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Journal Entry:

Monday, April 20, 2015 05:15:32

ANTARCTICA & IBERIA 2015: 7 Tristan da Cunha to St. Helena

Saturday, April 18, 2015

We were in heavy seas for the first few days after leaving Tristan da Cunha. Everyone is looking forward to getting on land for the first time in weeks at St. Helena, but our expedition leader began letting us know at the nightly recaps that we are continually falling further behind schedule and that time will have to be cut from the remaining two destinations to make up for it. It seems that in slogging through the heavy seas our trusty ship has to slow to less than 5 knots

Other than during the first week of the trip it has turned out to be an expensive disaster. Jan, the expedition leader, seems very disorganized. The itinerary for each day is posted on the bulletin board at reception with most lectures or videos marked TBA (to be announced). It would seem to me that it wouldn't take organizational genius to arrange the following day's lectures when all the lecturers are on board, or to decide what movie or documentary will be shown

I'm told that in planning the promised itinerary for this cruise they didn't allow for bad weather. There is never a cruise in the southern seas that doesn't encounter bad weather - in the 50 and 60 degree south latitudes it comes with the territory, however the lack of ability to make any reasonable time in heavy seas is used as the reason to cut back on the very thing people paid to see and do. The mood among passengers on board is not a happy one! Most understand the impossibility of landing on Bouvet, but weather as an excuse for a one hour sail by of Gough instead of a day exploring in zodiacs, and three hours around Tristan instead of a day is a lot more difficult to justify, although the disease factor in Tristan worked well for cutting the visit short

We hadn't been on deck for our after lunch walk for a few days because of high wind and the sometimes violent movements of the ship, but during this time we arrived in the tropics, so it was a big surprised when we ventured onto the deck in jackets to find 25C (77 F) temperatures. The jackets were quickly shed, and we worked up a sweat circling the deck. The last time up we were comfortable in parkas and fur hats!

By Thursday we were informed we would not be in St. Helena on Saturday as planned, but about noon on Sunday, unfortunate as stores will be closed. The following day we were issued our passports and entry forms for St. Helena - apparently this will have to be done individually. This was also the day for all to gather in warm sunshine on the helicopter deck (we don't have a helicopter) for group photos where we all smile like we were having the time of our lives

By Saturday we had been in tropical waters for a couple of days, and there were a lot of flying fish taking to the air to get away from the ship. When I did my trek the deck I passed several passengers with their huge long camera lenses capturing the fish on film. When one or more leapt from the water to glide a considerable distance the automatic rapid fire photo mechanisms sounded like we were machine gunning the unsuspecting fish! It was a hot, sunny day, and some of the photos were spectacular

At a lecture this morning by Victoria, our historian, we learned that St. Helena was first discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, the same year Columbus visited Costa Rica. It had a turbulent history, being claimed by the Dutch in 1633, then granted to the English East India Company by England in 1657, who settled it in 1659. The Dutch attacked and occupied it in 1665, the British retook it in 1666, the Dutch again in 1673 and the British finally gained control later that same year

The East Indian Company gave it up in 1833, pulled out the garrison, leaving the islanders unprotected and with little income. They scraped by until it became a POW camp with a garrison during the Zulu uprising, the Boer War and the Second World War. Flax was introduced in 1907 and prospered until synthetic rope took over by 1965 when the economy collapsed again

The British say they are hoping that the construction of an airport, to open next year, will make the island self sufficient with tourism. The 250 million British pound price tag for the airport amounts to a donation from Britain of about 6,250 pounds for each of the 4,000 men, women and children on the island

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Today we put our feet on solid ground for the first time in almost three weeks. As seems normal on a shore day we were awakened at 6 AM, 5 hours before we left the ship. I've not quite figured out the necessity for that, unless it is to let the crew get finished with breakfast in time to go ashore. A lot of the crew were able to get off for a few hours

Having been to St. Helena before, we had done the island tour and seen most of the sights, so the objective today was to drink beer in all 6 of the places that sold it on a Sunday. The Royal Mail Ship and the other ship owned by Oceanwide (the company that owns our Ortelius) were also in port, but it was interesting to note that the souvenir shops were closed on Sunday in spite of this. It would seem unlikely that the locals would buy sufficient souvenirs without the ships! Surprisingly, they opened the post office. A small general store was open where we bought some essentials, and a lady who works in the post office phoned a friend with a gift shop when she found Marilynn was looking for a shirt. Her friend came and opened the shop for Marilynn

Once the basics were looked after we went to Ann's restaurant for a very good lunch, with beer, then to the Constitution Hotel where the bartender told us the airport is running well behind schedule. The hotel has people sent to install the runway lights there for three months waiting for the airport to be ready for them. The hotel bar does not open Sundays unless there are guests, so that worked in our favour

I carried on to the Standard Pub while Marilynn was at the gift shop and quickly hooked up with four locals where I learned a great deal more about what was going on, including the fact that Johnathan, the famous ancient tortoise in the governor's garden had indeed died but was replaced with another, as he is popular with tourists. We had several rounds of drinks before moving on to the White Horse Pub where we again tied in with some Saints, as they call themselves. I asked everyone I talked to what they though about the new airport being built, and did not find one person who thought it was a good idea - all were opposed to it. That was a surprised, but it seems it is being built in spite of local opposition. They had hoped there would be flights to England, but the only flight will be once a week to Johannesburg, which is not likely to do much for tourism

Our last beer was downed at an open air stand with a view of the landing site, so we could see the last zodiacs coming in. There were quite of a few of the crew in swimming - if I'd thought of that I would have worn my bathing suit! At any rate, it was a fun and informative day

Once settled back aboard we found we needn't have hurried, as there were engine problems. They must have got it going some time during the night, as when we woke up next morning we were under way. There were several people on board who had been on the other Oceanwide ship last year when the engine broke down and they spent 8 days on the island of South Georgia. This will put us even further behind schedule

It will now take about 4 days to get to Ascension Island, our next stop