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St Helena, where a warm welcome and a fascinating island awaits

09 January 2009

St Helena, where a warm welcome and fascinating island await
09 January 2009

Jamestown BayIn preparation for World ARC, World Cruising Club invited Jimmy Cornell to write a series of passage notes which are included in each ‘Skippers Handbook’. So let’s hand over to Jimmy and hear his thoughts on what the crews will find as they make their first landfall of 2009.

It is always a really good feeling to arrive in a place where visiting sailors are not only warmly welcome but their presence makes a visible contribution to the local economy. St Helena is a truly fascinating island, not least because its most famous visitor, Napoleon Bonaparte, arrived there by force, spent nearly six years of exile there and ended his life on this remote speck of land. Her very isolation is probably St Helena’s main attraction and the lack of an airport means that only determined travellers actually set foot on this remote island lost in the vastness of the South Atlantic.

History of St Helena
St Helena’s checkered history is reflected in the island’s three thousand “Saints”, a rainbow mix of colours and races: African, English, Irish, Portuguese, Indian and probably a lot more. In such a small place, everyone greets you warmly in the street, so it is not just the language that makes you feel immediately at home. Quaint is the term that springs to mind whenever I think of St Helena, and it applies not just to the name of its inhabitants, but also to those of some its landmarks, such as Longwood, Levelwood or Deadwood. There is even an Alarm Hill where a canon was placed in wartime to sound the alarm if an enemy vessel was sighted.

Jamestown from above.  Image credit ; WikipediaThe Napoleon Connection
One day we hired a taxi to take us on a tour of the island, which measures some six by ten miles, with steep roads and a hilly interior that rises to 800 metres. Some of the interior is surprisingly lush, with grassy meadows sprinkled with all kinds of flowers, whereas the western, lee side is parched brown. A windy road leads to Longwood, Napoleon’s residence, now a museum set in a landscaped garden that is sovereign French territory. Ever since Napoleon’s death the British have tried to make amends for the rather awful way they had treated their arch-enemy. The house where he spent his exile, and where he died of stomach cancer at the age of fifty-one, is now in much better shape than it ever was when the former emperor and his entourage lived there. Then it was a draughty, damp, rat-infested place with sagging floorboards, dripping walls and smoking fireplaces. As we walked around on the squeaky floors, Napoleon’s presence was almost palpable, a feeling undoubtedly helped by the fact that some of the original furniture has been preserved: his desk and chair, an ornate mirror, the large zinc bath in which he spent endless hours feeling sorry for himself.

World ARC in St Helena
As part of the Heineken Cape to Bahia Race rules, the crews may elect to spend between 24 & 72 hours in St Helena, the actual amount of time being taken off their total time in order to work out the overall results. The people of St Helena will only just have bid farewell to the Governer’s Cup fleet as the first World ARC yachts drop anchor off Jamestown, and as Jimmy has noted, the crews will receive a great welcome to this fascinating island.

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