A Travellerspoint blog

October 2008

Crossing the line

sunny 28 °C

At 09:37 on Saturday 18th October, we crossed the equator. Toilets stopped in mid flush and started swirling in the opposite direction. In practical terms, it means absolutely nothing except we are marginally closer to our destination than an hour before. We are about as far from land as we will be on the run to St. Helena, and on the bridge the ship tracker shows not a single vessel within 250nautical miles.

In reality though, it make a huge difference. In nautical history, crossing the line is a major psychological boost, and for hundreds of years, the ceremony of crossing the line has been performed at sea. Historically, it is performed on anybody crossing for the first time (this includes navy vessels) and whilst there is no fixed routine, you will generally get tarred, feathered, and dunked at the very least. At the very least, you will get very, very messy.

For us, we didn't get the chance to decide, and 3names were chosen at random (plus the kids), and I admit to being amazed that I wasn't on there. Andy, Caroline and Protiea were good sports, and the officers led by Neptune Queen of the Sea, let loose. Perhaps pictures are more appropriate here...


















Posted by Gelli 04:01 Archived in Ascension Island Tagged boating Comments (1)

The alternative version of events...

View The boat to St. Helena - Part 2 & The boat to St. Helena - Part 1 on Gelli's travel map.

The trip to Ascension. All waypoints (except the first after leaving Portland) are accurate

Certain people, and you know who you are, have been commenting on my lovely blog layout. Specifically, why idiot me, the confirmed non flyer who has just spent 16days on a ship, is using an airport backdrop. The answer is why the heck not. Or alternatively, why the heck not.

It had been strange. I had felt nothing leaving Sweden (no excitement, pleasure, disappointment, sadness). Just nothingness. Ignoring a brief moment of very deep "eeek" as i watched Calais, and Europe, disappear at 4am one windy morning, this had continued through my time in the Uk. Surely I should be feeling more anticipation or excitement, before such a long and new trip? But i wasn't, and that worried me!

As I sit in the glorious sunshine in a clear blue sky, sipping a cold beer whilst awaiting the dinner call and sunset, I watch the wake of the ship and mesmerising small waves, and seeing absolutely no ships in any direction, I can't help but laugh at all those flying fanatics. This is just fantastic. It's amazing just how quickly 14days at sea can fly by, and how little you do, whilst still seemingly having no time whatsoever.

Bizarrely, I had a perfect journey down to Portland with not a single hiccup an even discovered that i had arrived on the correct day. I watched some of the cargo being loaded – there seems to be a lot – and had dinner before heading up on deck in time to see us finally depart at 20.36, roughly 4hours late and over 6hours since i first boarded.

The crossing of the notorious Bay of Biscay was a bit rough, but by far the calmest I have ever seen it, and in mostly good weather. A few days later we steamed between Tenerife and Grand Canaria in early evening, allowing us to see if both in daylight, with the sunset, and with the night lights. The weather has been mostly clear and hot and gorgeous, and the occasional short patches of rain, or whipping winds have been welcome as a way of refreshing yourself.

Life onboard the RMS St. Helena is not the most stressed. There are vast quantities of food available, with meals offering up to 7 courses, should you so desire. There are 2 bars on board with rates being very reasonable indeed, though having set up a tab for the journey, i hope i don't get a nasty shock at the end....

After a fairly timid first night, i started moving around to try and get talking to many of the other 90passengers. I seem to fill a niche half way between the Saints and tourists, of whom there are roughly 30, mostly retired, who are continuing to Cape Town after a week on St. Helena. The rest of the passengers comprise a half dozen or so consultants or Brits being sent out to work on the island for fixed terms, a half dozen British enthusiasts/St. Helena fans who have been out a number of previous attempts, and maybe 50 saints (or honorary saints) returning home for either short/shortish visits or permanently after spells of between 6months and 12years away. As soon as I started to mention who I was, word got out and I was welcomed with increasingly open arms like a long lost family member, as indeed i am to a couple of passengers.

Days are spent eating, dozing, talking to other passengers (and crew, most of whom are Saints themselves and know many of the passengers very well), and just gazing at the sea, something that has long been a favored hobby of mine. In between, the excellent cheery South African purser Claude arranges any number of entertainments to keep us occupied or drunk or both. All are voluntary participation, but most are well attended. They range from videos, relevant documentaries and talks, to movies, music, card games, quizzes and chess, to numerous deck sports: cricket, quoits, deck tennis, shuffleboard, bowling, frog racing and more. Evenings often have special receptions, but also include after dinner activities such as a casino and pub nights, fancy dress, cabaret and disco. Relatives have been discovered, acquaintances made and friendships forged.

But really, the best part is just sitting here in the glorious sun. Not just the realisation that i could be stuck in an increasingly chilly Sweden and sat at work (he he he), but gazing out over the rythmic waves and sea slide past, punctuated only by the occasional passing ship, whale or migrating bird, the boatloads of illegal immigrants (only once), wisps of cloud or sunset, and vast schools of dolphins or flying fish.

THIS is the life.

((photos will follow))

Posted by Gelli 10:24 Tagged boating Comments (1)

There's allot of that watery ocean stuff out there.

No, really. There is.

View The boat to St. Helena - Part 1 on Gelli's travel map.

Excerpts from a voyage log. It goes something like this.

Day 1.
It is good to see the strict 2 cabin bags per person only, of a maximum 20kg each, being adhered to. One of the guys in my cabin has 6 large cases, and is still missing 2 bags. For my part, neither of mine have turned up and as we set sail 20mins ago, that has to worry me slightly.

Day 2.
This REALLY is a strange boat. It's creepy. Everybody seems to know who i am, and all know my family history much better than I do. I even have cousins on board who i have never previously heard of. I'm already utterly confused, and fear it can only get worse. To top it off, one of my cabin mates seems too be, erm, overly religious. Formerly a Jehovah's Witness, now a messenger of god or some rubbish. The first thing i said was a pre-emptive clarity of position “I am fascinated by religion, but hate people trying to convert me, and am not above torture if they try” and i'm not sure that has helped. He talks and prays in his sleep, and has already established that i am a soul that requires deep help and salvation – no sh1t - (as I am a believer of evolution) and i have that deep sinking feeling that this is going to be a loooong trip.

Day 3.
After breakfast, tea and coffee are laid out in one of the 2 lounges to help yourself to until lunch. Intriguingly, a bottle of Tabasco sauce was also laid out. I can thus confirm that tea and Tabasco make for an interesting and tasty refreshment, though not necessarily one I would choose to drink again regularly. I'd also suggest against using full-fat milk.

Day 4.
I am being prepared to be the main course. It is the only explanation that makes sense. This voyage is becoming a constant stream of meals and food being stuffed down my throat, and i can only assume that I am being fattened up before being killed. The only respite i have is after dinner, after which I am instead being plied with copious amounts of booze....

Day 5.
Gawd blimey. What the heck has the guy done to his feet? You can more or less smell his boots a nautical mile away, and when you are attempting to share an 18sq ft cabin with them, that is not necessarily a good thing. I might be coming delirious with the toxious odor, but am increasingly fantasising about flinging them overboard. The only problem being, i would have to pick them up and move them, and even with such a big prize that is not a pleasant thought.

Day 6.
Make discovery that Tabasco is actually an accompaniment to 'Beef Tea' that occasionally appears. Discovery is made after i accidentally use wrong tea pot. Again, I would suggest against using full-fat milk, or to be fair, any milk.

Day 7.
The Locusts have arrived, in increasing sizes and of occasionally impressive (EG: Barbeque-able) sizes. I'm not perhaps as au fait with the Bible as I should be, but have a vague idea that a plague of locusts is not necessarily a good sign.

Day 8.
It is slightly tepid. Marginally temperate you might even say, and continues to increase.

Day 9.
I haven't seen a ship, light, boat or land in 2days, and it just gets hotter and hotter and stickier and stickier. And thats not even mentioning the weather which is boiling, and with vast humidity. I'm now beginning to think that perhaps they aren't fattening me up to kill and put in a pot. I will roast (or possibly steamed. Maybe both) alive before they can achieve that. And if for some reason neither of those occurs, I am now so fat that i will require the assistance of the winch and cargo cranes on-board to be able to disembark.

The second curry cup cricket test in the battle for the North Atlantic ashes has been abandoned due to rain and dolphins. Now there's an excuse you won't hear on test match Special.

Day 10.
Why, oh why, oh why, oh why.

Day 11.
I am halucinating. I can see something pointy and grey with some almost green-ish tints. I almost thought I was drinking Old Speckled Hen in an old colonial railway station at one point.

Day 12.
Feck me, look at all them fish! Are all fish supposed to be so large and with pointy triangular things on their backs?

Day 13.

Day 14.
Land ho? No? Oh.

Posted by Gelli 11:56 Tagged boating Comments (6)

The Where and The Why

On May 21st, 1502, a Portuguese admiral named Joao da Nova was returning home after winning a battle off the West coast of India, when he got slightly lost and stumbled across a hither unto unknown rock. Said rock is less than 50square miles in size, the top of an extinct volcano, and thus certainly not flat. There were no sandy beaches, and it had a a foreboding look to it. But it was new, and land, and thus exciting. Kind of. After exploring the Island, he discovered it uninhabited, but full of wildlife and vegetation, and he swiftly realised that he had found a strategically important new location, as a source of fresh water, meat, fruit and vegetables. Improbably and also impressively, the Portuguese made extensive use of it for the next 80years, whilst keeping it's existence completely secret from the rest of the world. The Island, in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, had been discovered on the anniversary of the Mother of Emperor Constantine, St. Helena, and was thus named in her honour.

Most people who have heard of St. Helena know if it as the place where Napoleon was finally imprisoned and died. After his escape from Elba and his recapture, he was brought to St. Helena in 1815, the idea being that it was so remote and so hard to get to, that there would be no way he could ever escape again, and he died on the island in 1821. Even today, and with modern transport, St. Helena is remote.

The nearest land of any description is another tiny Island in the same group, Ascension Island which is over 1200km North and home to a military air strip. Angola, to the East is 2000km away and Brazil in the West almost 3000km. The nearest city of any relevance and help to the people of St. Helena is Cape Town, is 3200km away. As there is no airport or airstrip, you must travel by ship. For over 5days.

And, excepting occasional cruise ships which call, but which cannot be used to get to/from the island, there is just a single ship. The RMS St. Helena, the last British Mail Ship in existence, which supplies the island with everything: Post, Food, Booze, Cement, Vehicles and Pogo Sticks. You name it, it comes on a solitary ship. The boat calls an average of twice a month, running to and from Cape Town, shuttles to Ascension, occasional trips to Namibia, and twice a year to England. The longest gap between calls is 6weeks. That's six weeks with no supplies from the outside world, and this can be longer if the boat has mechanical trouble...

So now you have worked out where I am going, and how, the question which most people have is “Are you mad?”. To which the answer is, obviously, yes. The other question is “why?”. In a way, the answer is because it seemed a good idea at the time, though there is a little more to it than that. After the Portuguese secret was discovered, the island changed hands, with the English, Dutch and East India Company all getting involved before it became a British possession in 1833 which it remains to this day. At one point, and before the Suez canal opened, over 1000ships a year used to call to resupply, or to leave sick crew, and so it became a fairly cosmopolitan place. Somewhere along the line, two ancestors of mine arrived, and stayed on the island long enough for roots to be put down, and my paternal grandmother was born there.

Nowadays, the island is a tiny British possession, relying mostly on British government support, increasingly forgotten since the opening of the Suez canal, and general drop in maritime transport, and with no airstrip, now struggles along with a population of under 4000 and contact with the outside world every 2weeks. But it is one where I am related to a large proportion of the population (yeah, yeah, I'm an inbred), and thus I have long had the urge to visit to find out more about my ancestry, and what it is like to live somewhere so remote. For 4 months. And yes, that suddenly seems like a frickin long time to be stuck somewhere, unable to leave, especially when it is so small. In the last 10years or so, I've not spent more than 3months in any one country, let alone what is essentially a fairly spread out volcanic village. This could get interesting.

Thus in 18hours, I will be sailing from Portland (the UK one, not the one in Oregon) and 16ish days later, hurricanes and storms not withstanding, will arrive on St. Helena, from where this tale will recommence. I hope.

Posted by Gelli 10:18 Archived in St Helena Tagged preparation Comments (7)

It's time to escape. Again

It's been a long, hard few months.

Or, looked at another way, 2008 has yet to really ingratiate itself with me.

The year started more or less as it mean't to go on. The wonders of British Rail (or whatever the heck they were called that month) and over running engineering mean't a nice 5 train 26hour trip home from Holyhead – after New Year in Ireland – took me over 40hours, 16trains, a boat and a bus, plus a missed meeting and 150euro extra cost. And that was a good day.

By the time i had got to May, I reckon that i had paid something like 1500euro extra for travel, due to assorted problems from other people, and been delayed for about 100hours. For which, despite filling out numerous forms and spending feck knows how long trying to talk to useful (or even any) humans, i received not a single penny, cent or ore in compensation. My “i wish i could send them letter bomb's instead of Christmas cards” list currently includes Network Rail, Virgin Trains, Eurostar, SNCF, DB, SNCB, Skanetrafiken, the AA, Kiki, Gemeente Delft, SouthWestTrains, First bus in Somerset, Försäkringskassan, Migrationsverket, Swedish Police, Länstyrelssen, T-K and several others. At one point it was so bad, I almost voluntarily flew...

Whilst ther ehave certainly been some good moments, there have not been enough. And when you add in the hassle of trying to fix a parking ticket that never was (useless Dutch b*stards – Despite having spent a chunk of time there over the last 15years, and loving it, I am now advising everybody to under no circumstances ever visit the city of Delft again), a dent i put in a hire car when i was half asleep, and another which was vandalised by youthful thugs, and I've unexpectedly lost close to 3000euros this year, for which only one dent and 500euro is in any way my fault, and despite fighting long and hard in all cases to get some kind of apology, compensation or something. And it's really not a great sign when the economy is collapsing around you and you suddenly need to start being much more careful with money. Then there was the incident in Italy and assorted issues, w*rk being, well, w*rk, the wonderful return of Kiki and several other things. At that point the Swedish government came up with a cunning attempt to somehow screw me over with ever virtually every single department. Thus at the moment, I have no right of residency right, am not in the national social insurance scheme, have no driving licence, and in a moment of culminatory glory, had my birth certificate “accidentally” destroyed by the Swedish police. When i complained, they told me to report it to the Swedish police...

With 30 also suddenly rapidly approaching, it all adds up to only one thing. I need a break. Perhaps another trip would be in order. After all, it's been over 2years since i got back from the last proper trip. Luckily, stunningly, you could almost say brilliantly, I had had the foresight last autumn, no less, about the same thing, and before all the rubbish i am complaining about above (all offers of help on any of the above, greatfully received) had even occurred, had started to make arrangements for my next trip.

“Arrangements a year in advance?!”, I hear you cry, or perhaps would if my ears weren't so blocked. What on earth made me, someone who rarely knows which country he will be in that same evening, make even vague plans so far ahead, let alone a booking. The answer is one that confuses even me, but as you will have no doubt guessed, is somewhere a little different...

I even managed to spend my second to last night in the UK, not sitting having a curry and beer with old friends as had been planned, but by the side of a main road waiting 4hours for the breakdown crew, after the clutch in the van i was driving utterly collapsed. Oh yay.

Thus after the hassle of this year, leaving comes not a moment too soon.

Posted by Gelli 06:54 Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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