Thursday, April 10, 2014

Report # 102 Georgetown, Ascension Island April 10, 2014 Thursday Part 1 Partly cloudy, 81 degrees

Clouding up
Ascension Island
The big question of the day is will we or won't we be able to get onshore today at Ascension Island at noon today? Captain Jonathon had put the pedal to the metal, and sped the ship up all night in order to arrive here by noontime.

After breakfast, we took a walk on the promenade deck to watch our approach to the island. We could not help but overhear two deck officers talking about the two meter or more swells here today. Now we really doubt we will be going there. The island came into sight around 9am, and all of our hopes were high as the Amsterdam approached the shoreline. To us, the seas looked calm and the winds not so bad.

Sure looks smooth enough for a landing
By 11:30am, the line for getting tender tickets was long on deck four by the Wajang Theater. Everyone, but the President Club members, had to pick up a tender ticket. The line moved quickly and we got number 39.

The dreaded announcement came around noon. Despite the heroic effort to attempt a landing, the effort was unsuccessful. We could see from the bow of the ship that the little orange boat was bouncing up and down 6 to 8 feet at the tender landing. No way Jose, were they going to be able to take folks off of a boat safely. It was a NO GO. The islanders would have to come to us with their souvenirs and much sought-after stamps and postcards. 

There goes our tenderboat

Not looking good

Even rougher
Still rough
Tenderboat coming back

Their boat coming back with the souveniers to sell
Here come the natives on the Wideawake II


Souveniers in the boat's hull
The new plan was to have Barbara H. give a scenic cruising commentary as we circumnavigated the island...the exact same thing she did just last year. Truthfully, we ended up seeing more and learning a lot more than we would have by going onshore to the beach and the shops. 

High wave action

Local sailboat

Long Beach

Tenderboat landing near the yellow crane
Deep down, we figured that this would be the plan for the day, and perhaps the attempt to land was only for our appeasement. They never planned on going in the first place. Last year was handled differently in that the first boat was sent over to set up the landing equipment. Then two boats were filled with passengers to debark as soon as they set up that equipment. We remember it well, because we were in that first boatload of passengers. Bobbing up and down in the swells, some folks got sick, and soon we were turned around and heading back to the ship. The attempt had been called off. Today they never even began off-loading anyone. They already knew no one was going.

About time to start the circumnavigation
Time for a funny story. As Barbara H. was getting ready for her commentary, she said look at those turtle tracks near the rocks by the yellow crane. We happened to be passing by a lady who was sitting on one of the teak lounges on the promenade deck. We heard her ask her husband, "Where are those tracks.....in the water?" Everyone within hearing distance roared with laughter, including her husband who turned 20 shades of red. We will have to tell Barbara this story, because she will love it.

Well, what did we see and learn? The island is 14 miles long, and 10 miles across, consisting of 35 square miles of volcanic rock. Under 1000 people live here, but not permanently. The population consists of mostly folks from St. Helena, followed by British and American citizens. Most all of them work in the tele-communications, military, the tourist industry, and Royal Air Force. 

Georgetown

Buildings onshore

Local boats

Buildings onshore

Volcanic mountains

Another hillside facility
Wind generators marked the area where the radio and power stations were located. Oil tanks were near the water's edge, as well as the start of the high towers for electricity. 

Power lines or radio towers
Lots of wind for the generators

Producing power
Generators working
More wind power
Sailing past the west end, we came upon the bird sanctuary where we saw sooty and white terns, petrels, gulls, four types of boobies, and frigates. The cliffs of the seaside were covered with white guano from so many birds that live here. The only real danger to the birds that nest here are feral cats. They became such a problem, that eventually they had to be eradicated. Another enemy of the eggs and young chicks are the frigate birds.

An island of many birds

Gull-billed tern

Booby

Frigate

Tern
Along the shore, we passed cinder cones of volcanic origin. There are at least 41 of them. 

Dry cinder cones


Rounding the tip

Desolate island

At this point, we turned and headed towards the south side of the island. We passed by Boatswain Island, a big rock off shore that was full of birds nesting. When Captain Cook and Charles Darwin visited this island in 1775, they would have witnessed these very same sights we were seeing today.
Sail boating

Beach sure looked inviting

Volcanic peak

Green mountain is green, lower hills volcanic

A fishing vessel

The sealife includes green and hawksbill turtles, sharks, sailfish, barracuda, wahoo, marlin, and bottlenose dolphins. 

It was in 2002, that the island was discovered by the sports fishermen. They came here for the sports fishing. Someone thought to build a small hotel to house these fellows when they came to fish. Now it is a popular destination for a chosen few. Diving is also big we hear. Except that due to the dangerous riptides and undertow, all of the beaches are marked with signs for no swimming. That brings to mind the Ascension Island Government Landing Permits we were given to sign. These forms had been signed and stamped by the immigration officer well before we got here. We also had a disclaimer notice that we were required to read and sign and add the date, provide our email address and passport number. Bottom line - we had signed our lives away. We had to agree not to sue for property loss, harm, accidents, personal injurues, and/or death. These are the only souveniers we have left.

Green Mountain is at the center of the island. All the agriculture is done here in these volcanic-rich soils Most of it is a national park, where bamboo and Norfolk Island pines were planted years ago. The pines produce an excellent timber for masts for sailing ships.

Green Mountain in the island's center
Despite the extreme wind on the bow, we stayed there for the duration of the sailing. We are sure that Captain Jonathon would have liked to made it onshore himself today. He tells a story of being stranded here early in his career at sea, eventually he and his fellow sailors being rescued. 

Watching from the bow
The bell on the bow of the ship
Early in the 1900's, there was a telegraph relay station here. Later on, the BBC built a transmitter, and during WW II, the Allies built an airfield here to support flights to North Africa. It was and still is named Wideawake, named after a noisy bird that woke the folks up before sunrise. As ,many as 4000 troops had been stationed here, mostly Americans. More recently, NASA set up operations and the Lunar Landrover was tested here before being sent to the moon. In the 1982 Falklands War, the Brits used Ascension Island as a staging ground and re-fueling station.

The sun haze made the skies foggy

Birds love it here

Boobies in flight

Great scenery for the birds

Coming in for a landing

Looking for fish

Boatswain Island

Masked booby

Looking for food

Steep hills

Private, but inaccessible beach

More buildings
Spotting a pod of bottlenose dolphins jumping across from us on the bow, we got a few good shots of them before disappearing under the front of the ship. They love playing tag with us. 

Bottlenose dolphin

Jumping high
Gene announced at 2pm that the souveniers were ready for sale on deck five around the atrium. Checking it out, it looked like the half-yearly sale at Nordstroms. We left.....it was a zoo.

Back on top, we spotted a pair of beautiful tropic birds, rarely seen around here we heard. 

Tropicbird

A red-billed tropicbird

Tropicbird
Two tropicbirds in the flock
At this point, we were across from the volcanic hillsides where the terns nest. If these birds are spooked off of their nests, the frigates swoop down and eat the eggs and the live chicks. It is a very protected area and off limits to hikers.
Full of bird guano
Tern

Tern

Also a tern
Boobies in flight

More birds

More birds in flight

Brown noddy

Pair of noddys

White tern

White tern

Pair of noddys

Flock

Brown noddy

Tern

Booby

Guano on the rocks

Boobies





Boobies

White tern

Brown booby
Looks like a bird, but is a flying fish

Wideawke Airfield was in this vicinity, although we could not see it. It is used primarily by the military. Pillars Bay was also there with pinnacles popping out of the water near the cliffs. 

Pillars Bay
Pinnacles at Pillars Bay

There's Green Mountain
As we rounded the island, the de-salination plant came into view. In the old days, water catchment basins provided all the fresh water used on Ascension Island. Finally, we were back where we started at Sandy Beach, where the green turtles come onshore during the night to lay their eggs in the sand.

Gone full circle
Skies are getting dark

Mountains in the clouds

Looking towards the airstrip landing

The island in the distance

Georgetown

One of the bases on the island


View of the mountain

View of the town
The locals were scheduled to go back home, or were they? We heard a blip on the speakers from the Captain saying something about the boat losing their steering mechanism. What did we hear? Was he talking about us? No, something had broken down on the native's boat, and they would need to wait for another shore boat to haul them back on the island. We left somewhere around 4:50pm, with no sailaway party. It had been cancelled we heard. Just as well, we needed to work on photos and reports.

Leaving the island
Dinner for us was in the Pinnacle Grill, the first of our two complimentary meals. In apology for aborting their call in Ascension Island, we were treated to a glass of champagne, beer, or soda. Had we read the card thoroughly, we would have had beer as well. The dining room guests did not get the offer of wine, like we did. Our meals of filet mignon and New York strip steak were good, but not quite the same as the Sterling beef served here a few years ago. We are not big fans of grass-fed beef, but rather prefer the corn-fed beef. The Sterling beef was more tender and flavorful we think. The service and rest of the food were excellent however.

And on the plus side, the clocks went back another hour tonight.

Sunset

Going down

Going

Gone

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