A Seafaring Love Story from Saint Helena Island
We played together, we argued as children, I had my first significant topple on her purple bicycle at the Quarry, yet, here we were, many years later discussing anything but child’s play. Well, with her 15 month old daughter Naiya in the background running rampage on the few items I possess in my temporary abode, there is always time for child’s play. I just remember Cheryl (nee Herne) as a pretty easy going youngster, not much has changed even with the children in tow.
Rewind thirty years and a boy called Morgan Morice arrives on St Helena Island with his parents Roger and Jacqueline and his two sisters on board a yacht called the Gilbert Guy.
A teenage ‘love’ blossomed between Cheryl and Morgan. She was twelve, he thirteen. We giggle about them holding hands as a show of affection (I’ll take Cheryl’s word for it that there were no kisses). She spent many hours on the yacht with Morgan and his family, mostly on weekends as her Nan kept her on a tight ‘leash’ during the week. But like so often happens, parents break up the fun and life and boats move on. Morgan suggested that he would come back in later teenage years without the constraints of parents. It was only a teenage promise, what validity do they hold?
In the first year of Morgan’s departure, he wrote Cheryl three letters with addresses to write him back but due to the delay in the letters reaching the island, Cheryl was never able to write back. Eventually, they lost contact.
So it would seem that fate would play a hand in Morgan and Cheryl meeting again twelve years later in 2003. Cheryl was living on Ascension Island, working for Cable & Wireless, but was drafted in to work on St Helena for a short project, when she recognised Morgan’s parents. They had returned to enquire about a fishing contract and they remembered her. They told her about Morgan being in Brazil and showed photos of her childhood sweetheart.
Six months later whilst Cheryl was enjoying a Christmas vacation on St Helena, she drove by a handsome, suntanned, guy walking along with a beautiful blonde at the seaside (who happened to be Morgan’s sister Sarah) and she knew, instantly, that this was her sweetheart. I like to remind her that the stars were aligned. Some things are so perfectly parallel that it cannot just be a coincidence.
Cheryl had to return to Ascension but her heart remained on St Helena and it wasn’t long before they knew they could no longer live apart. Cheryl quit her job and returned to St Helena after the usual formalities of working one’s notice. Morgan, always the seafaring adventurer knew that he would once again leave the island and this time, he wasn’t prepared to leave without his ‘gal’.
“Whilst I went sailing around the island, I never got comfortable with the heeling of the boat”, Cheryl says, as she stops Naiya from writing on the old yellow and white floor tiles. “I’m still scared at times of sailing”.The boat that they left the island on, ‘Noa’, was only 29ft long and 8ft wide and Cheryl remembers saying to Morgan, “I’m not doing anymore sailing around the island in preparation so that I feel brave enough to leave when we do, otherwise at this rate, I may not go”. When they moved on to the boat some months before departure, she went from thirty pairs of shoes and twenty pairs of jeans to the bare minimum. There was just enough room to stand up and using the toilet, cooking, eating became an everyday challenge. Years later Noa would be sold to a Spaniard who they met again by chance in Menorca post sale, it reminds me how close-nit the seafaring community can at times be.
The day arrived to leave St Helena after one or two false starts, due to weather conditions. On 12th October 2004 Cheryl remembers going to see her Nan and her Nan saying “are you really going today?” Other family members had already bade farewell and as they lifted anchor and sailed out of the harbour, there was no family or friends there to wave them off except the Solomons guys in their blue overhauls. Emotions were running high; she was full of excitement, fright but most of all, disbelief.
Whilst Cheryl returned to see her Nan on three occasions before she passed on, one occasion she’ll never forget. Some years later, due to an emergency repair, the yacht they were on had to stop overnight at St Helena She rang her Mum who was on Ascension, asking her not to tell the family but the yacht needed some eggs, could her Nan provide some? Customs cleared her as the only St Helenian on board as soon as the vessel moored and she ran through the streets (waving to astonished friends) and up to New Bridge. On arrival, the roast pork was on the stove which she helped herself to, but there was no-one about. A short while later she stood and watched her fragile Nan come down the steps with some eggs. Her Nan said “what you doing here?” She was not ready to relinquish the eggs to Cheryl as they were for ‘a yacht’ not the yacht she was on. I suppose, the dear old lady was in disbelief. She never saw her Nan again but she was glad that an engine mishap on the boat had provided them one last good-bye. Life is full of opportunities if we can grasp them.
Cheryl had always wanted to travel to Fiji or Bora Bora; it would take them another twelve years before her dream became a reality. In the meantime, they headed out to the Fishing Banks to see Morgan’s family, where they spent the morning fishing and then set the compass for Brazil via Ascension. If the voyage had been fairly uneventful, the last night out of El Salvador saw onions flying off the shelves as if some Poltergeist had taken hold of the innards of the boat, birds were being blown into the wind generator on deck and chopped up. Having navigated the Continental Shelf and the hordes of off-shore fishing boats, the hustle and bustle of city life were like music to Cheryl’s ears after being at sea.
Brazil was a real eye-opener for this island girl. The safety of St Helena was long gone and as she sat at a Bus Stop, three youngsters grabbed her neck and escaped with the St Christopher (The Saint of Safe Travel and Protection) necklace her Nan had given her. Thieves don’t consider sentimental value and Cheryl never forgot this experience, hence she only started wearing her wedding bands on the island which Morgan had made for her in Australia. A $20 band bought in Thailand suffices for the outside world.
She also learnt very quickly not to go out in French Guyana without the appropriate mosquito repellent as her skin stung and itched from head to toe after being eaten by a dust cloud of the little fiends. Cheryl likened her image to an actress in the movie Mosquito. The dolphin display went some way to compensating for the discomfort as they left French Guyana. The fluorescent colours against the blackness of night were breath-taking as the dolphins hugged the bow of the boat whilst imparting playful squeaks and squeals.
On lowering their anchor in Tobago in the Caribbean, they were treated to a display of fireflies, tiny little ‘fireworks’ in the night, an exhibition so wondrous that only nature could pull this one off. Cheryl remembers the sweet, earthy aroma of land after spending two weeks at sea. How Christopher Columbus must have experienced similar sensations, including a wariness of the unknown.
The next 12 years were spent sailing around the world working on three private yachts, experiencing many beautiful countries and cultures. As I sat on the Normadica (their current boat), I was regaled with tales of erupting volcanoes, world class surfing in Tahiti, typhoons, shark infested waters, wild doggies, Easter Island Sunrises, wonderful hospitality and treasure hunts for the lost fleet of Louis IV. Whilst the fleet was not found, they did discover in Italy, anchors and other shipping artefacts dating back to BC which was protected by local legislation.
A revelation which made me sad (whilst we were talking about fishing on the forthcoming voyage) was about the rapid increase of Sargassum seaweed around the Caribbean. It is suggested that due to the effects of climate change, this seaweed is’ strangling’ so much of sea life and creating national emergencies among sought after tourist destinations. It reminds me that Covid has been the most publicised impact to our way of life but it is not the only scenario. It saddens me that we humans have caused so much of this and continue to do so in the name of profit. Nothing on land, sea or in the atmosphere seems safe.
On the island, we tend to cook everything ‘well done’, as I watch Cheryl on one of their old videos making tuna wraps using beautifully seared tuna, it reminds me of the tenderness and best flavours of the fish if not cooked like an old flip flop. The demand for sushi is vast in the wider world, perhaps its popularity will also increase on the island for affordable prices once we are able to import more ingredients at far more affordable rates. In the meantime, I’ll settle for tender slices of raw tuna on occasions with soy and/or horse radish sauce. Yum!
Within the confines of the boat some days later, I begin to get a feel for the amount of time that the family would spend ‘heeling’ (when the boat is travelling lurched to one side) and flinch slightly when Morgan suggests they would be heeling for weeks on end. Luckily, the Nomadica is dry-docked so I don’t have to break for intervals of sea-sickness. I see why sailing must be a wonderful experience, but not for everyone. The family would perhaps spend sixty percent of the voyage across to St Martins in October below deck. The cost to replace anything on board is significant, hence why Cheryl and Morgan treat the furnishings with great respect. Cheryl keeps the interior spotless, well that’s until the children arrive. Every nook and cranny has a purpose with space being a vital part of everyday existence. With a gimbal fitted to the stove it can be manoeuvred into different positions depending on the heel. The bedrooms are cosy and welcoming but sleeping arrangements can change quickly if the boat needs to heel in either direction. At least Cheryl won’t have to worry about rocking Naiya to sleep.
Two of Cheryl’s favourite destinations are New Zealand and French Polynesia (FP). She talks about the spotlessness of FP, how poor some of the people are, how happy they are and how they work together to keep the community alive, enhanced by excellent French Aid. Madagascar was also an amazing destination but they could not leave the boat unattended. They found Sri Lanka very friendly and welcoming.
Cold sailing took the guys to Antarctica where there was just a haze of black, blue and white, except for the bright yellow beaks of penguins huddled on the ice. The picture of Morgan having a cold beer in -10 degrees Celsius conditions makes me smile.
Morgan planned the wedding proposal in Australia and off course it had to be a beach. He hid the ring in a kite pump bag and whilst he covertly kept the camera rolling, he got down on one knee and did the deed. I can’t quite hear what is being said on the video, but why do I need to when the body language says everything? There have been so many moments during this interview where my eyes have welled up and this is definitely one of them.
As I look at the photos of Cheryl and Morgan tying the knot on the shoreline of the Seychelles, I feel bliss for them both. Love really does make a person radiate beauty. Who would have thought that a thirteen year old boy would keep his promise and the story would continue like this? They (like many other couples) give real meaning to the old cliché ‘navigating life together’. Working as a team on a boat, away from the ‘normalities’ of life on dry land requires incredible tolerance. I draw the line at bat stew though, which is a delicacy of the Seychelles and was on the menu on their wedding night. People spend thousands of pounds on weddings in extortionate venues, it’s almost become another exploitative business, it would surprise the reader to know that Cheryl and Morgan’s wedding was very reasonably priced (albeit they had their own mode of transport to the islands) and it certainly helps if one can enjoy nature with a glass of bubbly brought in by the crate, instead of buying it over the venue counter.
Gael was only a little fella when they arrived, so life back on sea is going to be a transition for he and Naiya. I’m sure they are going to love it. Who knows, maybe one day Gael or Naiya will have their own love story to tell originating from the island of St Helena.
As the family leave on or about the 2nd October 2021, they will do so with two additional passengers, Sandie and Steve from the Yacht Club, a full house.
I know you will all join me in wishing Morgan, Cheryl and the gang the very best when they leave the island. I know that this will be heart-wrenching for Cheryl and her family but we also talked about the families we have had to create in the wider world and that they are looking forward to reconnecting with the yachting community and Morgan’s family, even though travel restrictions are going to require some skilful navigating.
Bon Voyage guys, much love.