Vagabund Log

St Helena


St Helena

23rd November Friday

A few short pointers about St Helena

  • The island was formed an estimated 14 million years ago, after a violent volcano erupted under the sea.
  • The island was discovered on 21 May 1502 by a Spanish navigator in the service of Portugal. They decided to name this island… St Helena, because it was the birthday of Constantine’s mother Helena on the 21 May.
  • The Island is a British domain with its own Governor.
  • Historically the town had to be protected from attacks from the sea. This was done by building castles with thick surrounding walls. The top of the hills were also fortified.
  • St Helena’s 5000 inhabitants are called ‘Saints’, their rainbow mix of colors and race reflecting the island’s chequered history. (did not expect to talk so soon to saints – vary friendly people)
  • The entrance to town was through an archway that leads to the main square. Above the entrance is the English East India Company Coat of Arms and on the exit the Wire bird. The town has the most beautiful buildings on both sides of the narrow road winding up the valley.


  • The RMS St Helena is a cargo ship linking St Helena and Ascension Island with Cape Town. The ship carry cargo, passengers and even the od sailing yachts as sailing back from St Helena to Cape Town is only possible by following the trades to Brazil, turn South along the coast of South America and turning East again in the roller coaster roaring forties around the mid Atlantic high.


  • The island is located in the middle of the trade winds. The most regular visitors are cruising yachts, which stop here on their way from South Africa to Brazil, the Caribbean or Europe.
  • It is always a good feeling to arrive in a place where visiting sailors are not only welcome, but their presence makes a visible contribution to the local economy. We will be two of the more or less 1000 tourists visiting this remote island per year! Having a gross 0,2% impact on their annual tourist influx.

Arriving on the Island:

With a quick customs visit on Vagabund we were legally allowed to set foot on land, we call the ferry to pick us up at  £1.50 per person return trip. You open an account that has to be settled the day of your depart.


With a huge bag of accumulated washing we set out in Santa Clause style to explore Jamestown.  A friendly elderly man greeted us with a big smile. He knew inevitably that we would become his clients. Robert showed us his raceme as a tour guide and after agreeing with Zack on a reduced rate and a free lift to town we had a date for an island tour on Monday. The taxi named “Mom’s taxi” is nothing more than a bakkie with a canvas frame with two drop down seats on each side.


As we where speeding up the hill it seemed like we where at a tennis match with our head movement being synchronized with each new observation made. The bakkie’s movement was far too quick. It felt like watching a movie in fast-forward. The only comfort: Tomorrow is another day.  Then I start to realize that although Jamestown is special we have been to long on the sea and having an inflated hunger for people and things on land.


As we stroll down from the Laundromat towards the harbor we still sampled every shop by just licking the candy and putting it back.


We where still exhausted from the crossing schedule and decided to take an afternoon nap after a good meal at Ann’s place. The nap turned into a deep cycle re-charge as we only woke up the next morning.


The next couple of days we did settle in and shopped at almost every shop in town. The shop stock mainly South African products at a much higher inflated price. For some reason on island freshly baked bread is always in bigger demand than the supply. It always ended up with somebody simply just do not get bread. On one of our days we where the ones – without bread. One suddenly realize that what is a given certainty in a particular environment can be a scarcity in others and can very quickly have a change in behavior pattern to obtain.


The bank of St Helena is the only bank on the island. They exchange banknotes in Sterling, US Dollars, Euro and South African Rands. 

There are no cellphone cards available. Wi-Fi is available at Anne’s Place and at the hotel. Ann's place is a restaurant in the beautiful gardens of Castle gardens. It is a family business that was started by Ann in 1978 and Jane who worked for her since she was a young girl and became her daughter in law, is now running Ann’s Place. The third generation with Jane's daughter now as young girl is helping her mother. On the wall with other memories by yachties, there is a sketch done by the van Niekerk's in 2010 when they were staying ion the island for three weeks. It is also a maverick yacht with the name Catlyn.


On the island you get the beautiful White Tern that is locally called Fairy Tern. They are white dove like birds that roam the cliffs, trees and forests. This is the only seabird to nest both inland and on the offshore islands. We have seen them in the trees of Castle Garden and on the cliffs.


On Sunday we attend the service in St James Church. The oldest Anglican Church South of the Equator. It was build in 1659 and their first chaplain in 1671. The church build in 1774 still stands although it has been altered during its life. It was a privilege to worship with saints in there church. Christianity and the Baha'i faith are presented on the island with various denominations. 


On Monday we went early into James Town to meet our tour guide, Robert with Moms Taxi.


Most roads are single lanes and they drive in the middle of the road, passing on the left. The rule is, uphill vehicles may pass first, and if you going down, you have to find a spot wide enough to wait. We were driving on narrow roads with sharp bends, Robert just hooted to scare or warn on coming vehicles. Robert was a retired bus driver with excellent driving skills. 


Apart from Cook, Darwin and many others in 1815 St Helena received its most famous visitor, when Napoleon Bonaparte was brought here as a prisoner until his death in 1821. We stopped at the first residence, Briars Pavilion, of Napoleon, where he stayed for 7 weeks as a guest after being exiled and went off to the beautiful Longwood House. You could smell the moldiness of the rooms that made people think that he died of arsenic poisoning. We stood in the very room where he spends the last days before he died.


We where surprised to even find a very basic 9 hole Golf course on the Island.


The island is due for big changes as an airport is constructed on the island.

  • Basil Read is doing the contraction of the new airport. (Nice to know South Africans is competitive and like to take on big challenges.) Their offices is in a old school building with Deon de Jager the head of this big project. The airport will be on Prosperous Bay Plain and on Friday the biggest blast ever on St Helena took place. It took about 65000 cubic meters of rock out of the hillside. Currently 330 persons are working on the project of which 211 are saints employed by Basil Read. 
  • It will be interesting to see how the character of the island is going to change. It is one of the most remote islands in the world. The people have involved their own unique culture and generic features.


We were surprised to see lush green fields roaming with cattle. The composition of the roads and landscape resembles something of Scotland. There are about 1500 cattle on the island and on Tuesday 6 are slaughtered to provide meet for all the saints. Due to health regulations the cows milk are not used and all the milk are imported from SA Long life full cream and skimmed as well as tin coronation milk.


Our taxi driver, Robert worked for many years in the flax mill used the flax to make different ropes. The mill is now closed and the flax is now used for cattle feeding. 


The first shipment of Boer Prisoners including General Cronje and his wife arrive 10 April 1900. During the next three years over 5000 prisoners were encamped at Deadwood plain and Broad Bottom. Today you see only green hills were the camp was.


We visited the Boer cemetery that contains the graves of the Boer prisoners who died during their captivity. Their ages vary from sixteen to sixty one.

 The Island is covered with lush vegetation and in some part of the Island big evergreen trees formed a natural roof, and the ferns followed their trunks up to the sky as we drive on narrow roads between the forests.

 We stopped at the Governor's House to meet with Jonathan.  The oldest living animal on the island and thought to be the oldest living example of his breed (Testudinipae cytodira). This big old turtle, 180 years old (169 in 2001) with a cataract because of old age, still enjoy the soft grass in front of the house.  


We also visited High Knoll Fort that was build to accommodate all the saints in case of an invasion. 


There are 3 primary schools on the island and one high school named Prince Andrew School. The British Government funded this school after Prince Andrew visited the island.  All the children attend high school from 11-15 years. Those who qualify attend another 3 years till 18. If you qualify then you have a bursary potential for Cambridge University in England. Last year five saint pupils qualify for further studies.


Jacobs ladder was build in 1829 as an inclined plane, which was used to haul manure up and goods down. It is 600 feet high stretching from Jamestown to the Ladder Hill and can be tempted by foot with its 700-1 steps the first step is buried under the road leading to the ladder.


Robert is a history lesion on wheels. Meeting Robert was a highlight in St Helena.