Eclectic St. Helena

As always, I end up taking lots of pictures that don't really fit into any particular blog post or story I tell, but I think they're interesting enough to share with you. See what I mean. St. Helena is sometimes called “the Galapagos of the South Atlantic”. It is home to over 500 endemic fauna species and 85 endemic flora, all evolved since the island's volcanic beginnings c.14 million years ago. We saw several species of birds, of which only the wirebird, is endemic.


We saw peaceful doves, pigeons (they're everywhere), pheasant, tropic birds, noddies and boobies. More species like sooty terns (wideawakes), petrels, shearwaters and gannets were seen offshore.

bird collage

We couldn't find a dedicated bakery in Jamestown. Solomon's supermarket bakes bread daily and people wait in line for it to come out of the oven, just after 10am. Then, they wait in line to slice their bread on the automatic, do-it-yourself, bread slicer. I had to ask a local for instructions in order to get our bread sliced.

diy bread slicer on st. helena island

We began doing Internet at Anne's Place, a cruiser hangout, when there are cruisers visiting. We ended up doing Internet at The Consulate Hotel. The price was the same, but they offered free hot showers to cruisers, the cafe served good French press coffee and the garden area was a pleasant place to do Internet.

consulate hotel


marcie doing internet at the consulate hotel st. helena island

We met a fellow on the wharf who trained bio-security and search and rescue dogs. He had Poppy with him that particular day whose specialty was drugs. We were safe, we didn't have any. She was also a good ball fetcher and we played with her while chatting with Paul. When we headed down to catch the ferry, much to our surprise, she jumped aboard with us, and took a ride out to the boat. It took all our efforts to keep her from jumping aboard Cups with us.

poppy on the ferry at st. helena island

Prickly pear grows wild on the island and the locals make a clear alcoholic spirit known as tungi (pronounced toon-gee) from it. We tried in vain to taste some without buying a whole bottle, but without any luck. It seems the best place to do a tasting was at the St. Helena Distillery (near Longwood), the most remote distillery in the world. We missed our chance. Darn!

tunga st. helena island Some days the anchorage was calm and serene, other days the wind and waves were up. Surge is a definite problem at the ferry dock, especially at high tide. We had to time our exit and entry from the ferry very carefully on high surge days.

big waves on st. helena island


big waves at the ferry dock

Throughout the island, there are “gates”. White Gate, Red Gate, Longwood Gate and more. They're quite scenic and were traditionally used to contain pastured livestock.

white gate

Gnarly old thorn trees lined the road on the way to Diana's Peak and reminded us of some old fairy tale forest.

gnarly old thorn trees on st. helena island

We spent lots of time on the island, but once back on Nine of Cups, we had a chance to relax. David used up some old lines to make some ocean plait rugs.

david has a cuppa on deck of nine of cups

Last, but not least, the Jamestown Gut viewed from the top of Ladder Hill. The local word “gut” means valley in Saint lingo.

jamestown gut on st. helena island

Just one more St. Helena blog to go and then we'll move on. Stay tuned for “Then and Now”, our view of how things have changed since our last visit in 2007.

Climbing Jacob's Ladder

David was adamant that he wanted to climb Jacob's Ladder. It's a thing tourists do on St. Helena Island ... though the Saints themselves seldom do it any more. I mean, why would you if you don't have to? You can see the ladder from most any point in Jamestown … clinging to the mountainside. view of jacobs ladder from the waterfront st. helena island

At night, the steps are illuminated and make a wonderful sight from afar.

jacobs ladder at night st. helena island

Originally built in 1829 as a tramway, the “ladder” was initially used to remove manure from cattle and livestock in Jamestown and haul it “up country” to improve soil conditions. Donkeys were hitched to a windlass at the top to haul carts up the steep inclined plane. People traveled in boxes. A trip to the top took 7.5 minutes. Really? I'm thinking this might take me a bit longer. Standing at the bottom, the top looked a long, long way up, up, up as it stretched to the heavens.

looking up at jacobs ladder st. helena island

We chose mid-morning for this strenuous task while it was still cool. We started at the base of the steps near the Museum. Did I mention Jacob's Ladder has 699 steps? 699 uneven, crumbling, steep, steep steps!

jacobs ladder

Fairy terns and tropic birds soared gracefully above and below us as we climbed. I found any excuse to stop and take a rest. A few flowers poking up through the volcanic rock along the side? Absolutely a photo opp.

flower break on jacobs ladder st helena island

Oh, here's some graffitti that I feel I should photograph.

graffiti break jacobs ladder st. helena island

Ah, more views of the wharf …

wharf view from jacobs ladder st. helena island

And the half way mark (thank goodness!)

half way on jacobs ladder st. helena island

and the red-roofed town of Jamestown below.

jamestown st. helena island

Finally, we made it to the top. David was barely winded. Me? Well, let's just say I made it and leave it at that. The record for climbing the ladder is 5 minutes and change. Our time? 34 minutes, 20 seconds. The views made the climb worthwhile (really!). Nine of Cups looked so tiny down below as a tropic bird swooped over her.

nine of cups down below

At the top of Ladder Hill stands the Ladder Hill Fort, one of the first lines of military defense built by the early settlers. It's in pretty sad shape, but still interesting to walk around.

ladder hill fort st. helena island

Some of the old buildings are occupied or used for storage, but most are showing the effects of time and weathering.

ladder hill fort st. helena island

Now, of course, we needed to get back down. We chose the long, steep, switchbacked road down to town. The ladder would have been quicker, but we'd already seen those sights. The fastest way down? Some of the locals slide down the handrails on their backs, using their arms and legs as brakes. Yikes! We took the the road.

walking back down to jamestown st. helena

We noticed a plaque on the cliff above the road as we were heading down in memory of nine people who were killed by a massive rockfall in 1890. Massive chain nets and fences now line the faces of the cliffs to prevent such occurrences.

rock fall plaque st. helena island

It was a long, steep walk down, but we finally made it to sea level again. We stopped at the Standard Pub for a well-deserved beer and then made our way down Main Street to the ferry dock for a ride back to Cups … exhausted, and just a little bit chuffed! It's going to be an Ibuprofen night!

Want to climb Jacob's Ladder with us? Take a look at this video.

RMS St. Helena

Last of the Royal Mail Ships

The port was all a-bustle today. The wharf was swarming with busy workers. Forklifts and cranes moved pallets and containers. The RMS St. Helena was arriving soon and all was being made ready for her arrival. The RMS St. Helena is “one of only two ocean-going vessels in the world still to carry the venerable title of Royal Mail Ship, held in the past by so many famous British passenger liners.”

rms st. helena on approach

Since the island does not have an airport (yet … a new one opens in Feburary 2016), the Saints have long depended upon passing ships to provide all their supplies and passenger service, as well as deliver the mail. According to Wiki, the island was “occasionally served by ships of the Union Castle Line, which ran between the UK and South Africa. By the 1970s, the number of ships taking this route had declined significantly and Union-Castle withdrew from the route completely at the end of 1977.” The British government purchased the Northland Prince, refitted her as part-passenger/part-cargo ship to service this remote South Atlantic island dependency and appropriately renamed her the RMS St. Helena.

rms st. helena at jamestown

“Originally built in 1963, this converted 3,150 ton ship had room to carry 76 passengers and supplies. The ship was used by the British Royal Navy during the Falklands Wars as a minesweeper support ship. By the 1980s, however, it became apparent that the ship was too small for the island's needs, resulting in the new St Helena, being built in 1989 ... and launched in 1990.” The new St. Helena is modern, has berths for a maximum of 156 passengers plus 56 officers and crew, including a doctor. She also sports a gym, a swimming pool and all sorts of creature comforts. Her normal route is Cape Town-St. Helena-Ascension Island-St. Helena-Cape Town.

welcome rms st. helena

We spotted her on the horizon while we were still ashore, waiting for the water taxi. A half hour later, from Nine of Cups' deck, we watched as the St. Helena made her way slowly to the anchorage. We heard the rumble and clang of the anchor as it dropped and then her deep, resonant whistle sounded that she was safe and settled in. Within minutes, officials and passenger transport vessels hovered around her like bees on a flower. Once the passengers were offloaded, the lighters (small transport vessels) began sidling up to her, waiting for her to offload cargo for transport to the wharf.

vessels surround rms st. helena

The next morning, the lighters were still working hard offloading cargo as we headed back into town on the water taxi. We watched a passenger cage offload an older lady, obviously unable to come ashore via the regular passenger vessel. It reminded us of the old gam chairs used by ships in days of old. The cage wobbled and swayed, but the passenger alighted unharmed and seemingly undisturbed by the ride.

passenger cage on rms st. helena

As we watched, cars were unloaded and machinery and lots of crates of foodstuffs and fresh produce (we should go to the supermarket soon) and furniture and specialty items ordered from catalogs and maybe even from Amazon. Our friend, Joan, works at R L James, an international company with a one-room branch here in St. Helena that orders items on-line, consolidates them, and arranges for shipment to St. Helena from Cape Town. Obviously, access to internet on the island has been a boon for the Saints. Can you imagine the ordering process via infrequent ship mail in the past?

heading ashore with hms st. helena cargo

The St. Helena, operating since the 1970s, has become part of St. Helena's heritage now. The new airport is scheduled to open in February 2016 and the RMS St. Helena? She's to make her final voyage in July 2016 … a part of St. Helena's heritage that will fade in memories of the younger Saints and finally disappear, only mentioned in the history books.

Want to book passage before she's extinct? Check it out at