A little bit of everything!

My morning started with an early dive, to a new site called Devils Eyes, although the water temperatures have started to drop it was still a pleasant dive and we soon warmed up on the boat trip back to James Bay in glorious sunshine. After

Captain Charlie on a recent trip to Lemon Valley

Captain Charlie on a recent trip to Lemon Valley

rinsing our gear, we all took to the wharf for a barbeque and beer, sat in tropical sunshine for lunch. Shortly afterwards, Bev and the boys met me and we spent the afternoon swimming, snorkelling and buildings sand castles at Rupert’s Bay. After a day like that, one has to consider what we would be doing in the UK on a given Sunday, for a total cost of £20, and after giving that some thought it makes me consider whether indeed we would want to return. Now I don’t wish to upset my family, and of course we will return home, but it will be very hard, it is more daunting a prospect that coming to St Helena in the first place was. Although I have not had chance to update my blog all too regularly, that is not due to lack of content, and now I have the job of trying to catch up with all the goings on. It seems to me to be the season for events, just today we have returned home from Prince Andrews School 25th Anniversary Fun Day, after once again diving this morning. Two weeks ago saw a night of music as local talent took to the stage for an Abba and Beetles night. I was pleased to be asked to take photos for the event and I was happy to support anything that raises money for New Horizons. The night was a great success, the singing was ……mixed, but everyone had a fantastic night in what was another sell out event. The lack of cinema, theatre and other evening entertainment plus the obvious community support means evening events are almost always well supported and this was no exception. The highlight of the night saw the re-union of a group of ladies who last performed together for the school some twenty odd years ago; it was the performance of the night and met with rapturous applause.

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Thursday saw the annual St Helena day festivals, each year, on the anniversary of the discovery of St Helena the whole Island celebrates. Many have their own family traditions to celebrate this Bank Holiday, trips to Lemon Valley, fishing, etc. but for many, Jamestown becomes the centre of celebrations as the town is turned over to New Horizons to organise the celebrations. New Horizons is a fantastic local organisation providing sports, music, leisure and other opportunities to the Islands young people, it is a vital and under appreciated pillar of the St Helena community. St Helena Day has become their main fundraising day and what a day it is. When St Helena celebrates it is something special the sense of community and getting together is wonderful and infectious, when half of the Islands population gathers in one place it cannot help but be a great occasion. The day opened with a service to give thanks to everything the Island gives before turning itself to various sports events. Bev took part and came third in a gruelling 5km run, 2.5km of which is up the steep relentless side path road, rising from sea level 300 meters or so in an unforgiving and continuous 20 degree incline before a knee jerking quick descent back into Jamestown. Bev performed magnificently, finishing third just behind the two winners, not just for women, but overall.  She may well have finished second were it not for the unplanned water stop. Had Bev known in advance that the woman taking an age to find a bottle of water from a bag in the foot well of her car, was not in fact anything to do with the race, she may not of wasted five minutes waiting for her. But third it was and better still she was presented with a Gold Medal, we presume because she came in first out of the women, and not just because they had no bronze medals. 10622806_824249727651168_488433836947194784_n Our sporting achievement continued as we, and our team, No Expectations, came in third overall in the Islands Fun Games, a collection of high quality Athletic events from throwing water balloons to wheelbarrow races. Reaching the final of the Tug-O-War event propelled us to third overall and Bev and I both came away proudly with our medals. We shall have to change the team name next year to Great Expectations!!

The afternoon concluded with a parade of wonderful floats including some truly fantastic efforts, the highlights of which were undoubtedly the New Horizons Pirate Ship, complete with smoking cannons, and model of Johnathan the Tortoise, complete with the ability to rise up on his legs and stick out his neck.

As afternoon turned to evening fireworks, beer and music rounded off a wonderful day and one which for me brought a realisation that we are really becoming part of this community. All day long was a continuous stream of welcoming conversation, greetings and hellos. A party of two thousand people, where everyone knows each other, at very least to wave and say hello to, and many many of which we now call friends.

Although we have been welcomed from the start, it has been a sudden realisation just how many people we now know here on St Helena. A walk through town is a constant stop start of hello and how are you, of friendly faces and welcoming smiles. Had I been in the UK and found myself interrupted a thousand times on my way through town, Id of hated it, but here it is an inescapable way of life and the only way to be. It has rubbed off on me and I am a changed man because of it, all for the better.

Whilst we are happy to be making friends of course, like everything there is always another side to things, and on St Helena, that other side is losing friends as they leave the Island. Many Saints leave their families and friends to find work or make a new life on Ascension, the Falklands or the UK, and of course families’ from the UK must leave as their contracts expire. It’s hard, and undoubtedly affects some Saints more than others. Some adapt well to the transitional way of life, others have admitted to me that they find it hard to let ex-pats into their lives, to make close friends in the knowledge that those friends will soon leave the Island. It is a sad story but is the way of life on this remote Island. Thankfully we are being welcomed in, and not just in the day to day friendly and welcoming nature of Saints, but something more real, we are making genuine friends and I’m sure now that what is starting a first family meal together, or an evening drinks in the bar, will turn into friendships that will be very hard to leave behind. The weather has been wonderful the past few weeks, and despite taking a definite turn this week we have been treated to glorious sunshine and the most stunning breath-taking sunsets I have ever seen. Night after night oranges turn to red, and reds to purples and the dipping sun paints a masterpiece across the sky. The extended summer however has not been without its pitfalls as the Island is gripped in a serious water shortage. Threats of cutting water supplies off have been issued by Connect (local utilities) in an attempt to avoid the drought that hit the Island two years ago. Thank fully this week has seen a lot of rain and hopefully severe control measures should be avoided. The problem on St Helena is not one of lack of rain, but of poor distribution, poor storage and most of all a lack of ability to capture and retain the water that falls. If successful a capital project should improve this situation, and it is imperative it is solved before the first flights arrive next year. Sunset St Helena Island Sunset St Helena Island Sunset St Helena Island On the subject of flights we were lucky enough to have a private, guided tour of the airport site by Basil Reads quality assurance manager. It was a real privilege and the work that has been carried is phenomenal. The whole idea of an airport is controversial, and although a referendum voted in favour of its construction it is still met with great scepticism and fear, only natural for a people who have been isolated from the world for so many generations. But whatever people views on the value of an airport, it is undeniable the fantastic job that is being done. Let me paint a picture of the enormity the project.

180 degree view from the controltower

180 degree view from the control tower

Build and airport on St Helena they say. Ok but where, there is no flat land where will the runway go? Over here, this valley will do, we could fill it in and make some flat land.

Ok, where will we get the rock to fill in this valley? Over there, those hills, we will flatten them and use that for the rock. The land will also provide the space for the accessory buildings. Right, but if we fill in this valley, where will the water go from the stream? No problem cut a new valley over there and divert the stream.

Great, but, what about all the machinery and equipment we will need, St Helena doesn’t have a dock, no ship is able to land here? So build a new dock of course, simple. We will build a temporary one at first so we can start construction, then we will replace it with a new permanent wharf so that container ships can still bring goods to the Island.

Ok, that’s all well and good, but your dock is five miles from the airport, how will our trucks get from the wharf to the airport? Come one, that won’t stop us, we will build a new road, up that huge steep sided valley wall over there.

One last thing, the airport will need fuel? Ok, so we’ll install a new bulk fuel installation that will supply the airport and rest of the Island’s needs.

And that is what they have done, nearly! It’s highly impressive and it was real privilege to see all this close up and personal.

To me, the uneducated, Basil Read have done and continue to do a fantastic job, considerate of the local environment, the Island and its people and working on time and as far as I know, on budget. So it is with the thought of the airport that I leave you. What will it bring to the Island? Prosperity maybe, change definitely. Will it be a good thing, I honestly don’t know, I do know that as thoughts turn to our midterm break and our next voyage on the RMS St Helena, that I am sad that our eventual end to the adventure will be on a plane, and not, after two years being intimately connected to sea, on board a ship.

Milky Way

Well, first I must apologise that I have not had the opportunity to add an entry for a couple of weeks, and second, I must apologise that I still haven’t got time to update you all now. I have in short been extremely busy working, taking photos and working on some new graphic design projects.

But just to keep everyone interested I did manage to go out and take some of my most successful night time imagery yet, here are the results.

Church at Sandy Bay. This image is the result of 12 photos stitched together. The foreground is illuminated using a technique called light painting, whereby a torch is used to gently  light the subject during a long exposure.

Church at Sandy Bay. This image is the result of 12 photos stitched together. The foreground is illuminated using a technique called light painting, whereby a torch is used to gently light the subject during a long exposure.

Another shot of our neighbours. This time an 16 shot panorama with a double exposure for the car.

Another shot of our neighbours. This time an 16 shot panorama with a double exposure for the car.

Our house, a tiny spec in the endless galaxy.

Our house, a tiny spec in the endless galaxy.

View from the back garden!!

View from the back garden!!

The night skies the past two weeks have been breathtaking. For the shot below I left home around 10.30pm and drove to Sandy Bay. I knew it would be magical as I drove down the narrow steep rode that leads to the bay. The smell of flowers were heavy on the air. Leaving the car I walked, in absolute darkness down to the bay. Above me, a million billion stars in an endless sky, the milky way clearly visible stretching across the sky and marking the entrance to the bay. I lay motionless, listening to the sound of the waves, and frogs ribbiting in the back ground. The air was still, not the slightest breeze. I was alone, on planet earth, but one could not help thinking something, or someone else must be out there in the countless planets that surround us. It was magical.

This complicated photo involved a lot of work and is by no means perfect. The foreground requires a lot of light to be cast on it, so during a 20 second exposure, two off camera flashes are fired twice each to through some light on the foreground and distant rocks. Second exposures are then used to captre the skies. Finally a third set of images were needed to get the very nearby rocks in foucs against the distant stars. All in, 22 photos are then layered and stitched into this large panorama.

This complicated photo involved a lot of work and is by no means perfect. The foreground requires a lot of light to be cast on it, so during a 20 second exposure, two, off camera flashes are fired twice each to throw some light on the foreground and distant rocks. Second exposures are then used to capture the sky. Finally a third set of images were needed to get the very nearby rocks in focus against the distant stars. All in, 22 photos are then layered and stitched into this large panorama.

Jamestown

The capital of St Helena, home of government, banking, retail, and a bustling metropolis, relatively speaking. Like all major capitals Jamestown is a congested, convoluted, disorganised and densely populated sort of place. Snaking up a narrow strip at the base of a steep sided valley, the buildings push and shove each other for space, leaning on one another and spill out onto the divergent estuary of roads which split from the main road at the top of the town into several smaller tributaries as the tarmac flows towards the sea.

Jamestown snakes its way to the sea

Jamestown snakes its way to the sea

Jametowsn Rooftops

Streets and junctions are marked with these wonderful wooden signs.

Streets and junctions are marked with these wonderful wooden signs.

Jamestown is hot, dusty and dry most of the year, it has a distinctly topical climate and is the one part of the Island that truly betrays the Tropical latitude, sat as we are at 15.95 degrees South. The volcanic valley walls rise high and steep, rock falls were a constant danger and hence wire mesh and strategic fences scar across the valley sides. St Helena is a particularly unstable place in general, hard igneous rock sandwiched by soft pyroclastic muds and sands do not make for firm foundations and the Island as a whole has been pretty much on a steady slide into the sea ever since its creation some fourteen million years ago.

At the top of the Valley sits St Helena’s Hospital, a lovely looking building, surrounded by tropical flowers and a pleasant atmosphere. Moving down the road the sapphire blue Sea at the foot of the Valley dominates the eye line, as Mediterranean looking buildings line the road, the odd shop and a fridge repair centre start to reveal the commercial nature of the town.

Looking down Market Street towards the Bridge

Looking down Market Street towards the Bridge

Barrack square arrives on the right, the first sense of the history of the town, being once a home for Island Soldiers, and now for Island residents. Further down the road Pilling Primary school, also a former Barracks, is the daytime home for Oliver and Charlie. A delightful building, which seems very much a military design on the outside, but very much a school as you pass through the old wooden doors.

Pilling Primary School and Former Barracks.

Pilling Primary School and Former Barracks.

Olivers Yr 2 classroom

Pilling school and upper Jamestown as the mist rolls descends from the central peaks.

Pilling school and upper Jamestown as the mist rolls descends from the central peaks.

Founded in 1659 by The East India Trading Company, Jamestown, named after King James II is full of history, the buildings vary in style, age and condition, but all in Jamestown are old, and most well over one hundred years in age. Most are built out of volcanic rock and many are of World importance as examples of Georgian Colonial Architecture.

Moving down the aptly named Market Street and the hustle and bustle of the Islands only real shopping district (that consists of more than two shops together) becomes evident. Thorpes Grocery store, one of the oldest and most established retailers on the Island, sit alongside The Queen Mary and Queen Victoria Stores, one a former pub, the other once a cinema. Tinkers provides sliced cold meets and across the way the Hive, selling a variety of goods from Diving regulators to chocolate willies with some stationary in between.

We now approach the bridge, not obvious but in fact, an actual bridge as the Jamestown “Run” flows beneath the road here. The Run is a small stream running the length of Jamestown that was constructed to bring freshwater to the residents, and after serious flooding was widened in an attempt to provide an efficient run off for heavy rains. The bridge does not appear to be a bridge, and is instead a wide square section of road, bordered by the market selling fresh fish and veg daily, and meats on Thursday mornings, and by the towns main Pubs, the Standard and the White Horse. Jamestown apparently (so I’m told) once had more pubs and houses of Ill repute per capita than anywhere else on earth, but (sadly) only these two remain. Very traditional, one can imagine sitting here a hundred and fifty years ago mulling over the failings of the Governor, taxation, British rule or the price of beer just as today.

Around the corner Market street meets Napoleon Street, which has wound its way down the west side of the valley and

View down Napoleon Street looking across Jamestown to Ladder Hill Road

View down Napoleon Street looking across Jamestown to Ladder Hill Road

ultimately leads to Longwood and the Briars, no doubt Napoleon was led to his temporary home in the Briars up this road when he first arrived, just as many visitors do now. Where Napoleon and Market Streets merge, they become Main Street, a wide concourse and the very essence of Jamestown. The grand Consulate Hotel, like something dropped right out of Colonial times inside and out takes pride of place. On the left, the post office is a major hub of town. St Helena does not have a postal service, and as such mail must be collected from the post office, along with administration of almost all licenses and records on the Island, car taxation, and pensions and benefits the post office plays an essential role in everyday life on St Helena.

The Canister, now the Tourist office and craft centre.

The Canister, now the Tourist office and craft centre.

The Post Office.

The Post Office.

The Consulate Hotel on the right looking down Main street

The Consulate Hotel on the right looking down Main street

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The Consulate Hotel

The Consulate Hotel

The Star is one of the main, and most modern grocery stores on the Island, and reminds me of the old Co-op local store in my home town. Mum you will remember it well, I used to sit outside with Shep whilst you proceeded to fill what seemed like in the region of 300 bags of shopping!  It is owned by Solomons, a company which traces itself back to Saul Solomon who was put ashore in 1790, gravely ill, from a merchant ship on its way to India; he recovered, decided there was money to be made in St Helena, and persuaded his brothers Benjamin and Joseph to come from England to join him.  He is also reputed to have tried to help Napoleon escape, which I guess would have been an opportunity to make serious money in St Helena.  The shops are a small part of Solomons’ operations on the island which include banking, insurance, agent for the shipping line and, a lot of outsourced work from government.


Moving down the Main street it becomes wider still, 2 on Main currently houses one of the best restaurants on the Island, this training restaurant will soon make way for a brand new hotel, comprising this building and its appropriately named neighbours, 1 and 3 on Main. Next door sits Harris’s Guest House and nearby, the Wellington Guest House. As the street widens it becomes the parade, and the seat of St Helena Government, the Castle, sits alongside the road adjacent to the town walls.

The Castle.

The Castle.

The Castle was originally, in 1860, a Wooden Fort, but was reconstructed in 1710 as the original construction had become rotten with termites. Part of this 1710 construction is still present, but numerous additions and alterations have been made since. Alongside the Castle sits the castle gardens, a small but perfectly formed park. The grounds man does a superb job ensuring a variety of colour and flowers year round, making the Gardens a lovely spot for lunch and to pass the time of day.

Jamestown ends or begins at the Castle Gates, an arch in the substantial Town Walls that once stood as a fortress to protect the town from invasion. St Helena is (or was) one of the most fortified places on Earth, and the remnants of the fortifications and Barracks can be seen everywhere. From the water front in Jamestown, one can see High Knoll Fort, Ladder Hill Fort, Mudens Battery, and a further two gun battery’s, as well as the numerous gun ports that line the Main Town walls themselves. The waterfront retains the historic feel that all of Jamestown does, a walk along the wharf revealing old warehouses and storage buildings. The wharf is now the main entrance and exit to the Island. When the RMS is in the bay, the Wharf busts into life as a frenzy of containers are loaded and unloaded, retailers and individuals excitedly collecting new goods, presents, and all manner of things.

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Like much on St Helena the wharf runs on the Darwin Principle, that if you are stupid enough to stand under a 20 tonne container, it’s your own fault. Refreshingly and somewhat  surprisingly for a UK resident one can walk amongst the cranes and containers, the fork lift trucks and good lorries. Funnily enough, no one dies, and it’s very refreshing to be treated as an adult in such matters. Not that everything on the Wharf makes sense. Understandably swimming from the wharf is restricted when the RMS is in the bay, but it is also restricted if some goods have been left in the loading area. But swimming is permissible when other boats and vessels are back and forth from the wharf, so long as no goods are resting on the concrete, I will never understand it, but do as Im told!

On a weekend evening the wharf and waterfront come to life. The Wharf becomes a magnet for young men and their cars, like something out of Fast and Furious (old people may need to look that one up!) all manner of supped up cars with large noisy exhausts and lights in strange places pump music out whilst their owners gather to discuss the latest in sub woofers (or something like that). Meanwhile, families have a rare treat and fill up the two waterfront bars, Donny’s and the Mule Yard, enjoying a drink from the bar and food from the local take aways whilst watching the sunset, knowing children are safe to play nearby. As early evening turns to late evening the families go home and the towns beautiful people (well, most of them)  take over, music drink and dancing in the warm tropical air tale over until the early hours.

Donny's Bar-2 542544_307174759360337_2082701812_n _MG_4501 _MG_4472

Jamestown is hot and dry, its overcrowded and parking is a night mare, but it is also fascinating, bustling, full of history and atmosphere and its people are wonderful I love it.