Ascension Island

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:

  1. have the berth in the marina during the Arc (according to the marina this is almost always possible)
  2. 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)
  3. 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…

St. Helena to Ascension

We sadly have to leave St. Helena at 2pm of the 21st of October with about 700 miles to go before arriving to Ascension Island.

The wind is 10-15 knots from SE exactly from the back and we know that there is no easy way to get diesel in Ascension. We decide to not use the engines to save our diesel for the next passage to Cape Verde and we only sail even when we go at 3 knots with 7 knots from the back. Fortunately, there is not much swell and we are on a catamaran so the sails stay relatively stable even with light wind.
We have to gybe frequently to take advantage of small shifts of wind and we sail all day with a symmetric spinnaker and only the main in the nights. It was a good practice hoisting the spinnaker and the main preventer from side to side so often.
We also have very few hours in a couple of days with more than 15kn and we enjoy over 10 knots speed, but in average it has been our slowest passage ever.
It is our slowest passage ever, but probably also the most comfortable, in good company, finally warm weather and great skies.

We arrive in Ascension bay at 8pm of the 26th of October in complete dark, after almost 800 miles at an overall average just above 6 knots and only two hours engine (just to leave the anchorage and landing). We call Ascension Radio at arrival that tells us about the entry procedure, we go ashore the next morning and there is a single office for Port Control, Customs and Immigration. As in St. Helena also here all the formalities are very easy.
We are the only yacht in Ascension bay as most yachts go directly to Brazil from St. Helena. Wairima and Phoenix 11 are now sailing west.

St. Helena

The day after our arrival also Wairima and Phoenix 11 join us in the mooring field, they are going towards Brazil as most of the yachts stopping here.

(yes there is a whale at the anchorage between Eidos and Wairima)

We spend our first day in Jamestown gathering information about the island, it is Saturday and almost everything is closed. In the evening there is a fish fry at the St Helena Yacht Club where we start meeting some local sailors. We talk a lot with James who is the founder of the yacht club, he sailed over 40,000 miles in his five years circumnavigation with wife and three children arriving back to St. Helena in 2016. He also runs “St Helena Yacht Services” providing all sort of services to the yachts visiting the island.

There are no many tourists in town and we feel that every “saint” here knows about us (the St Helena residents are called saints). Saints are extremely friendly, there are just 4,000 people in the all island that has few villages. Apparently there are also about 4,000 cars, we saw plate number “1” and few other single digit plates.

Jamestown is tiny and I soon develop a daily routine that includes:

  • some work on the boat before going to land
  • coffee and internet at the Consulate Hotel chatting with Hazel (owner of the hotel from Botswana) and Peter (former professor of Physics at Oxford university and now helping at the hotel and owner of a farm in St. Helena)
  • hunting for something for the boat at one of the Solomon’s shops (almost all shops are owned by the Solomon Family)
  • some type of excursion
  • swim at a very nice fresh water public swimming poll situated on the seafront
  • stop for a beer at the yacht club before returning to the boat, where we meet the other cruisers or some locals

We spend nine days in St Helena and we could easily stay much longer. We walked up Jacob’s lather (699 steps), visited the “most remote” distillery in the world, had a very informative tour with Robert (the oldest guide on the island – now 82 with a mother over 100), met Jonathan an over 180 years old turtle that they claim is currently the oldest living land animal, visited the Napoleon sites, had some walks (not enough), spent time with locals.

There is so much history and variety in the environment for a such small island in the middle of the Southern Atlantic Ocean that we are continuously surprised.
We were told the island was very expensive, in general we did not find it being the case other than for the internet, the vegetables and the ferry service to go ashore from the boat. Because of the surge it is not always recommended to land with the dinghy – in Cape Town they also told us that the ferry guys do not like cruisers using their own dinghy and that some dinghies disappeared, I do not believe this is true.

The ferry service is managed by Port Control to provide to local fishermen a simple and free service to reach their boats at the buoys and it is also available to visiting yachts for 2 pounds per person (plus extra for after-hours trips), it is a great idea but the guy managing it is very moody and can be rude and aggressive making the experience unpleasant. He also lied about the latest time to return to the boat (it is 7pm and not 6pm as he tells you!). The local yacht club is trying to improve the way dinghies can be left at the landing, but there is a lot of tension about this matter as the ferry guys also get tips and they would lose their extra income from yachts (not immaterial and probably tax-free as we did not have any receipt).

I hope Port Control will do something about it as this was the only unpleasant experience on an island that otherwise was extremely welcoming and worth visiting.