Splendid Isolation?

The past two weeks I have started the process of coming to terms with my imminent (maybe) departure from this wonderful Island. Were we to stay longer we would be delaying the inevitable, many of our friends would of left, and both mine and Bevs work skills would be in decline, now is the right time to go, and Im at ease with it.

That’s not to say I wont miss the place nor that leaving wont be traumatic and upsetting. Last night we had dinner at a friends house, the Gonsavles’s, who, through a strange twist of events which I shall discuss later are leaving tomorrow, rather unexpectedly. This meant a great night of food and booze, ended by tears all round as we said good bye to two of our greatest friends, not just on St Helena but anywhere, they will be back, we will not.

The past two weeks have not been helped with a degree of uncertainty over the functioning of the RMS St Helena, our lifeline to the outside world, which had been in dry dock for two weeks with essential repairs to the starboard (I think) propeller. Following the cancellation of voyage 255 it was with some relief that I welcomed the news that the repairs had been successful and that the ship was on its way to Cape Town to collect passengers and cargo bound for St Helena, my 15th May start date at the National Marine Aquarium was looking good. Good that is until the ship promptly broke again with rumor of seals not sealed and an official announcement stating that one of the engines was stuck in full forward and had to be shut down.

The RMS is currently in Cape Town, whilst passengers shore side are hurriedly moved into hotels, unsure of how they will get to St Helena, and those of us Island side unsure of how we will get off. To make matters worse, Ascension Island government announced that the RAF runway was closed due to the unsafe condition of the Tarmac. As I speak there are around 800 people stranded on Ascension Island, 140 or so in Cape Town, a good number in the Falklands and of course those of us on St Helena who have no idea how or when we might be travelling.

So what’s the significance of Ascension. Well St Helena has an airport that could, in theory, be used by small planes to bridge the gap until the RMS is fixed. However, any plane travelling anywhere must be able to reach the nearest other available airport in case of emergency. Up until three days ago, for St Helena, this was Ascension, now its not, and the nearest functioning airport is somewhere on the West coast of Africa, 1800 miles away!

The significance for me is that I won’t make my 15th May start date, nor, when I do get to the UK will I have my planned time with family that I haven’t seen for almost a year, I will have to start work immediately. Things have been made worse by this all landing on the Easter Bank Holiday Weekend making it difficult, however we have been assured that Saint Helena Government and others are doing everything they can to assess the problems with the ship and asses other options for transporting people and goods on and off the Island, be in on small aircraft or by another vessel, somehow, I’m sure I will get home, and hopefully not too delayed.

It is the first time I have felt Isolated on St Helena. We are reminded all the time through tourism and social media, and when looking out of the window that we are indeed a very small dot in a very vast ocean, but it has never concerned me. The RMS turns up reliably and we have never had any concerns. Only now, as I ready myself to leave the Island, and find that maybe I cant does it hit home just how reliant we are on the one ageing Royal Mail ship and as I look out of my window the Atlantic Ocean ahead of me feels just that bit bigger.

In the mean time we make the most of our last few weeks on the Island. Having already had  my leaving jolly boys outing, my last (or not) card game, the Tyson’s “Bring and Bye” and goodbye dinner with the Bridgewater’s, I am racking up the leaving do’s and still have some planned. I have also missed a few weeks of diving but have managed to plan a few and on Saturday spent over an hour with the marvelous animal you can see below. Punctuate that with a stag do and my first game of golf on the Island and as per usual I have been pretty busy.

The highlight of our “lasts” has been our last walk to Lots Wife ponds, this time with a bunch of nobbers in tow. The scenery of Sandy Bay, trekking through the gates of chaos and along the coastline across narrow paths with shear drops is both staggeringly beautiful and a little nerve wracking. Like no where else on the Island you are immersed in Grand Canyon like orange escarpments, sharp ridges and deep, steep valleys. As the sun beats down heat waves rise from the ground, causing more than a little exhaustion for some of the group.

 

The reward at the end of the trek, once the vertical rope lined drop is navigated, are the ponds, beautiful turquoise crystal clear pools, cut off from the raging Atlantic beyond by a steep volcanic rock wall. The water in the pools is warm, and very salty and the experience feels very tropical as five finger fish dart around and bright red and yellow crabs cling to the rock walls of the ponds.

After a few hours, some swimming, photos, sandwiches and a beer the trek back beckoned and before I knew it my last walk to Lots Wife Ponds was done. Its hard to know what or how to feel right now. One moment I am all set for a 27th April departure, now I don’t know when Im going.

This morning my first port of call was the Solomon’s shipping office to see if when and how I can leave St Helena and make my way to the UK, I am provisionally booked on the 17th May voyage to Cape Town, but there is no news as to whether this voyage will go ahead, or if indeed an alternative will be found before then. Whilst this probably sounds like a criticism of the powers at be, it is not. It’s a right mess they have found themselves in, two broken airports and a crocked old ship, but I have no doubt that people have been working round the clock to find potential solutions over the bank holiday weekend, and I’ve been impressed, on this occasion, at the regularity of communication. Having spent several hours this morning wandering round town, in a useless daze waiting from bread to appear in the local store, the current rumor is that the Queen Elizabeth Cruise ship may be made available for passengers to get to St Helena and for some to leave. If I leave the Island on a luxury cruise ship I wont be at all disappointed, if on the other hand I leave on the wonderful RMS I will be equally happy. Right now I’m still here, and until the point comes that I get on board something and wave good bye I shall just have to continue to enjoy this land of splendid Isolation.

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My quote featured in the Times this week!

Just Another Month

April was just another month on St Helena, but what a month it was. Had I not been here for 20 months I would be a little blown away by it, but nothing surprises me any more on St Helena.

So April saw the first ever jet plane land on St Helena, then, the landing of a Boeing 737, and now, towards the end of the month, it was the Inauguration of the 68th, and first woman, Governor of St Helena. Lisa Phillips’s arrival has been much anticipated by most of the Island, the fact that it is our first woman Governor alone is news itself, but it is also the first governor of recent times that has worked her way up through the ranks of DFiD (Department for International Development) rather than the Foreign Commonwealth Office. This brings with it an expectation of a different approach, outlook and attitude, the hope of a new way of doing things here on St Helena.

I have to say my first impressions are very good indeed. In stark contrast to the previous Governor, when arriving on the RMS on the 25th April, Miss Phillips insisted on disembarking and arriving on the Island with the other passengers, not in a private vessel, she walked up the wharf rather than being driven, meeting and chatting with people on route, she clearly wanted to be seen as approachable and down to earth.

Her inauguration ceremony took place in front of the castle to a large crowd. Preceded by a parade of various departments and societies including the Beavers which Oliver was a part of. He marched well, even if he was a little bemused by the whole thing. The Governors speech was superb, hitting all the right notes and mentioning all the right things, and priorities, as well as reaffirming her open and approachable nature and her hopes of being a Governor that is part of the community and not just the face of Plantation House. After the ceremony she took a great deal of time to move round the various groups, societies and in particular school children and public to say hello and give a warm smile to expectant faces, a nice touch given that she had just stepped off the ship following a ten day journey at sea and must have been exhausted! All in all a great start, we now wait to see what her tenure will bring.

On a personal note April was packed with stuff, our social life has been relentless, barbecues, parties, days out, diving, snorkelling, swimming walking, all a bit non-stop.

Fun with my new camera.

Two things featured heavily in my life in April, my underwater camera, and the second

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Bridgwaters and Tysons!

Bridgewater family who arrived in March. A dinner, barbecue party, and two boat trips have been the highlights, the latter allowing me to combine great company, with some excellent fishing, my first experience of spear fishing, and, of course my new camera. Travelling with Johnny Hearne on the Enchanted Isle is always a pleasure. A touring boat capable of high speed that was once a US Coastguard vessel, and latterly a tour boat operating off the Shetlands Isles’ in the UK, this wonderful boat finds herself operating tours, whale shark trips, bird watching cruises, sight-seeing, stargazing and booze cruises around St Helena. A particular highlight of this trip was the pod of 300 or more Pan Tropical Dolphins that joined us for a time. Dolphins of course are a regular sight on our boat trips but it has been a long time since we have seen this many, jumping spinning and displaying all around us. Everywhere you turned a dolphin was in view and the pod, including hundreds of young calves, was performing admirably for its enthralled audience.

After a magical ten minutes, the show suddenly reached it finale as all at once hundreds of dolphins broke the water surface at once and spread out in a huge circle around us, I’ve never seen a sight quite like it as dolphins jumped in unison, and in huge numbers all around us before disappearing. Our knowledgeable host Johnny explained that there was probably a large predator in the water and this circle of spreading dolphins was a defensive tactic to confuse the predator and prevent it from pin pointing a target prey animal. It was amazing to watch and my only regret was not having my pro camera and telephoto lens with me.

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The undoubted highlight for me this month, and if I’m honest, many months was the New Horizons concert. Last year you may recall I was asked to photograph this annual show which raises money for New Horizons, a local sports and leisure youth group. Whilst watching last year I knew that if I were able then I had to take part and this year was my chance.

I’ve always enjoyed singing, and love a bit of karaoke as my friends will testify, but I haven’t been on stage since 6th Form. Several weeks have been spent rehearsing with a local band. This in itself has been a great experience singing with a live band and such incredibly talented musicians has been a whole new thing for me and I loved every second of it. And so, on Saturday we came to the day of the performance, and from about midday the butterflies started to grow and I spent most of the afternoon pacing up and down itching to get going. I went along to help put the finishing touches to the stage and my nerves were not helped by the sight of people queuing at ten to five, a full two and a half hours before the performance.

Community shows and events like this all always well supported and well attended, the lack of cinema, theatre and other evening entertainment enhancing the expectation and desire for these local events. By the time Bev and the boys arrived 450 people packed out the hall at Prince Andrew School as over 10% of the Islands population turned up. After a less than convincing rehearsal two nights before, and a significant part in the finale song which I had never heard before I was, needless to say, extremely nervous.

The show was briefly interrupted by the late arrival of our new Governor, late only because she had been taking part in a walk for cancer awareness before rushing over to support New Horizons. Her arrival caused something of a stir so compare Ben Hathway thought best to introduce her formally to the crowd. Asking how she should be introduced, “right honourable”, “ladyship” or something else Lisa Phillips replied with, you should introduce me as Lisa, Lisa Phillips is fine, almost bemused at the suggestion there should be any great fuss made at all.  Word also has it that after the show she was seen dancing at Donny’s  bar, she continues to impress me.

Back to the show I stood in the wings watching the other performers nail it and up their game for the live show I worried that I was just get it all hopelessly wrong. But I needn’t of worried, excusing a couple of minor tonal errors my rendition of Elton Johns “I guess that’s why they call it the blues” went off without a hitch, and Walk the Moons – “Shut Up and Dance” has been described as the shock performance of the night (in a good way) on local radio, and as many peoples favourite song of the night, I was even mentioned in a tweet by our Governor Lisa Phillips no less. I came off the stage absolutely buzzing, what a thrill as my children told me they thought I was brilliant.

Me as Elton JohnShut Up and Dance

Photos courtesy of Barry Hubbard, Thanks Barry

April has been a bloody brilliant month, I cant wait for next years concert and to see what May 2016 now has in store for us. It is only two months until we return to the UK for our second break to see friends and family. If Bev had not been granted an extension then our journey would be perilously close to the end, thank fully I know I have at least one more concert in me, and a few more dolphins to watch yet.

Finally, what do you do on St Helena when your car is in the garage and you need to pass the time, drink coffee, have a beer, read a book, or maybe just go and swim in clear blue waters with beautiful fish and a friendly Green Turtle. Not a bad way to pass the time!

 

 

 

Boeing 737-800

At 12:12 pm on the 18th April 2016, St Helena witnessed the next in a recent string of historic firsts, and once again I was there to witness flight MN8427 landing on St Helena soil. This was the first large jet aircraft and crucially the first landing of THE Boeing 737 British Airways Aircraft that will be flying on a weekly basis from Johannesburg to St Helena from the end of May. The plane is brand new, hot of the production line, and it glistened in the tropical St Helena sun shine on this perfect April lunch time.

The buzz has been around for several days, but reached new levels this morning as the first posts appeared on Facebook indicating that for the first time ever, St Helena was listed as a flight destination on an Airport departures board.

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And there it is, Flight MN8427 to St Helena.

As it flew North West to Namibia before heading out over the Atlantic, people tracked the location of the plane as I, and my photography colleagues made our way to the now familiar spot on Mole Spider Hill.

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Tracking the flight this morning

Schools and businesses closed as the Island gathered to witness the historic occasion. Bev was positioned along with the pupils of Prince Andrew School, and, unbeknown to me at the time Charlie, who had managed to gain permission to leave his nearby class mates and sit with Mummy as the historic events unfolded. Despite my privileged position I did feel a tinge of sadness that I wasn’t sharing this occasion with my family up on the hill.

But privileged I was. I’d like to think my hard work in photography and promoting the Island had warranted my spot amongst the media and other lucky few on our run way side vantage point, but I think in reality I would not have been invited had I not the nerve to simply ask enough people in the right positions as to whether I could join the more recognised local media. But lucky I was, and that privilege was and is certainly not lost on me given the hundred more deserving people watching from their distant points across the Island. Most however were just filled with excitement and pride that this day has arrived.

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Crowds gather to watch the historic event

We arrived in position well ahead of schedule and with a two hour wait we chatted and made small talk about the changes ahead that are about to be unleashed on the Island. Are we ready, do we have enough accommodation, how will this affect the unique culture and environment? The questions and doubts soon evaporated when someone shouted, “there it is, above the cloud, just coming past the Barn”.   I looked, but couldn’t see, and began to worry as to why it was only me who couldn’t see the shiny dot in the distance, at least I worried until Bruce Salt, Australian born to Saint patronage said, “I can’t see it”, relieved I was to turn around and find the only person who could see it, had binoculars and I needn’t of worried as before long the twinkling of a bright shiny aeroplane came into full view.

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Our first glimpse.

“It’s landing gear is still up” I heard, and sure enough it was, we hadn’t been warned about the fly past we were treated to, as the beautiful Boeing 737 flew past just feet from the tarmac.

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Stunning Boeing 737- 800 ZS-ZWG Flies Past St Helena Airport.

Leaving the Southern end of the run way she circled round, gear down for her landing approach. Much slower this time, she edged to the runway and kicking up dust in the jet stream she suddenly veered and then climbed steeply away, apparently aborted the landing. “Does she have enough fuel to return to J’berg” I asked, being told that Ascension would be her alternative landing in the event of problems. We had discussed the wind conditions whilst sat waiting for this landing. Looking to the South of the runway the wind blew strong in a North Easterly direction, at the opposite Northern end the wind blew South Westerly but, judging by the wind sock to a lesser extent, and, at our own vantage point mid-way along the run way it blew directly at us, westward with some force.

St Helena Commercial Jet Flight (11)We can only assume at this stage the challenging wind conditions led to the aborted first attempt, but before long the aircraft was once again close to the tarmac, this time several meters closer to the precarious start of the runway and we held our breath as the screech of rubber on concrete and the smoke plumbed from the tyres. Touchdown.

 

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In all her glory. Click on the image to see a full high resolution file. This is actually 15 photos stitched together to form a highly detailed image.

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360 degree panorama looking across St Helena Runway, Airport, my colleagues, Dianas Peak, the waiting crowds at Millennium Forest and the Barn. Click to view full size image.

I have to admit that at this point it was all quite emotional. It’s hard to explain just how significant this is. As I sat at the bus stop this morning I spoke with friend and Saint, Maria Thomas. “Well, today is the day” I said.  ”Yes, I can’t quite get my head round it” was the reply “It doesn’t seem real”. In the western world we take air travel for granted, but this Island has been cut off from the outside world since its discovery 500 years ago. Nothing has arrived her or left here unless by sea for contraries, the world was five days away. Now, it is five hours away. Speaking with Maria it became overwhelming to think about, I can only imagine what Saints are feeling today, and at that moment. Their world has just been turned upside down, for the better or worse. False dawns have come and gone, and the airport is now here.

Although I have not had any involvement I can’t help but feel proud, proud for the Island and its people, proud for Basil Read, Halcrow and the numerous others involved. Proud of every Thai worker living near the site at Bradleys. What an incredible job, truly it is inspiring. The rest of the World seems to agree. As I write the photos I posted to my Facebook page have been viewed by 18,000 people in less than 8 hours! In total, between the various outlets you can probably make that 100,000! It’s quite something for this tiny little sleepy Island that no-one apparently has heard of!

Whilst I was lucky enough to have ring side seats today, I was also lucky enough to have a nosey round the airport, with my camera last week. It’s a lovely building, small but aesthetically at least, perfectly formed. Clad with local blue stone, it reminds me of a Snowdonia art gallery built of black slate. Perfectly in keeping with the rugged like surroundings of this Mars like corner of St Helena.

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Arriving at St Helena Airport

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Saint Helena Airport

Inside the airport is modern with clean lines and finished with oak effect panelling and brushed steel signs. Fantastic views over the runway and taxi area are afforded to both passengers and family and friends alike, and I suspect a cup of coffee whilst waiting for the next flight to arrive will become a popular pastime for a while. I stood with Bruce today, and said to him “It’s incredible to think that many people on St Helena have never seen a jumbo jet before”. Much to my surprise he replied, “Yes, like me”.  Even with weekly flights it will be some time before the novelty of watching a plane arrive on St Helena wears off.

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First view of St Helena as you leave the Airport. Diana’s peak will be in view on a clear day.

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And welcome to St Helena. Please enjoy your stay.

We look forward now until the next big day, opening ceremony. 21st of May is St Helena Day, the day that the Island was discovered, how fitting that that same day should herald a new dawn. Of course St Helena day was always chosen to be the opening day, it makes complete sense. The fact that it will still be going ahead on St Helena Day, as planned some two or more years ago is nothing short of incredible, and I’m so glad that I will be there once more.

Onwards and Upwards

Since my last post things have certainly returned to some sense of normality, at least, normal for us on St Helena. Out of no-where I am extremely busy again, and all of those little jobs that I really should of done when I had nothing to do, and didn’t, are now staring me in the face making me wonder when indeed I am going to do them!

Photos of the Jamesbay Waves I promised in the last blog.

The response to my last blog entry has been somewhat overwhelming. It seems I am not alone in my feelings of self-doubt and miss-direction and that many people have appreciated what I wrote, whilst others have offered sympathy and support. It is an odd thing barring your heart to the world, particularly to those who are in your day to day life, who then know how your feeling and, understandably want to help. But it turns out writing is easier than speaking, and my usual response has been “I’m fine” when someone asks if I’m ok. In reality I am a lot better than I was. I don’t suppose to think I have suddenly gotten over everything, but being busy helps immensely, as does having supportive family, good friends and good times. There is also a real therapy to writing down your thoughts. Confronting yourself and feelings, and attempting to apply a logic to them so that others can read and understand, helps to box them up and rationalise your feelings, you can then start to break down the problems and fix them.

The first thing I have to do in future is to recognise when I have less work on, and do productive things with the time that is freed up, for now however that is not a problem.

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Sunset Behind High Knoll Fort viewed from our garden!

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Sunset over JamesBay, Stunning.

 

In terms of photography out of the blue I had numerous photoshoots, I am resuming some product photography for a local jewellery designer and I finished editing the shots from my first wedding shoot. The wedding took place a few weeks ago. I was incredibly nervous, after all, when the day is over all that is left are the photos and memories, and I didn’t want to screw this up. I am thrilled with the results and the feedback has been fantastic. You can see for yourself here, and here. It was a wonderful experience, to be invited in to someone else’s special day, strangers to all intense and purpose is a true privilege. As the photographer you spend the whole day with the couple, you are the only one who does, you build a relationship with them and in many ways direct many elements of the day. I have a new found respect for wedding photographers, next time you see the cost of a wedding photographer, give some thought to the responsibility that lies on their shoulders. Plus the hours of work that will go into editing the shots once everyone else on the day has finished their work, I know I will never look at them in the same light again.

I have also been helping out on the Enchanted Isle, the stellar sightseeing boat on the Island, helping primary school groups on a dolphin watching trip, and with Bev’s Marine Biology A level class. Bev has signed up for a global project to test for plastics in the worlds oceans, taking water samples at depth with a special piece of kit called a niskin bottle. Great fun was had and the day was followed up with more swimming in the sea at Lemon Valley. This gave ma great opportunity to test my new underwater camera kit. Unfortunately the underwater flash (strobe) that I had purchased second hand showed its value in the bath the night before by leaking and breaking on me, but the camera is great and in better conditions and with some practice I’m hoping to get some good shots with it during dives around the Island.

The family and I have also enjoyed our first night at Banyan Cottage. Nestled in the bottom of the Valley of Sandy Bay, this 100 year plus cottage can be hired out for the princely sum of £20 for three nights. Those of you who have followed from the begging may remember a birthday party we attended there some 12 months or more ago, this time we were there for the night, and I don’t mind saying we were in fact dreading it. A stone cottage equipped with the basics, a few beds, pots and pans, running water and lots of nearby wood for fuel. With no electricity fire and candles are the order of the day. The children loved it, what an adventure and experience for them and despite our worries, Bev and I had the most wonderful night with great company and many laughs. Banyan cottage shows the diversity that exists on St Helena. Here I am on my computer typing away, editing photos and uploading my blog to the world on St Helena, whilst in other parts of this tiny Island, less than a few miles away, people still live in this subsistence manor. There are not many in 2016 without electricity, but I have no doubt there are some, and many more without electric ovens who rely on fire wood for cooking and heating and who’s way of life is from a simple, some would argue, nicer time.

Whatever the pros and cons of modern life, to escape from it entirely for a night is wonderful. We cooked food on a fire, roasted marshmallows and drank beer until the early hours of the morning. 3am to be precise, and with the sun waking us up before 7am there was little sleep to be had.

And so it was that I rushed off the next morning, barely awake to ensure that I arrived on time for another huge milestone in the life of St Helena, the first Jet Engine Airplane to Land here. Following a wonderful piece by fellow blogger, what the Saints did Next, I was inspired to contact Air Access to see if it were possible for me to gain access to the newly finished terminal building to take some shots to show you all. Unfortunately that request has been temporarily turned down I was invited to be part of a small group of media representatives to photograph the arrival of the Bombardier Challenger 300 as it arrived to complete further tests for the airport. With it arrived members of ASSI, the Air Safety Support International personal who are here to conduct final audits on the airport, and, with fingers crossed, give it the all clear for the commencement of commercial flights. Just saying that in quite extraordinary. I don’t wish to out a jinx on things, but we are so close now, within a few weeks people will be able to fly here. I will save my feelings on this until it happens, but to take a quick look at what has been achieved is valid right now.

In 2011 permission and funds from the UK government were provided to enable St Helena to build an airport, to open the Island up to tourism and to reduce its dependency on overseas aid. With that in mind, Basil Read, a South African company were announced as the successful bidders. £210 million was granted for construction. But there was a problem, there was no flat land, solution, dynamite a mountain and use the rock to fill in a valley to create the flat land, simples. But wait, the area ear-marked for this airport had no road, ok, so they built a road, up some of the most difficult and steepest terrain you can imagine. But before they could build a road, they needed to get equipment, supplies and the like onto the island, and there is nowhere for a ship to dock. No problem they said we will build a temporary wharf, allowing the first ship to actually dock on the island in its 500 years history, and eventually replace it with a permanent wharf to provide access for container shipping once the RMS is de-commissioned. And so they did, apparently on budget and on time, to the very day if the last tests are successful. For £210 million pound Basil Read have achieved the impossible, they have built a wharf (having never built one before) built an access road, built bulk fuel installations to supply the airport, built infrastructure to support the build (such as a garage, and workers accommodation), flattened a mountain and filled in a valley, built a runway, terminal building control tower and all navigation equipment ( all of which they hadn’t done before), they have built an airport on one of the most remote and challenging places on earth. They have done all this on time, on budget and with an Island full of cynicism and lack of belief behind them. Having been let down with many false dawns before few on the Island really ever thought they could do it, that this day would come, and no one thought it would be ready on time. By all accounts it will be, and we are now a tiny step away from something incredible, everyone involved should be incredibly proud regardless of the outcome of the tests this week.

We have witnessed so many firsts in our time here, first docking of a ship, first mobile phone service, first airplane to land, first jet plane to land, and before long first commercial flights to land. The rest of the World may take these things for granted, but being here makes you realise what an incredible thing it is, maybe it is good, maybe not, only time will tell. One thing is for sure, there is no going back, the Island is about to change forever, and it’s almost frighteningly close now.

 

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A Random Rainbow outside our house, stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onwards and

 

 

 

Easter, Awesome and Loss

So its been a bit of a while once again since my last update, seems that my life continues to be rather hectic, and whilst we have settled into our new home and many of the Island ways, taking it easy and living life at a more relaxed pace does not seem to be one of them. It’s a shame in some ways, but St Helena is just so full of fantastic things to see and do, and is such a social place that there is always something you wish to be doing, or getting involved with.

I go back now to Easter, which makes me realise just how long it has been since I last wrote. Easter on St Helena is exactly what it should be. One shop in town that I know of was selling Easter Eggs, a refreshing change from the marketing bombardment that occurs in the UK in the lead up to any public holiday. Like many things in the Western world, Easter has become about the most chocolate, the largest egg, and generally how much money can be put into the pockets of Nestle and Cadbury, the meaning of Easter has largely been lost.

Of course the true meaning of Easter is religious, and most of you will know I am not a religious person, quite the opposite. St Helena however is a very religious place and as such Easter is in general held in high regard, carrying a special meaning to many of the people here. But what was most pleasing about Easter on St Helena is the sense of family, the sense of holiday. It is the one weekend a year where literally everything stops, no work, no shops, no diving, the Island shuts down so that families can spend time together, it is wonderful. Many Saints on the Island take the opportunity to go camping, but this is not camping UK style, people camp in large extended family groups, taking with them all manner of home comforts, and providing opportunities for siblings and cousins to run and play, for families to catch up and spend quality time with each other. Of course, some traditions from the UK can be recognised, that of camping in the rain, and it seems to be well known that, largely due to all the camping, Easter weekend will bring with it buckets of rain!!

And so it was with buckets of rain that our own Easter began, and organised walk cancelled five minutes in as the heavens opened and soaked everyone down to their underwear within moments. A hasty retreat to a friend’s house and a change of clothes actually led to a lovely few hours drinking tea and chatting away whilst the boys played, rather surprisingly with a tea set! Spending quality time with friends became the main focus of the weekend. A dinner hosted by ourselves and some fairly damn impressive Chinese food served up by yours truly on the Sunday night and lunch with friends on Easter Monday.

On the work front I have completed one, and nearly completed a further two large projects I have been working on. The tourism website now boats up to date photos and information on all of the Islands accommodation and restaurants, the first of my big projects on Island, you can check out my work in the “Where to Eat” and “Where to Stay” sections of the website. It has been fantastic to visit these establishments, meet new people and find out about some of the positive tourism work being done here, as well as enjoying the odd freebie meal for my efforts, and of course being paid for my first major photography project.

On behalf of the National Trust I have been producing interpretation to improve the visitor experience at High Knoll Fort, one of the Islands historic landscapes. As well as improvements to structural parts of the fort, visitors can now find out more about the fascinating history of this site and it feels wonderful that when I leave St Helena something of my work will remain.Gun 2.1

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The weekend after Easter saw another trip to Lemon Valley, far from becoming bored of visiting Lemon Valley, we had a fantastic time. Partly due to spending time with new friends and expanding our social circles but, in the main, due to the presence of two, brand new jet ski’s. I and the boys had a fantastic time shooting around the bay. Kyle, owner of one of the jet skis and myself managed to turn so tightly in the 1500cc jet ski that we flipped it right upside down. I also had my first ever go on a knee board, pulled behind the jet ski at ridiculous speeds I quickly got the hang of it and before long was riding the wake and performing full 360 degree spins. I was officially described as awesome by eleven year old Luis, who’s Dad owns the second of the jet ski’s.

My Monday night dive was one of my best yet as I spent moments with a Devil Ray.   Commonly thought of by divers on the Island as one of the most wonderful encounters, Bev and I have been longing to see one and although we had a brief encounter whilst snorkelling (at Lemon Valley) this was my first real encounter with one. Whilst it was only a short encounter it will leave a lasting impression. Filing with the go pro and some shoals of fish, I spotted our dive leader Anthony frantically pointing at something, as I turned round this large dark diamond loomed into view. Gracefully, and with slow motion movements this 6ft goliath swam casually past us, its Ramora companions in two. Often Devil rays will spend time with groups of divers, seemingly as curious about them as the divers are in return, but for sadly our devil ray had no such intentions and despite giving chase I could not keep up and he disappeared into the blue as quickly as he had appeared. As we surfaced some time later we emerged to the most fantastic sunset, and spectacular end to a fantastic dive.

Late in the season we have also experienced some of the clearest night skies and amazing views of the stars I have ever witnessed, or am ever likely to witness. A night time drive further inland and away from the lights of Jamestown was nothing short of breath-taking. The milky way could be seen in all its glory, and small swirls of bright cloud marked distant galaxies. The stars have been bright before but this was simply amazing. It has also increased my excitement at my latest purchase, a new Full Frame, semi-professional Canon EOS6d. Like everything brought to St Helena there is a wait, and it is another three or so weeks until my shiny new camera arrives. Seeing these night skies has made the wait seem even longer!

The central ridge at night

The central ridge at night

Milkey way, St Helena

Milkey way, St Helena

Pro Arc, Project Management firm on St Helena with awesome Landrovers

Pro Arc, Project Management firm on St Helena with awesome Landrovers

The view from my back garden.

The view from my back garden.

This past few weeks has been some of the best we have had on St Helena, full of fun and laughter, but I also experienced one of my hardest times. I have debated whether to include this in my blog, after all some experiences I believe should be kept private, but as a reflection of our time here, and a memoire of our experience and memories then I believe I should reflect on all of our times here, both good and bad. My Nan unfortunately passed away last week. She had been ill and in hospital for some time and we knew the inevitable would happen soon. It has been incredibly difficult being away from home, unable to help support my Mum, unable to provide some happiness in the final weeks of my Nan’s life. The news of her passing was upsetting, but nothing had actually changed for me and the news did not immediately affect me greatly. But Thursday was the day of her funeral, as I sat at the table working on yet more photos I looked at the time and realised the service was going ahead as I sat there. Alone, To try and make myself feel connected to the service some 4000 miles away, I listen to the music that was to be played at church, this was a mistake and was quickly followed by a release of emotion and grief.

I am ok now, I needed to feel something, to feel her passing, and sat at that table I cannot think of a time I have felt more alone. But before long the boys were home from school to annoy me, and the normal evening chores ensued. When I said good bye to my Nan eight months ago, I never expected that would be a good bye for good. Being on St Helena is wonderful, we are extremely privileged to be here and experience this, but it comes at a cost, and being so far from family and close friends is one of those costs.

Back to all things awesome, and my fridge is now stocked with a small bag of chocolate, not just any old chocolate mind, but handmade Belgium chocolate made by a master chocolatier. Sarah Jane Sharman, a biologist and local fungus expert amongst other things, ran her own business in the UK making fine chocolates after years of professional training. She has thankfully now started to make chocolates on Island and they are divine. Good chocolate is a rare thing on St Helena, it doesn’t last the journey well as the milks and solids separate due to the fluctuating temperatures in the containers. As I bit into a perfectly made dark chocolate truffle I even made a little noise of delight. I sincerely hope that Sarah keeps this up; I have become her biggest fan.

Politics tends to dominate the news in St Helena, a delicate and complex situation dictates that it is always up for discussion. But a recent big story has shown the best and worst of St Helena in one go. In the past few months, an entrepreneurial partnership has opened up a mobile bar and grill, named Amphibians, serving the hospital staff during the day, and providing a wonderful waterfront open bar in the evenings. There are however a small minority of Saints, who are resentful of people, ex-pat or otherwise, making something of themselves. I don’t believe I am out of place saying that, as it is through Saints that I have discovered this. It is against this backdrop that the mobile bar was apparently set on fire whilst in storage, destroying most of the bar and equipment in what is believed to be a deliberate act of arson. Fortunately this is where the bad news ends. Having lost almost everything on the Tuesday, thanks to the goodwill and help of the community they were ready and open for business by Thursday evening. People rallied round to donate fridges and repair the trailer and woodwork. The nurses and hospital staff, who appreciate their doorstep lunch service made a collection and raised £200 to help purchase new equipment. From terrible news came great community spirit as messages of good will and offers of help came flying in. Far from damaging the business, the perpetrators have only served to enhance the standing and reputation of Amphibians, and presented an opportunity to show the community spirit and all that is good and great about this small Island.

We have reached eight months in into our adventure, in three we will be returning to the UK for our mid-term break. It feels strange even saying that, time has truly flown. But for now we will continue to concentrate on all that St Helena has to offer, diving, snorkelling, nature and above all people, really wonderful people, Saint, Ex-pat, South African, black and white all wonderful in this awesome little melting pot of people in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Just before I leave, I was thrilled to read this week’s Sentinal, and a letter from Jan Schou and Vibeke Amelung in Denmark who have been following my blog. Thank you so much, it really is wonderful to know people are still enjoying my ramblings.