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Saturday, February 25, 2012

February 25, 2012-Saint Helena

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Wings at Saint Helena

A few million stars fill the night sky in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean and the trade winds blow cool, continuously.

Off the island of Saint Helena Wings is riding at anchor and no city light for a thousand miles diminishes the brilliance of the stars and no land mass interrupts the trade winds.

We’ve been a few days in Saint Helena where the place retains the feel of the 1800’s more than the present and the past tugs at us. The buildings, the town, the people, the mood of the place seems like it is lost in a time zone of long before simply yesteryear; it exists in the last century. The placards on the town’s monuments speak of deeds from 1820, the new markers speak of 1945. Nothing has happened since then. The present has passed by St Helena.

There is no cellular phone system here, but you can speak face to face to anyone if you see them in town, otherwise someone will tell them you are looking for them and maybe you will see them later.

There are no ATMs, but you can walk to the Bank of Saint Helena and the teller will draw your cash for you. And if you wish to use your visa card the storekeeper must walk to the bank to see if your card is good while you wait (and no hard feelings over the trouble.)

There is no airport. Travelers come by sea alone, as they always have.
There is a supply ship, the HMS St. Helena, and it comes from Cape Town twice a month with supplies. Between the visits of the HMS St. Helena the store shelves become a little more empty than usual, but when the ship comes in, and when the supplies are unloaded, the shelves fill and the residents of Jamestown drift towards the shops to see what the ship has brought.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Saint Helena

Jamestown has a slower, friendly, pace here which lulls you and draws you in. You can stroll through down town and you can hang out for a few hours in Anne’s café while a little rain cloud blows over and you will be on island time. It has been going on this way for a couple of hundred years. Now though there is a decline. The population is aging and there are fewer young people staying here to be part of the community. Ten years ago there were 100 births a year. Now there are 20. Saint Helena is fading away. It’s purpose, as a stopover for ships bound for India, ended with the completion of the Suez canal.

However, this might all be changing. An airport is going to be built and more development is expected including five star hotels. Just this week the construction crews have come like an alien invasion. The supply ship offloaded a few dozen blue and white Toyota pickup trucks with the construction company logo on the doors and the company managers and foremen are already swarming over the island in them like robotic drones; they are everywhere. You turn and there is a blue and white truck coming around the bend with a stony eyed foreigner wearing a hard hat behind the wheel. You turn again and there is another one. You can’t hide from their stare and Saint Helena can’t hide from the progress they represent.

So progress and change are coming to Saint Helena and it will be difficult. Hotels and homestays are now booked ahead for four years by workers coming to build the airport. It will take a lot of skilled staff but few locals will be hired; the foreign development companies will bring their own people. Meanwhile prices for everything are going up and only the foreign workers will be able to afford them. There is a rumor that the British Government will reduce the pensions to pay for the airport. The old folks are worried.

Tourists will soon follow the construction crews and there are more rumors flying around about the changes which the tourism will bring. Few of the “Saints” think they will be good. The British Government would like to cut the cord to Saint Helena, to cut off the subsidy which keeps this place running now, and make it self-sustaining. The airport and other investments being made are supposed to pave the way for a financially independent Saint Helena.

So regardless of the fears of the local population, the juggernaut of change is coming.

Most of the cruisers, and right now there are fifteen yachts anchored here, believe a new Saint Helena will be much different and we are glad to be here before that happens.

Me? I don’t know how it will turn out. Progress; you can’t fight it. I just know that the isolated, 18th century village which we found here will certainly get yanked into the 21st century and this piece of living history will be lost as it is now and that is neither good nor bad, just fact.

At least we saw Saint Helena the way it once was.

Click here for more Sant Helena photos

Fred & Judy (and Randy & Laura), SV Wings, Saint Helena Island

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