When in sailing mode, the five of us become one organism, moving as parts of a whole. Oloff, Isolde, Muir, me, Ongemak. We’re a well tuned team by now and naturally learnt to work hard together but also to laugh hard and celebrate any small milestone.
Once on land however, the organism detaches to its parts and reassembles mostly as couples.
Once on land on St Helena Island, Isolde and Oloff rented a quiet, cosy, self catering apartment up in the “Briars” while Muir and I ended up at the Consulate Hotel for most of our stay on St Helena Island.
For the sake of followers of the sailing organism, I’ll tell mostly about our combined experiences and other island highlights.
Arriving at Jamestown gives one a view of mostly rocky hills with a town in its cleft. A wall separates the sea from the town pier and yet another wall gives entrance to the town through “the” arch. From here, it’s all uphill. Following the roads through and past town leads to a heart-shaped waterfall and this is where the island’s lushciousness comes into sight.
As mentioned, Muir and I were extremely lucky to befriend the Consulate Hotel proprietor, Hazel. Botswana born but there is no Saint like Hazel. She offered us her car in the first week and the Ongemak crew set off to see what’s to see. We climbed Falgstaff (epic sea view), gawked at the airport runway which seems to have a cliff dive on either side, had a take-away in Longwood, rang a stone (Bellstone, it’s a thing), and mostly we had our jaws dropped by the unexpected natural scenery. If ever you were looking for the perfect Wonderland, look no further. In between luminous green grass, the island is ridden with ferns (my favourite), flax and even blue gums. It was a great way to find our bearings around the island.
Next up was 5 May – the anniversary of Napoleon’s death. His house in Longwood and his tomb was open for free viewing. His house is all about his death but at least coloured by beautiful flower gardens. His tomb is surrounded by more beautifully tiered gardens with stunning flowers such as the spider lily. In my opinion, Napoleon is the last reason to visit St Helena Island. (really, just my opinion).
The next day, we all attended a pot-luck lunch at the yacht club. We had all the yachties showing off their best dishes. It seems we’re not the only ones who eat like royalty. This event gave us another opportunity to get to know our fellow yachts a bit better and where we first officially met yacht Gaia’s Gail and Philipe – a beautiful Mauritian couple.
Soon hereafter, Gail and Philipe was at the Consulate waiting for their rental car. They offered to drop Muir and I at the start of the Diana’s peak trail, which all the Ongemak crew afterwards agreed is a must see/do. Standing atop this peak brings the entire map of St Helena to life. On the one side, “Lot” and “Lot’s” wife overlooks a barren Sandy Bay. Pan across right to the other side where the airport runway drops into the sea next to… In between are rolling hills of green with villages plotted in between.
Oloff and Isolde suggested Plantation House. This is an abode purposefully built as the governor’s resident. It is also home the oldest living creature on the island – Jonathan the turtle. An estimated 160 years of age.
Following the lead of our fellow cruisers, we all got together to apply for our Ascension Island visas. This process forces one back into the space / time continuum with questions about intended arrival and departure dates. It was clear that none of us wanted to leave and we agreed to stay for St Helena Day on 21 May.
The days rolled past with the exchange of meals with friends and fellow yachties. Some as crew, some as couples. The most memorable of which must be Mauritian curry aboard Gaia. Muir and I did some running, hiking and snorkelling in between treating the Consulate as our home with tasks like brewing kefir, kindly gifted to us by Liz and Rob – the same kind couple who fed us the most beautiful Indian meal.
Isolde applied her editing talents to the making of the cradle to Island Ongemak movie (trailer to be released shortly) and they used their home to receive and treat guests, including Muir and I.
Our next crew outing was Lot’s Wife’s Ponds. We rented a car which Oloff and Isolde received the night before and used to drive to a camping spot next to Halley’s observatory (the same one from the comet) which was mostly described to us as scary yet beautiful. Not unlike most places you arrive at after dark.
They picked us up the next morning for the drive down to Sandy Bay. From here, one would walk down to the only island beach and then hike along to the ponds. We figure locals don’t really do this hike since they all made it seem like a quick stroll. Arriving at the black beach (volcanic sand), one walks up to the only little green sign and there, in front of rather larger-than-expected hills reads “Lot’s Wife’s Ponds 2.8 miles”. We were all in flip flops but managed the hour’s hike on and over very interesting paths leading to crystal clear ponds, filled tide by tide with beautiful ocean creatures – mostly small fish but also many crabs and even an octopus – one of the most fascinating ocean critters on our blue planet.
Our last day was also St Helena Day – a carnival attended by all. The day of activities including a 3km fun run for which Isolde received a medal for second place female. Floats drove through the town perfectly aligned to this year’s carnival theme: “the good old days”. A demarcated area hosted food and drink stalls with a local band on stage as a live soundtrack to the day.
Amidst the festivities were many formalities we left to the last minute such as packing, getting all of our gathered possessions and food supply to the boat and trying to wrap up emails and flight bookings – all while saying our goodbyes. Hazel gave us the most thoughtful gift of flenny linen which has since changed our lives – she was a tough one to say goodbye to but we hope to see her in Cape Town in August. The island’s Internet had stopped working completely (the reason I’m using for not updating the blog before we left). After hours of trying, we gave up and left to the pier at dark, first stopping for a last dance at the carnival. Somehow we managed to fit all our gear into our dingy and some atop the kayak. We made it to the boat around 10:30pm and started to unpack, clean and get ready for an early start of a 6 day journey to Ascension Island.