St Helena Online


Black Cat gets lucky at last in surprise yacht race win

Black Cat sets out in high winds. Picture by Trevor Wilkins Photography. Click the pic for more images
Black Cat sets out in high winds. Picture by Trevor Wilkins Photography. Click the pic for more images

For the triumphant crew of Black Cat, the Governor’s Cup Yacht Race has provided proof of the unpredictable nature of their sport. They have been named overall winners of the 2015 race, in a boat that finished near the back of the fleet two years earlier – despite sailing faster than the leaders.

The crew of Black Cat before the race. Picture by Trevor Wilkins Photography
The crew of Black Cat before the race. Picture by Trevor Wilkins Photography

The win came as a massive surprise to skipper Dave Immelman. A rival crew in the racing class had actually reached St Helena a few hours ahead of him, but they declared that they had used their engine for 95 miles of the race and switched to the cruising class – leaving Black Cat in the top slot.

Fickle fortunes also saw the 2013 winner Banjo set a new speed record in the race from South Africa, while other yachts were becalmed by a lack of wind that meant some might not even reach the island before the deadline for late finishers – extended by three days to Tuesday 13 January.

Banjo covered the 1,750 miles from Simon’s Town in nine days 13 hours and 36 seconds, shaving five hours off the record set by a different crew in the same yacht in 2010.

Banjo set a new speed record for the Governor's Cup race. Picture by Trevor Wilkins Photography
Banjo set a new speed record for the Governor’s Cup race. Picture by Trevor Wilkins Photography

The voyage was by no means straightforward for the crew of Black Cat, which was battered by high winds in the early part of the race. On their race blog, they wrote:

“To our horror the beating had damaged an already old (now 20 years) water tank and our fresh water became bilge water. Not to worry, on with the water maker and all is great.

“Our next little hurdle was a small hole in the main sail. This led to a venture up the mast and some fantastic views of the boat and Atlantic. Hole fixed without a hitch and full speed ahead.”

On arrival at St Helena Yacht Club, skipper Dave said: “We are absolutely delighted. It was such a surprise and we are over the moon. The owner, Adrian Pearson, is ecstatic because it is his first win ever in this boat.

Black Cat digs in. Picture by Trevor Wilkins Photography
Black Cat digs in. Picture by Trevor Wilkins Photography

“He spent a lot of money bringing the boat up to scratch last year and he has now realized spending the money has really paid off.

“Also we started the race in 2012 but had to retire with gear failure, so to actually finish and win overall is a dream come true.”

Dave was also skipper of Black Cat in the previous race, when he had to make for the Namibian port of Luderitz with near-complete electrical failure.

They picked up new parts and resumed their voyage, actually picking up better winds and sailing faster than the race leaders.

Read more reports on the Governor’s Cup website and Facebook page.

Big waves: the Governor’s Cup race gets under way

Seventeen yachts battled huge waves at the start of the 2014/15 Governor’s Cup yacht race between South Africa and St Helena on 27 December 2014.

The trimaran Banjo – first across the finish line two years ago – was leading the fleet as the yachts left Simons Town behind and headed for Cape Point.

Banjo’s crew had only light winds to carry them towards St Helena in 2012; this time, they were setting out in a strong 25-knot south easterly that tested the mettle of all the competitors.

The Governor’s Cup race has been staged every two years since 1996. The 2014/15 will be the last that allows supporters to follow the fleet out to the island aboard the RMS St Helena – and for crews and yachts to be transported home on the ship. The ship is set to be retired soon after the island’s first airport opens in 2016.

Read the report of the start on the event website, here

Governor’s Cup stories (2012/13)
Governor’s Cup pictures (2012/13)

Sailing for St Helena with a floorboard for a rudder

The yacht Benguela is the same type as a former Governor's Cup Yacht Race winner
The yacht Benguela is the same type as a former Governor’s Cup Yacht Race winner. Picture: 2 Oceans Maritime Academy

When the rudder failed on the yacht Benguela, its crew tried lashing a floorboard to a pole to take its place.

It worked, well enough to steer the 42-foot sail training vessel to within reach of rescue boats from St Helena.

Now the principal of the 2 Oceans Maritime Academy in Cape Town has thanked “all of St Helena” for the kindness shown to the yacht’s seven crew.

Sean Cumming said the Fast 42 vessel had just made its fourth visit to the island in a year and a half, on a voyage to enable student yachtsmen to notch up sea miles.

Its sister yacht, Diel, also visited in March 2014 on a training voyage from Cape Town to Rio and back via Tristan da Cunha.

Sean said: “Benguela suffered rudder failure in the early hours of Monday 29 September, due east of St Helena, while on the return leg to Cape Town.

“The skipper and crew attempted to repair the steering and drifted to a position north-east of the island.

“Around 0730 Universal Time they were able to set up a jury rudder using the spinnaker pole and a floorboard lashed to it.

“This allowed the vessel to make its way slowly towards the island under power until they were due north.

“I then made contact with Sean Burns of the Governor’s office, who was extremely helpful. He then contacted the relevant emergency personnel, who sent vessels out to assist, eventually towing Benguela back Jamestown.”

Trevor “Otto” Thomas, skipper of the fishing vessel MFV Extractor, agreed to accompany the island’s rescue vessel on the operation because of the distance and heavy seas anticipated.

“I would like to commend all involved in the assistance of Benguela,” said Sean Cumming. “You can imagine how stressful this has been for 2 Oceans, the parents of the crew, and family.

“We were updated on the progress through the office of the Governor and are extremely grateful to all who assisted.

“St Helena is a wonderful island to visit and we are so grateful that the rescue crew are so professional and friendly. The hospitality extended to the crew has been amazing. We will continue to visit the island as part of our yachtmaster programme.

“Thank you, all of St Helena.”

Island crews hailed for ten-hour rescue operation
2 Ocean Maritime Academy
2 Ocean’s Fast 42 yachts

Island crews hailed for ten-hour rescue operation

Fishing vessel Extractor joined the rescue operation. Picture: Bruce Salt
Fishing vessel Extractor joined the rescue operation. Picture: Bruce Salt

Rescuers have been praised after venturing far out in heavy seas to bring a yacht crew to the safety of St Helena.

The ten-hour operation began when a call for assistance was received from the yacht Benguela, 80 miles north of the island with rudder problems.

The rescue boat Lima put to sea from Jamestown with the island’s offshore fishing vessel, MFV Extractor, soon after the alarm was raised at about 9.30am on Monday, 29 September 2014.

Rescue boat Lima. Picture: Bruce Salt
Rescue boat Lima. Picture: Bruce Salt

“Given the sea conditions and the likely action required, support was sought from the skipper of the Extractor,” said a government statement.

“The yacht had limited steering but was able to head, at slow speed, towards St Helena.

“When it was 25 to 30 miles from the island the rudder failed completely. The sea rescue boat had made good progress and arrived on the scene to ensure the safety of the seven persons on board.”

The two rescue boats worked together under skippers Craig Scipio and Trevor Thomas to tow the yacht back to St Helena, arriving in James Bay at about 8pm.

“All crews of the Lima, Extractor and Benguela were uninjured but tired after a long rescue deployment,” said the statement.

Benguela is one of two Fast 42 yachts used for sail training by the 2 Oceans Maritime Academy in Cape Town. It was on a “mileage voyage” to St Helena, giving trainees the chance to build up ocean experience.

The MFV Extractor was only brought to Jamestown in April 2014 after being purchased by a specially created consortium to allow the island to exploit the rich fishing grounds around its offshore sea mounts.

extractor 450 by BruceSaltClick to see a gallery of Bruce Salt’s Extractor pictures

St Helena’s Chief of Police, Trevor Botting, said: “This was a challenging rescue in heavy seas but the sea rescue team, working with the skipper and crew of the Extractor, did a fantastic job in ensuring the safety of the Benguela and its crew.

“I am grateful to the skipper of the Extractor for the support given to the sea rescue crew but not surprised at the level of support given when needed.

“Working together, they provided a professional and timely response to those in need in the waters surrounding St Helena.”

Governor Mark Capes praised both crews. “Thanks to their courage, professionalism and well honed seafaring skills, the operation ended happily with the safe return of all concerned,” he said.

Sailing for St Helena with a floorboard for a rudder

Saint sailor gets set to resume round-the-world trip


James Herne is getting ready to continue his quest to become the first St Helenian to sail round the world. He and his wife Hanna and three children set out from the UK on their 38-foot Bavaria yacht, Carpe Diem. After several months visiting James’s homeland, they have had the yacht lifted out of the water to be made ready for the next stage of their adventure. Click on the thumbnails to see pictures by BRUCE SALT.

Record fleet enlists for island yacht race

A record 26 yachts have been signed up to take part in the 2012 Governor’s Cup race from South Africa to St Helena.

Skippers are being warned that some will have to anchor off the island, despite efforts to install safe moorings in time for the race following the sinking of the yacht Queequeg, which broke loose and drifted on to rocks.

The race newsletter says: “The island has not yet advised exactly what is happening and where they are with their swing moorings, but some of the yachts, most likely the larger ones which are well prepared for this anyway, will have to anchor.”

A shipping container has been donated to enable crews to send equipment to the island, such as heavy anchors or equipment needed for onward sailing.

A get-together is planned at the False Bay Yacht Club in Simon’s Town on 28 July 2012 to give owners, skippers, crews and supports an idea of what awaits on the island.

“We have two Saints in town and they will be invited to the function, so you will be able to mingle and get a taste of what is to come,” says the newsletter. “They are being hosted by Robin Castell, who is the owner of one of the finest properties on the island, Prince’s Lodge.”

The race starts just before Christmas and the first boats are expected to arrive before New Year’s Eve. As usual, many yachts will be craned aboard the RMS St Helena for the return journey to Cape Town, departing on 10 and 30 January 2012.

The newsletter says: “The Committee is hard at work with all that needs to be done and our friends on the island are also very busy and are planning a bumper event.”

  • The biggest fleet in the race to date was seen in the second Governor’s Cup race in 1998, with Saints among the crews for the first time. The 2006 race attracted the smallest field, of just ten boats.


“Maybe we should ask Basil Read to organise the yacht moorings.” 

– read more in John Turner’s Random Thoughts From Offshore blog

It’s Christmas at sea for Governor’s Cup yachties
St Helena waives the rules to welcome yachties ashore

Governor’s Cup Yacht Race 2012

It’s Christmas at sea for Governor’s Cup yachties

screen grab of Governor's Cup website, with silhouette of a Thames Barge
The Governor’s Barge?

Entry details for the 2012 Governor’s Cup yacht race have been flashed up on Facebook. The race starts on 22 December, which means many yachts will arrive in the New Year and competitors will spend Christmas at sea. It all sounds very exciting, but St Helena Online is confused by the image at the top of the race website, which shows a Thames Sailing Barge. These fine old craft were designed to carry cargo down the shallow, muddy creeks of England’s east coast, and don’t have keels. We wouldn’t want to undertake an ocean voyage in one.

Bidders try to save jetty plan – after report it would be scrapped

Artist impression of the proposed breakwater
A breakwater would improve cargo handling

The leading bidders for the job of building a breakwater at Jamestown are trying to bring down the cost of the project – only days after UK cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell suggested it was being dropped.

The contract cannot be awarded to the joint preferred bidders, Enco and Marine Lagan, because St Helena Government cannot meet the tender price.

Executive councillors were called to The Castle in Jamestown at short notice in April to be told the project was in jeopardy, and new funding was being sought.

But on 20 May 2012, Mr Mitchell told a meeting in Swindon, UK, that the project was on the point of being dropped.

The Secretary of State for International Development said a permanent landing stage was being considered at Rupert’s Bay instead – big enough for some vessels to come alongside.

The ship chartered by the airport construction company Basil Read is due to be the first one ever to dock at St Helena, using a temporary jetty in Rupert’s Bay.

The last section of concrete for the temporary jetty was successfully poured into place on Friday, 25 May.

The latest airport newsletter says: “After the unfortunate incident in April where the sea conditions caused some of the concrete to be washed away, Basil Read adapted their method and poured the concrete jetty wall in four stages.

“All that remains is the addition of the fendering, planned for June.”

Three tenders for the Jamestown breakwater contract were received in January 2012.

Enco and Lagan were chosen over CAN S.A. from France and joint bidders WBHO and Sea and Shore, from South Africa.

A St Helena Government (SHG) statement says: “The tender price exceeds the funding currently available, so a contract cannot yet be awarded.

“SHG is considering a wide range of options for addressing this situation and Enco/Marine Lagan is investigating the possibility of price reduction. This process will take some time.”

The scheme involves building a breakwater extending 140 metres from the shore, with geometric “tetrapods”, similar to those at Tristan da Cunha, to deflect waves.

A breakwater and short jetty at Jamestown would create a sheltered landing basin, making it safer for people to step on and off small boats – and probably avoid repeats of the incident in which the Arcadia cruise ship captain refused to allow passengers ashore in “millpond” conditions.

A boat moored alongside the landing steps at Jamestown wharf, viewed from above
St Helena can lose £10,000 in a day if cruise passengers are unable to come ashore at the landing steps

The ship’s owner, P&O Cruises, has so far ignored all requests to acknowledge the loss suffered by islanders.

A breakwater would also make it easier to lift cargo on and off lighters – a tricky operation in a rolling sea at present. Fishermen would also be able to land fish more easily.

The latest statement makes no reference to Mr Mitchell’s doubts about the scheme. St Helena Online has asked the government press office to comment.

Jamestown jetty plan looks dead in the water
Funding shortfall delays safer landing stage

Jamestown wharf improvements: environmental impact assessment

St Helena waives the rules to welcome yachties ashore

Landing fees are to be waived for crews of yachts spending less than three days at St Helena.

The move follows a determined push to encourage more visits to the island under sail. In December 2010, the tourism department reported that it had put in new facilities at the landing steps, including a solar-powered shower, and laid new moorings.

It suffered a setback last summer when a mooring severed and the yacht Queequeg was washed onto rocks and broke up – landing St Helena Government with a bill approaching a quarter of a million pounds. New moorings are due to be laid.

The fee waiver is aimed especially at professional crews transporting yachts across the Atlantic on behalf of their owners, who have often passed the island without stopping up to now.

“With only anchorage to pay,” says a statement from St Helena Government, “it means crews of yachts that are passing through will be able to take advantage of the island to re-stock with supplies, fuel and water before sailing onwards.”

The number of visitors arriving by yacht rose by 11% last year, and 15% the year before. In 2010, yachtsmen accounted for more than a tenth of all visits to the island.

The tourism department is evidently making an effort to improve its offering to yacht crews, following criticism in the past about what they receive in return for the fees they pay.

“Facilities are continuing to improve on the island,” says the SHG statement, “and many yacht visitors end up staying for longer periods before tackling the route north or across the Atlantic.”

The initiative launched in 2010 included publication of a yachting guide that was promoted through clubs in South Africa and on specialist websites.

Director of Tourism Pamela Young was quoted in 2010 saying word-of-mouth was also important. “We will continue to work hard to improve our yachting product so that visitor numbers will increase,” she said. “It is therefore very important that all our visitors enjoy the St Helena experience, as ultimately it is their voice that will promote the island.”


As a director of Moonbeams, a shop which provides services to yachties and other tourists, I naturally welcome this news.  And as a resident I would also be delighted to meet more of the yachting community, who like all visitors bring additional colour and variety to life here.  St Helena is an ideal stopover for an Atlantic crossing and I hope more will take advantage of what we have to offer.

John Turner, St Helena

Yacht wreck owner gets £200,000 pay-out
GALLERY: The wreck of the Queequeg

St Helena Tourism
Press release: St Helena prepares for yachts (December 2010)

Yacht wreck owner gets £200,000 pay-out

The hull of the Queequeg breaks up in a swirl of white water
BREAKING UP: The Queequeg was blown on to rocks within minutes

The wreck of the classic yacht Queequeg in James Bay in 2011 has resulted in an out-of-court settlement approaching a quarter of a million pounds.

The veteran racing yacht broke its mooring and was blown onto rocks at the Needle’s Eye within five minutes while owner Graham Elliot and his two crew were ashore.

They were just clearing Customs, ready to sail for Ascension, when the alarm was raised.

View across James Bay to the yacht on the rocks
ON THE ROCKS: Queequeg came to grief on Munden’s Point

An investigation found the St Helena Government’s moorings had been condemned as unsafe months earlier.

The Attorney General, Ken Baddon, has confirmed to Saint FM radio station that a settlement of £228,000 has been accepted.

St Helena Government has advertised a contract to lay – and maintain – new moorings in time for the Governor’s Cup yacht race at Christmas.

Yachtsmen have spoken of being unable to relax while at the island because of unreliable moorings, and it is not uncommon for drifting yachts to be retrieved by the ferry crew.

The Queequeg was built by a famous designer in Australia in 1972 and had competed in the Sydney-Hobart race. Mr Elliot bought her only 18 months before the wrecking and had her fully restored in Thailand.

She had arrived at the island on passage from South Africa to the UK, five days before she was wrecked.

Local ferry staff had directed her crew to a mooring, not knowing it had been declared unfit for use.

The Queequeg lies on its side, barely visible through white surf
WHITE WATER: The Queequeg could not be towed clear

It later emerged that the moorings had been commissioned only as a short term project by St Helena Tourism a year earlier.

No one was made responsible for supervising the moorings and they were not rated for the size or weight of vessels using them. No maintenance schedule was put in place.

Within weeks of the moorings being laid by a diver it was noticed that they were starting to fall apart because copper wire fittings were corroding.

Parts were replaced, but by January 2011 – eight months before the wreck of the Queequeg – all 20 moorings had been affected and the installer said they should all be taken out of use.

A police investigation found that despite this, no updated advice was published by the Tourism Department, and yachts continued to use the moorings.

Examination of the wreck found a rope had broken from the shackle attaching it to the chain on the seabed. A diver found shackles had corroded.

The wrecking was triggered by a change in weather conditions on the day.

Wreckage is lifted ashore by crane, showing the wooden frame of the yacht
SALVAGED: The yacht’s timber construction shows as wreckage is craned ashore

The police investigation was carried out by Sergeant Chris Shuter, a qualified yachtmaster and former yacht club commodore.

He made a number of recommendations, including that any new moorings should be professionally designed.

Queequeg owner Graham Elliot and his crew spoke of wrecking on Saint FM the day after it happened.

“We rushed to the dock and saw the mast waving from side to side as she was trounced on the rocks,” said Graham.

They had watched as the rescue boat crew tried to tow her free, but the swell had lifted her above the surf-line.

Laptops, cameras and other electrical equipment were destroyed but a couple of bags of clothes floated free and were salvaged.

“There’s no point in crying,” said Graham. “We can be thankful that we’re all safe and there’s nobody hurt.”

One of the crew, named Ted, said: “I’ve worked on boats for the last 40 years and this is the first time I’ve seen a boat break up. I’m devasted for Graham because he’s lost everything.

The yachtsmen said the understanding shown by Saints had been “very, very kind”.

GALLERY: The wreck of the Queequeg (pictures by Bruce Salt)

Saint FM / St Helena Independent