The cruise ship season is upon us with 5 ships due in the next few months. Today’s visit by the MV Astor is the first. With 650 passengers and 300 crew potentially landing on the island there was much planning. As part of the island’s focus on increasing tourism we set up a street market with some of the island’s crafts people and our students preparing a variety of fast food items using local produce.
Our strategy is to wow the passengers so they want to return when our airport is open and also that the passengers return to their ships with the message that St Helena is a great destination to cruise to.
The ship was due to allow passengers to disembark at 11.00am but we had the rigmarole of wondering whether they would be allowed off as the ocean was perceived to be a bit rough.
As the Astor’s passengers hadn’t been allowed off at Ascension Island because of rough seas, they were in no mood to stay on board at St Helena. I spoke to one couple who were said they were determined to get onto the island and had made their views felt to the Ship’s Hotel Manager.
By 12.00 we knew that the passengers were going to be allowed off so it was all hands on deck as they say! Souvenir stalls checked their wares, the food purveyors got hot food cooking and the accordion player cranked up a tune! There was a real party atmosphere.
The first folk I spoke to were keen to find a laundry of all things; saying that they prefer not to pay ship prices for this service. I am not too sure whether they found someone who would get their items washed and dried in the 6 hours before they needed to get back on board as the people in town usually offer a 24 hour turnaround. Maybe this is a business opportunity for someone!
The day continued with music from our local accordion player and three of the junior schools on the island. This enhanced the atmosphere and reminded all in Jamestown that something was going on at the bottom of Town.
Many of the tourists on the ship were British, some had chosen the cruise because it was specifically coming to St Helena. One man I spoke to was from Bridlington in Yorkshire, he and his wife had decided not to take an island tour but to stay in Jamestown to get a feel for the place. He said to me that he had thoroughly enjoyed his day here, especially the friendliness of everyone he'd met. "It's not just the scenery that makes a destination, its the folk!".
As St Helena is a small island of only 8 or so miles by 4 miles, the notion of a boat trip around the island on a sunny Sunday morning is one most folk here consider. This time of year the attractions include humpback whales, a variety of dolphins, nesting sea birds and later in the year whale sharks. There are a number of boats who offer this and other trips and the tourist office here keeps tabs on who is going out and when.
This three hour trip is hosted by skipper Johnny who’s boat the Enchanted Isle is an ex USA Coast Guard Vessel. My fellow passengers included Saints, tourists and some like me who are working on the island. A number of us show our devotion to photography in the length and variety of cameras and lenses brought on board.
Rounding the Barn, a massive piece of volcanic cliff which dominates the whole area, and into Prosperous bay, we could just see the new airport runway 400 feet above us. Prosperous bay is also the first landing point of the British in 1673. A tiny beach marks the spot.
By this time the weather has turned. Blue skies are replaced by the more common grey clouds created by the trade winds and seen on this side of St Helena.
Thankfully the air temperature is kind enough for us not to feel the cold however the sea now looks rather less appealing with white caps and an undulating demeanour. Most of my fellow passengers take to the cabin of the boat rather than stay out on deck as the motion and sea spray intensifies. Two young lads show their determination not to be seen as quitters with their weather protection hiding their grins of delight each time the boat lurches in a different direction.
Around another headland twenty minutes later and into blue skies and calm water. You would never think you were on the same trip. This side of the island is the one where we are most likely to spot dolphins and whales. As its coming to the end of the whale watching season in the South Atlantic it was no surprise that we didn’t spot any. Dolphins were a different story. There were so many that the crew could see them half a mile away.
Taking photos on a moving vessel is a skill I have not yet perfected, nor is taking photos of moving objects such as birds, animals or dolphins. Even with today’s technology of auto focus and exposure, a camera still needs to be pointed at its subject before a decent picture happens.
I and the other camera fanatics headed for the bow of the boat and started aiming at where the action was.
You would think that with over 100 dolphins in this pod that someone was going to strike lucky and get that once in a lifetime picture of the dolphin leaping out of the water whilst looking at the camera……….WRONG! The action happens so quickly that you have to anticipate where you think the creature is going to surface and then hit the shutter button. Whilst this is happening and you are looking through the tunnel which is your camera lens, there are cries of “over here” and “did you see that”. These critters are fast and boy do they know how to avoid a camera lens. Well I can say that I am now very good at taking pictures of dolphin tails as they disappear into the ocean.
After around 50 or so attempts (thank goodness it’s not a film camera) I just sat and watched the spectacle around me. A camera cannot always reflect or record a scene and many great photographers will say that you should also experience the moment so that is just what I did. Silver grey streaks darting through the water at high speeds with occasional bursts to pirouette at the surface like a ballerina!
The experience reinforces my massive respect for any photographer who captures that “once in a lifetime” shot; as they are very rarely due to luck. More likely, long hours of continued visits to the same place at the right time and then waiting and waiting.
I am not going to give up and will be back next time I hear there is a trip out. Practice makes perfect and also the trip itself is a memorable way to spend a few hours. One of my fellow passengers, visiting from the UK was heard to say “that’s the best fifteen quid I’ve spend for a long time”………I fully concur with that!