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
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.