Ascension Island is even smaller and more remote than St. Helena and at the same time even more a continuous surprise. There are only 700 people leaving on the island but all working on a contract and no permanent resident. Nobody can live on the island without an employment contract.
In the 19th century it was a relay station for telegraph services with cables connections to all over the world.
Now it is an important base for the GPS service, a relay station for BBC, an American military base, a base of the European space agency, it has a run way that not long ago was the longest in the world to serve as emergency landing place for the space shuttle. There are antennas of any size and shape as I have never seen before, there is a lot of technology installed but internet is even worst and more expensive than in St. Helena.
Ascension is over 1 million years old volcanic island and when Charles Darwin was here, in 1836, he was informed that any rainfall immediately evaporates in this hot and dry environment.
Apparently once back in the UK Darwin spoke to a botanist and they developed a plan to collect water. In 1847 the navy personnel randomly planted 220 different species of plants on what is now called “Green mountain”.
After a million year of almost no vegetation in short time Ascension Island had a forest that retained water from the mist and the rain.
Today there are a lot of tracks to hike Green Mountain and it is incredible to experience the difference in environment and climate compared to the sea level.
At sea level there are great white beaches in generally black and rocky volcanic scenery. We finally went to swim in a warm sea. The island has also a very reach marine life, during the day it is impossible to through anything in the water because of million trigger fishes, small black fishes related to piranha that immediately eat anything. They also cleaned the back of our boat that was getting quite dirty. Until few years ago the island was a paradise for spear fishing but there had also been few shark attacks. They tell us that from the pontoon they could sometimes count 15 sharks up to 20 feet long swimming close to the beach.
About a year ago the weekly flight was discontinued and today there is only one flight a month that stays for 24 hours, so you can visit the island for just one day or for a full month.
The only hotel in the island closed last year and with the hotel the bakery and other services. We read that there were two car rental companies, we discovered that have one car each.
The provisioning for the island comes by ship once a month, but they told us that the last ship forgot to load for Ascension. The locals where not that surprised as apparently it was not the first time, they will just have to wait another month.
Internet here is really bad and expensive, we pay 6 pounds per hour or 20 pounds per day per device and it is slow and inconsistent.
On the 29th of October after only two days on Ascension Island we see a good weather window and decide to leave to Cape Verde on the 30th, we clear out and as we know that there are security issues in Cape Verde I contact the Marina in Mindelo that is known to be very safe. In the afternoon they reply that they are fully booked because of few sailing rallies stopping there, it was a surprise as I thought we were still early for their peak season. Mindelo is the only place in Cape Verde with a safe Marina and reading more on noonsite, and other cruising forums, we discover that anchoring in Cape Verde can be dangerous. I spend the entire day looking at alternatives and by the evening the next closest viable marina appeared to be in French Guyana (north of Brazil) about 2,500 miles away from Ascension instead of 1,700 of Mindelo. We need a marina because we may need to leave the boat for a week in a safe place to travel to Europe.
Going to French Guyana offer us the opportunity of a short stop, just half way, in Fernando da Noronha Archipelago, west of Brazil that is considered to be an amazing marine reserve. Going west also has the advantage of more favourable winds and the possibility to spend the season in the Caribbean before sailing back to Europe. However, our current plan to go back to Europe, requires additional sailing of 4,600 miles, and going to Europe requires much longer and expensive flights.
The rest of the day is spent on the internet to buy online maps of Brazil and Caribbean, research a completely new area, browse the guides we have onboard, call friends that have sailed that part of the world, try to change the itinerary on our insurance.
By the end of the day we are still not convinced about where to go.
I also join the OCC (Ocean Cruising Club), they connect me with their port officer in Mindelo that is also manager of the marina. He says the security is not an issue in Mindelo even if at the Anchor and that they almost always have a berth available even during the Arc presence.
On the 30th we are considering again going to Mindelo (Cape Verde) mitigating the security issues in one of the following ways:
- have the berth in the marina during the Arc (according to the marina this is almost always possible)
- go to an hotel and hire a security guy for the five days the boat has to be at the anchor (if we do not get the berth)
- leave Mindelo before the Arc boats arrive (subject to weather)
By lunch time we decide for Mindelo, visit the customs again and leave for a passage of about 10-11 days…