Ascension Island – Departing on June 22nd…..
June 21st, 2013 (Western Hemisphere) Time: GMT
We\’ve been at Ascension Island for six days now. The small Capital of Georgetown is a sleepy little vista with lots of history. The British based ships out of here to watch for \”Black Birder\’s\” (slave ships) in the 1800\’s. There are many, who infected with Yellow Fever, sadly never left. Today, Ascension\’s main industry is the US and British Military along with being a major relay station for the BBC. The Air Base was used as a major staging area in the Falkland Islands War in the early 1980\’s. The US presence here seems (who really knows!?) to be about monitoring the 30 satellite GPS constellation that we all now know so well. Apparently, it\’s monitored from six sites around the world and this is one of them. It is interesting that the command here is called, \”45th US Space Command\”. How that should be taken, I am again uncertain.
It seems there has been a great deal of activity lately as this airfield will be used as an emergency/diversion field for President Obama on his trip in a week or two to South Africa on Air Force One. Lots of extra infrastructure including jet fuel has been delivered, \”just in case\”. The former need of this airfield from a US stand point of view was as an alternative landing site for the Space Shuttle. Fortunately, it was never needed, but the runway is very long.
The US Air Force personnel here told us that their standard billet is only 3 weeks. There are no married couples and I don\’t really think this is a highly requested location for most service personnel.
We did a drive of the island by ourselves one day and a formal half day tour the next with John from s/v \”Jongilanga\”. We did see the old NASA site which is now for all effective purposes gone. There is one building left and it is in complete disrepair. Ariane,(The European Space Agency Program) has a very efficient – compact one man telemetry station here for their launches out of French Guyana. They now launch more commercial satellites than anyone else on Earth and use a location near the equator to get the \”sling shot\” effect. This reduces fuel consumption by around 17% we\’re told as it\’s the \”fat\” part of the Earth which moves about our axis faster than the poles and sling shots the orbiter more efficiently.
Large guns from HMS Hood\’s last re-fit before WW2 are here as well. These guns were removed to have new anti-aircraft ones installed just prior to the war. HMS Hood was unfortunately most famous for being completely obliterated by the famous German Battleship, \”Bismark\”. The guns here were fired once \”in anger\” during WW2 at a German U Boat which was not hit, but had the good common sense to leave.
This IS the trickiest and hence potentially most dangerous dinghy landing I\’ve seen in 6 years of cruising. The first three days we were here it was pretty mellow, but the last two days we\’ve had three meter swells and it\’s down right scary getting ashore at the wharf. It\’s also made the anchorage quite less comfortable than when we first arrived. About a month ago, a dinghy off one of the cruising boats flipped over at the wharf, all hands apparently safe however. One day was so bad, I swam out to the dinghy and quickly made three dashes in between the sets of waves to pick up all ashore. I won\’t go through the technique in this blog, but if any boaters want information on \”how to land your dinghy\” at Ascension Island…email me.
The BBC has the largest antenna farm I\’ve ever seen here. It\’s enormous and covers in total at least a square mile. Their TV and Radio Broadcasts to Africa are re-transmitted from here and they have quite a power grid with wind and solar as well as generators to keep it all going.
The island itself is only 1 1/2 million years old as where St. Helena is about 20 million years old. It\’s much more volcanic in appearance and around 1/3rd the size of St. Helena. The last eruption was estimated to be around 800 years ago.
The Green Sea Turtles are the big eco-tourism event here. Every sand beach on the island is a Turtle hatchery. Unfortunately, we\’re here at the end of the season.
Two months ago we were told that 400-600 (250-500 pound) 125-300 kg females were coming ashore just on the beach where we are anchored. Now there are at most 5-7 a night. Still, thousands of baby turtles make the mad dash every night after sundown. We see them off our stern with the underwater lights. This night time dash reduces their predation by Frigate Birds (an endemic species exists here) and the voracious Trigger Fish. The Triggers sleep at night and give the little guys a chance. We also saw a Sooty Tern nesting site yesterday where they estimated there are about 20,000 mating pairs.
Long Beach, (the beach we\’re anchored at here in Clarence Bay), is the single largest Green Sea Turtle site apparently in the entire world. As such, their are lots of Tiger Sharks here in the season, but the locals say they don\’t come in close. Oh yeah?…. The beach is very steep and the large swells the last two days are refracting heavily off the beach which does not make the anchorage a particularly nice one. When calmer, it was lovely.
We\’ll be leaving on Saturday morning. We\’re all checked out and just resting and tidying up before the expected 8 day passage to Fernando de Noronha Island (Brazil).
Fernando is located just off the \”beak\” of South America that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. We hear it\’s a bit pricey, but very beautiful and worth the stop. It\’s a major location for sighting large schools of Spinner Dolphins which never disappoint and are there in large numbers. I did indeed get a tourist visa for Brazil in Cape Town, as Nikki has a British Passport, she does not need one.
I\’ll try and post some photos inside this blog when I next get internet – maybe in Brazil. If I retro-post them, I\’ll let you all know!
Next post we should be \”at sea\” en route to Fernando.
Scott and Nikki