St. Helena to French Guiana - Days 21 - 23

shiptrak 101
shiptrak 101

Day 21

Miles to go: 676

A full moon in a mackerel night sky...a change in the weather coming? The weather forecast shows more of the same for the next five days and the barometer remains steady. We'll wait and see what comes. The effect of the rippled, fish-scale clouds with the bright moon behind them was stunning. The moonlight was so bright, I took photos for sharing later.

Not having walked for three weeks is hard on our bodies. We do some exercising, but we're mostly sedentary, especially since we haven't even had to adjust the sails in days. Making the morning rounds on deck or climbing the ladder into the cockpit is not quite like walking for several miles a day which we tend to do when we're in port. It'll be good to stretch our legs. This has been such a benign passage so far (thank you, Neptune), we've gained weight instead of losing it. Bah!

By the way, our first foray ashore after a long passage is always a bit comical. We sway and stagger like a drunk until our bodies figure out we don't have to compensate for the roll of the boat any longer. No videos allowed.

We got an email reminder from NOAA today. Time to renew our EPIRB registration. It's easy to forget, but easy enough to do on-line (when you have Internet) and important to handle. I keep important renewal dates like this on a calendar, so they don't get overlooked. This sounds like a good  blog topic for sometime in the near future.

Day 22

Miles to go: 580

Two ships passed us during the night and we saw several more during the day. One came within 1.5 miles of us, and having the AIS display his course and CPA was reassuring. Some ships are probably heading for Belem or other Brazilian Amazonian ports and others are heading back across the Atlantic. It's odd to see so much ship traffic after weeks without seeing any at all.

We had a visitor during the night. A brown noddy hitchhiked a ride on the solar panels for several hours, spanning our watches. He'd do a couple fly-bys, lite for awhile and then fly off, returning in 10-15 minutes. He practiced the same routine over and over again, but was gone when I  took over at 0600. He must have found a better alternative.

Speaking of taking over at 0600, it was dark this morning when I started my watch...a sure sign that it's time to change the clocks one hour ahead again. We gained an hour this morning and we're now on Cayenne, French Guiana time, -3 hours GMT.

As I sat on watch in the early morning hours and contemplated the endless motion of waves and swell, that old factoid about 70% of the Earth's surface being covered by water came to mind. We've been sailing in pretty much a straight line, non-stop, 24x7,  for nearly a month and we haven't run out of ocean. In the Southern Ocean, a boat could sail endlessly to the east or the west and never hit land. So glad we live on a boat... and really glad South America is right up ahead.

We've picked up an adverse current that's slowed us down a bit. It's running between 1-2 knots. Hard to tell exactly since the speed transducer isn't providing through-the-water speed. We've checked the pilot charts and no countercurrents are noted. In fact, we should be seeing a favorable current. Instead, we're sailing along as smoothly as we have been and only doing mid-3s. Maddeningly slow progress.

Several ships, one hitchhiker, a time change, a countercurrent, and no flying fish. Quite the day!

Day 23

Miles to go: 440

A dog of a night! We've lost the ever-present southwest swell of the South Atlantic, but last night we picked up a confused wave pattern combining gentle, long period southerly swells that alternated with vicious, short-period, steep waves that hit us square on the beam and had us rolling gunwale to gunwale.  One moment, we'd be rocking gently and the next, the boat would jerk and lurch violently. The pattern repeated itself every 10 minutes or so throughout the night, making it lumpy, bumpy and quite uncomfortable for on-watch and sleeping crew alike.

PLUS we're heading southwest, not northwest! We managed to lose 18 miles of our northerly progress through the night between wind shifts and a southerly push. Luckily, we're doing it slowly because not only has the wind calmed to 8-10 knots, but it's changed direction to the east. We're blaming everything on the mighty Amazon River, more than 300 miles south of us, just because it's there. In actuality, it's all  because I had the audacity to say we were doing so well and Neptune heard. Note to self: Keep these thoughts to know better.

Our hitchhiker was back last least we think it was the same guy. He took over the solar panels as if he owned them, got settled in, pooped, and hung out for several hours. David said he took off just before dawn...leaving a voluminous quantity of poop behind to be cleaned up by the early morning crew. Yuck!

When David woke at 0900, we re-rigged the whisker pole to starboard and jibed. Now we're too high on our northerly course, but that's how it goes. Another jibe in our future. As David pointed out, at least we'll get to sleep on the other bunk/tack and relieve some of the lameness caused by a starboard heel for the past week.

One itsy-bitsy flying fish...still counts -19 total

Almost there ... stick with us ... Days 24-26

St. Helena...Then and Now

Gentry, our esteemed web mistress, suggested that we consider a blog on how St. Helena in 2007 compared to St. Helena now. It's an interesting question. Things change, although on St. Helena change comes more gradually than it does elsewhere. The first noticeable change, for a cruiser anyway, is the fact that there are moorings available for visiting yachts. The anchorage is very deep around the island, 65'+ (20 meters). Though anchoring is free, the peace of mind and ease of using a mooring for less than $4US/night was a positive change of which  we were able to take advantage.

noc moored

The cost of everything has risen dramatically, but so has it everywhere. Port landing fees for the boat and Immigration fees for us have increased by 60%. Considering the St. Helena pound exchange rate was $2.11:US$1 in 2007 and it was $1.45:US$1 in 2015, that's pretty steep. The ferry service doubled its rates and Internet remained expensive at 15 cents/minutes (US$). Diesel fuel, though we didn't need any, was about US$7/gallon.

Two noticeable changes met us as we exited the ferry. First, the rockfall-prone cliffs that rise abruptly from the sea and form the backdrop for the wharf, were now dressed in chain mail, a thick mesh fencing anchored into the cliffs, from top to the sea,  to prevent damage due to falling rocks. We noticed this in several places throughout the island including the cliffs we scaled while climbing Jacob's Ladder.

chainmail on the cliffs of st. helena

The wharf had actually been expanded considerably and a new Customs/Immigration/Port Control building had been built at the head of the dock. It included a transit lounge for incoming RMS passengers, which of course, won't be necessary any longer.

customs and port control on st. helena island

The biggest upcoming change will be the official opening of the new airport slated for February 2016. This is the source of much controversy among the islanders, but it's inevitable now. One wonders if there will be an influx of tourists, how they'll be accommodated and what the impact will be on a tiny island. The cost of airfare hasn't been determined although one figure quoted was 500 StH pounds one way to/from Johannesburg on the once-weekly flight. No direct flights from Europe have yet to be scheduled.

new airport on st. helena island

Because of the new airport, the RMS St. Helena will cease operations in July 2016. This is a sad note for locals who considered the iconic mail ship a part of St. Helena's heritage.

rms st. helena on approach

Mobile phone service was to be launched within days of our departure. At 15 St.Helena cents (~ 23 cents U.S.) per minute, you've got to wonder how many people will be able to afford it although our friends were signing up as we left. Goodbye phone booths? We hardly remembered what they looked like anyway.

There were more subtle changes, too. Last time we visited, we could enter the tortoise paddock for up close views, but now this is prohibited. We were also able to walk right down into the valley to view Napoleon's tomb close up, but now we viewed it from above. A visiting American, it seems, slipped and fell on the grassy, sloped path down to the grave site and tried to sue the island for damages. Damn our litigious Yankee countrymen.

juliana and jonathan on st. helena island in 2007

There's a new wind turbine farm out on the Deadwood Plains and we saw more wirebirds than last time. There are lots of conservation efforts like the Millennium Forest. There's a new Haul Road between Ruperts Bay and the airport and there's been a massive expansion of Ruperts Bay which will allow offloading of ship cargo at the docks there, rather than using the current lighters and barges in Jamestown.

So what hasn't changed? There are still no ATMs on the island and visitors must wait in long queues at the little St. Helena Bank to exchange money or withdraw funds. There are minimal tourist services available and credit cards are not accepted by most vendors. This will be a definite disadvantage for visitors.

The biggest non-changes? The charm and 19th century English village quaintness of Jamestown remains intact so far. And, of course, the warmth and hospitality of the Saints themselves never seems to diminish. We'd return to St. Helena in a New York minute.

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.