It has taken me a while to plump up the motivation to write this piece as I really don’t want to draw a line under my time on St Helena. But needs must and I am now back in the UK having completed my contract on the island.
Almost five years has gone by since I first started this blog, which was initially to keep family and friends informed of my time on this remote island. The blog has taken on a character of its own and has a loyal following with sometimes over 2000 people a week reading it.
Where is it going to go from here? Well I will be posting some other articles on the island given the massive amount of photographs I have on a variety of subjects. So watch this space as they say and feel free to comment or request subject matter for the articles.
There is still much to do on the island as we are still waiting for the green light with regard to the airport operating on a commercial basis. In the meantime life will go on as it always has, the Saints are a resilient lot and for them it’s just another day ……..waiting for the RMS to arrive with food supplies and loved ones.
Once we do have commercial aircraft making scheduled visits I know there are many businesses just poised to welcome visitors from all over the world, many of them having planned their growth around the new arrivals.
In the run up to my departure, which was via Ascension Island and the subject of another blog, I was blessed with a leaving party organised by my colleagues at Enterprise St Helena. I shared the day with Merle Peters who was leaving to join the local Bank.
Lunch was served at KJs place in Longwood. Pub Paradise has been famous for its Steaks for many years. KJ the owner takes great pride in the quality of meat he buys and how it gets cooked. Also KJ has been a staunch supporter of my work within the Hospitality Upskilling Project. I was therefore thrilled when I learned of the location for lunch.
The turnout was great with almost all my colleagues able to make it over to Longwood.
The meal was lovely and enjoyed by all, including the homemade ice cream in large quantity. Speeches were made and both Merle and I received gifts.
The locally hand carved box I received is truly exquisite and something that will be treasured and put on display here in England once it arrives with my belongings.
A few days later I was on the wharf with many other travellers, saying goodbye to friends and co-workers. It was all a bit surreal and in some ways I still can’t believe that my time on St Helena is over . Well over for the time being anyway!
So goodbye St Helena and hello to Family and Friends over here who haven’t really seen much of me at all for the past few years. Perhaps when the airport opens I can bring some of my family over to visit the island in the middle of the South Atlantic they call St Helena.
St Helena people love parades and parties.
There are around three or four major celebrations through the year and a number of lesser ones when the Scouts and Guides march with the local police force and the local brass band.
The St Helena day parade celebrates the day that St Helena was discovered by the Portuguese navigator Joao da Nova on his voyage home from India in 1502. Over here it is always a public holiday and more so this year as we were expecting the opening of the new airport this weekend. Sadly that is not yet to be but it didn't stop the party from happening.
The year 2016 is noted for it not only being my last St Helena Day, at least for a while, but also that of the RMS St Helena, moored in St James’s bay ready for one of her last voyages to the UK which set off a couple of days later.
These celebrations actually started earlier in the year when each district of the island planned the assembly and theme of their floats. Considering we are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it is amazing the amount of items are sourced for the floats and the amount of ingenuity which goes into each project. The theme for this year was transport through the ages.
Weather was pretty much perfect for a day in the open air. Not too much sun but enough to make the temperature a pleasant 24 degrees. As quite a windy island, with dusty blasts sometimes gusting debris into people’s eyes, it was a relief to know that today the wind stayed away.
Eventually things got off to a start around 3.30 with the procession winding its way down upper Jamestown toward the market and the main town and onto the sea front.
Although in terms of distance it’s only around a mile from start to finish the convoy takes its time and eventually arrives at the finish having entertained the whole island with displays of music, colour and laughs.
The winning float was chosen to be the St Pauls District entry which was the donkey and cart. A not so long ago form of transport used here up until very recently. The entry was complete with sound system which brayed loudly across the valley just in case we didn't know it was a donkey.
Following on from the parade were celebrations at the Mule Yard, Donny’s bar and Sea Front which lasted until the wee hours.
I missed the firework display at 8.00pm which was a shame.
I went home to check on my photos and never made it back out of the house.
Must be something to do with my age!
I did however get some nice pictures of the town in the early evening sunlight and managed to start this blog.
Antiques on St Helena are quite common as many families have been here for years and have gathered artefacts and mementos from many parts of the globe.
The Napoleonic era obviously has an impact on island collectables with pictures, ceramics, tapestries and other works lovingly cared for.
When asking folk what antiques they have and do they know about them, the usual answer is, “no its been passed down to me”. Consequently the heralded visit by Bargain Hunt and Antiques Roadshow celebrity Tim Wannacott was met with much anticipation.
Tim visited the island last week with his wife Helen to write articles about St Helena for the Harrods Magazine and Mail on Sunday.
Whilst they were here, we took advantage of his valuation skills and set up an event in Jamestown’s Grand Parade for locals to bring their treasures.
It was estimated that we would get enough interest to keep the ball rolling for around two hours, in fact Tim was still going strong seven hours after he started! The queue started at around 8.30am for the start at 10.00am.
We saw paintings, wood carvings, coins, ceramics, glassware, statues, jewellery and much more. Some items could be valued on the spot but most were photographed and the owners details taken for a more accurate valuation to be sent from the UK.
Did we unearth any rare finds? Well if we did, no one is shouting about it.
There were some items valued in the thousands but the owners want to keep them under wraps. Probably because they just want to keep them in the family, just where they have been for the past 200 years.
An invitation to Longwood House for last Tuesday saw many of us up there to mark the opening of the exhibition “Napoleon in Saint Helena” at the Musée de L’Armée in Paris. The museum is running an exhibition to illustrate Napoleon’s time on St Helena and includes much of the furniture which was used by Napoleon whilst here.
The museum description of Napoleon’s time on St Helena includes the following narrative which in the context of today’s opinion of the island, couldn’t be further from the truth.
“On the rock of Saint Helena, the fallen Emperor launched his final battle, that of posterity, making his last residence a place for writing and creating the legend. Isolated in the midst of the Atlantic, everything conspired to make Longwood a tragic hell on earth.”
Having enjoyed my first Christmas in the UK for three years it is now time to head back to St Helena. The trip takes almost a week from UK to the island and longer if time is spent in Cape Town.
This trip is different in as much as it will probably be my last voyage on the RMS.
She is scheduled to finish her service to the island in July 2016 by which time planes will be taking off and landing at the airport. The travelling time to the island will be vastly reduced to a tolerable five hours from Johannesburg.
As this is to be my last trip I am documenting some of this voyage for posterity… Although I am sure there will be many other records to keep the memory alive.
Arriving at the dockside in Cape Town is more like a homecoming for many, as anyone who has been to the island before, whether Saint or Expat, will know someone else on the Ship. Also many of the local Cape Town Saints will make the journey down to the Seaman’s mission at the port to hear news about their island and loved ones at home. Now passengers are transited through a smart new ocean terminal complete with clean toilets and electronic immigration and security which makes things more efficient.
Travelling home on the same ship is Giselle Richards who had to travel to Cape Town for the birth of her baby. What happens to the new born’s nationality when you have to travel to another country to give birth? Giselle informs me that Baby has a full British passport as this has been pre-arranged with the British Consul in Cape Town. Always something interesting going on!
Checking in at the normal time, we are informed that the ship would be delayed as the cargo ship carrying frozen food from the UK to Cape Town is still in Cape Town bay due to the high winds which the cape experienced the previous week. There is a back log of ships in the bay all waiting for their slot to unload their cargo.
Later, there is a communication that the cargo ship is not going to get unloaded for another 24 hours so Captain Andrew Greentree has to decide whether to wait or not.
The decision to set off without the frozen consignment is made and we set off at around 11.00pm, around 6 hours behind schedule. I make a mental note to get to the shops in Jamestown as soon as I get back as there isn’t going to be much frozen food left and it’s at least a month before the next lot will arrive.
Routines are soon formed, the sound of the mealtime chimes set off an auto-response of hunger, in spite of it sometimes being only four hours since the last mealtime
Meals on the RMS are a highlight of the voyage, quite a challenge to cater for as there are all manner of people travelling: business, leisure and medical being the three main groups. Dinner is served in two sittings the dining room and also to cabins in the event that someone is overtaken by seasickness or are travelling for medical reasons.
Diners are allocated a table to sit at with fellow passengers, the catering team do the allocations and are usually very accurate in picking who should sit with whom……….perhaps they should start a dating agency! Dinner is a four course affair with the addition of cheese and a savoury course if desired, far too much food but who cares when it’s flowing freely along with wine at around £10 a bottle.
Lunch and breakfast can be taken in the dining room and also in the Sun Lounge which is popular with most as it offers sea views, fresh air and a more casual setting.
Other routines include the Captain’s cocktail party, the RMS quiz which is always popular and of course a variety of deck games. Cricket on the penultimate day into port is well patronised and great entertainment. A number of the rope balls inevitably end up over the side when an enthusiastic batsman takes the crease. The final scores are read out by the officer of the watch at 12.30 along with the ship’s position, air and sea temperature, depth of water beneath the vessel and estimated time of arrival. Also mentioned by the officer of the watch is when to change clocks as Cape Town to St Helena covers two time zones.
The final day is soon upon us and is spent, amongst other things, getting bags packed and laundry items washed and dried in the super-efficient drying room…..I wish I had one like this at home, clothes go in damp and within around an hour they are as dry as a bone.
The crew collect bags for shipment to shore and then it’s just a case of waiting to arrive. The sun deck becomes out of bounds as below it lays the hold. Passengers mill around the remaining decks and start to gather in the lounge awaiting their call to disembark. Disembarking is done in an orderly fashion by numbered landing cards.
Once off the ship and through immigration and customs, we are welcomed by a sea of familiar faces all who want to say hello. Giselle with her new baby is surrounded by well-wishers and is swallowed up by the crowd. I quickly lose sight of her. My friends and colleagues have come to meet me, hugs and kisses all round and I immediately feel the St Helena Home from Home welcome which makes me glad to be back.
It’s a warm sunny (winter) day here. I have just returned from the wharf where the usual send-off of the RMS passengers has taken place.
Leaving the island today are the St Helena Commonwealth Games Team, representing the Island in the upcoming Glasgow Games. Taking place between 23 July and 3 August, this international multi-sport event held every four years involves athletes from the entire Commonwealth of Nations.
Madolyn Andrews, Chelsea Benjamin, Jordie Andrews, Lee Yon, Patrick Young and Ben Dillon today begin their long journey to the Games, where they will be joined by remaining team members Ryan Benjamin, Duane March, Vernon Smeed and Simon Henry. Accompanying the team to the Games is Chef de Mission Pamela Young, and Nick Stevens who will be responsible for managing the team in Glasgow.
St Helena will be participating in three events, Badminton, Shooting and Swimming. Badminton competitors are Lee, Ryan, Duane and Vernon, Shooters are Madolyn, Cheslea, Jordie, Patrick and Simon, while Ben is competing in Swimming.
I recently visited the airport site which is just under two years from being open (Feb 2016). It is being built by the South African construction company Basil Read at a cost to the British Taxpayer of around £200Million.
Visiting the site and what can be seen so far reflects the impressive accomplishments which have taken place. Just thinking about the logistics of quoting for a job like this makes your head spin. Basil Read have had to import much of the equipment via their own ship which comes in around once a month from Walvis Bay in Namibia. Then the equipment had to make its way up to the airport site which meant there had to be a new road built before anything could start up here.
One of the greatest achievements, which is still work in progress is the filling of Dry Gut which is a valley which just happens to be in the flight path of our potential aircraft landing. Therefore Dry Gut needs to be filled. Its not just being filled, it has to be filled in layers and then tamped down and then left to settle and then checks made for subsidence. The photos give some idea of the scale of this part of the project.
So far the Airport build is on time and with no accidents which considering the location and challenges here is marvellous.
The Airport terminal is currently being erected and has been located in a way that the building is shielded from much of the island’s view to keep things tidy. The building seems larger than I imagined so I guess they are preparing for more than the planned one or two flights a week which is what’s being talked about at the moment.
The runway is currently being widened and lengthened as the original runway plan didn’t meet requirements for longer haul aircraft. I think the 737-700 is the plane of choice at the moment. There are many more stringent requirements for planes to fly to St Helena as there is nowhere to make an emergency landing so fuel loads will be maximised. Also the location dictates that air services to St Helena will have to operate to the requirements of Extended Twin Engine Operations System, (ETOPS)
Critical to the success of the new airport will be air traffic control’s ability to land aircraft in the challenging weather conditions the island experiences. Given the isolation of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, diversions due to weather could be extremely costly in terms of additional fuel burn. Honeywell systems have the contract to provide landing support with a product called Smartpath.
I think by the time the airport opens, the world will be watching this little speck of an island in the South Atlantic. Many people have vowed to visit once the airport opens and in fact our tourist office here is already receiving enquiries as to where tickets can be bought. Less than two years to go and so much to do!!
In order for a smooth transition from student in a small island training centre to trainee in a world class hotel kitchen with 50 staff, we planned for someone in the hotel to come over to assess the levels of skill of the students and to cover an induction to the hotel.
When we heard that Malika, the executive chef was coming we were thrilled!
To say the week was a success is an understatement. The restaurant was buzzing the whole week with the students making batches of kebabs, sushi, homemade sauces and chutneys. Malika concentrated on a South African street food called Roti, this is a buttered flatbread which is cooked and then topped with a variety of flavourful toppings such as chick pea curry, pickled aubergine, and oven dried tomatoes, salad leaves and basil, cucumber in yoghurt and toasted sesame seeds. It’s a flavour explosion and one that was raved about by all who consumed one or in some cases FOUR!
The arrival coincided with the start of Marine awareness week which as we are surrounded by such a large expanse of ocean is probably one of the most appropriate events in the calendar.
The week includes a variety of events, pitched at education and raising awareness of marine issues.
Our part to play was to provide a stall offering a variety of seafood items which were not normally available here. We chose Sushi as the leading food item as it’s something that most people have heard of but over here many have never tried it.
There was some thought over how to make the Sushi easier to accept and enjoy as the trend here is to cook tuna very well. It is used in many curry dishes over here.
Also there was the wasabi issue! Wasabi, as anyone who has tasted it, is somewhat like chilli or oysters, in that it is an acquired taste which needs to be developed gradually.
Eventually a variety of Sushi and Sashimi were decided upon, including some sweet sushi which were made with coconut rice and mango. We need not have worried; the sushi went down a storm and was soon gone, as were the trio of flavoured fishcakes which the students had made to their own recipes.
Also on the cards that evening was the initiation of 2onmain into the Chaîne Des Rôtisseurs and the inauguration of 5 Saint Helenians and myself into the Chaîne!
The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is an international gastronomic society dedicated to bringing together professional and non-professional members from around the world who appreciate wine, cuisine and fine dining. Members of a local Bailliage are part of a worldwide organisation with more than 25,000 members in over 80 countries.
January brought with it some pretty wet weather for this time of year although nothing to compare with the UK’s deluge and especially the flooding happening around my home area of the Somerset Levels.
The rain here is dependent on the southerly trade winds which push the moist air off the sea onto the high ground which creates a fine misty rain very similar to the type which prevails in Scotland. The air temperature at this time of year here however runs between 18 and 24 centigrade which is pretty pleasant.
We invited a guest chef from South Africa to visit the island as part of the Hospitality Upskilling project.
Francois Ferriera has two culinary academies in South Africa and is the National President of the National Balliage d’Afrique du Sud de Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, one of the oldest international Gourmand Societies in the world. He has also written cookery books and appears regularly on South African TV.
Francois last visited St Helena in 1999 and was very keen to reacquaint himself with the island.
The programme included a variety of demonstration evenings covering, fast food, party catering, Spices and Masalas, Olive Oil, local produce and fish cookery.
He also spent the two weeks working with our students, offering valuable feedback and training.