Fourth Time, Third Time, Second Time, First Time.

 

I have so much to catch up on, my blog will, as a consequence brush over many things and not in any way get across how full the past few weeks have been.

Our time on St Helena is measured by events, I don’t imagine Saints see things like this, but for us the past few weeks have heralded our third, of lot lots of things. Our third Harvest, third boys day out, festival, third cancer awareness event, third Halloween, third World Wide Photo walk, Third Cruise ship season, the list goes on.

The event and social merry go round is non-stop on St Helena, there are times when I’d like to jump off, and have a breather, but then someone will phone and ask “what are you doing on Saturday” and with a fear of missing out, then we are there.

The month started with my third World Wide Photowalk, a day when photographers all over the world go, and walk and take photos. This year’s location, decided upon by the tourist office was Peak Dale, a delightful walk through flax slopes, grass lands, deciduous forest and pine trees. Becoming more popular year on year, over thirty people turned up, on what started as a cloudy blustery day to play their part, enjoy a nice walk and hopefully capture some photos. It soon became very clear that some people were not really in it for the photography, as one group, of avid photographers, myself included, were quickly left behind, each of us hoping to be the first to spot and bag “the shot”. I decided to try something more abstract this year, and looked for form, texture and shape in objects, rather than the wide sweeping landscape views. It was an interesting challenge and I was pleased with my results.

 

Whilst on the subject of walking Bev and I tackled a new post box walk this month, to Lot! Lot is an oddly named large pillar of volcanic, phonolithic rock. It was formed some 7 1/2 million years ago, when the major eruptions of St Helena had subsided and the Island had formed. Later eruptions forced magma up through gaps and fissures in the existing rock, but never quite broke through the surface. Surrounded by an insulating layer this larva cooled much more slowly than the rock laid down in earlier eruptions, and hence formed more solid, resistant rock. As St Helena’s soft volcanic slopes have washed away over time these phonolithic rocks are left to stand proud over their surroundings._mg_4419-pano

The walk itself was a challenge for sure, much of it down perilous slopes, with electrical wire in place to hold on to!! But it was great fun, and made even more pleasurable by the impromptu nature of thing. It was half term, and Bev and I had booked a day off work to spend with the boys. At short notice they were both invited to a birthday party for the day and as such, Bev and I enjoyed our first day alone together for months. It was bliss.

October also saw several charity events, and it seems I have become the go to photographer for doing things for free. “Paul, you know it’s the carnival, do you think maybe you could do some photos”? And my answer is always, yes I’d love to. And I mean it I do love it, I love being asked to help and contribute in some way, but it does mean I have spent most nights on the computer editing and sorting through reams of photos.

And so it is that the past three weeks have contained our Third SHAPE fund raising event, a Masquerade Ball at Plantation House, closely followed by New Horizons Children version, in Halloween costume. The Ball was spectacular in its entertainment as it was in its costume, as all 140 people attendees slowly slipped, sipped, danced and drank into one of the best parties this Island has seen. Over £2000 was raised for one of St Helena’s most important and valuable charities, and everyone had a thoroughly good night. Although I was happy to play my part, I was more than a little envious of having to work when surrounded by such joviality.

It’s not often on St Helena, that I am surprised anymore, but an hour into the night, I was somewhat taken a back as a masked man approached the door and asked me if I was Paul Tyson, “Ummm yes” I replied, “Did you go to Rhyl High School?” “ummm yes” I replied, “Do you recognise me”, “Ummm take off your mask”! And there he was, Mr Cottle, a former design tech teacher in my old school, he, on the door step of Plantation House, on St Helena, I could not believe it. There may not be an airline service yet, but I’m sure there’s a bloody bus that comes here three times a week!

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Mr Cottle on the right, former teacher at Rhyl High School with family.

The arrival of flight TZ 1XS, an Arvo RJ100 jet plane was, for a time the most talked about thing on the Island. The flight, operated by Tronos Aviation Leasing was on its way, in a very convoluted path to Chile were it was being sold, but thanks to the efforts of Atlantic Star is came to St Helena on route to fly some test flights, gather more wind shear data, and test the suitability of this aircraft for ST Helena. Atlantic Star have been a prominent player in the Airport SAGA, insisting from very early on that they will be able to operate a direct service from the UK to St Helena. To their credit they have no wavered from this standpoint,  and, although this particular aircraft type does not have the capacity to reach the UK, it is seen as an option in the short term for the Island due to its particular profile and ability to land in poor conditions and in short distances. Atlantic Star jumped at the chance to test the theory and worked with Tronos to enable the flight to arrive at its destination via St Helena.

From an untrained eye it was a huge success, lucky enough I was to be on my fourth trip to photograph aircraft, I watched and immaculate landing, right on the money, without a hint of wobble, and stopping well short of the vertical cliff that greats a plane that overshoots!

Will it be the answer? Well, no, not in the long term, with the modifications needed to carry additional fuel, this aircraft could only fly to St Helena with around 40 passengers, not enough to build a tourist industry on, but what this flight has done is raise moral, provide some positivity surrounding the airport, and may, just may, provide a short term solution to getting things off the ground as it were. Here’s hoping.

The airport on St Helena has received some terrible press in the UK and worldwide, the most expensive cock up in history, the airport with no air planes, £300mil of wasted UK tax money are the normal headlines. My photos of the airport have subsequently popped up all over the world in everything from aircraft magazines to tourism websites. It was no surprise therefore when some large newspapers came knocking. It was something of a surprise however when I received a phone call from the photo editor at the Times Newspaper. Asking for photos of the airport I enquired what was the article about, already of course knowing the answer. Knowing the article was not going to be a positive one I was torn, do I want my photos used to provide negative press to the Island I love? After some thought I figured, my photos are already over lots of press articles slagging off the airport, what difference does one more make, and at least I was going to get paid, and credited. And so it is that two and a half years after picking up a camera I can now claim to be a professional photo journalist. Well ok, that might be pushing it, but not many people can say their photos have been published in the Times newspaper!!TysonPic.jpg

On to more concerning news and for the second time in just 4 years the Island is experiencing a drought, this time, a severe one. We have had no significant rain fall for months, months and months. The normal winter rains came and went with nothing more than some low lying mist and the situation is now quite serious. We will still have drinking water, even if we rely on bottled water, but without drastic measures, or some serious rain the Island is rumoured to run out of any significant and usable water in a matter of days. Whether it will come to that I don’t know, water is currently being tankered from a bore hole, once used by Basil Read during airport construction, to keep reservoirs marginally topped up, but they are all looking very empty, some with just puddles of muddy water in the bottom. Please and warnings have been offered by all and sundry to reduce consumption, and the Tyson household is playing the, if its yellow, let it mellow rule. I’m also doing my bit by drinking beer instead of water!!

And so it was that against a back drop of drought and prayer for water that St Helena experienced what is, so it seems, a once in a life time event, an electrical storm, or thunder and lightning to you and me. As I sat, in my usual evening position at the computer, I heard a rumble, knowing that St Helena never gets thunder storms I shook my head, told myself it couldn’t be and continued with my work. Even the flash of light outside, did not trigger any thought process that it could be lightning. The second rumble however really got my attention as it rattled the roof above our head. Opening the door to the lounge I said to Bev, “did you hear that? I think its thunder and lightning”. Really!!!

It was, and for the next 6 hours you could find me outside, like a small child enjoying the spectacle. For the first hour I told myself it was passing over, it was not worth getting my camera out. As I realised I was wrong I hurriedly rummaged for my tripod and trigger and headed outside. For the next five hours, until 1.30am I watched and listened with giddy excitement, dancing for joy when I knew a fork of lightening had been within the view finder of my camera. I started shooting out at sea, as the storm passed over and beyond us, but as the night went on pockets of the storm opened up all over, until I was provided the ideal shot, with lightening forking behind High Knoll Fort. Photography conditions were tricky, with low lying cloud surrounding me, forcing me to wait for the occasional breaks. But it was well worth it. I was aware that this was potentially the first storm on the Island for many years (I’ve heard anything from 40 to 10) and that maybe, just maybe I was getting THE photographs to record it. As I uploaded the images to Facebook that night I could not believe the response. Three days later and over 16000 have viewed, clicked, liked, loved and shared these photos. What an amazing experience, and amazing night, and amazing response, and one which I will never forget.

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High Knoll Fort St Helena, Silhouetted against the fork of lightning.

Unfortunately the storm did not bring with it the rains, and after threatening to pour down the storm provided virtually no rain at all.

I guess I shall have to carry on drinking beer!!!

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.