Ocean slog ends with a man overboard

Malcolm Russell aboard Ambre, ready to cast off

Malcolm Russell aboard Ambre, ready to cast off

Yachtsman Malcolm Russell reached St Helena exhausted but unharmed after a gruelling 1,600-mile voyage – then fell overboard in James Bay.

He couldn’t climb up out of the water, and his brother Rusty no longer had the strength to haul him in.

Now Malcolm has told how the pair were taken in by “the angel of the island” when they finally got to dry land, because they were in such a bad way.

Malcolm fell when he tried to launch the dinghy

Malcolm fell when he tried to launch the dinghy

The two “trade wind gypsies” were recreating a voyage Malcolm and his wife undertook 40 years earlier.

They left South Africa on 1 May 2014 in the yacht Ambre and soon found themselves wallowing in dangerous and uncomfortable conditions off uninhabited Dassen Island.

Then Neil developed a throat problem, so they put into Saldhana Bay in South Africa, where they took on board “the worst tasting water”, before turning towards St Helena.

“We went straight into the heaviest seas we had seen so far,” says Malcolm. “They were all over the place. We got banged around and hammered.”

During the storm a pulley failed and jammed the steering, meaning a difficult repair job.

Rusty was below deck when Malcolm went overboard

Rusty was below deck when Malcolm went overboard

Then continuous cloud meant the solar-powered engine battery ran down, and the auto helm stopped working.

“Now we were stuck with our biggest fear, that we would have to helm 24/7,” says Malcolm, describing the voyage on the YouTube video website. “Rusty would helm for four hours I would helm for four hours, and we would switch and switch about.

“It meant our sleep pattern got down to two and a half hours. And rusty had to call me if there was anything that needed my attention – ships close by, or something going wrong with the sails.

“I felt it.

“We finally arrived at St Helena. We lost the steering altogether and the auto helm blew up. The last three days of helming was in no wind.

“We were absolutely shattered. I had lost a huge amount of weight; so had rusty. We battled our way in, picked up a mooring and I thought our troubles were over.”

The two yachtsmen were on continuous four-hour watches

The two yachtsmen were on continuous four-hour watches

But they were denied the sleep they craved when customs and immigration asked them to go ashore.

“So these two shattered tired old guys decided to get the dinghy over,” says Malcolm. “Neil was working below decks while I went to get the dinghy and I fell overboard.

“You can’t believe what a shock it was.

“I gave rusty a yell. There was no way he could get me out, no way I could pull myself up. I was absolutely exhausted. Finally I said ‘Get a piece of rope, put a knot in it, and at least I’ve got a foothold.’

“After a lot of sweating and trying we managed to get me aboard.”

They got ashore instead on the ferry service and cleared customs.

“That’s when we decided to go and see the angel of the island.”

Grateful: Malcolm relaxes at The Consulate

Grateful: Malcolm relaxes at The Consulate

When they turned up at the Consulate Hotel to find old friend Hazel Wilmot, she was appalled.

“She took one look at these two old wrecks and she said, ‘No way: you’re not going back to the boat, you are staying here at the hotel as our guests. So we have a huge debt to Hazel.

“We had a really rough ride. But we are here now and loving St Helena once again.”

Part of the purpose of their voyage is to observe the state of the oceans and compare it with what Malcolm saw on his first voyage, 40 years ago, in a yacht he built for himself “in the middle of Africa with no idea how to sail”. He chronicled the trip in a book he has never finished, because “the voyage isn’t over”.

He says they saw lots of bird life this time, but only one flying fish. “That’s very scary because flying fish are prolific around here. We saw one dolphin, only one. That’s very different from last time – we had lots of sea life all around us.”

Next stop for the two mariners: the West Indies, “hopefully in time to beat the hurricane season”.

With their luck…

Watch the videos
Start of the adventure
Cape Town to St Helena

Gallery – from YouTube
Click on any thumbnail to see images from the Trade Wind Gypsies videos

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Marine teacher Beverley brings an expert in her wake

Teacher Beverley Tyson will be bringing an added extra when she turns up on St Helena: a husband who’s got the bug for museums.

Beverly is arriving in August to start work as an education officer, setting up a marine science programme to help make the most of the island’s extraordinary environment.

And husband Paul comes with his expertise as curator of the aquarium and the bug house at Liverpool’s World Museum.

Their local paper, the Rhyl, Prestatyn and Abergele Observer, says Paul might help out with some of Beverley’s marine science modules.

But when word of his museum work gets out, he might well be asked to get involved with work to protect St Helena’s multitude of endemic invertebrates.

Its 400-or-so unique species make it richer than the Galapagos Islands when it comes to bug life.

The newspaper reports that the couple will arrive on the island with sons Oliver, six, and Charlie, three.

Beverley told the paper: “I’m thrilled, as well as slightly blown away that I’ve landed my absolute dream job.”

SEE ALSO:
Family’s adventure trip to remote island – Rhyl Observer
St Helena tops the league table for unique species

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Saints in court in stolen motorbikes case

The UK trial of two Saints accused of shipping stolen motorbikes to St Helena is reported in the Gloucestershire Echo. Click here to read more.

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Take a trip into Jamestown – at breakneck speed

gravity rush 2014 by Julian Beard 640Click the pic above to experience the thrill of the 2014 Gravity Rush kart race down the hill into Jamestown, courtesy of Julian Beard’s YouTube video. It’s bumpy, and a bit scary.

gravity rush 2014 by Andy Day 300Then click the image on the right for Andy Day’s film over Nick Yon’s rather less successful run down the hill, waved off by Napoleon himself. Unless it’s Andy Crowe dressed up…

SEE ALSO:
Gravity Rush 2013 in pictures

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The day a tortoise turned turtle for the King of England

Flags flapped along the seafront as King George VI stepped ashore on St Helena… a small island, somewhere off the coast of France.

Quite a long way off, actually – and the same goes for the rest of the text that accompanies newly released archive footage of the royal visit.

One is left wondering whether it is possible to libel a tortoise.

Undiplomatic blunder: film notes put St Helena in France

Undiplomatic blunder: film notes put St Helena in France

The five-minute British Pathé news film, now made public on the YouTube website, shows the King and Queen stepping ashore at the wharf on 29 April 1947.

They were accompanied by the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.

The royal party are seen looking round Napoleon’s badly dilapidated home at Longwood, and then admiring Jonathan the tortoise on the governor’s lawn.

The King even crouches down to try to feed him a banana, which the old boy appears to treat with some disdain.

There is also brief footage of two unnamed young Saints showing the traditional technique for sliding down Jacob’s Ladder, at an impressive speed.

The film is silent – it would have been shown in cinemas with a scripted voice-over, and music – so viewers must rely on the accompanying text to learn what is going on in the pictures.

But the text isn’t too reliable. For one thing, it says the men are sliding down St Jacob’s Ladder.

And the location of the film is given as “St Helena, France”: a bit of a slip, given that the Queen was later to summon the French Ambassador to explain why his government had allowed Longwood House to fall into severe neglect.

But the greatest indignity is suffered by old Jonathan, who even in 1947 was considered impressively ancient.

The notes refer to “several shots of the royal family observing a giant turtle.”

Turtles are indeed found in the waters around St Helena, but they’re not often seen eating bananas on the governor’s lawn, a thousand feet or so above sea level.

Eventually the royal party make their way back to the landing steps, with several straw bonnets and pith helmets in evidence in the large crowd.

The royal party stopped at the island on their way back from South Africa, on their first overseas visit after the Second World War – as noted by future governor David Smallman in Quincentenary, his history of the island.

He says that the present Queen Elizabeth clearly remembered her first experience of arum lilies growing in the wild. She had celebrated her 21st birthday a week earlier.

As the royal party prepared to leave the island, His Majesty told the crowd: “This is the first occasion on a which a reigning Sovereign has ever set foot on St Helena.

“I wish to tell you how much the Queen and I, and our daughters, have enjoyed our brief visit.

“We wish you all prosperity in the future.”

Mr Smallman also notes that the Queen’s remonstrations led to the posting of a French official to care for the Napoleonic properties on St Helena.

The online notes record that the film ends with “more daytime shots of the royal party looking around from the deck” of HMS Vanguard.

Hmmm – nice beaches. That looks a bit like Ascension…

The text accompanying footage on YouTube

The text accompanying footage on YouTube

Click here to watch the British Pathé news film

SEE ALSO: 
Royalty on St Helena – in David Smallman’s book, Quincentenary
Reflections on a Journey to St Helena – pictures of the royal visit

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St Helena tops the league table for unique species

St Helena's false gumwood is now under threat. Picture by Vanessa Thomas

St Helena’s false gumwood is now under threat. Picture by Vanessa Thomas

Charles Darwin glossed over it, but now St Helena has been officially recognised as Britain’s wealthiest spot on Earth when it comes to natural treasures.

The island is home to a third of the endemic species that are found on British territory around the world – that is, plants and creatures that appear naturally in only one place.

A “stock-take” by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds puts it far ahead of second-placed Bermuda. But it also highlights severe ignorance in London about the ecology of Britain’s far-flung territories, and a lack of strategy for protecting it.

Pan tropical dolphin, by David HigginsClick for a gallery of St Helena’s natural wonders

St Helena even beats the iconic Galapagos Islands – seven times over – when it comes to unique invertebrates (judged on land mass).

Sadly, spiders and insects don’t attract eco tourists in quite the same way as the natural wonders of the Galapagos, but perhaps that’s just as well, given the massive strain that tourism has brought to those islands.

Their human population has grown five-fold since the 1970s, when it had the same number of people as St Helena has today. And with three airports and a stream of cruise ships visiting, they’re under daily threat of alien species being brought in and causing havoc to a fragile eco-system.

Bio-security is already being strengthened on St Helena in readiness for the opening of its first airport in 2016.

Sasha and a she-cabbage, by David Higgins

Sasha and a she-cabbage, by David Higgins

A press release from The Castle in Jamestown describes the island as “a mid-Atlantic life-raft of rare and irreplaceable species”.

Concerns about protecting agriculture and public health are cited as further reasons to control what comes in to the island.

The RSPB’s findings have been welcomed by Linda Houston of Shelco, the group planning to build an eco resort at Broad Bottom on St Helena.

She said: “This is great news and underpins the importance of a low volume, high value tourism strategy for St Helena.

“As illustrated by our approach to invasive species clearance and the establishment of [our] wirebird sanctuary, St Helena’s biodiversity is a central component of our scheme.

“In our work at Broad Bottom we aim to encourage innovation and knowledge transfer amongst local and international renowned centres of excellence, which can be applied across the island.”

The RSPB’s stock-take of Britain’s overseas territories is the first one ever to be undertaken.

It was commissioned after a cross-party body of Members of Parliament in London attacked the British government for failing in its duty to protect the environment in its overseas territories.

The Environmental Audit Committee said the government did not even know what it was supposed to be looking after.

The survey brought together all known records from the past 300 years. 

Many of the species recorded in those archives are now lost, including the St Helena olive that was rescued from apparent extinction by George Benjamin BEM, who first woke St Helenians up to the importance of their endemic plants.

He also began the planting of gumwood trees on the east of the island that evolved into the Millennium Forest.

A battle is currently being fought to save the false gumwood tree, which has died out in one of its two last remaining outposts. Just seven adult trees survive in a single location, and efforts are being made to harvest and propagate its seeds.

The same delicate technique recently saved the bastard gumwood when it became the world’s rarest tree, with only one specimen surviving.

Jeremy Harris, director of the St Helena National Trust, said: “Over 14 million years, St Helena has developed a totally unique biosphere of incredible diversity protected by thousands of miles of ocean.

“Five hundred years ago, it was discovered by people who brought goats and rats and other species that had a huge impact on its fragile environment.

“What remains today is still clearly remarkable and unique and of international significance. St Helena, now more than ever, needs our protection and care as the airport approaches, bringing with it new risks and challenges.”

Senior Veterinary Officer Joe Hollins said the opening of the airport would remove the “quarantine effect” of a five-day sea voyage to reach St Helena.

“Biosecurity on St Helena is necessarily being tightened,” he said.

“We already have laws in place for live animals and related genetic materials, and for fruit, vegetables, plants and related products; and the Bees Ordinance protects our disease-free bees and honey.

“But remaining loopholes to be closed include certain meat, dairy and fish imports.”

RSPB report highlights woeful ignorance and lack of plans

Glaring gaps in knowledge about Britain’s overseas territories and their wildlife are highlight in the RSPB’s report on its findings.

“Whole groups of species remain almost entirely undiscovered,” says the report, which was funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“Whilst some excellent conservation work is underway on the ground… the UK Government still has no strategic overview of where the most urgent priorities lie, or even a simple understanding of actions undertaken, such as the number of nature reserves established.”

The UK’s environment department, Defra, has “no dedicated evidence plan for the OTs”, and its advisory body on nature conservation has no strategy for dealing with “biodiversity knowledge gaps”.

It says: “The OTs hold at least 1,500 endemic species, compared to around 90 endemic species in the UK. This is equivalent to 94 per cent of known endemic British species.

“Much of the endemic OT fauna and flora is threatened, although only 145 species (9 per cent) have ever had their global conservation status assessed. Of these, 111 (77 per cent) are listed as Globally Threatened.”

The RSPB adds that there could be 50,000 unrecorded species in the island territories – more than two thousand of them endemic.

READ MORE: 

George Benjamin: the man who saved the St Helena ebony
St Helena National Trust
Tourism threat to the Galapagos Islands
The UK’s Wildlife Overseas: RSPB report
Picture gallery: St Helena’s natural wonders

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St Helena’s very own offshore fishing vessel – in pictures

MFV Extractor arrives in James Bay. Click to pic to see a gallery of images by Bruce Salt

MFV Extractor arrives in James Bay. Click to pic to see a gallery of images by Bruce Salt

A large crowd of wellwishers gathered at the wharf in Jamestown to greet the arrival of the St Helena’s first island-owned offshore fishing vessel on 19 April 2014. A new company, Saint Marine Resources, was set up in January 2014 to buy and refit the trawler in Hout Bay, South Africa. The long-sought vessel will enable the island to exploit the rich fishing areas around its sea mounts.

Click here to see a gallery of images by Bruce Salt. 

A press release said:

MFV Extractor Arrived Safely in James Bay at 17:30hrs on Saturday 19 April.

Approximately 200 people turned up at the wharf to welcome the crew back, and they were given a brief demonstration of the vessel’s handling ability whilst awaiting clearance by Customs and Immigration officials.

Once ashore, the lead skipper, Trevor (Otto) Thomas, and crew members Waylon Thomas, Peter Benjamin, Errol Thomas, and Terry Richards, were presented with a St Helena “blue ensign” for the MFV Extractor by Councillor Lawson Henry, chairman of the Economic Development Committee.

During a small welcoming reception for the crew held at the St Helena Yacht Club shortly afterwards, Councillor Henry spoke about the significance of the Extractor’s arrival in St Helena, noting that when we talk about achieving economic growth for the island it is steps such as this that island needs to be taking.

SEE ALSO: MFV Extractor arrives in James Bay – pictures by Bruce Salt

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Carnival honours the memory of St Helena exiles

The exile of Zulus and Boer War prisoners on St Helena has been commemorated in a carnival and march led by the premier of KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa.

zulu march 2014 450Before the event at Woodburn Stadium in Pietermaritzburg, Senzo Nchunu urged people of all cultures to unite in paying tribute to figures such as the Zulu King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo.

He said: “Natal, as it was then known, played host to many battles, conflicts and confrontations in South Africa. These resulted in many of our heroes exiled in St Helena island.

“The French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte I, spent six years in exile on St Helena island from 1815 -1821 under stringent British supervision following his defeat at Waterloo.
Importantly, 61 years later Zulu King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, nephew to King Shaka, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment on St Helena island.

“The King had dared defy the British, who had not recognized him as the rightful heir to the throne of the Zulu nation.

“Three years after King Dinuzulu left St Helena, more than 5,000 Boer War prisoners were also exiled in St Helena for having participated in a war against the British.

“Ten years after King Dinuzulu returned home to a Zululand which had been annexed to Natal, he led the defiance to the poll tax imposed by the British to pay for the needs of the developing territory. The King was accused of high treason and was moved to a farm in Middleburg. About 25 Zulu rebel chiefs were exiled to St Helena for their participation against poll tax.”

“These are the heroes who yearned for independence, political self-determination and the protection of their culture and languages. Now that we have achieved democracy and freedom, we must all come together and remember these heroes.”

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Shooter Maddy tastes TV fame in baton relay programme

Maddy sets her sights on Scotland - as seen on the BBC iPlayer

Maddy sets her sights on Scotland – as seen on the BBC iPlayer

Commonwealth Games hopeful Madolyn Andrews features in a three-minute profile of St Helena on a BBC television programme following the Queen’s Baton Relay.

Maddy is seen training to take part in the shooting at the 2014 Games in Scotland.

If she succeeds in her ambition to compete, it’ll be only the second time she’s left the island – and the first time venturing beyond Ascension.

“If I go out in the bigger world to the Commonwealth Games I’ll be able to see what they do and how they do it,” she tells presenter Mark Beaumont.

Patrick Henry: "We'll be ready"

Patrick Henry: “We’ll be ready”

Her coach, Patrick Henry, says it is difficult preparing competitors for overseas competition in such isolation, but says he thinks his team “will be ready”.

The programme is available to UK viewers on the BBC iPlayer. It is scheduled to be shown on the BBC News Channel in the UK on Saturday at 1.30pm.

The Falkland Islands are featured as the “next destination” in the baton’s tour of the Commonwealth – ignoring the fact that it had to be carried ashore at Ascension Island to be transferred to the RAF flight to Stanley.

Ascension is not acknowledged as a stop-over on the baton website.

Mark Beaumont’s blog on the baton’s journey includes a post about the RMS St Helena, with photographs showing parts of the ship not normally seen by passengers. Read it here

And an unnamed Pilling School pupil is captured in a striking photograph on the BBC’s baton website, here

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Alien discovery sparks international beetle drive

The remains of one of the beetle stowaways, with its distinctive swept-back wings. Picture courtesy of St Helena Government

The remains of one of the beetle stowaways, with its distinctive swept-back wings. Picture courtesy of St Helena Government

Three stowaways have been found hitching a ride to St Helena’s airport, nearly two years before it is even due to open.

Even though they had no papers on them, David Pryce of St Helena National Trust had no trouble identifying them as pachylomera femoralis – giant flattened dung beetles.

Their remains were spotted in the back of a trailer by Basil Read workers who were assembling new plant in upper Rupert’s Valley.

The discovery sparked a bio-security alert, and was promptly reported to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Division (ANRD).

Giant flattened dung beetles burrow beside fresh dung of various mammals for feeding, as well as rolling away balls of dung to brood their young. They are attracted to a wide range of dung types, carrion and fermenting fruit. Their native distribution is wide, from South Africa up to the Congo.

Basil Read has mapped the trailer’s journey from Port Elizabeth on the coast of South Africa up to Walvis Bay in Namibia, where it was loaded on to the company’s supply vessel.

A press release from St Helena Government said: “The beetles are believed to be attracted to lights and they probably fell into the open trailer while it was parked under security lights at some point.”

Ravi Michael, logistics manager for Basil Read on St Helena said the discovery was investigated swiftly so that any weaknesses in biosecurity could be closed up.

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