By J. Brock (SARTMA)
The view from the "Ash Pit" at the old NASA site on Ascension Island
The RMS ST. HELENA was in Jamestown Harbour at the same time as the M/S ENDEAVOUR. She would be sailing to Ascension Island on the following day but as she travelled at speeds well in excess of 12 KTS, the RMS would arrive at Ascension on the same day – 24 March. For me, it was the end of a remarkable journey that included meeting friends from years gone by and seeing Islands that I only dreamed about a few months earlier. One thing was for certain – there would be plans to return, and soon. As the sun set, Half Tree Hollow faded in the distance and I savoured each memory of my very hectic day in Jamestown.
It was time to pack and pay bills, etc. This was easier than when I boarded ENDEAVOUR as my freight had been delivered to Tristan da Cunha. Good-byes to shipboard friends also took up time and a few tears. The puzzle we had begun on the way to Shag Rocks had been completed, save a piece that mysteriously gone missing. It didn’t matter now because the piece had been placed and therefore counted. Sven, especially was a help throughout the trip, as he managed to find the right radio frequencies for communicating with South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha. I would miss his keen friendship and wide range of knowledge about ship to ship and ship to shore communications in the South Atlantic.
On the way to Comfortless Cove. Many of Ascensions Mountains change colour during different parts of the day.
There was a lot to think about in terms of how much it cost Lindblad to put on such an excellent trip for 53 people. My brain was filled with why can’t they do this, or that and wouldn’t their help benefit the people we met on our journey? Other questions ranged from taking on passengers between Islands and carrying freight, etc. It was time to chat with Hotel Manager, Patrick Svardmyr and be brought back down to earth. In many ways, he answered questions that readers may have had until this point in the travel log. His frankness was all too refreshing and I was richer for having the discussion.
The MERSK, until early this year, refuelled cruise vessels and helped to supply Ascension's fishermen with fuel.
It had been an amazing journey covering over 6,000 miles between places where M/S ENDEAVOUR could refuel. It would have been reassuring to know that bunkering would be a possibility at Ascension Island, but with the withdrawal of the "MERSK" due to bottom line business plans, M/S ENDEAVOUR had to make it to Cape Verde before she could top up her fuel tanks.
All is not lost for Ascension, however, as plans are afoot to back pump fuel from tanks belonging to the private sector on that Island. It will take time to work this out but it is anticipated that there will be a happy outcome for all involved.
Though bunkering at sea is possible, sea and weather conditions, make this method improbable. There is hope if fuel hoses can be lengthened and the transfer made while both ships are on the move at the same speed.
Everything from loo roll to toothpicks need to be put aboard M/S ENDEAVOUR before she leaves the Northern Hemisphere. Due to the decreasing number of population centres in the Southern Hemisphere, it is difficult to provision ships that traverse the Antarctic and the South Atlantic Ridge Islands. Yes, local produce is available but it is expensive and in limited quantities. In many cases the sea offered up delicious meals and there are Lobsters from Tristan da Cunha as well. In the library, I saw long life milk that was obviously purchased from the West Store in Stanley. However, if 53 passengers and twice as many crew had to rely on those provisions, the morale aboard would have been poor, indeed.
The initial cost of provisioning a ship in the Northern Hemisphere might be staggering, but if the task was completed below the River Plate, the cost of those provisions would be much higher due to the doubling of the freight rate for goods shipped from the Northern Hemisphere.
There is another risk. Since I moved to the Falklands I had no objection to eating food that was offered for sale beyond its sell by date. Indeed, much of what is consumed in the Falklands from crisps to frozen food may have reached its sell by date before even arriving in the Islands. Provisions bought under these conditions cannot by law be consumed on certain passenger carrying vessels.
In future years, there should be more varieties of meat available from the Falkland Islands Meat Company when the EU approved Abattoir comes into full operation. Fresh Veg provided by Tim Miller’s Market Garden (Stanley Growers Ltd.) lasted until just before we reached St. Helena, where more fresh vegetables were available.
It’s up to the individual producers of fresh food to develop the Tour Ship Market. Thanks to the business advice and training offered by the Falkland Islands Development Corporation and the St. Helena Development Authority, the potential for more products from the South Atlantic Ridge Islands and the Falklands can be a reality in future years.
The EXILES building is one of the more distinctive ones in Georgetown, Ascension.
PASSENGERS AND FREIGHT:
Patrick Svardmyr related a story about when M/S ENDEAVOUR had acted as a ferry for Saints going to Ascension. "They cleaned us out of fresh vegetables," he said. I have experience, first hand, about the St. Helenian diet and their cooking and, yes, fresh vegetables are a staple part of the cuisine. "There are calculations made for provisioning every passenger," Mr. Svardmyr continued. I got the message that the particular and traditional St. Helenian taste for fresh veg was not figured into that calculation. Who could have planned for that possibility, I wondered.
It is clear that if the ship has to be fully provisioned that there would be little room for freight. I had wondered if carrying freight would help defray costs but Lindblad do not operate a freight service. They do, however, provide inspired expedition cruises for people with an interest in the specific areas where the ENDEAVOUR sails. The dilemma of shipping freight and carrying passengers between the South Atlantic Ridge Islands is not one for the Cruise Ship Industry, but for dedicated carriers. It is the carriers like those who operate the RMS who have to make money from servicing the Islands in the South Atlantic.
Blackfish are abundant around Georgetown Pier.
With the basic questions answered, I set my thoughts to friends I would be meeting on Ascension. Gosh, in three days it would all be over! The fisheries interview with Emma George and Gerald Benjamin was quickly finished and all I had to do was stuff the rest of my belongings into suitcases and pay shipboard expenses. Over the past month I had made several good friends and it was tome to bid them adieu.
A View of Boatswain Bird Island
A final zodiac tour of Boatswain Bird Island took me to part of Ascension Island that I could not reach during Letterbox Walks. Jim Kelley pointed out several of the bird species that inhabit the Island that lays just off the eastern end of Ascension. There are no rats or cats on the islet, so bird-life abounds, with Brown Boobies and Black Noddies, Frigate Birds and a variety of other tropical birds. And, we saw yet another lava bridge, with the coastline of Ascension in the background. There was also a running commentary about a research team that spent a considerable amount of time on the islet about 50 years ago. We navigated around the point where they landed and where they re-supplied. It was in returning to ENDEAVOUR that I noticed the heat and humidity building up.
Georgetown Pier was a dangerous place to be when the MOD ship was being unloaded.
During breakfast, we sailed to Georgetown, where I would depart the ship and experience another Ascension first – that of landing by sea rather than by air at Wideawake Airfield. Tim Severin and I were to leave the ship but had to stay behind to get processed through customs. This caused a dilemma when we finally made it ashore with our luggage. We sheltered from the scorching sun behind a container but it became obvious that we were stuck there unless someone from the Obsidian Hotel came to pick us up. Complications arose because the MOD re-supply ship had also arrived that day and it was in the process of being unloaded. Passengers on ENDEAVOUR were able to dodge the crane and vehicles with containers on them, but we could not. Keddy George from the Ascension Islands Works and Service Agency, was in contact with the Hotel and we arranged to have crew members carry our luggage to a point where we could be picked up. This wasn’t easy because they had to run the gauntlet and execute the task with perfect timing. By the time the job was finished, the hotel vehicle had taken a tactical withdrawal and we had to rely on Keddy again. It was then I decided to walk to the hotel and retrieve the driver and vehicle. When I reached the top of the hill in front of the Exiles Club, Barry Yon was on his way down to rescue us.
A view of Two Boats Village and Travellers from Green Mountain
Tim Severin was given my usual Room in the Annex and I went to Clarence House, where many fond memories awaited. After settling in, I was off to find Sylvia and Betty. Betty was due to depart the next day for three months’ leave on St. Helena. Unfortunately, it was a quick adieu to her, as she was also moving house. Sylvia and I later put the world to rights over a few cool ones on the veranda outside her room. Back at Clarence House the rooms were thronging with singles and families on their way to St. Helena from the Falklands for some well-earned leave. During the mealtime lull, I was able to download all my e-mails and post a few stories. Catching up after 20 days at sea wasn’t easy because there was only one phone in Clarence House and I had to share it with at least 34 other people.
During the afternoon that it began to rain and it flooded everywhere. I gave in and decided to cool off in the lengthy shower as it was too hot at Clarence House. Unlike the horizontal rain in the Falklands, this downpour was vertical and brought relief from an otherwise uncomfortably hot and humid day. Thunder could be heard during the late afternoon/early evening so I decided to polish off the day at the Anchor Bar with Johnny Hobson and Paddy (a Golden Retriever). It was good to chat with friends and to meet some sports fishermen who explained that their catches were plentiful.
Indeed, the sports fishing industry on Ascension Island is really taking off, with four privately owned boats dedicated to taking paying customers out to catch that big one. Along with the legitimate fishermen, there are those, including the Queen Mary II who are stealing a valuable resource from the economic zone that surrounds Ascension Island. With the Maral taking swordfish from the Bonaparte sea-mount 80 NM north of St. Helena along with a few others and the Queen Mary II, hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of resource are being stolen each year. Thanks to genetic tagging, people in port who process these stolen catches can tell whether or not it is stolen and from where. It’s about time something was done about these poachers. Yes, it was this thievery that dominated the discussion at the Anchor Bar that night.
Ascension's Donkeys are part of the fabric of life on the Island. Their future, however, hangs in the balance and they could be eradicated just like the rats and wild cats.
Early in the morning on the 25th, the donkeys did not disappoint and got into the kitchen at Clarence House – for the second time while I was there. In 1999 during my first visit, I was awoken by the same scenario, with one old gal trying, without much success, to open the freezer compartment of the refrigerator. This time, one poor juvenile was still penned in the enclosure when I awoke. What a mess they made. Soap powder was spread all over and rubbish was strewn through the kitchen and the enclosure. It was impossible to lead the donkey through the kitchen again, as angry residents were letting their displeasure towards the donkey be well known. Having pity on the animal I led her through the back gate to join the others who regularly trawl the rubbish each morning. Poor things. The locals are discouraged from feeding them so they not only have resorted to the rubbish but also to stripping wood off of fences to eat. The future of donkeys’ on Ascension is being discussed and their appeal as part of the fabric of life on the Island is in jeopardy.
There is an excellent mix of cultures on Ascension Island. The United States and the United Kingdom participate in the Ascension Day Fair each year. It raises money for St. Mary's Anglican Church in Georgetown.
Like yesterday, the rain was relentless and I took the opportunity to finish and post an introduction to this travel log. E-mails downloaded were dealt with and generally, the bulk of the items which occurred while I was at sea were dealt with. It was still raining until late afternoon The rain was sporadic now and I was able to dodge the puddles on my way to see Cllr. Lawson Henry and his wife, Cllr. Iva Henry. They have been a fountain of advice about Ascension Island politics and are great fixers when things need to be done. Lawson and Iva had been instrumental in the recording of that public meeting on 31 July last year and for encouraging the publication of the transcription of that meeting in the Islander Newspaper. They had put their names forward for election to the first Council on Ascension and were elected.
St. Mary's Anglican Church in Georgetown
I was also able to see the Administrator, Andrew Kettlewell and explain about the poacher I was made aware of on the way to Ascension from St. Helena. It is Andrew’s level-headed coolness under pressure that has helped Ascension’s transition to democracy. Unfriendly newspaper articles had branded the place ripe for revolution and hinted that there might be riots, etc. The publication of the transcript put a stop to all of that and helped all to focus on the democratic process that was unfolding before Islanders’ very eyes.
Tim Severin flew north on the following day and I was able to re-inhabit my old room with its internet access and proximity to Shirley Moice, a friend who works at the Obsidian Hotel. We had become great friends and I recalled an incident that happened at Christmas. Normally I do self catering at the hotel and one evening after dark when I had just arrived in the kitchen, Shirley peered around the corner with a broom in her hand and a look of relief on her face. The same troop of donkeys that had created havoc at Clarence House were eyeing the kitchen at the hotel and Shirley was determined to see them off. We had a good giggle and it was one of my most pleasant Christmas memories – ever.
And what do Vicars do during their free time? Fr. Keith James cleared many a letter box walk on Green Mountain.
An Air Luxor LC 110-11 would be flying me back to the Falklands and I would cover in less than eight hours what it took me 20 days by sea to do. What made the trip special for me was the interaction with friends on each Island that ENDEAVOUR visited. Yes, I will be visiting Ascension many times in future and hopefully St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha and South Georgia will be visited again real soon. Long may ENDEAVOUR make its way up the South Atlantic Ridge. Yes, folks, I’ll be back.