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Go Swimming!


Night swimming deserves a quiet night.{c}

When it’s hot, there’s nothing like a dip for cooling off

St Helena has no substantial rivers or lakes, so unless your accommodation has an unusually large bath, you have two options for swimming while here: the sea or our swimming pool.

The Sea

Global sea surface temp, July 2016
Global sea surface temp, July 2016{d}

It really ought to go without saying, but in these litigious times perhaps better to be safe than sorry, that there are no lifeguards or other safety and security features when swimming in the sea. You do so entirely at your own risk.

There are four common areas for sea swimming:

Below: Lemon ValleyRuperts BeachWharf Steps in JamestownLot’s Wife’s pondsOthers, not recommendedSwimming with Whale Sharks

Lemon Valley

Lemon Valley is just along the coast from Jamestown - a short boat ride, or a longish walk down from the centre of the island, Lemon Valley has an enclosed beach ideal for swimming. The area was improved in 2010 by the creation of a new landing stage.

Ruperts Beach

Ruperts Beach is in the adjoining valley to Jamestown. It also has an enclosed beach ideal for swimming, though as Ruperts is also home to the island’s Fuel Storage facility the beach is closed on days when a fuel tanker is offloading (announced on the SAMS Radio 1 or SaintFM Community Radio local news). It is a popular venue for a swimming and barbecue party.

The Wharf Steps in Jamestown

The Wharf Steps in Jamestown are a popular venue, though there is no beach and the bay is far from enclosed. Stronger swimmers can explore the wreck of the SS Papanui in James Bay. Swimmers usually use the Middle Steps, as pictured below.

The picture below was taken beside the Middle Steps while swimming with a GoPro™:

Swimming from the steps was not always encouraged (see poster). It is not clear whether the danger from sharks was considered real, or perhaps it was an additional incentive to comply for those not impressed by the threat of a £5 fine! But as the image below from shows, wharf-steps swimming has always been popular:

Lot’s Wife’s ponds

Strictly not sea swimming as the Ponds are actually isolated pools, fed from the sea in by the larger waves. Otherwise calm for swimming but the walk is strenuous and only for the reasonably fit.

Others, not recommended

It is strongly recommended not to try swimming at Sandy Bay beach. There is a strong undertow and drowning is likely.

Other bays and inlets are at your own risk.

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Can you imagine swimming alongside an animal nearly 10m long and weighing on average 9 tonnes? Then go swimming with Whale Sharks!

Our Swimming Pool

Our Swimming Pool is in Jamestown at The Seaside. From town it is reached by going out under The Arch, turning right towards The Wharf, and it is about half way down towards the port and Customs Building.

Swimming Pool logo

As the image shows, it is a full sized pool (33m long) with advanced water filtration and chlorination systems to current international standards. It is open most days from early morning to dusk, though during the school sessions it is closed to the general public. It usually closes during the winter months{2}.

Pool History

Ladder Hill Pool, 2001
Ladder Hill Pool, 2001

In the 1970s drownings from fishing accidents and a survey among school children showed that 86% could not swim. Attempts were made to try and renovate the dam at the top of the town and the small pool at Ladder Hill Fort (no longer in use - photo, right), without success.

A voluntary body, the Swimming Pool Action Group (SPAG), was formed to raise money to build a new pool. It had strong public support including people pledging contributions from their wages. The Government of St Helena undertook that, if the pool were built, it would ensure that every school child was given the opportunity to learn to swim.

A site was needed and the location of the (mostly disused) tennis court on the eastern side of The Arch was proposed{3}. Crallan in his 1974 report wrote:

The Tennis Court is in my view unfortunately sited because its wire enclosure does detract from the view of the Wall, which is a historic and important feature by any reckoning. Should it be found possible to re-locate the P.W.D., alternative sites could become available. There is also the problem of siteing a new Swimming Pool, long desired and greatly needed. The latter will have changing rooms, lavatories and other accommodation to provide shade, and none of this must be sited where it will hide the view of the Wall. In the absence of large areas of level space in this part of the town, and granted that proximity to the sea makes the location prima facie desirable, it may be that a compromise could be reached by sacrificing the appearance of the West bastion and wall at the P.W.D.Yard end and planning there a Sports Centre to include a Swimming Pool, Tennis Court and Rifle Range. Such a solution must, however, maintain the Western Ditch and also vestiges of the torus moulding surviving on the Rampart.

As a result of island wide interest and public support, the Royal Engineers were invited to build the present pool, on the tennis court site, and the money raised from the public built the paddling pool. There is a plaque acknowledging this at the pool, which was opened with a Gala on 24th November 1979{4}.

Building the pool:{e}

While building the pool a last-minute redesign was required. It was originally intended to be closer to the wall of The Castle, but during test excavations it was discovered that the Castle wall had no foundations and digging close to it could cause a collapse. As a result the pool had to be relocated further northwest, towards the sea.

A Swimming Story

RMS St Helena (1990-2018) at night in James Bay

One night, , two visiting contract workers (who shall remain anonymous) were sitting drinking at Donny’s Bar, as they had been since around 5pm - it was now around Midnight. Seeing the RMS St Helena (1990-2018) in the bay, conversation turned to how wonderful the breakfast was onboard. Then one had a brilliant idea (or so it seemed after vast alcohol consumption): Why not go out to the RMS and have breakfast there?

The plan almost died in its infancy because the Ferry service, they realised, had already stopped for the night. We’ll just have to swim!, one said. Now the RMS used to anchor a few hundred metres out, so this would have been no mean feat even sober, which our friends most definitely were not. But at around Midnight after many (many) beers it seemed like a grand plan, so they set off.

By some minor miracle, they actually both arrived safely at the pontoon beside the RMS, around half an hour later. They climbed aboard the pontoon and set about calling up to the ship to be allowed onboard. Imagine the reaction of the night watchman/woman. Drop-in callers at nearly 1am were not common. Indeed it was probably the case that this was the first time it had ever happened. The Captain had to be summoned.

Captain Smith was an experienced seaman with lots of nautical miles under his belt. Nearing retirement he was not overly pleased at being dragged out of his cabin at 1am to deal with drunken boarders. So having ascertained that they were not in any medical need (other than that which could be provided by a few hours of not drinking beer) and that they were not in a life-threatening situation, he gave orders that our two intrepid would-be breakfast guests were to be denied access to the ship, and must wait on the pontoon for the night until the first ferry - at 6am in the morning. This they did. Fortunately for them it didn’t rain.

One of our pair was married. His wife was, predictably, just a little unhappy about his actions that night. Apparently it was quite a few nights before he again slept in a proper bed. The other was not married but was living with a woman who was so used to his antics she didn’t realise anything had occurred until he turned up the next morning, hung-over and desperate for sleep.

The moral of this story? Well, where could one begin…? Whoever said life in St Helena was boring?

Read More

Article: Jamestown Swimming Pool

Published in the St Helena News Review 25th January 1980{5}

At the first Thursday night swimming session held last week the attendance at the Pool was 141, compared with 6-8 on previous Saturday night attendances. The record attendance was on Sunday 20th January when a total of 422 people came to enjoy a day’s swimming (108 came in the morning and 324 in the afternoon).

Since 16th December last year the number of people at the Swimming Pool has been steadily increasing. From 14th January this year when groups of school children started lessons, the daily attendance has risen considerably and more and more people are taking advantage of the Pool.

The part-time swimming instructor engaged by the Education Department on 21st January is Gillian Osborne. On Thursday mornings this job is undertaken by Cherry Crowie.

Non-swimmers from each of the 12 schools receive swimming lessons in the Pool each day while schools are in session. Arrangements are made so that up to 24 children from each of 3 schools attend a morning session, each being allocated a 40 minute instruction period. This makes it possible for classes from Longwood, Half Tree Hollow and Country Senior Schools to have two sessions per week while the other schools receive one session per week.

It is interesting to know that following the official opening in November last year, attendances at the Pool has exceeded 7,000.


{a} Andrew Turner{b} Philip Gosse in St Helena 1502-1938{c} R.E.M., ‘Night Swimming’{d} NASA Earth Observatory{e} Sheila Cook{f} Ed Thorpe


{1} Please Note This actually is a turtle, not a tortoise.{2} An air temperature just below 20°C may not put you off, but it does Saints!{3} The court had been created by the East Yorkshire Regiment and was opened with great ceremony in January 1889.{4} We have access to Governor Geoffrey Guy’s speech at the opening. We haven’t included it. In nearly nine minutes he spoke a very large number of words while actually saying almost nothing. If you want to hear the speech contact the Museum of St Helena.{5} @@RepDis@@