Whale shark

 

Superted V Blog & Photos

In the south Atlantic

February 2016



28 Jan – 6 Feb – St Helena (first block of photos on the left). Another action packed 9 days! Approaching St Helena from the sea early in the morning we saw sheer barren volcanic cliffs rising up out of the ocean. It looked quite foreboding with hardly any signs of life but remains of old fortifications built into the cliffs.  

Soon after we picked up a mooring, we were hailed to come ashore and check in by the port captain. Because of the swell and the rocky shoreline, it's practically impossible to take a dinghy ashore however there is a ferry service run by Johnny, a very friendly ‘Saint'. Having a very varied heritage, the Saints are of quite mixed race – some with a very British BBC accent whilst others have a Welsh/Irish lilt which we sometimes had a bit of a problem tuning into but one thing stood out – everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming. The capital, Jamestown, runs from the volcanic quay up through the deep valley. With a fair share of fortifications and historic buildings, it's a fascinating place.  

One of the highlights of the whole trip was swimming with whale sharks – the biggest fish on the planet reaching lengths of up to 12 metres – they come to St Helena in the summer months when the plankton is blooming. Such amazing gentle giants.

We were also fortunate enough to hike to Diana's Peak (the highest peak at 823m) with David, the ‘bug' man, who regaled us with his extensive knowledge of bugs and flora. Very impressive! In contrast to the volcanic exterior of the island, the high interior is lush semi-tropical vegetation. We finished off our day with David with a tour of part of the island including a visit to see the oldest ‘saint' Jonathan the giant tortoise (at between 180 and 200 years old he's also thought to be the oldest reptile in the world). He lives in the grounds of Plantation house (the Governors residence) with 4 other tortoises. Whilst we were there, the vet came to give him his weekly supplement of leafy greens. (He puts is long life down to being a vegetarian and no smoking or drinking!)  

The waters are pristine and with temperatures of around 23 to 28 degrees, we couldn't resist going for a dive – we were not disappointed. As if the dive and a visit to the museum wasn't enough for one day, we decided to walk up Jacob's ladder – 699 steps – it was originally built as a tramway to remove manure and military supplies from Jamestown up the hill. The quickest time for the ladder climb is 5 mins 11 secs – Matt and Richard took around 20 minutes whilst Ali and I took a more sedate 30 minutes – obviously having to stop along the way to admire the view! However I did manage to run down it in several minutes.  

We had a fun day out on an island tour with 70 year old Robert also visiting the houses and tombstone of the island's most famous captive - Napoleon. Besides Napoleon, the island has been home to many prisoners – including 6000 Boers and a Zulu Chief. We did a couple of other great hikes – both in the lush interior and on the barren volcanic coastal slopes and visited the only beach on the island ‘ Sandy Bay ' which is black volcanic sand. What a great island to visit and so unlike many of the places we've seen so far.

6 – 10 February – Passage from St Helena to Ascension – see flotsam.

10 – 16 Feb – Ascension (second block of photos on the left). Another very unique and interesting volcanic island which sits on the mid-Atlantic ridge. Amazing site on approach – lots of volcanic cliffs, smooth red volcanic cones and hundreds of communications antennae! Matt's comment was that we had found Tracy Island! Very different from St Helena – no town as such but 4 small settlements – Georgetown, Two Boats, Travellers Hill and the American base. Not many military folk live there now but there are still many people involved in communications and of course the BBC still makes broadcasts for South Asia and Africa besides producing power and water for the entire island! The 800 residents are made up of ex-pats and St Helenians.

It was just one large volcano but with many vents which have formed smooth red cones and slopes covered in lava flows. There is one ‘mountain' – Green mountain – which is very lush with sub-tropical vegetation - both Charles Darwin and Joseph Hooker were involved in the establishment of this ‘cloud forest'. We spent the first evening down on the beach with the Conservation people watching for green turtles to come and lay their eggs. We watched fascinated when we found a female who had dug a ‘nest' in the sand and proceeded to lay (up to 110) eggs – apparently they go into a hormonal trace whilst laying (sounds good to me!) so are not disturbed by people watching. What an effort – they can take around 2 hours to dig the nest then around 30 minutes to lay but another couple of hours to bury the eggs in sand – quite often they fall asleep from the effort! The turtle project is run by Exeter university. The conservation for such a small island is very impressive – we met the head ranger who had found 3 endemic plant species which had been thought to be extinct and is now involved in trying to re-establish them (along with another 4 endangered endemic species) on the island. They work closely with overseas organisations such as the RBG Kew, the Natural History Museum and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in trying to develop the best ways to germinate the seeds and get them re-established and so far seem to have been very successful.

We had some great hikes on Green mountain and around the island with Hanna and Niels from ‘Pelagie' and Ali and Richard from ‘Vulcan Spirit' (we were the only boats there at the time) and went in search for some Obsidian (black volcanic glass-like rock), land crabs (the majority of the world population of these crabs is thought to be on Ascension) and nesting sooty terns. We were only successful on the latter two! In contrast to St Helena, there are many beaches around the island – surprisingly of white sand! Another dive and a snorkel around one of the bays was a must – great way to finish off our visit.

16 – 29 Feb On Passage from Ascension to Grenada – see flotsam

 

 

 

 

                         Position on 29 February 2016 N05.41.561 W050.27.929

 

                 

                   

                

      

 

                             

 

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