L O G B O O K - by John Philp. (Contact us : info@taufiji.com)





LITTLE NAPOLEONS?


MON 17th - We’re under sail in the southern Atlantic ocean with two hundred miles remaining to Saint Helena Island. Day dawns pleasant and sunny with a 10-15 knot south easterly tradewind behind us. The spinnaker has been up all night.

Later in the evening with a steady breeze moving us along nicely and a light swell rolling us on the beams, I lay on the deck under the spinnaker watching it billowing like a giant satin bed sheet reflecting the moonlight. Bright stars twinkle in the clear sky. The moon is a grand, luminous silver disc - it’s an enchanting evening.

TUE 18th - Another gorgeous tradewind day. The ocean is a stunning violet blue, rich in colour, and crystal clear. Tau is sailing slowly, between four and five knots - time for a swim! We hitch a length of rope to the stern with knots tied in it at intervals and jump off the bow. You have time to dive deep and watch the keel go by, then surface at the stern and grab the line to haul yourself back on board. The water is beautiful!

Land is sighted with forty five miles to go. St Helena’s highest peak is 2,400 feet so it isn’t difficult to spot. At sunset we are twenty miles from land. We motor on into the gathering darkness. In the clear moonlight the rugged island is half visible. The sheer bare cliffs look imposing in the half light, in places the rock edifice rises vertically out of the ocean. We anchor on the north side of the island at 9.30pm in a hundred feet of water.

WED 19th - In the morning we discover we are amongst fifteen visiting yachts, seven of whom are from the Millennium Rally and we just have enough time to go ashore and catch up with them before they must board and prepare for departure to Brazil at noon. Peter Malycha is amongst them, a skipper from Suva - the last time I had a drink with him we were at the Royal Suva Yacht Club in Fiji! It’s a long way betweens drinks.

St Helena’s population is 4,700 people, fifteen hundred of whom live here in the administrative centre - Jamestown. The town is nestled in a deep, narrow valley and the only way out of town is by one of two roads cut into the steep hillsides.

The island was discovered in 1502 by the Portuguese, but eventually ended up a possession of the English. In the 1840’s it was a base for Royal Navy vessels fighting the slave trade on the west coast of Africa. Then in 1902 six thousand Boer prisoners from South Africa were interned here. It’s biggest claim to fame is that for six years it was the home of the exiled Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte after the English routed his army at Waterloo.

One of the first features of the town that visitors are drawn to is a set of stairs cut into the cliff side leading to an 18 century fortification above the town and harbour.There are six hundred and ninety nine steps in ‘Jacobs Ladder’ - possibly the longest unbroken set of stairs in the world. Climbing this landmark is a daunting adventure, it seems as though there a thousands of steps leading straight up into the heavens!

THUR 20th - In the afternoon I bump into the French consul - Michelle in a bar and sound him out with the burning question we’d contrived on the yacht on the way over i.e. did Napoleon leave any descendants behind on the island? (we were dying to know...). He immediately threw water on that suggestion - probably French government policy I guess, and I learn nothing more about it until the next day.

FRI 21st - The crew rose at 4am to watch the lunar eclipse. It was worth the effort. The moon was completely obscured for just a brief moment but it was shaded an eerie yellowish orange for much longer.

In the afternoon the rest of the gang go scuba diving. I hitch a ride up into the mountains with the owner of the Island of St Helena Coffee Company - David Henry and he graciously shows me around one of his coffee plantations called Napoleons Valley Estate, it being at the top of the valley where the Emperor was buried. Here was an old house that his loyal aid - Marshall Betrand occupied. David says Napoleon used to ‘visit’ Betrands wife when the Marshall was out. Aha this is the kind of scandal we were looking for! Perhaps there are some little Napoleons running around the island after all!

Afterwards we drive to his house. The roads here are very old and narrow and the switchback corners are so severe that his landrover can’t make most of the corners, we must stop, reverse and make it around on the second attempt. We sound the horn on each corner in case there is someone coming the other way - there’s only room for one car on the corners. The countryside here is markedly different to the town, very lush and green - cow country!

David’s house is amazing. He was previously a carpenter and is halfway through finishing the wood and stone house himself. All the materials are from the island and there is not a single plastic or store bought contrivance in the building.

Later I get a lift on the back of a motorcycle with one of his staff - Martin. He’d taken a bunch of lilies for his mother from the garden and we must have looked quite a sight doubled up on a dirt bike, me holding an enormous bunch of flowers.

SAT 22nd - We leave for Brazil this morning, so this is our last chance for sightseeing. Most felt the call of Jacobs Ladder and go off to do battle with the stairs.

St Helena’s peaks are covered in cloud as we leave her in our wake. On to more adventures! The conditions are perfect for sailing - sunny with 15 knot tradewinds aft of the port beam.

SUN 23rd - Seas calm. We motor for awhile. The tradewinds freshen in the afternoon and we are able to sail again.

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