Crossing the Atlantic and the forgotten isle of St Helena - by Bryson

Oceangybe

Latitude: 23 deg 12′S

Longitude: 004 deg 09′E

The icy South Atlantic lapped against Khulula’s hull during the entirety of our Cape Town retrofit. Water temperatures of 14ºC dissuaded even the most hardy of us from going for a quick swim. If there was boat work that required underwater assistance, wetsuits were pulled out and long periods were spend standing on the edge of the dock, looking over the edge of your toes at the languid waters, trying to decided whether there wasn’t ANY other way.

The frigid Benguela Current travels directly from the ice caps of the Antarctic north towards Cape Town. The current moves up the west coast of Africa at a brisk 1-2 knots and its waters are often shrouded in fog, due to the extreme contrast between it’s cold waters and the intensely hot deserts along the west coast of Southern Africa.

It is into this current that Khulula sailed a week ago. Generally, when leaving South Africa en route to Brazil and the tropics, one will wait for a period of calm weather (hypothetically, because it is always windy in Cape Town – it blew 40-50 knots in the marina frequently) and ride the current north until it begins to warm and take on a south-easterly bent. At this point, one can safely assume you have reached the tropics and the trade winds will begin to appear.

Well, the crack crew of Khulula has managed to find a 0.5 – 1 knot counter current to sail against and frequent 25-35 knot winds. It is because of this fine example of precision navigation that I may loose the bet as to our arrival date in St Helena and have to buy the crew ice cream.

St Helena is one of only a few central Atlantic islands and is an almost forgotten outpost of the British Empire. It lies about 1700nm NW of Cape Town and 1800nm E of Brazil, making it a perfect stop-over on the Atlantic pond crossing. First discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, it was not settled until 1516 when a Portuguese deserter jumped ship there and stayed for the next 30 years! As with many other places on the route to the East Indian and Spice Islands, it became a heavily contested island with the English, Dutch, French and Portuguese all fighting for it’s useful strategic position.

Famous as Napoleon Bonaparte’s place of exile from 1815 until his death in 1821, St Helena is often described as a fortress with only one decent anchorage, known funnily enough, as “The Anchorage”. The island can only be reached by sailboat, cruise ship or the mail ship from London and while the airport is reputedly going to be completed in 2012, no one is holding their breath. The island population is approximately 5000 and are a mix of Portuguese, Dutch, English, Malay, Goanese, Madagascan, East Indian, African, Chinese, Boer, and a few American whalers. Luckily, English is the dominant language.

Given it’s location directly in the path of the Benguela and South Atlantic currents, we are hoping that we will once again be able to find conclusive evidence of plastic migration via our oceans. If we can find garbage of South African and Namibian origin, it will show how the pollution from these continental countries has effected an island far far from their shores.

While researching St Helena, we were drawn to the fact that is sits slap bang in the middle of the Atlantic and should be exposed to both northern and southern hemisphere swell regimes. There have got to be waves, but we have found next to no evidence or printed material about it. Just one random blog entry talking about a perfect barrelling point break … no more than those four words “Perfect barrelling point break”. Well, as soon as my feet touch solid ground on the island, I have one sure goal, to unlock the secrets of St Helena’s swell potential.

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