Indian Summer

So winter has set in on St Helena, the Winter Solstice arrived and was accompanied by wind and rain and cloudy skies, but other than that one day, the weather has been exceptionally wonderful. Day times have seen clear blue skies, warm sunshine and blue waters, whilst evening shave been pleasant and cool. We waited a long time for summer to arrive this year but it is without doubt hanging on in for us as we count down to the end of our second year on the Island.

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The Sunsets in June have been spectacular.

I wasn’t sure how to tone title this blog entry, and in some ways I feel things are becoming a bit repetitive as week by week and month by month we continue to have an incredible time here on our little Island. The past three weeks are no different, and it was only a conversation with a friend back home in the UK that made me think about how wonderful “normal” everyday life here is.

I was asked, “so are you enjoying it there, what do you get up to”? To which my response was, well the weather is normally great, we go diving once a week, walking through stunning landscapes, see friends for dinner or parties, drink beer watching fantastic sunsets, play football, swimming, snorkelling, swim with whale sharks, watch dolphins dance in the waves the list is endless. It sounds like the world’s best holiday, only it is our normal life here.

We took advantage of the continued summer by taking a walk to Sandy Bay Barn. A spectacular walk that takes you through green grass and conifer trees, out to a barren, mars like landscape with its fair share of climbing and hairy moments, and no shortage of breath-taking views looking along the coastline and back in towards the lush green interior of Diana Peak. I have to admit though I was reluctant to do the walk, having planned it a week before I had not accounted for twisting both my ankles playing football the day before.

 

It was my first start of the St Helena Football season as my team, The Bell Boys took on the Wolves. In a more competitive game than the final score suggests we ran out 4-0 winners as I put in a man of the match performance and scored my first goal for the team, a lovely 25 yard volley over the stranded goal keeper. Having a job that requires weekend work back in the UK, I haven’t had the opportunity for eleven a side football for many years before arriving here, and I thoroughly enjoy it. The enjoyment made all the more when you read your name and exploits on the back pages of the papers, and your name on the radio sports section.

Not that I am the only Tyson to be grabbing the headlines. Charlie has now started his first steps in competitive football, joining the beginner’s league on the Island with one of two teams I coach and manage, aptly named the mini BellBoys. Charlie and his friends thoroughly enjoyed their first game in a hard fought 2-2 finish. Meanwhile, Oliver’s team has taken the step up from the beginners league to the primary league, and are the youngest team of a very widely split age group. Jungle Rangers, made up of year 3 children will find themselves on the end of a big defeat most weeks as they take on children three years older than them. But in their first game, against Skull Fire they gave an incredible account of themselves. Oliver took on the role of the most experienced player on our team and stepped up to the plate in outstanding fashion scoring a goal, earning man of the match and driving his team on like a young Steve Gerrard. There was a time when I wasn’t sure if Oliver had it in him to be a descent football but as he stood out there facing children twice his size he showed skill, drive, determination and leadership and I was bursting with pride at the final whistle, genuinely holding back tears as I congratulated his and all the teams performance.

We leave for our midterm break in a few days, and Oliver is currently quite sad to be leaving and missing his football. Of course it will be wonderful to see our friends and family back home, but the timing is something of a blow as we are all set to miss eight weeks in the middle of the season.

As the weather holds up I continue to dive regularly, the most spectacular of recent dives being a warm sunny morning at Sugar Loaf Point. The dive itself follows an underwater valley packed full of life from fish to crayfish, from starfish to Devil Rays. As we look towards our next break we will travel to Ascension Island, a place not on the regular travel and tourists routes, thanks to some friends made on St Helena I hope I get chance to dive in new waters and see more and new unique endemic species.

 

And so we came to Oliver’s 8th Birthday, and by all accounts we had planned very little and had a fairly normal weekend in store. It is only when you then look back and recount that weekend that you realise how special our time here is. Oliver’s Birthday weekend started with Donkey Walking.  Those of you who have followed from the start will recall our regular donkey walks. We haven’t been for a while and it was lovely to get back out there and see the weekly event well supported with lots of new faces. The walking itself is a gentle walk along the central ridge of the Island, with spectacular views to Sandy Bay to the South and Thompson’s wood to the North. The Donkeys are a lovely added extra and provide good company as we amble along the road chatting and taking in the views, and the children love it.

For the afternoon it was a hastily arranged barbecue fun at Rupert’s Beach with two other birthday boys. Sun, sea, sand and food, what more could you want. I took a snorkel round the bay and enjoyed a prolonged swim with a curious Green Turtle, the boy’s dug a hole and everyone was happy!

 

On Sunday there was more football to be played, and an afternoon spent filling our bellies at St Helena first ever Rib Off. Four chefs, (three amateurs and one professional) battles to provide the 140 or so guests with the best, stickiest, tastiest ribs they could. At a pricey £20 a head, everyone was determined to get their fill of the food and drink, and with over £3200 raised for local charities it was a great day. Winner of course was Mike Harper, professional chef, closely followed by Colin Owen, Financial Secretary and Paul McGinnety, Assistant Chief Secretary. Sadly, coming in last place was the competitions only Saint representative, Councillor Eddy Duff with a somewhat embarrassing result as the only contestant with no votes on the day. But it was not about the competition it was about the day, and as the sun shone once more everyone went home with bellies full of food and a smile on their face after a thoroughly enjoyable in what is hoped to be the of what will becomes an annual event.

The last event for Oliver’s, now somewhat drawn out, Birthday was his highlight, and something he had been looking forward to for many weeks, a trial scuba dive in the pool with his school friends. Known as the Bubble Maker, this allows children to try out scuba gear and swim underwater in the pool. Oliver and his three friends were clearly nervous to start, the gear feeling heavy and cumbersome to them. But they all soon got the hang of things and before long were swimming underwater like fish in the sea doing laps around the pool and playing search and recovery games. We finished the evening with a fantastic Whale cake by one of our friends on Island, Tina Johnson. If you need any cakes making on St Helena she is your lady.

 

As we come to the end of our second year on Island it amazes me how fast time has flown. With just six days until we board the RMS once more it is unfathomable to think that we may have been heading back to the UK for good at this stage, how has two years go by so quickly?

The contents of this blog entry contains just three weeks’ worth of stuff. It does not include the walk and bike ride we had today, the other birthday barbecue at Rupert’s Beach,  nor the other two games of football we enjoyed. Nor does it include the regular cards nights I have every other Thursday, the drinks and food with friends watching the progression of England and Wales in the Euro’s; my photography work; Bevs full time teaching during the High Schools GCSE period; or the boys school trips to the fire station or forest school. It does not include anything of the stag do I went on touring round the Islands pubs by bus, nor the leaving party Bev went to, the two other dives I have done or the afternoon at the Island first pop up cinema. It does not speak of the Governor coming round for a few drinks with Bev and some of her friends, or the wonderful night I had listening to the big easy at the Mule Yard or the brilliant night out we had last night, as 150 people gathered for a joint 60th and 50th Birthday party bringing saints and ex-pats together for drinks and the big easy band.

So, why is it that time flies here on St Helena? Well that is why, the endless list of fun that we have here, packing so much in to such a short space of time, and best of all, it’s just a normal month in the middle of winter.

The end of two years on St Helena brings with it some sadness. People who travelled with us on the RMS to start our adventure together all those months ago are about to leave, and for some, unlike us, they will not be coming back. We are about to lose some truly wonderful friends from our lives that have been bedrocks of support friendship and laughter and who have shared every step of this incredible journey with us. Living on the Island they probably won’t read this, but if when you are home you take a nosey at my blog, then I say goodbye to Jon Lambdon, The Parkinsons, half of the Grahams, The Durkins, half the Hathways, and one more of the Hannahs. I will miss you all immensely and life here will really not be quite the same without you. Twelve months ago we closed the first chapter on our time here, as one set of friends departed, this week marks the close of the second chapter. But we are, in my view, the lucky ones. We get to open a new chapter, probably our last one on St Helena. We return to the UK looking forward to seeing friends and family, but with our first weekend back on St Helena already planned. I cant wait for it.

Black and White Sharks

It was the 8th of May, and I was about to embark on my first double dive, two dive sites, one trip. The first was my second dive onto the Darkdale Wreck. The Darkdale, formally called the Empire Oil was a 1st Dale Class Freighting tanker that was torpedoed in James Bay with the loss of 41 lives. On the morning of 21 October 1941 a U-boat was sighted but it was not taken seriously nor reported to the Master of the Darkdale. On 22nd October RFA Darkdale was torpedoed by German submarine U68, it was the first ship to be sunk south of the equator in WWII

She now sits in two pieces in 45m of water, and presents St Helena’s deepest commonly visited dive site. As a war grave the dive carries with it a certain restraint, a respect for those who lost their lives and whose bodies are left in the ship. As a isolated feature on an otherwise barren area of sand she offers sanctuary to a great array and number of fish species.

We explored the wreck and I reached my personal depth record and open water dive limit of 40m. There is something different about deep diving, it feels the same, and carries with it the same tools and techniques, but descending to a depth where you cannot see what is below, or when at that depth, what is above is strange, slightly eerie and exciting. At this depth mistakes can be fatal, there is no rushing to the surface if you panic, or something goes wrong, and although only more experienced divers venture this deep, there is still a feeling of trepidation.

 

 

The dive itself was great the highlight being a shoal of Wahoo (Barracuda) that stalked us during our 5m safety stop. Looking into their eyes one could not help but feel they were deciding if we were dinner or not.

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Wahoo (barracuda) watching closely.

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The dive was also an opportunity to test my camera case, rated as it is to 40m I was taking it too its limit. Although the case did not leak, the shutter button struggled to release under the pressure of 40m of water above, and the camera fired off useless shots rapidly. I resorted in the end to turning the camera off and on to take a photo. I wasn’t to realise the full consequence of this problem until later.

All back on board the dive boat we headed to our next site, Torm Ledge, another deep dive, a rock wall rising out of 35m of sand and ending in a pinnacle reaching all the way to the surface. Again the feature attracting fish of all shapes and sizes, and covered in encrusting algae, soft corals and feather stars. It has become something of a running joke that I have not yet seen a Devil Ray, despite their very regular sightings around St Helena, and having racked up 60 odd dives, they remained elusive to me. Having waited an hour before our second dive, we started to kit up when dive leader Anthony from Sub Tropic Adventures, already in the water shouted “No Devil Rays, but there is a Whale Shark here!!”. Abandoning all protocol and safety checks we rushed into the water, some people with fins in hand and not on feet.

Quickly descending to around 5m we watched as the huge 12m female shark decided not to stick around and fairly quickly disappeared into the waters away from us.

We continued our dive and much to my amazement a Devil Ray came into view. It may have only been fleeting, but it was a Devil Ray, I had seen one and was elated. Apart from anything I was no longer jinx. Now already pretty pleased with my morning, wrecks, Barracuda, Whale Sharks and Devil Rays, not too bad. But not a patch on what happened next. Had I not been wearing goggles I would of rubbed my eyes in disbelief as our Whale Shark return, with Devil Ray following on its tail just feet behind.

Devil Ray and Whale shark not just on the same dive, but in the same view, astonishing. Devil Rays are big, very big, over 6ft across the wing tips, but it looked tiny as it followed closely behind our Whale Shark.

At this point I return to my previous problems with the camera, firing off multiple shots. Catastrophically my battery had died, my camera would not turn on for love nor money. I was witnessing a once in a life time thing, that so few people in the World have seen and I couldn’t turn on my bloody camera!!

We then spent around 20 minutes at 15m of open water as Devil Ray and Whale shark swam around in circles, often coming within feet of us as we hung in mid water, astonished at what we were witnessing. Words, nor pictures can ever do this justice, it’s just not possible, but thankfully, I was not the only one with a camera and I have to thank Karl Thrower for these shots. Not that he can take all the credit, taken with a Go-Pro, which, despite common belief is very poor at taking photos underwater, they were rescued with some clever processing by myself and I think the black and white toning helps to capture the magical feeling that we felt as these incredible animals graced us with their time and presence.

After  a time that was all too quick and as air ran low we returned to the surface to chatter excitedly about what we had seen. And returning to the boat we took of our dive equipment and prepared to head for James Bay. But the Whale Shark is seems had not had enough of us, rising to the surface waters to entice us in to spend a further 10 minutes snorkelling in its company before finally, losing interest and descending to the depths.

Was this the best dive ever? It was certainly mine, and maybe the best dive I will ever have. I will treasure the memories and the feelings of the day forever. St Helena continues to amaze and enthral me and I bloody love it here!