Saga Pearl II blog - Captains' blogs
28th March, 2019
A tiny dot in the middle of the south Atlantic Ocean, St Helena lies over 1000 miles from our departure point, the west coast of Africa; and even further from the South American coast.
The island is said to have been discovered in the modern age by another of those adventurous Portuguese fellows, a certain Juan Castella, back in 1502. It subsequently became a stop-off point for Portuguese vessels to replenish their supplies and break long voyages. That is, of course, if they could find it – for locating an island that size in the vastness of an ocean is akin to rummaging for a needle in a haystack when navigating by Sextant only.
The British, with assistance from the East India Company, eventually pinched it from the Portuguese and colonised St Helena with just a few rude interruptions, primarily from the Dutch, during the 17th Century. One of the first British colonies to be established outside North America & the Caribbean, there were forts & houses built, and after initial teething problems with such issues as vermin and deforestation, the island eventually became more prosperous from about 1770.
St Helena is perhaps best known though for being the final exile for a certain Napoleon Bonaparte, who was sent to spend the remainder of his life there following his famous defeat at Waterloo in 1815. He was put up in the rather grand Longwood House, which stands as a museum to this day. His tomb lies a mile or so away in a peaceful, scenic valley where he enjoyed spending much of his time.
The Saga Pearl 2 rounded the north of the island at 06:00 before sweeping in towards Jamestown and anchoring as close as possible to the landing jetty, just prior to 07:00. A small team of local customs & immigration folk popped out to the ship on their own little boat to grant us clearance before we started tendering passengers ashore just prior to 08:00.
Organised trips today went on a hunt for a rare local bird, (the “Wirebird” – and I’m pleased to report that they successfully located some of these) an educated stroll around the streets of the capital, Jamestown, and of course scenic tours around the island stopping to see some highlights mentioned above as well as the Governor’s Residence, Plantation House. This is where apparently the world’s oldest living tortoise, Jonathon, lives. There is dispute as to his actual age, but most put it between 140-180 years. Jolly old!
Pleasingly for me, I managed to set foot upon this little-visited island (population circa 4,500) just before lunch time, when I was excited to attempt the Jacob’s Ladder challenge. This 924ft long steep staircase was first conceived in the 1830’s as an inclined plane for some sort of pulley-railway system to transport soil and unwanted plants from Jamestown below up to higher grounds. Why they didn’t just throw it into the sea is beyond me. Anyway, Jacob’s Ladder now lies as a staircase with about a 45o angle and presents a good opportunity for one to work up an appetite for their lunch.
Having completed the climb in just over 10 minutes, (the current record is about 5 ½ minutes – conveniently displayed on a plaque at the top, obviously for morale-boosting purposes) it was time to descend again (just as difficult) before enjoying a lunch of delicious fresh local fishcakes & tuna steak in a little restaurant in Jamestown. After this, I managed to grab one of the few taxis in St Helena along with a Saga passenger and take a quick trip around the island. We had hoped to visit Plantation House as well as having successfully viewed Napoleon’s house & tomb, but got somewhat waylaid in the island’s only distillery…
A great day had by all, it was time to weigh anchor and head north to west Africa again. But not before I had a little surprise in store for our passengers the day after tomorrow…
Captain Kim Tanner
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