Saturday, February 24, 2007

St Helena (24th Feb to 2nd Mar)

We arrived in St Helena early on 24th Feb. St Helena rises, as Darwin promised, like a fortress from the sea. The first view of the tall volcanic cliffs and sparse vegetation hides a lush interior of rolling hills. The interior is dotted with pretty cottages and the occasional Georgian house with cows grazing in green pastures – not unlike rural England. Interestingly, this similarity extends beyond the landscape to the building style, culture and people.

Politically, St Helena is a British Protectorate and its inhabitants enjoy full British Citizenship. Most islanders we spoke to had lived and worked in Britain for many years and many still had children working overseas (including in the Falklands Islands and Ascension Island).

Architecturally, Jamestown, the only town on the island, with its with many brightly painted buildings, beautifully kept public garden and old parish church is considered one of the best preserved Georgian towns.

In terms of culture, the island follows British social habits and fashions. Nevertheless there is a distinctive St Helenian look which comes from generations of intermarrying English, Portuguese, African, Chinese, Indian and Boor. The local dialect has been described as combining Dickensian English with a Deep South twang. All the Saints we met were wonderful, had a smile or a joke waiting to be told. They have a great pride in their island and willingness to share this with the few visitors they receive.

These similarities unexpected and somewhat curious, if you consider that St Helena is over 10,000 miles from Europe. At the same time, this makes St Helena instantly familiar, almost like a place one has visited before or of which one has some distant childhood memory.

One might have expected that the island would have close links to South Africa also, as this is the nearest ‘developed’ country. That this is not so can possibly be explained by the fact that most Saints would not have been welcome in Apartheid SA.

We enjoyed our short stay in St Helena, especially our two hikes in varied and beautiful countryside, passing from one vegetation zone to the next as we climbed the arid cliffs and into the lush interior. We also visited the famous Napoleonic sites, along with other, more expert Napoleon ‘spotters’ who had arrived by the mail boat, the RMS St Helena. St Helena is most famous for being Napoleon’s place of exile, the island ‘at the end of the world’ that the emperor was sent to as a punishment for escaping his prison in Elba. There are several Napoleonic sites – the two houses he lived in, and his grave. Longwood House, his long term residence and house in which he died, is a very pretty country house. Beautifully kept and carefully preserved, it was not always so – in Napoleon’s time it was reported to be damp, in a state of disrepair and rat infested. Spacious by our standards, the house would have seemed very small in comparison to Versailles and would barely contained Napoleon and his entourage. The grave is in a well kept garden, it’s location of Napoleon’s own choosing, but is unmarked as the English would not allow the title “Emperor”, while the French would not accept anything less. His body was disinterred and returned to France some 20 years after his death.

Monday, February 12, 2007

South African Cruising Notes

South Africa cannot be described as a cruising destination. There is plenty to see and do on-shore, but the objective of most boats is to get around Cape Aghulas without getting caught in a strong south westerly. The route from Richards Bay is via Durban, East London, Port Elisabeth and Mosselbaai. Of these it would be possible to leave a boat for a long stay in Richards Bay, Durban or Port Elisabeth. However, for whatever reason, the marinas are not always well organised and generally don’t take bookings.

Richards Bay

The options for cruising boats are

- the public quay in the small craft harbour, -

- the Tuzi Gazi marina in the small craft harbour and

- Zululand yacht club which is the most pleasant place to leave a boat.


A well organised, secure, protected marina. Water but no electricity. They don’t take bookings, but the staff are helpful. There are two yacht clubs – the Point YC and the Royal Natal YC who give free membership to visitors and so make their facilities available. Both yacht clubs serve good meals, and have free internet (wifi in PYC). Durban has several good chandlers close to the marina, including some places with second hand equipment. Tony Herricks’ “Cruising Connections” has a good selection of sailing books.

East London

Yachts raft-up at Latimers Landing which is on the north side of the Buffalo River, close to the railway bridge. Latimers Landing has a small chandler, a laundry and has a good restaurant.

Port Elisabeth

Good marina, good chandler in the town. Yachts raft-up on the nearby fishing quay when the marina is full. The marina is run by the Algoa Yacht Club, they don’t take bookings.


A busy fishing harbour with a 48 berth marina which is almost full of local boats. We got the only free marina berth. Two yachts got permission to tie-up on the fishing dock while we were there, otherwise the anchorage is supposed to have good holding. It looked rolly in the SE winds, and would be dangerous in a strong SE.

Cape Town

We stayed at the Royal Cape YC. Very good facilities, berths have water and electricity. Free internet in club house. Good chandlers and sailmakers (North and Quantum). Some boats stayed at the anchorage in Simonstown, others in the marina in Haut Bay – which looked very good.