THE BLOG

Around St. Helena Aboard the Enchanted Isle: Getting Really, Truly, Terminally Away From It All on the Looney Front (Part 11)

02/02/2015 10:01 am ET | Updated Apr 04, 2015

Having crisscrossed the mountainous interior and multiple microclimates of St. Helena on land there remains one more major trip - the circumnavigation of one of the world's most remote island.

It takes only two and a half hours to sail right round the six-mile by 10-mile speck lost in the vastness of the South Atlantic, but first you need to find enough people to share the 300 pound sterling for the trip, and secondly you have to hope that the mutinous waves are not so gigantic as to persuade the skipper that discretion is the better part of valour.

2014-12-09-IMG_6271custom.jpg

Map of St. Helena from government brochure

We're OK in the first count. Melissa, the exceptionally helpful lady from the exceptionally helpful tourist office went on local radio a couple of days back to broadcast the trip and she's managed to muster enough people to keep the promotional price at $15 a head aboard the Enchanted Isle, a doughty little red-hulled motor boat.

The second point is a little more iffy. Yesterday afternoon the skipper said the sea was much too rough to sail round the northern and eastern coasts.

This morning he says he'll give it a try. Given my lamentable performance on RMS St. Helena, I've already dosed up on Dramamine so I'm all gung ho and more than a little whoozie as I stumble aboard.

2014-12-18-IMG_5249custom.jpg

Setting sail from Jamestown

As we ride out to sea from Jamestown, it's a strange feeling that if we went straight on it would be another 1,800 miles or so and Brazil before we hit land again. But the skipper knows his geography and we bear to starboard, and smack into an angry swell as we boogie our way up the coast.

2014-12-18-IMG_5199custom.jpg

Next stop: Brazil

The sky is blue, the sea likewise, but a gale is blowing and the Enchanted Isle is anything but enchanted as she rocks 'n' rolls over the white caps, pitching, yo-yoing, and dousing those sitting by the starboard railing with an over-generous spray.

There's an old English sea shanty which asks 'What shall we do with a drunken sailor?' We're living its chorus: 'Weigh heigh and up she rises.'

2014-12-18-IMG_5735custom.jpg

Thar she goes

We pass the gun emplacements of Munden's battery, clinging to their craggy perches to protect the island and, in their time, forestall any attempt to free Napoleon. Now a new jetty is being built at Rupert's Bay so that ships with draughts not more than 45 feet can unload directly on land.

2014-12-18-IMG_5734custom.jpg

Munden's gun battery

2014-12-18-IMG_5731custom.jpg

Rupert's Bay jetty construction

The sky's gone 50 shades of grey, and the stark crumpled cliffs, barren, precipitous, reddish, grey and brown, give not a hint of the emerald lushness that burgeons atop the massive plateau.

2014-12-18-IMG_5743custom.jpg

St. Helena's massive crags with another gun battery

2014-12-18-IMG_5748custom.jpg

More crags

2014-12-18-IMG_5745custom.jpg

Yet more

Weigh heigh and up she rises.

I snap away from my bench in the middle of the open deck, staggering this way and that when I try to stand. Mostly it works, but now a middle aged lady in a yellow T-shirt and blue jeans-shorts with a wide flat bum has monopolized the starboard corner, and I've just snapped her wide flat bum instead of a sage green-dusted crag soaring high above us.

2014-12-18-IMG_5740custom.jpg

At last, after wide flat bum, sage green-dusted crags

Weigh heigh and up she rises.

Two young sisters retire to the cabin to puke their hearts out.

A rounded rock formation called the Turk's Cap looms above us. Across, the massive crag known as the Barn rears up. Numerous coves foam with white beneath the precipitous, rugged folds of cliffs, stark and forbidding.

2014-12-18-IMG_5770custom.jpg

The Turk's Cap

The Enchanted Isle heaves again as I try to snap the filled-in valley that marks the start of the island's forthcoming airport runway. Damn, I've snapped Wide Flat Bum's wide flat bum again.

'Are you writing your will,' she asks, staggering over as I try to write down some notes.

'No, yours, my dear,' quoths I, contemplating heaving her wide flat bum overboard. Actually, she's a very pleasant lady.

2014-12-18-IMG_5805custom.jpg

Coastal view

2014-12-18-IMG_5788custom.jpg

Another view

2014-12-18-IMG_5796custom.jpg

And another

We're already plying down the eastern coast, and it's funny to think that if the Enchanted Isle swung due east and its rudder got stuck it would be 1,200 miles and Africa before we hit land again, assuming a Chanukah miracle occurred with the fuel. I don't share my sense of fun with any of the others, some of whom seem to be taking my staggering efforts to rise as the very personification of the Drunken Sailor.

2014-12-18-IMG_5786custom.jpg

Down the east coast

We're way down the south-eastern side by now at Sandy Bay, and Lot's Wife appears atop her lofty ridge. From the land side she may appear as a prim rocky monolith, but from here she looks like nothing so much as a two-headed circumcised penis rampant.

2014-12-18-IMG_5848custom.jpg

Two-headed penis

Weigh heigh and up she rises.

I half-stand to take the Viagra view, the Enchanted Isle pitches and - Oh, Gawd - I go crashing forward, my face embedded in Wide Flat Bum's wide flat bum. The horror, the horror!

2014-12-18-IMG_5863.JPG

Two-headed penis from southern exposure

2014-12-18-IMG_5872custom.jpg

Moving on

We round the south-eastern tip, the sea becalms itself, the sky azures itself and the sun exposes itself. My camera's no longer engraving Wide Flat Bum's wide flat bum, a posterior for posterity.

2014-12-18-IMG_5869custom.jpg

Rounding the south-eastern coast

But that doesn't mean it's able to capture the pods of dolphins, dozens of them, who now circle the Enchanted Isle and arc out of the water like flying fish as they put on an ostentatious show of pure exhibitionism.

Phantasmagorical sea stacks and jagged volcanic plugs loom up off shore, and yes, there they are - a huge whale and her calf, a massive flipper high above the waves, an enormous tail crashing down, again and again. As for my ever more excited photographic efforts, let's just say that I don't lose myself or the camera overboard. But every time I shoot a whale, I shoot a blank.

2014-12-18-IMG_5215custom.jpg

Sea stacks

2014-12-18-IMG_5197custom.jpg

Another

2014-12-18-IMG_5204custom.jpg

And another

Sage green down dapples the cliffs. The occasional darker green channel snakes down a craggy ravine. Trees crown a hilltop shoulder. And the blue South Atlantic goes on forever.

2014-12-18-IMG_5217custom.jpg

Sage green

2014-12-18-IMG_5185custom.jpg

Darker green trees

2014-12-18-IMG_5198custom.jpg

And the Atlantic so blue, so blue

Jamestown heaves into view, the Enchanted Isle chugs up to the little jetty, and a couple of our already well-oiled fellow travellers have found the answer to 'What shall we do with a drunken sailor?'

2014-12-18-IMG_5248custom.jpg

Back to Jamestown

It's not 'Chuck him in the long boat till he's sober,' nor 'Scrape the hair off his chest with a hoop-iron razor,' nor even 'Put him in bed with the captain's daughter.'

It's

'Go off to a bar for anything but water,
'Spend the afternoon at Bacchus' altar,
'Quaff all the liquor without giving quarter...

Weigh heigh and up she rises.

2014-12-18-IMG_5250custom.jpg

The view from the Enchanted Isle as we tie up

______________

By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.

Swimming With Fidel: The Toils Of An Accidental Journalist, available on Kindle, with free excerpts here, and in print version on Amazon in the U.S here.