A Travellerspoint blog

November 2008

Almost there now...

It's only 3more days on a boat!

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

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The Bridge radar scan when anchored in Georgetown Bay

It's a bit strange. Leaving Ascension, the mood aboard is very different. Though we only gained a few new passengers, the balance seems to suddenly be very different. The sky is mostly semi-overcast, and though still hot, we've seen very little sun for a couple of days now. The general feeling is now almost one of almost anger that we are so close yet so far, and people are becoming withdrawn. Everybody knows it's only just a couple of days more, but instead of anticipation, we seem to have more frustration that we aren't there yet. It's very odd.

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Loading luggage onboard from the pontoons; Georgetown, Ascension Islands capital city; the pontoons departing having done the job, and the piranha-like blackfish. Not tasty for humans, but hungry and lots of the blighters

Ascension itself is an interesting if strange place. Effectively it is one big transit lounge, and added to the status and types of people that live there, it just doesn't seem quite right. It also fulfills a number of very special roles: It's a major hub in the transatlantic and South Africa to Europe communication cable networks, once of crucial significance. It's a major repeater station for the BBC world service, and is one of the base stations for the worlds GPS system, and has also been a NASA tracking station amongst much else. Having said that, even though i had barely an hour ashore in daylight, it looks varied and in places beautiful, and certainly some areas would be worthy of more time and exploration, particularly Green Mountain. I kind of doubt that I will ever go back, but it certainly wouldn't be the end of the world if i was to one day get stuck there for a couple of days.

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Watching Ascension disappear into the background, some of the Geology and strata of the North east coast around Boatswain Bird Island, and this happy fellow who flew alongside us - with the Dolphins again coming out to play as we departed - for some time before getting bored

I am spending my last couple of days as I have most of the rest. Some reading, some talking, and a chunk of just milling around and watching the sea slide by. There were however, a couple of new diversions: First up, a tour of the engine rooms and ships belly - despite obviously being huge, I was surprised at how small the diesels actually are, whilst my abiding memory is one of amazement at just how many pipes and electrical cables there are down below. I also tried, unsuccessfully to solve some of the little mysteries that the ship had given me, such as 'What happened to the clock above the pool which suddenly disappeared?' (it's in pieces being fixed) and why does the lift show a maximum of 8psg and 600kgs on the top floor, but 8psg and 630kgs on the other 2 floors?? (gravity? stupidity? It remains entirely unknown - none of the ship's staff had ever noticed it before. At least I have the satisfaction that it will now annoy certain other people, and not just myself!)

Slightly bizarrely, we were also given a full rollcall and lifeboat drill. Now, call me picky, but why the heck you wait for the last 24hours of a 16day trip to hold such a drill was a little beyond me. Whilst i freely accept that we had been joined by some new passengers (15) at Ascension, that didn't really help the exiting 91 who had been on the ship the whole way and through both much busier sea lanes and choppy seas where there may have been more cause for concern. Oh well. Who am i to tell these people what to do?

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The waters are choppier than they have been, and with Captain Young seemingly in a hurry to get home, we are still barreling along at a great rate of knots without any stabilisers (well, stabiliser, as the other one fell off during a recent dry dock overhaul, and hasn't been re-attached). By all accounts, we will even be a few hours early. As for me and my mood, it's also a bit strange. Some anticipation, some excitement, some relief, some sadness and some anxiety. But regardless of all that, i'm inching relentlessly closer to St. Helena, this almost mythical Island I have been hearing about for so damned long.

Roll on tomorrow.

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Above: Nobody ever explained what this marker mean't (it used to mean plague...) when it suddenly appeared on a cabin door, and below, position plotted. We're finally almost home!

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Posted by Gelli 12:21 Archived in St Helena Tagged boating Comments (1)

Land-ho? Who the dickens left that big rock there?

The wonders of Ascension

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

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Now I know what Captain Smith of the Titanic thought. You have vast, almost unmentionable amounts of empty sea to pass through, and what happens? You suddenly discover that you are bearing down on the only piece of anything for hundreds of miles in any direction. How unlucky is that?!

It is a very strange and unnerving sensation to still be wobbling about and cushioning yourself from the ships rolling when you are in fact on solid dry land. And it looks bleedin' ridiculous as well. Never the less, after 11 days at sea, this is the situation we found ourselves in after landing at Georgetown, Ascension Island for our one and only stop. In an odd way, I hadn't wanted to arrive at Ascension at all – we had such a good group of people and I was enjoying myself so much, that part of me kind of wanted the voyage to just go on and on.

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Waiting for land to appear. We know it's there somewhere...
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Ah-ha! There it is

Much faffing had gone on surrounding our arrival on Ascension and subsequent possibility to go ashore. Whilst the actual landing was never really in doubt, the day, timing and amount of time were. As it was, by the time we arrived around 4.30pm, MOD flight timings had been confirmed and departure plans for the following morning had been fixed, we were reduced to a quick evening trip. By the time we had disembarked onto the pontoon and launch, made it ashore and passed through immigration and customs, it was already 6pm, and we had less than an hour of daylight.

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Climbing down the stairs to the pontoon, before getting on the launch to shore.

Thus we we're treated to a whistle stop tour of Ascension Island. It is a strange place: A British overseas territory (as part of the British Atlantic territories with Tristan da Cunha, and administered from St. Helena) but with a large America airbase on the Island which the British have only very limited rights of access/usage, and though there are roughly 1000 inhabitants, there are officially no permanent residents and people have no right of abode. In theory, all jobs are related to the base, and once employment ceases, the inhabitants – virtually all non military personel are genetically St. Helenians - must leave. Which means that it is currently possible for somebody to be born on the Island, go to school there, start work at 17 on the base and work all the way through to 65 without ever living away from the Island (or, though more unlikely, never even physically leaving the Island), only to be kicked off and told to 'go home' on retirement age. The fact that Ascension is home, and all they have ever known, is irrelevant. They must leave. The reasons are long, complicated, contradictory and generally grossly unfair and have to do with American military might. The plight of the Chagos Islanders in the Indian ocean (which were bought from the Maldives by the British in the 60's, and then were all unceremoniously kicked off in the 1970's to make way for the UK/US Diego Garcia base) and who recently had a high court ruling overturned by the House of Lords preventing their return to the Diego Garcia atoll – though for the last few years they have had limited access and rights to other atolls in the chain - is one watched with keen interest in these parts who fear similar fates on Ascension.

We were taken on a brief drive through the American base area, the British barracks, up Green Mountain with it's steep winding roads and sheer drops, through the Two Boats residential area and back to the capital, Georgetown. It was a combination of desolate, dusty, rocky land, interspersed with scrub and and cactus, with occasional assorted settlements and odd things you didn't really expect to see – a ballistic missile lying on the ground, a baseball square with a game in full swing, a canoe upended in sandy desert inland – that on reflection did kind of make sense. Donkeys and sheep (Yay! sheep!) roamed at will, and banana grew in abundance.

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Sadly, Green mountain was covered in mist and clouds so after roughly half way we were unable to see the views (though some of the more squeemish were also spared the drops off the side of the rough gravel road, especially on one or two of the more interesting 3pint turns require by our knackered old minibus to make it round hairpin bends at gradients of 25%ish. At the top we were given a quick talk about the flora and fauna, much of which is unique to Green Mountain National Park but due to time, mist and the rapidly setting sun weren't able to go for a proper walk around the peak: something that after 11days on ship being more or less force fed, i desperately needed!

After a quick stop to see some crabs – actually crab singular, who, poor thing, was intercepted whilst merrily on his way and picked up and exhibited to us all possibly not of his own free will – we returned to Georgetown in pitch darkness. We went for a quick drink in the bar of the Islands only hotel, the Obsidian hotel, which was a bizarre place. It had a definite colonial feel to it, but also seemed to resemble an old railway station or one on a preserved steam line. And it also had the definite time warp feel of being back 50years. And yet, in all that and despite being miles from absolutely anywhere, i was able to get a bottle of an excellent English ale, Black Sheep, which was most bizarre.

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Ascension Crab (top) and the Anchor Inn at the Obsidian hotel

Barely 3hours after leaving the RMS, we were back on board. The Americans object to people staying ashore/visiting unless they really have to, so we spent the night onboard, eating fish and chips, and watching some of the lads and crew fish off the back of the boat with decent success. After an hour or so, a large school of dolphins and porpoises, probably drawn by the smell of the bait, came and joined us, and spent the rest of the evening entertaining us.

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bye-bye Ascension

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Sadly, Dolphins jumping at night are not the most conducive to photography, so here's some pics of the boys fishing instead

Posted by Gelli 09:10 Archived in Ascension Island Comments (0)

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