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St Helena Air Service Tender Delayed, RMS Broken – Isolation Nightmare

The St Helena Airport, at dawn.

NOTHING SPLENDID ABOUT THIS ISOLATION | Darrin Henry

Today, one year on from the Comair landing of 2016, the St Helena Airport ‘fiasco’ continues.

SHG officials and DfID have tried to conceal that “there will be some slight delay” in the new tender process currently underway to select an air service provider for St Helena. The evaluation period of three months to choose a ‘preferred bidder’ could possibly take up to five instead.

This comes at a time when the RMS St Helena has broken down, Ascension Island runway has cracks and knocking down King & Queen Rock is being discussed.

The Problem With Early Summer

There is a delay in the air service tender.

St Helena Government (SHG) officials and the British Government’s, Department for International Development (DfID) attempted to hide a delay in the announcement of a ‘preferred bidder’ by quietly discarding reference to the published 28 April 2017 deadline, replacing it with the more broader language of “early summer”.

News that the tender is now delayed, by any period of time, will add to the overall sense of frustration felt by islanders.

St Helena Airport has been used by small business jets over the last year, including medevac flights. This was last week, the latest medevac flight taking off from St Helena in the early morning.

To recap, this was the original timeline the new air service tender was supposed to follow:

6 February, 2017 – Bid submission deadline. SHG said it was “encouraged by the response.” 

                28 April, 2017 – Announcement of preferred bidder due.

                31 May, 2017 – Signed, minimum three year contract with chosen air service provider due.

Commencement of scheduled air service then widely expected to begin sometime before the end of 2017.

All seemed on track until 24 March, 2017, when SHG posted an airport update on their website which included this statement:

It is hoped to announce the preferred bidder in early summer 2017.

Having previously promoted the original timeline on our blog as ‘things we knew for sure,’ I was concerned.

I’ve since made six written requests to SHG for clarification on whether the 28 April, ‘preferred bidder’ announcement date still stands. The replies have all avoided confirming or denying the fact.

However, the situation was confirmed by Executive Councillor, Derek Thomas, who sits on the weekly Access Board.

“Yes, there has been some slippage in the process, I have to tell you, I’m aware of that, so there will be some deviation from the original dates,” said Mr Thomas. “There will be some slight delay.”

I looked up the term ‘early summer’ as it applies to UK. It seems this could stretch into the second half of June, in which case this could then push the signed contract to the end of July. Potentially the tender process could be delayed by two months, based on current language.

So, we have a delay. Big deal, some might say.

Sure, but why not just be up front and say so, then? A delay is not such an unreasonable probability, but the sneaky handling after everything that’s gone before, is cause for concern.

It’s difficult not to doubt supposed experts who incomprehensibly failed to adequately consider wind shear when building an airport on top of a 1,000 foot cliff.

It’s not just an island thing either. In November 2016 the UK, House of Commons, Public Accounts Committee panel referred to the project as a ‘fiasco,’ concluding, “Thus far, the Department (DfID) has unquestionably failed the residents of St Helena and the British taxpayer.”

Attempts to hoodwink the public with this latest delay underlines the worrying detachment of those in charge, from the impact this ‘fiasco’ is having on the lives of Saints and everyone affected.

No Need To Move Mountains

During the November 2016, PAC inquiry in London, concerns were expressed that the coastal landmark of King and Queen Rock, at St Helena airport, might be knocked down in the name of wind shear fixing.

St Helena Airport at the top of the cliff with the huge landmass of King and Queen Rock seen to the left of the runway in this picture.

Like many, I had assumed this sensational option was no longer on the table, especially in light of the successful Avro and Embraer test flights in October and December 2016 respectively.

However, in a briefing earlier this month to elected councillors on St Helena given by the island’s Airport Director, the consideration of removing King and Queen Rock was included.

This for me is a worrying development.

Despite the PAC’s repeated questioning in November, to date no one it seems is accountable for the failure to consider wind shear. Would it be any different if removing King and Queen turned out to be wrong?

As expert opinions go I’m more inclined to trust the specialist Faroese and Brazilian pilots of the successful Avro and Embraer test flights than a computer simulation telling us to knock down a small mountain. The pilots had no problem with King and Queen, so let’s leave that rock alone, please.

The Old Lady Is Showing Her Age

It never rains unless it pours.

The airport failings thus far have been highlighted by ongoing problems with the island’s other method of travel.

The RMS St Helena at her usual berth in Cape Town. Photographed in 2015.

Old faithful, the RMS St Helena, the island’s only scheduled, commercial means of travel to and from the outside world for the past 27 years, has serious problems with her starboard propeller.

A complete round-trip voyage was dropped from the regular shipping schedule in order to undergo an emergency dry-dock repair in Simon’s Town, South Africa. Two days after being refloated the repair has failed.

Latest information from SHG indicates the vessel will return to dry-dock later this week which means a second consecutive round-trip voyage is now being dropped.

The disruption in travel plans to hundreds of people is huge. In a statement SHG have said “Discussions continue as to whether an alternative passenger vessel can be located and at the same time investigations continue into whether an aircraft can be sourced.”

The Atlantic Star Proposal

Enter once again, Atlantic Star Airlines. The company’s CEO, Richard Brown, has responded to the crisis with an offer to establish an air link between St Helena, Ascension Island and Accra, Ghana, using an Avro RJ100.

Atlantic Star’s arrival flight at St Helena Airport in October 2016, the Avro RJ100 seen here taxiing onto the parking apron at the end of the flight from Ascension Island.

Atlantic Star have already arranged a successful test flight of this aircraft to St Helena, via Ascension, in October 2016.

Richard Brown told us yesterday, “The aircraft and crew are available, the necessary operating permissions exist and we could get something going very quickly if needed. We would also be able to carry freight. SHG and DfID are aware of our offer and our capability. We are waiting for them to decide the best way forward and we will help in any way that we can.”

Over to you, SHG and DfID, it seems.

Cracks Beginning To Appear

As if there aren’t enough spanners clanging in the island’s accessibility works, here’s another.

The Falklands airbridge flight landing at Wideawake Airfield, Ascension Island in 2009.

On neighbouring Ascension Island, 700 miles north-west, the “state of repair” of the runway has compromised the operational capability of Wideawake Airfield. This situation was only revealed four days ago as we entered the Easter holidays. This has huge implications for St Helena’s current woes.

Even at 700 miles away, Ascension Island is the closest diversionary airfield should aircraft not be able to land on St Helena.

All round, it’s an almighty mess the island finds itself in at the current time.

Still Failing the Residents of St Helena

It’s ironic that exactly one year ago, 18 April 2016, there was probably never a greater sense of optimism coursing through St Helena’s community. Jet engines were powering in a new age of prosperity and it was arriving in the gleaming red, white and blue colours of British Airways – we were about to be connected to the world.

But of course, wind shear was waiting on Prosperous Bay Plain that day. It extended a vigorous handshake to welcome Comair’s brand new 737-800, triggering far more than just an aborted landing.

There’s clearly a lot of work that needs to be done to sort out the mess the island’s access situation is in.

A good start would be improved quality of communications and a bit more honesty from those at the top.

Excessive secrecy has prevailed over the last year alongside a blatant disregard of the commitment of the island’s people in making the airport project possible. It’s about time this changed.

Day of the wind shear. 18 April, 2016, the Comair operated, British Airways Boeing 737-800 lines up to land at St Helena Airport.

St Helena Naturally, in Photographs

A heavy, early morning cloud settles in James Valley between Putty Hill and High Knoll, with the trace of a rainbow beginning to appear.
St Helena Island – Naturally.

BEAUTY WE TAKE FOR GRANTED | Darrin Henry

It’s been a little while since we indulged in a picture post, just photos for pleasure, so to speak. As it’s Good Friday today, a day of peace and reflection, we’ve compiled a ‘natural St Helena’ collection for Easter.

The topography of St Helena does a great job of making the island feel twice the size that it really is, and when it comes to great views this tiny place delivers far more than one might expect. Visitors constantly remark on the scenic contrasts that unfold around them as they venture inland from Jamestown to explore for the first time.

I guess living here we’re all a little guilty of taking the natural beauty of St Helena’s terrain for granted.

But not today! Here we go, ten shots of appreciation for St Helena – naturally.

Atlantic rollers crashing into the sea front in James Bay. Rough seas are common around the island between January to March.
St Helena Island – Naturally.
The end of another day on St Helena, the final rays of sunshine catching the clouds even as the Central Peaks are already falling into darkness.
St Helena Island – Naturally.
Early morning fog drifting up from Sandy Bay over the flax covered slopes and into Broadbottom and Blue Hill.
St Helena Island – Naturally.
The colourful earth marls, shaped by years of erosion, near Bottomwoods glowing in the late afternoon sunshine.
St Helena Island – Naturally.
James Bay full of white surf during the rough sea season in 2017.
St Helena Island – Naturally.
The phonolitic column of Lot in Sandy Bay.
St Helena Island – Naturally.
Endemic scrubwood, growing at Horse Point. The scrubwood is well adapted to very barren, exposed conditions and flowers throughout the year.
St Helena Island – Naturally.
A red-billed tropic bird, known locally as ‘trophy,’ soaring around the coastal cliffs of Mundens.
St Helena Island – Naturally.
Dawn clouds clinging to the conical peak of Flagstaff at the end of Deadwood Plain.
St Helena Island – Naturally.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, modelled after the Pantheon of Rome, is America’s foremost memorial to its third president. The cornerstone was laid 5 November, 1939, by President Roosevelt.

US PRESIDENT NUMBER THREE | Darrin Henry

Try this. Visualise three tourist attractions to see in Washington DC.

I bet there’s a good chance our immediate visions are very similar: The White House; Lincoln Memorial and Washington Memorial?

Even if you don’t know the names, the huge statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in his chair is iconic USA; that tall, four-sided concrete obelisk of the Washington Monument with its pointy top, and of course the home of the president, the White House itself.

Washington DC is a sightseeing extravaganza; wide open park spaces, a glut of Smithsonian museums, plenty of people for that ‘safety in numbers’ feeling and grand monuments everywhere. We loved Washington DC – or just, “DC” as our friends there called it. Unlike the many deserted city centres we’d encountered across the US, DC was busy.

The city’s architecture we’ve seen on the silver screen for years, it’s as famous as anything anywhere else in the world.

But there are a few monument siblings that seem to live in the shadows of their more renowned family members. One of these is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, built on the south bank of the Tidal Basin.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is located on the south bank of the Tidal Basin near downtown Washington, DC It is open daily from 8:00 am until 11:45 pm every day except Christmas Day.
The statue of Thomas Jefferson looks out from the interior of the Memorial toward the White House. Sculpted by Rudolph Evans, the bronze statue is 19 feet tall and weighs five tonnes.
The Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC.
Displayed around the interior of the Memorial, are five quotations taken from Jefferson’s writings that illustrate the principles to which he dedicated his life.
Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC.
The 19-foot (5.8 m) tall, bronze statue beneath the dome of the Jefferson Memorial. Inscribed below the dome are the word: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
The quote is lifted from a letter written by Jefferson on September 23, 1800, in which he defends the constitutional refusal to recognise a state religion.
Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC.

The Jefferson Memorial was dedicated in 1943, not even 100 years ago. In some ways it’s a reminder of how young America is as the country we know today. The memorial even looks new, like a freshly made plaster cast, gleaming white.

While the Lincoln Memorial’s steps attract crowds like scattered bread crumbs draw pigeons, the scene at the Jefferson Memorial is far more sedate. Perhaps because it’s a tiny little bit out of the way and requires that extra bit of effort to walk there, but in my opinion well worth it.

Thomas Jefferson was born on 13 April, 1743. He was just the third president of the United States, elected in 1800. The list of US presidents is still quite short. Donald Trump is only the 45th. I wonder what a Trump memorial might look like one day! Hmmm.

One of our favourite things about the monuments in Washington DC was to see them floodlit at night.
The Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC.

There were a lot of rats running around the outside of the Jefferson Memorial at night; big rats. A couple of dead ones were lying across the pathway around the Tidal Basin and there was plenty of rustling in the bushes. Something to do with the Tidal Lake and all that water I guess. When Sharon and I went back for an after dark photo, we were talking loudly and stomping as much as we could to scare them off.

What struck me most about the Jefferson Memorial was the opulence of it all. Such a huge monument and grounds dedicated to just one person. In London the Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square is only 12 feet tall, you could miss it if you don’t look carefully enough. Even the Victoria monument outside Buckingham Palace seems modest in comparison to the DC memorials.

If you’re going to DC be sure to make time for the Jefferson Memorial, it’s a superb attraction, spacious and peaceful; and it’s free. Take time to read the inscriptions and learn a little bit more about America’s third commander in chief.

The colonnaded style of architecture was introduced to the country by Thomas Jefferson. The design by Architect, Russell Pope, is therefore a tribute to the third president’s own architectural tastes.
The Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC.

Time-Lapse St Helena: Music Man James

James playing bass guitar in local band, Island Politics, during a gig at the Kingshurst Community Centre.
Time-Lapse St Helena: James Fantom

JAMES FANTOM, 24, MUSICIAN, HALF WAY | Sharon Henry

Time-Laspe is a blog feature designed to capture segments of time, life and culture through stories told by the people of St Helena.

“My love for music started when I was going to middle school in America (aged 11).  I made a friend who played guitar and I thought wouldn’t it be cool if we started a band, because at that age you’re just trying to be cool right?  So I started playing drums.  But I picked up the guitar too, and I could tell that, like, I had some sort of natural talent with music and I got better quicker than a lot of people did.

“It quickly became my entire life.  I was practising in high school about six hours a day, pretty much as soon I got home to 10pm.

“I started studying Music Education at university but changed to Classical Guitar Performance.  That’s playing Bach and Mozart and things in a classical style.”

Not Fun Anymore

James Fantom plays bass guitar in local band, Island Politics, on St Helena.
Time-Lapse, What The Saints Did Next.

“At that time I wanted to be a professional classical musician.  I was getting to the point where I was paid quite a lot to play.  The going rate for me was £100 an hour for fancy business events or weddings.  I gave that up because I realised the world I was getting into was like, extremely competitive and there was so much pressure to be better than the next guy.

“Music started to become not fun anymore.  It actually drove me crazy after a while because of the pressure.  I thought, this is not why I started playing music so I kind of put it down after a while and started focussing on stuff I liked.

“I can play guitar, bass, drums, piano, saxophone, clarinet, flute, violin, viola, cello…  I can pretty much pick up any instrument and play.  They all kind of make sense now, I can figure out the mechanics.”

Sheet Music In My Head

“My first adult band was called ‘Spuddy and the Twang’ it was me and a friend, we only recorded two songs but it was pretty good.  Then I joined a band in Philadelphia called ‘Ecce Shnak.’  They were in the process of releasing two albums that I recorded before I left America.  It’s hard to explain their music it’s really strange, sort of rock, sort of opera-ish.

“I try to write my own music every so often but I have the typical problem when I can start something but can never really finish it.  I cannot do lyrics; I don’t have a way with words so I just write the music.

“One of the biggest things I got out of university is my ear is now very good.  Basically if I hear a tune I watch it going by in sheet music in my head.  I hear every part, all the little things.

“It’s good but sometimes I wonder what music sounds like if you don’t know all that.  Like if you go to school for a film and all of a sudden all your favourite films are ruined because you know too much about them.”

One In A Million

“I’m now in a band called Island Politics (on St Helena), there are three of us and I play bass.  I’m not the strongest singer so I don’t really sing.  Also it’s quite hard to play bass and sing than it is to play guitar and sing.

Island Politics is a 3-person band. Along with James (bass) is Gareth Drabble (guitar, vocals) and Barry Francis (drums).
Time-Lapse St Helena: James Fantom

“It feels really good being in the band and playing music.  I came here (to St Helena) not really expecting to do that so well and it’s really nice to play somewhere and have people actually enjoy it, be on the dance floor and stuff.  That’s something I haven’t really experienced to this extent before.  It’s really great to be a part of something that I feel is kind of big even though anywhere else it wouldn’t be as there [would be] a million bands.  I like it.”

James was born in Botswana, grew up in America and moved to St Helena year and a half ago. His mum is St Helenian, his dad is English.

“I can play guitar, bass, drums, piano, saxophone, clarinet, flute, violin, viola, cello… I can pretty much pick up any instrument and play.”
Time-Lapse St Helena: James Fantom

Get Fit Like Nobody’s Watching – Hanoi Style

A dance group or perhaps Tai Chi, taking place around the Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
World Health Day – Keeping fit in Hanoi, Vietnam.

THE CITY WHERE EXERCISE IS CULTURE | Darrin Henry

There’s a crazy little thing photographers tend to do; set the alarm for stupid o’clock to go bumbling out in the dark in search of perfect sunrise pictures, but in Hanoi, Vietnam, when we tried this we got an unusual surprise.

You Can Do Whatever You Want Here

The Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, which means “Lake of the Restored Sword,” was our destination, a beautiful centre-piece of the city, ringed with overhanging trees and the Turtle Tower island out in the middle. We were guessing it would look special at dawn.

But as Sharon and I walked toward the lake soon after 5am we found we were not alone! Instead of the deserted streets we would normally encounter elsewhere, the whole lakeside was alive with movement. Hundreds of people. ‘Movement’ really is the key word here! Any kind you can think of. Dawn we discovered was exercise time in Hanoi.

It was the most amazing sight, hundreds of people out walking, stretching, twisting, flexing, tai chi-ing and just a very few running. Not many youngsters mind you. I estimate the age range went from about 30 up to the top end of senior citizens.

As if normal push-ups aren’t enough, this man does it facing down the steps.
World Health Day – Keeping fit at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.
This huge surge of people are all here for exercise, walking anti-clockwise around the lake.
World Health Day – Keeping fit at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Stretching and flexing at the side of the lake.
World Health Day – Keeping fit at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.
This man used to box, showed us his battle-scarred knuckles and the weight pouches he wears while he works out around the lake.
World Health Day – Keeping fit at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Another group working out.
World Health Day – Keeping fit at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.
A very precise martial arts routine going on here (red shorts) while the lady in the front uses a tree for support to do leg extensions.
World Health Day – Keeping fit at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Some people just stood facing out to the lake shaking their arms and flicking their fingers in and out. A few held arms above their heads and leaned over, side to side, almost like fans at a concert keeping time to a ballad. Sit-ups, push-ups, squats and lunges were underway. Park benches, tree trunks and lamp posts all became improvised gym equipment.

Groups of maybe 6 to 15 were taking part in slow, synchronised martial arts style movements. There were dance groups (it seemed) lined up in rows two or three deep.

What struck us the most was the ‘anything goes’ exercises – spasmodic shoulder shaking, jerky leg kicks, flailing arms… anywhere else in the world we would probably have been laughing but around the lake that morning it was clearly normal, and how quickly we adapted to accepting that normal.

Open Air Gym Membership

There were two fitness types on display. The gentle, tai chi style, sustainable movers; and then the shakers, the serious fitness buffs, mostly men pumping iron with homemade concrete weight bars or pulling their whole body up on lamp posts for incredible stomach crunches!

We soon forgot about the sunrise (it was too smoggy anyway) and just wandered about the lake marvelling at the public keep fit effort.

And then it all came to an end quite suddenly. Everyone finished up and wandered off to go about their day.

We were to later discover a similar thing happens in the evenings, although on a smaller scale. A section of the lakeside is turned into an outdoor gym with men mostly, out pumping iron as families and lovebirds strolled on by.

Ok, this is hardcore! Night session and stomach crunches on the lamp post for some serious abs.
World Health Day – Keeping fit at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Push-ups off the bench. I would not attempt this in public without a good deal of practice at home first.
World Health Day – Keeping fit at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.
A homemade lifting bar with concrete weights. The night time ‘gym’ session was quite intense.
World Health Day – Keeping fit at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Badminton in the park.
World Health Day – Keeping fit at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Badminton is another popular participation activity in the city’s parks. One day we sat and watched a group of men taking part in informal, yet highly contested badminton matches. Very entertaining, and I think they enjoyed having an audience.

I found myself thinking of that incredible sight around Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake this week with World Health Day being celebrated every year on 7 April. The theme for 2017 is, ‘Depression: Let’s Talk.’

Personally, I’ve always found exercise to be a great way to keep spirits high. It doesn’t have to be high energy, high impact stuff (or 5am starts); just going for a short walk will do it. Taking the camera makes it even more enjoyable.

The British NHS website advice on depression and mental health, suggests exercise can be a big help.

“Any type of exercise is useful, as long as it suits you and you do enough of it,” says Dr Alan Cohen, a GP with a special interest in mental health. “Exercise should be something you enjoy; otherwise, it will be hard to find the motivation to do it regularly.”

Increasingly many of us seem to require high-tech equipment or fancy designer sports outfits to motivate us into staying active, but in Hanoi, keeping fit is a culture thing and it works by making use of the space you’re in.

A little inspiration perhaps for World Health Day.

Badminton in the park.
World Health Day – Keeping fit at Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Project 365, Day 95: The Silver Lining over St Helena

17:36 – soon after reaching the end of the ridge, the view of the cloud formation looking across to Half Tree Hollow and Ladder Hill. The flag pole at the top of Ladder Hill is visible.
Clouds over St Helena Island.

A CASE OF BAD WIND | Darrin Henry

I’m sure St Helena must have been blown a few inches north; it’s been so blustery today! Swelly seas and gale force winds; that’s us at the moment.

The blowy conditions I’m guessing was the reason for the huge, squiggly cloud that loitered over the South West corner of the island today, impervious to the wind it hung there for nearly two hours, showing off in the changing sunset light.

Don’t Drop The Fish

It was certainly a big bonus on our mini-hike. We were inside all day working on different projects and (because of the wind) had to drag ourselves outdoors for the sake of a new Project 365 photo. Day 95 was calling.

We decided to hike along the Munden’s ridge top, one of our favourite scenic excursions, a place full of happy memories from the days when our dog, Jasper, was still with us.

A few minutes into the walk we watched in fascination at a fairy tern with a fish in its beak, attempting to fly up the valley and being pummelled by the wind. The poor bird was flapping away but incredibly it was being blown backwards by the powerful gusts. It did well to hang on to the fish!

17:29 – soon after reaching the end of the ridge, the view of the cloud formation looking across to Half Tree Hollow and Ladder Hill. The flag pole at the top of Ladder Hill is visible.
Clouds over St Helena Island.
The sea birds were being tossed around in the high winds as they flew inland. This red billed tropic bird (trophy bird) was managing better than many of the smaller birds.
Clouds over St Helena Island.
18:03 – The bright colours of day begin their transition to a sunset orange.
Clouds over St Helena Island.

As we were pushed along the pathway ourselves Sharon joked, at least we won’t get hit by any falling trees being where we were.

Off to our left, rising up above Half Tree Hollow a strange cloud was beginning to form; like rapid pencil scribbles, a swirly shaped thing. It stood out against a clear blue sky. Weirdly, while the lower level clouds were moving swiftly along in the wind, the scribbled cotton ball was just sitting there.

By the time we reached the end of the mile long ridge, overlooking James Bay, the cloud had stretched upwards into a taller column, seemingly hovering over Half Tree Hollow despite the strong winds.

Introducing The Cumuloticular

As the daylight softened and transformed into a gorgeous Atlantic sunset we got caught up in the natural spectacle above us, taking picture after picture, unable to tear ourselves away.

18:07 – Light now changing rapidly as we frame one of the many cactus bushes that grow all along the top of Mundens Hill.
Clouds over St Helena Island.
Not exactly flattering (sorry Sharon) but a great example of how windy it was at the top of Mundens Hill, right near the cliff top.
Clouds over St Helena Island.
Down below us in James Bay, the MV Helena, St Helena’s new cargo ship on her first ever visit to the island.
Clouds over St Helena Island.
18:12 – Time to head home as it gets dark. A mile long hike ahead of us back to the car parked on Field Road.
Clouds over St Helena Island.
18:16 – Making our way back up Mundens Hill, looking back at the beautiful Atlantic sunset.
Clouds over St Helena Island.
18:21 – Half way along the Mundens ridge, looking back, the colours now turning pink after the sun has dipped out of sight.
Clouds over St Helena Island.

Finally, with darkness falling we hustled back up the ridge, street lamps already on in Jamestown below us on one side and Rupert’s Valley on the other.

Driving home in near darkness we could still just make out the shape of the cloud and had to stop for one last photo from Button Up Corner with the backdrop of High Knoll Fort. An ISO 4000 and aperture f2.8 setting was needed on the camera, it was that dark.

I’ve said it many times already – shooting a Project 365 has done wonders for our photography in so many ways. This photo-a-day quest can occasionally be a pain but more times than not it’s full of these wonderful surprises.

18:56 – The cloud still lingering, photographed High Knoll Fort from Button Up Corner using high ISO and aperture.
Clouds over St Helena Island.

So what was that mysterious cloud? I’ve had a quick scoot online but can’t nail it down exactly. It seems to be a cross between a lenticular and a cumulonimbus cloud. Someone will tell me soon enough, but for now I’ll name it a, Cumuloticular!

Behind The Scenes: Breeze 3 Photo Shoot With Gemma

Hanging on to get the perfect shot.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.

THE TROPICAL COVER SHOOT | Darrin Henry

A tropical, glamorous swimsuit shoot was always on the cards for our e-magazine, Breeze 3, unfortunately sunshine and clear skies have little respect for well planned projects, even when a beautiful model like Gemma Lawrence is involved.

Behind the scenes video from the Breeze 3 photo shoot:

Superheros Wear Bikinis

Grey, dreary days forced us to play the, ‘on again, off again’ game until the deadline to publish Breeze 3 was almost upon us, and eventually we reached the ‘now or never’ moment – rain, sun or snow, we were going to shoot and get it done, regardless. I packed strobes just in case.

It was a Wednesday afternoon, Gemma had just finished work and after weeks of gloom the Jamestown harbour was thankfully a brilliant blue; sea and sky.

We parked in the shade of double-stacked shipping containers so Sharon could do Gemma’s make-up, all the while I paced nervously around the car, watching the weather and trying not to keep asking, “how much longer, girls?”

On the wharf doing make-up in the car after Gemma finished work.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.

We were inspired to use the anchorage for this shoot after seeing a TV show on the sports channel where a swimsuit line was being shot in exotic locations using old fishing boats.

Permissions were easy to obtain. A few of the boat owners joked they might have to come out to ‘help,’ curious no doubt to see just what exactly we were up to.

The ferry picked us up at the wharf steps in somewhat choppy sea conditions. But no reason to panic, Johnny Herne, the ferry driver was like a Faroese pilot in wind shear – we were in safe hands.

First stop, a yellow fishing catamaran, ‘Ocean Gypsy’ operated by fishermen, Henry and Cookin’s. The boat had just finished ‘dry-dock’ maintenance which included being painted so was very clean. It was also surprisingly very stable.

Plenty of space on board the fishing boat ‘Ocean Gypsy’ for this first stop in the harbour shoot. Clear sky over Sugar Loaf in the background.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.
Not much room if we get this one wrong – keeping well balanced out on the cat’s hull.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.

The light was pure gold, couldn’t have asked for better. Like a superhero shedding a dowdy daytime disguise, Gemma was suddenly transformed, looking incredible in a blue patterned bikini. We were soon down to business, clicking through frame after frame, conscious of not wasting the light.

First Class At Sea

Second look was a surprise – Johnny was back to pick us up and had arranged with a visiting yacht for us to shoot on board. Amadou II was a 20m, French made, luxury yacht visiting St Helena for a few days, a very posh number indeed. Chris Bull and Mike were understandably intrigued, greeting us at the top of the ladder before giving us the freedom of the upper deck to shoot. It was an unbelievable bonus. The boat was gorgeous and Gemma, now wearing a black all-in-one swimsuit, looked right at home draping herself across the sleek lines of Amadou II.

Shooting on board the French built, luxury yacht, Amadou II. Quite a difference to the fishing boats we had originally planned to be on today.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.
Working quickly to get as many angles completed as we can on board the French built, luxury yacht, Amadou II, sitting in the harbour at St Helena.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.
Taking a time-out from the shoot to pose with Amadou II owner, Chris Bull, who let us use his beautiful yacht on this project.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.

Partway through Mike came out to take a few pictures of his own. We exchanged email addresses, posed for selfies and promised to send them a copy of the new Breeze magazine.

Back in the ferry for our last stop – the Enchanted Isle.

The sun was now dipping lower and the light was fading. Gemma changed into a pink bikini and we started ‘working’ the tour boat. For half of these shots we used the natural sunlight; for the other half we fired up a single strobe mounted on a boom. I do love the strobe effect.

Sharing a joke with Johnny Herne, the ferry operator, as we chug across Jamestown harbour.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.
Gemma and Sharon, riding in the ferry on our way to the final shoot boat of the day. Sun-kissed St Helena and James Bay in the background.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.

On any shoot the conversation bounces from one topic to the other, everything and anything it seems and always plenty of laughs. Sharon decided to record a little quick-fire Q&A session with Gemma as part of our shoot. Just for fun, nothing serious.

Guilty Pleasure? Anything Sweet!

Favorite Quote/Saying? After the Storm comes the Rainbow.

Biggest lesson you’ve learnt? Life is too short to waste worrying on things you should have done or could have done better.

Worst chat up Line? “Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere…Oh, yeah, you look like my future wife!”

St Helena as a backdrop with final rays of sunshine as we complete our photo shoot on board the Enchanted Isle.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.
Sun beginning to go down as we shoot our final looks of the day on board the Enchanted Isle.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.
Quick-fire questions with Gemma – “So what’s the worst chat up line you’ve heard?”
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.

Biggest pet peeve? When drivers don’t use their indicators when turning!!!

Have you been told you look like someone famous? Not that I can remember.

Favorite joke? Is Google a man or a woman? A woman, because it doesn’t let you finish a sentence before making a suggestion!

The shoot was wrapped at 6.30pm. Two hours, start to finish. Gemma was starting to shiver; the sun had dipped below the horizon.

We jumped back in the ferry one last time knowing we had been truly blessed with the light. It was going to be a superb cover for Breeze 3 as well as a great spread inside the magazine.

After all our stress, then relief of finally choosing a day with perfect, sunny weather, back on the wharf steps we met a large group of scuba divers preparing to go out on a night dive! What a wonderful world.

All the amazing photos from this tropical shoot can be seen in our third e-magazine, ‘Breeze’ which is free to anyone who follows the blog using an email address. The Breeze magazine contains 66 pages of photo stories from St Helena and around the world.
Behind the Scenes – Breeze 3 Photoshoot by What The Saints Did Next.

Street Signs That Make You Smile And Other Amusements

14. G. A. P. God Answers Prayers
Not associated with the GAP fashion brand. A thought provoking car number plate spotted in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

These Ain’t No April Fool’s Jokes | Sharon Henry

They say laughter is the best medicine and we’ve had a few a good doses during our travels, dispensed in the form of funny street signage and other peculiarities at different places we’ve visited.  Some are whacky and obviously intended to crack a smile while others we guess are innocently unintentional.

So, if you don’t find the funny in some prankster swapping your sugar for salt on this April Fool’s Day scroll through this blog post for a dose of the good stuff.  These are not April Fool’s jokes but actual signs displayed to inform the general public – however, they do make comical viewing.

Here are 20 signs we’ve happened upon that made us do a double take, including a ‘bemusement’ photographed right here on St Helena.

1. Men’s Toilet
Graphic provided for those requiring further clarification of how men do it. Not sure why he is peeing onto the ground or why it then bounces back up again! (Toilet sign at Doi Inthanon, the highest point in Thailand.
2. No Standing
The highway authorities seem very particular in Toronto about when, and when not to stand. This sign on at a busy city junction is difficult not to violate when the pedestrian lights are red. In actual fact, as we later found out, it refers to vehicles and not people – whew!
3. Continental Breakfast?
The ‘schoolmarm’ in me wants to correct the hell out of this breakfast notice at a motel in Jackson, TN, in the US. Although, it should raise a smile from even the grumpiest of non-morning people.
4. Shoplifter Of The Month
There are no prizes for this accolade BUT you do get a snapshot in the shop’s window of your winning submission for the dastardly title. A different kind of ‘name and shame’ going on in New Orleans, USA.
5. Calorie Counting Steps
Excellent motivation to burn off that chocolate bar, how can you not go for the top? Took these steps in Bangkok, Thailand.
6. The Prefect Two-Way
You would have expected three storey high billboard services to also include proof reading – apparently not. Spotted this monstrous sign in Bangkok, Thailand.
7. No…
That’s a lot of NOs. US Government are sticklers for safety rules and regulations to anyone sitting in on a Senate session. This was the ‘no’ list at the Pennsylvania state capital, in Harrisburg.
8. Pardon Our Progress
Atlanta authorities politely apologise for the tardiness in revamping the Centennial Olympic Park. Thought this was one of the nicest ways to get people to appreciate construction work.
9. Please Throw Used Toilet Paper In Bin Provided
This is no joke- even if you do a No 2. This picture was taken in a toilet in Cambodia that had a wastepaper basket at hand. Much of the country’s sewage systems cannot process toilet paper.
10. Do. Not. Smoke.
If the pictures on these cigarette packets don’t have smokers slapping on nicotine patches nothing will. This is a hardcore ‘No Smoking’ campaign in Vietnam.
11. The Bear Facts
If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise… Bears can run 60% faster than Usain Bolt – yikes. Found this notice on the start of a hiking trail in Talladega Forest, Alabama. We survived.
12. No Loitering
Consider yourself warned – or Mr Samuel ‘will be called.’ Apparently signed by the New Orleans Police Department.
13. Free Smells
Sometimes we get ‘free smells’ even when we don’t want them. (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
14. G. A. P. God Answers Prayers
Not associated with the GAP fashion brand. A thought provoking car number plate spotted in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
15. Best Buns In Town
Pity this establishment was closed, so we couldn’t judge for ourselves. A captivating sign in Avoca, Pennsylvania.
16. We Sell Drinks
An advertising board full of Chinese characters translated simply to three words for us English speakers. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
17. No guns allowed
Sign of the US gun culture. This was in Alabama but saw similar notices all over the country. Definitely not something we would see on St Helena.
18. Hair Growth Guaranteed
Really? If so why use the ‘fell off the back of a truck’ method, surely they’re sitting on a goldmine? Shot this from the car window as we whizzed by.
19. Cupcakes And Shhht
“We’ll have two cupcakes and no shhht thank you.” Amusing shop sign at London’s trendy Camden Market.

…and finally

20. Parking On The Stand
This sign displayed on The Stand car park in Jamestown, St Helena has caused much bewilderment and hilarity to those trying to interpret its meaning.

Hope these signs have provided a healthy dose of medicine, which is your favourite?

 

Thompson’s Valley Post Box Walk, St Helena

Raining and still not giving up! Looking down on Thompson Valley Island and the old guard tower. The cairn of rocks alongside me is one of the many found on this lower part of the trail which have been very helpful in finding the path.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.

THROUGH THE VALLEY OF FIRE AND DONKEY POOP | Darrin Henry

Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk has somehow eluded us until now, although, making our first venture down the steep, muddy trail in the rain today is probably not our wisest hiking decision.

Just A Walk In The Woods

We committed to this excursion early this morning when dawn broke with gorgeous warm rays of sunlight. After the recent days of continuous rain, ever the optimists, we fell for the promise of a beautiful break in weather that often follows the storm.

Even as we set off walking in the fog and drizzle wrapping itself around the Blue Hill district again, we remain hopeful the weather gods will come good – but I can’t shake that niggling feeling this is foolish optimism.

Here we go! Setting off on the Thompson’s Valley hike from Blue Hill. Difficult to see here, but there was light drizzle of rain with us all the time. Bottom right: berries on the Bermudan cedar trees along the first part of the trail.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
A this point, only 200m in, it’s tempting to turn right toward the house, but the path is to the left where the aloe is visible. Note the cloud covered High Hill in the distance.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
The first section of the trail is flanked by aloe bushes.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.

The Thompson’s Valley Post Box trail begins from the turning/parking area, not far past Blue Hill shop, almost at the base of High Hill, another Post Box hike.

Rain aside, we are in high spirits – being outdoors, boots on your feet and backpack over your shoulders will do that to you; and a Yorkie bar for later!

The first part of the walk descends through the woods. Thick cedar and pine trees overhead with a carpet of pine needles underfoot. All very gentle so far.

About 100m down the hill at a sign post and information board, the route veers left, away from the Land Rover track, and narrows to a footpath. Soon afterwards there’s an old house on the right – we resist the temptation to head that way, this is not the trail, we continue straight ahead, down through the trees.

You Have To Know How To Fall

The path soon becomes noticeably steeper and zig zags its way to the right, skirting below an old house, then levels out as we follow the contour of the valley, weaving between bright green aloes and wild coffee bushes. There’s a short section where the narrow path runs unsettlingly near the top of a steep (almost sheer) drop into the valley below on the left. Not terrible, but plenty of reason to tread carefully. Especially when it’s wet.

There’s quite a sharp drop to the left of the path, into the valley below. This part of the trail requires plenty of care.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
There’s quite a sharp drop just off to the side of the path, into the valley below. This part of the trail requires plenty of care.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
A useful marker point – this large sugar cube boulder signals about a quarter of the map route covered.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
Beginning the descent through Ebony Plain where the landscape is transformed with a lush covering of vegetation.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
This was the spot of one of my falls – the path is a lot more slippery than the photo suggests! Note the camera bag inside its protective rain jacket, where it stayed for most of this walk due to the constant drizzle.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
Cactus bushes are also a common feature alongside the pathway.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.

After about 25 mins we reach a small, flattened ridge top with a large sugar cube shaped boulder on our left, overlooking the valley. This is a good reference point, and marks perhaps a little over a quarter of the map distance covered. We go out to the boulder but realise this is taking us off the path; the direction of onward travel is to keep the same line as before. We don’t see any of the wooden arrows that have been placed on many of the other post box walks, which is not too much of problem as the trail, so far, is pretty obvious.

Leaving the boulder ridge, the trail continues gently down the side of the valley, the foliage suddenly turns lush and dense with ebony bushes, eucalyptus trees, cactus, lantana (wild current) and aloes. The area to the right, stretching up the hillside is called Ebony Plain.

I slip and fall on my backside. Sharon can’t actually help as she’s laughing so much at my ‘comical’ attempts to keep my balance. I’m sure this must happen to Bear Grylls but those bits get edited out!

As I Walk Through The Valley Of Fire

The hundreds of bushes we’re walking past are actually dwarf ebony and a hybrid, the rebony, a result of the ebony and redwood cross-pollination. Looking back, High Hill towers above us, the top looking mystical, shrouded in wispy cloud.

The rebony (left) and dwarf ebony (right) flowers from the bushes growing along the trail.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
Dwarf ebony and rebony bushes growing all the way through Ebony Plain. Approx 1,000 bushes were planted in this area in a bid to repopulate the island with this endemic plant.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.

After 2-300m of lush greenery (and my second fall) the route then descends again, gently down into another small plateau as the landscape undergoes a sudden transformation to something I’ve never seen on St Helena before. We find ourselves walking through an eerily scorched scene; circular patches of blackened earth. There are the charred skeletons of leafless bushes and tufts of burnt grass that look more like spiky sea urchins.

We are walking through the location of a hillside fire from five months ago (October 2016). A charred burning smell is still noticeable in the air. Even though recent rains have triggered new growth of grass the area still has a weird wasteland look to it.

The valley of fire! Lower Ebony Plain was ravaged by a ‘forest fire’ on 12 October 2016. Five months on (March 2017) the scars and the burnt smell is still very noticeable, although green shoots are now coming through after the recent rains.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
The valley of fire! Lower Ebony Plain was ravaged by a ‘forest fire’ on 12 October 2016. Five months on (March 2017) the scars and the burnt smell is still very noticeable, although green shoots are now coming through after the recent rains.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
Burnt grass looking like little sea urchins, on Ebony Plain from the October 2016 forest fire.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.

Another thing I should mention, scattered along the pathway throughout the walk, is fresh donkey droppings. Feral donkeys still roam freely in this part of the island; a Blue Hill resident told me this week he saw a group of 12 donkeys recently near Horse Pasture, not far from here. Despite all the poop we haven’t seen any animals.

Somewhere Under The Rainbow

Another 2-300m on from the ‘valley of fire’ the plateau comes to an end, descending once again along the spinal edge of a ridge. Now we get our first look at the mouth of Thompson’s Valley way below us, set at the bottom of the deep V shape of the hillsides. At the top of that V, at the end of the ridge we are on, is an old ruin; a fortified, stone Martello tower.

Suddenly a few, brief bursts of sunshine project a brilliant rainbow over the valley in front of us. It’s breath-taking. You can’t plan for moments like this, when nature just springs something awesome on you without warning, you just have to appreciate the moment. We’re shooting with the waterproof Panasonic Lumix compact – I’m tempted to get the DSLR out of the bag but the light drizzle of rain is still with us. Oh well.

Small cairns of rocks that mark the St Helena walking trails are really helpful, especially when you’re not familiar with the route. I try to add a single rock to each pile we pass.

A reward for walking in the rain, this beautiful rainbow which curved over the valley.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
The guide book, ‘Post Box Walks of St Helena,’ by the St Helena Nature Conservation Group, documents this as a Martello Tower. Guide book extract: “It seems that these towers had no door, so access had to be gained by ladder which could then be pulled inside to prevent attackers entering.”
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
Making our way down to the old gun battery – Thompson Valley Island out in the bay.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
This is the Thompson’s Valley battery platform looking down into the bay and Thompson Valley Island. This solitary cannon still keeps watch on the ocean approach.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
The old cannon on the battery point at Thompson’s Valley.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
50m straight down – looking over the battery fortification wall.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.

Because of the wet conditions I estimate we’ve taken twice as long to get down to the old guard tower than normal.

The old tower is pretty much built right on the edge of the 100m cliff. It’s still strange to think that at one time men were living at these little out-posts. It must have been difficult staying alert day after day, just scanning the horizon for approaching ships. Further down the hillside, about 50m, we spot a semi-circular shaped battery platform, constructed into steep hillside. A lonely, stubby looking cannon is still there, rusting away as it continues to monitor the horizon. We find the path down to visit this cannon but the last part of the walkway has crumbled away and it’s a bit of a scramble to reach the gun.

Then We Hit Rock Bottom

Anyway, that was a diversion. We double back to the trail marker that signals the final, very steep descent into Thompson’s Valley. This is the trickiest part of the entire hike. The little track is clear to follow until we get half way down, when it kind of just disappears. Because of the wet, slippery conditions we complete the final drop to the valley floor with great care (ie, very slowly), scooching down on our backsides most of the way.

The post box is situated on a beach of over-sized pebbles, rubbed smooth by the endless pounding of the sea.

I realise anyone reading for the first time about these St Helena ‘post box’ walks might be looking at the photos expecting to see an actual ‘box’ shape. Sorry, but the reality in most cases is a length of plastic tubing sticking out of the ground. ‘Post box’ is more in reference to the passing of messages between visitors via the log book.

Beginning the final and most tricky part of the Thompson’s Valley post box walk, the 100m descent down to the valley floor. The opposite side of the valley gives a good idea of the steepness ahead of us.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
A military curtain wall is the last obstacle, right at the bottom of the valley behind the pebble beach. The water flowing down over it comes from streams generated by recent rains.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
At the post box, signing the book. Note the military curtain wall across the valley behind me.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
At the post box, taking in the view and having a rest before the journey back up the hill.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.
Found inside the post box, a water colour left by the previous visitors who camped here overnight.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.

The Thompson’s Valley book is a good indication of how difficult this walk is – only 3 different visits in the last 3 months. In fact only 17 recorded in the whole of 2016. In contrast, a more accessible hike such as Diana’s Peak can easily register three or four groups per day on weekends. An unexpected delight inside the post box is a folded watercolour of a tent, painted and left by the previous visitors who camped here overnight.

The appropriately named, Thompson Valley Island, feels like it’s within touching distance out in the bay. A steady, powerful stream of water is pouring down the valley and running out to sea. The sound of the gushing water adds to the noisy, peacefulness of the beach. We can even see a local fishing boat, bobbing around just a bit out past the island.

Not For Girls

I have to say, Thompson’s Valley has been a really pleasant surprise. The landscape is far more scenic than I had thought and the multiple changes of vegetation further up made it all the more interesting. Lower down, closer to the coastline, the rugged expanse of the hillsides is almost intimidating. We took time to sit a few times and just gaze around, absorbing it all. Even the drizzle and the slippy conditions added a bit of fun to the whole experience.

Although not overly difficult, I would rate this excursion in the category of ‘experienced hikers only.’ It’s still a fair old trek with some tricky terrain, definitely not one to be taken lightly. In dry conditions I would allow at least 4 and half hours for the complete round trip.

Cheese sandwiches, a banana each and of course that Yorkie bar, and we’re all fuelled up for the return trip. It’s all uphill from here.

Hiking on St Helena you are rewarded with some amazing coastal views. This is just above the Thompson’s Valley gun battery looking down into the bay and Thompson Valley Island.
Thompson’s Valley Post Box walk, St Helena.

Acknowledgments:

‘Flowering Plants and Ferns of St Helena’ by Phil Lamdon

‘A Description of the Post Box Walks of St Helena’ by the St Helena National Conservation Group