flying in perfect synchronization above the trees where they make their minimal equivalent of a nest by laying an egg on a bough. In a couple of hours’ tour with Kevin George, our expert guide, we were able to see several endemic and endangered plants - including he cabbage and she cabbage trees and ebony - and the island’s only endemic bird, the wire bird, a kind of plover named after its spindly legs. All will say of the island’s main tourist attractions, the sites associated with Napoleon who died on his final exile there, is that we noticed that these French possessions were pointedly flying the EU flag.

St Helena offers so much that is unique that it would be a shame to compromise it with the ordinary. Its new marine protected area is a way of celebrating that uniqueness and potentially an example to the world. It deserves our recognition and support.

Lush green valleys of St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Lush green valleys of St Helena

The RMS arriving at Jamestown, St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The RMS arriving at Jamestown, St Helena

Governor Lisa Phillips with a whale shark Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Governor Lisa Phillips with a whale shark

The Emporium, Napoleon St, Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The Emporium, Napoleon St, Jamestown

The Market, Jamestown, St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The Market, Jamestown, St Helena

RMS chefs preparing a barbecue Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
RMS chefs preparing a barbecue

The sun deck of the RMS, laid for the barbecue Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The sun deck of the RMS, laid for the barbecue

The picturesque view from the hilltops of St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The picturesque view from the hilltops of St Helena

The wirebird, St Helena’s only endemic bird Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The wirebird, St Helena’s only endemic bird

See also: FishingVisitor Information

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Sailing to Saint Helena - one of the world’s most remote communities

By Diane Selkirk, Yachting World, 19th January 2017{1}

yachtingworld20170119_01 Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The rocky coast of Saint Helena appears off the bow Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
The rocky coast of Saint Helena appears off the bow
Gorgeous tropical seas surround the barren coast of Saint Helena, although the island’s interior is surprisingly lush Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Gorgeous tropical seas surround the barren coast of Saint Helena, although the island’s interior is surprisingly lush
Saint Helena map Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Saint Helena map
Saint Helena marked 30,000 miles of cruising on Ceilydh our Woods catamaran Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Saint Helena marked 30,000 miles of cruising on Ceilydh our Woods catamaran
Hidden churches lie dotted around the island of Saint Helena Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Hidden churches lie dotted around the island of Saint Helena
yachtingworld20170119_07 Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Jamestown is a British village improbably wedged in a volcanic cleft Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Jamestown is a British village improbably wedged in a volcanic cleft
Jamestown, St Helena from Jacob’s Ladder Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Jamestown, St Helena from Jacob’s Ladder
Jonathan the 186-year-old tortoise Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Jonathan the 186-year-old tortoise
Hiking along coastal trails Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St Helena
Hiking along coastal trails

Diane Selkirk was utterly enchanted by the remote island outpost of Saint Helena

We crossed wakes with Captain Cook 350 miles out from the Namibian coast and 245 years after he set out from Cape Town for the South Atlantic island of Saint Helena. While spending six years sailing in the tropical latitudes, my husband Evan, 14-year-old daughter Maia and I found echoes of the early navigators in ports around the world; from the names of harbours and hills, to monuments and statues.

But to sail the same actual route - matching latitude and longitude while comparing the sea conditions and the daily mileage of the HMS Endeavour with our Woods catamaran Ceilydh - was a first for us.

Cook’s log: “Wednesday, April 24th 1771. Gentle breezes, and Clear weather. Wind South-East by South to West-South-West; course North 46 degrees West; distance 98 miles; latitude 26 degrees 19 minutes South, longitude 350 degrees 42 minutes West.

It’s always a delight when a passage that promises easy sailing lives up to expectation. After the challenge of the Indian Ocean, the mellow South Atlantic felt like a reward. But unlike the much heavier Endeavour, our 40ft catamaran averaged over 6 knots in winds that were 10-12 knots from astern. While he was making 100-mile days, we pulled ahead with 150-mile ones. It seemed the distraction of our cross-century race with Cook would be short lived.

Racing Cook across the South Atlantic

When you are surrounded on all sides by water, it’s easy to lose track of the hours. Have we been out three or four days? When we changed time zones did the clock go forward or back? Passages that last more than four days become timeless. Days are divided into meals, watches, naps, sunset, moonrise and dawn. The rest of the world recedes; small things punctuate the days. The colour of the water for instance: close to the coast it was a nutrient-rich murky green. And it was chilly. We slept under fluffy blankets and drank litres of hot tea. Exiting the cold, north flowing Benguela Current, the water warmed; increasing from 12°C to 18°C over the distance of 100 miles and then it turned a brilliant tropical blue. But the sea birds were gone; there were no more albatross, kites or terns. We didn’t look out to see seals floating head down with their flippers warming in the sun. Visits by dolphins also dropped off, making the ocean seem vast, empty and endless.

Friday, April 26th 1771. Fresh Gales, and a large Swell from the Southward. Wind South-South-West, South-East by South; course North 50 degrees West; distance 168 miles; latitude 21 degrees 40 minutes South, longitude 354 degrees 12 minutes West.

Almost on cue, our conditions changed to match Cook’s. The GRIBs showed a low in the Southern Ocean which was sending up a steep mixed swell. The wind soon followed. Now we were neck and neck in this odd competition; the Endeavour’s noon position almost matched our own. Two days before reaching Saint Helena, we both crossed the Prime Meridian. For Cook it meant he had, ‘Circumnavigated the Globe in a West direction.’ For us it marked 30,000 miles of voyaging and a return to the western hemisphere, but we were still a long way from Vancouver, our home in Canada.

About 20 miles out, I sighted the volcanic bulk of Saint Helena. Charles Darwin wrote: “Saint Helena rises abruptly like a huge black castle from the ocean.” Closer to the coast, we spotted stone fortifications built into the cliff faces, reinforcing the impression that we had fallen through the centuries and were approaching a mid-ocean fortress.

Wednesday, May 1st 1771. At 6 A.M. saw the Island of St Helena bearing West, distant 8 or 9 Leagues. At Noon Anchor’d in the Road, before James’s Fort, in 24 fathoms water. Found riding here His Majesty’s Ship Portland and Swallow Sloop, and 12 Sail of Indiaman. At our first seeing the Fleet in this Road we took it for granted that it was a War; but in this we were soon agreeably deceived.

Five centuries of seafaring

For over 500 years, the only way to reach the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena has been by the sea. Before the Suez Canal opened, some 1,000 ships a year called. Travelling here, we followed not just in the wake of Captain Cook but those of Dampier, Bligh, Napoleon, Darwin, Edmond Halley and Joshua Slocum.

In the more recent past, the island’s visitors have come by the RMS St Helena, cruise ships and yachts. But now, thanks to the brand new airport (private and charter flights only for now), Saint Helena and all her wonders will be accessible to visitors who don’t have weeks, or months, to dedicate to a sea voyage. For the first time, new arrivals - be they governors or commoners - will be certain to avoid the possibility of an Atlantic baptism, no longer required to reach for the swinging ropes at the Jamestown landing and time their first step ashore.

When we took our mooring, in amongst yachts from seven different countries, I almost expected to catch sight of Cook’s square-rigged barque sailing past the base of the fortified cliffs. Saint Helena, more than any place I’ve ever been, feels unreal - caught in an enduring era of exploration and adventure.

The displacement continued with my first step onto the old East India Company pier. As I reached for the orange ropes, the strong arms of two Saints (as locals are called) pulled me safely ashore after our nine-day passage. Moments later we found ourselves looking through chinks in the doors of the pier’s old stone storehouses and making our way toward the harbour master’s office.

After a quick visit with Customs and the port captain, we were directed to the police and immigration. From there we were free to explore the laneways of Jamestown, a brightly painted English village wedged improbably into one of the tropical island’s volcanic clefts.

Isolation ends

Through the centuries Jamestown has been a popular provisioning stop for sailors. Fruit trees flourished in the valleys and goats roamed the hills - offering fresh supplies to passing ships. But the diminishment in shipping meant the market for fresh food dwindled. While it was once a vital and productive port, Saint Helena gradually became a forgotten outpost of the British Empire.

Eventually, entire generations of farmers and workers left the little island seeking employment and opportunity elsewhere. The pomegranate, mango, coconut, pawpaw and banana trees as well as the goats, cows and chickens that were once found in great numbers - and produced enough to meet the needs of both islanders and passing sailors - were supplemented by supplies brought in by the monthly mail ship.

Entering the shops and grocery stores, we discovered that the self-sufficiency that once marked the island was replaced by a reliance on the outside world. Fresh supplies including eggs, onions, potatoes and meat came from South Africa. Milk, cheese, frozen and canned foods were coming from the EU.

But the airport’s construction - which brought back young, highly-skilled Saints as well as an international collection of expats - is transforming the island. Local produce, which was limited to a couple of crops and has been in chronic short supply, is being grown by a new generation of farmers. Thursday, the day the local produce is brought into the shops, results in a good-natured scrum. The island’s extreme dedication to mannerly conduct is overlooked and pushing past an elderly lady is completely acceptable when there’s a gorgeous leafy lettuce at stake.

Falling in love with quirky Saint Helena

Ships and yachts have typically only remained in the Jamestown harbour for as long as it takes to provision. We expected our visit to be similarly short - but we fell in love with the quirky little island and our one week visit stretched to six.

While the island’s exterior appears ruggedly volcanic the interior is as lush and pastoral as the English countryside. The cows that graze the vibrant green fields are cared for by compassionate farmers who let them reach a venerable old-age before dispatching them to the table as nearly inedible stewing beef. There is a retirement home for donkeys that have been replaced by cars and a 186-year-old tortoise called Jonathan, who, along with the much younger David, Emma, Myrtle and Fredrika, lives on the lawn of Plantation House, the Governor’s mansion.

Eighty-year-old tour-guide and self-trained historian Robert Peters took us to see the island’s most popular tourist stops. We visited Napoleon’s residence Longwood House and his tomb, checked out the imposing High Knoll Fort, viewed the exterior of Plantation House and saw the island’s highest point, Diana’s Peak. The peak is one of the island’s most popular hikes and is flanked by two hills topped with Norfolk Pines that were planted there deliberately, it is said, as navigation markers by none other than Captain Cook himself.

With the well-known spots covered it was Aaron Legg - farmer and 4x4 tour-guide - who convinced us Saint Helena was worth getting to know better. He took us to isolated valleys to see picturesque churches and pointed out cannons, which are found around the island in remote defensive locations as well as on the walls and fortifications which are built in every valley. And he showed us the Bell Stone, which was a popular curiosity during Saint Helena’s original tourism boom (back during Cook’s era). This is simply a normal-looking boulder that makes a remarkably melodious sound when struck with a rock. It made me want to whack every rock I could find, just in case others sound like bells, and no-one but a Saint had ever thought to check.

We could hit more rocks instead of continuing the tour,” Aaron graciously offered. It takes a while to adjust to the easy-going nature of islanders. There’s an old-world virtuousness that we delighted in. The most publicised crime during our visit was theft of a traffic mirror from a hairpin turn. And we learned it’s the height of rudeness to fail to wave at a passing car - a reflex that took two countries to shake.

I decided to forgo searching for more bell stones in favour of further exploration. One of my favourite spots was Lemon Valley. Accessible by hiking trail or a one-mile dinghy ride from the moorings, it was here that some of the 30,000 freed African slaves were processed and quarantined after being rescued from slavers in the mid 19th Century (they were later moved to Ruperts Valley when their numbers overwhelmed Lemon Valley). Now an inviting spot for picnicking, snorkelling, or hiking up to the old fortifications, the valley gracefully mixes beauty, history and modern use in a way that is quintessentially Saint Helena.

Leaving celebrations

Saint Helena still strikes me as an enchanted place and we knew it would be tough to leave. I was afraid that if we left we’d never find our way back. So we delayed.

I met the new Governor, Lisa Phillips while walking retired donkeys at the Saint Helena donkey home. Our hour-long chat led to an invitation to Plantation House. The house was off-limits during the last Governor’s tenure, but Phillips has opened it back up to tours. We saw the chandelier that once hung in Napoleon’s Longwood Estate, and noted the portrait of Napoleon hanging directly across from a portrait of his jailor, the governor of the time, Sir Hudson Lowe - humorously positioned so they could scowl at each other through eternity.

Saint Helena is a reminder about all that is wonderful about voyaging. Remote and unknown, it’s hard won. It’s most certainly not a place that is full of attractions and ‘things to do’. To enjoy such happy days on the island we had to be our best selves, reaching out and meeting local people and learning the rhythms of the island.

We left on Saint Helena day. Our plan was to enjoy the day, see the parade and leave at dusk. When fireworks lit up a small but very special portion of the sky we were ten miles out. The sail was a gentle one: soft tropical breezes from astern, easy seas and a moon each night.

Again, we sailed with Cook: “Sunday, May 5th 1771. Gentle breezes and Clear weather. Weigh’d, and stood out of the Road in company. North 50 degrees 30 minutes West; distance 71 miles; latitude 15 degrees 5 minutes South, longitude 6 degrees 46 minutes West.

Arrivals and departures

There are currently no commercial flights to and from the airport, only private jets and charter flights. Early indications are that even this limited service is benefitting the locals.

The RMS St Helena is slated for decommissioning and, thanks to the new breakwater and pier in nearby Rupert’s Valley, freighter operations, cruise ship landings and fish processing will all be moved off the historic Jamestown Wharf, which will be reconfigured as a public space. The Saint Helena Yacht Club is looking forward to an increased presence on the wharf, providing a warmer welcome to cruisers. There’s also a plan for a short-term haul-out facility on either the Jamestown Wharf or Rupert’s Pier.

Costs: Well maintained moorings are £2 or £3 (GBP) per night. Ferry service runs £2 per round trip. Port fees are £40 and visas are £17 per person.

See also: YachtingVisitor Information

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Footnotes:

{1} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

{2} If anyone from SHG (or anywhere else, for that matter) wants to offer us such a grant please contact us.

{3} While technically this might be considered an advertisement (which Saint Helena Island Info does not carry) we actually see this more as a service to anyone wanting to learn more about our extraordinary island.
Saint Helena Island Info receives no income from any sales and takes no responsibility for any commercial arrangements into which you may enter..

{4} We understand that prior to Napoleon’s exile Napoleon Street was known as Cock Street. We do not know exactly when it was renamed. The moonbeamsforall.com: Moonbeams Shop • opens in a new window or tab Saint Helena Island Info Read articles about St HelenaMoonbeams Shop is in Napoleon Street.

{5} Queen Mary, actually, in Napoleon Street{4}.



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