The way the old saying has it, all that glisters is not gold. But in the case of the stars over St Helena, it seems the saying is wrong.
The astronomer who came to “audit” the island’s night sky in April says he’s giving it a gold rating for star-gazing. That puts it among the clearest skies in the world.
Steve Owens had been invited to the island to see whether it qualified as an International Dark Sky Place, after the accolade was given to Sark, one of the Channel Islands off the northern coast of France.
Vince Thompson describes the visit in his column in the May 4 issue of the re-launched St Helena Independent:
“In Glasgow, where Steve Owens lives, he says he can see about 200 hundred stars from his own garden. The quality of St Helena’s night sky means 6,000 stars are visible to the naked eye.
“When Steve Owens sailed away from St Helena on 30th April he was able to tell us that the darkness of the St Helena night sky qualifies for ‘Gold Status’. This means our sky is darker than the Isle of Sark’s which was accredited with ‘Silver Status’.”
The Dark Sky association’s rules require that public lighting meets tight standards to avoid light pollution, which can obscure the view of the galaxies.
Most of St Helena’s lighting was found to meet the rules, and measures to improve the rest are probably sufficient, according to Steve.
St Helena Government recently replaced 60 street lamps with low energy solar-powered lamps.
A statement said: “In addition to reducing the island’s reliance on fossil fuels, the new lights are of a modern design that do not emit light above the horizontal plane.
“This is a requirement for the Dark Skies accreditation, and by replacing 60 non-compliant luminaires with compliant ones we are a step closer to gaining Dark Skies accreditation.
“The guidelines for any additional lighting will be subject to the outcome of the audit being conducted by Steve Owens.”
The statement – issued before the astronomer’s visit – said positive feedback was expected on the work done to date to reduce light pollution.
The sky audit was organised by the St Helena Tourism Association. The main sponsors were Enterprise St Helena and The Consulate Hotel.
I’m glad I got the picture I needed; Saint Helena is a very special place indeed, and not just because of its dark skies.
This is a picture of the night sky over St Helena – and it nearly wasn’t taken. Astronomer Steve Owens had travelled from Scotland see whether the island could qualify as an International Dark Sky Place, to encourage star-gazing tourism. But clouds blocked the view. VINCE THOMPSON tells the story.
Steve Owens has completed his audit of the night sky – but his job has been made very difficult due to the ever-present cloud and rain during his week on the island.
He did manage to take some dark-sky measurements earlier in the week, but more were needed and the Thursday night’s attempt to collect more data was totally unsuccessful.
On Friday night he was resolved to stay out all night if needed, to get the photo and extra data that were vital for the audit.
As time started to run out we were working on a Plan B which involved Steve leaving his very expensive camera equipment behind so Stedson George and I could complete the survey. The equipment was to be returned to him by registered post. Desperate situations require desperate measures
Steve’s survey in Friday night could not start until the moon had passed below the horizon, at about 11:20pm. Some time after 10:00pm he checked the sky and saw it was clear. He immediately gathered his equipment and drove out to the Millennium Forest car park to set up his camera and dark sky meter
Steve got there just in time to take a 360-degree photo of a clear night sky. Cloud was starting to form on the horizon.
After that he took some more dark sky meter readings that were needed, and completed his naked-eye observations, which help to indicate how clear the air is between us and the stars
This is great news and we must offer grateful thanks to Steve for being so committed to his tasks.
On Monday, 30 April 2012, he set sail for Cape Town and Scotland – job done
It’s thought St Helena lost up to £100,000 because passengers on the cruise ship MV Arcadia were not allowed to land on the island, in what’s been called a “flat calm” sea.
The island’s tourism association is now pursuing a grievance with P&O Cruises and its parent company, Carnival Cruise Lines.
St Helena Online has invited P&O Cruises to express its regret that islanders went to so much trouble to prepare for many hundreds of visitors, all for nothing. So far, no acknowledgement of the islanders’ loss and frustration has been received, despite repeated approaches.
P&O says the swell was too great at the wharf. That’s failed to satisfy Vince Thompson of St Helena Tourism Association.
‘How sad that Saints have been taken for granted in
this insensitive manner’ – see comments (below)
“The sea was flat calm,” says Vince. “It is a mystery to everyone in St Helena that anyone could judge the sea conditions to be too rough for landing passengers.
“Many people put considerable time, effort and money into preparing special attractions and services for the Arcadia’s passengers; not just in Jamestown but also at Longwood Green, near Napoleon’s Longwood House. It is estimated at least £100,000 was lost on that day.”
This is the correspondence between St Helena Online and P&O’s press office:
17 April, 2012, email to P&O Cruises: Hi. There’s a lot of discontent on St Helena because the Arcadia sailed away without landing passengers. There are stories running in the island media.
St Helena is a very poor island: the few ship days are important to the livelihoods of many islanders. Gearing up to cope with a rush of visitors is a logistical challenge on an island that is supplied by sea – your passenger numbers were almost equivalent to half the population.
Islanders understand that sea conditions are a problem sometimes, but the feeling is that they were fine.
Could you give the islanders, via St Helena Online, an explanation of what happened? Could you also confirm – or not – that the captain took the view that if some passengers could not go ashore, then none of them should? Could you confirm that the average age of passengers was 75 (quoted on the island)?
18 April, 2012, from P&O Cruises press office: P&O Cruises Arcadia was not able to maintain the call in St Helena on Monday 16 April as there was considerable swell at the landing stage which made it imprudent to land any passengers ashore. The safety and security of our passengers and crew is our absolute priority.
The Captain is Ian Walters. We don’t give out average ages on any of our cruises.
18 April, 2012 (9.28pm), to P&O Cruises: Hi. I think the islanders would appeciate a comment from P&O acknowledging the efforts islanders go to in order to cope with 2,000 people arriving at once, and the frustration and financial loss they experience. Might a few words be possible?
The swell may have been too much for some passengers, but certainly not for all. Could you clarify your position on this, please? With thanks.
19 April, 2012, (8.16pm), to P&O Cruises: Should I assume that there won’t be any further response on this? Please let me know by midday Friday (20 April) whether the requested comment will be forthcoming. If not, I’ll run a story based on what I’ve got.
The island newspaper, The Sentinel, sets out in some detail the lengths to which islanders had gone to prepare for the visit, and their reaction to the decision not to allow passengers ashore.
If it helps you, perhaps P&O could make a comment about the fact that St Helena Government is planning to build a breakwater with more reliable landing facilities? Background here.
Still no response was received. In fact, it transpired the press officer was not working on Friday, but had failed to leave an out-of-office message. Another press officer was unable to help at short notice.
The sea was like a millpond. They also missed the most spectacular sunset. The most beautiful I have seen in the five months that we have been here. It was so sad to see the efforts of so many dashed by the decision not to come ashore. People on the island spent days, weeks and possibly longer preparing for this visit. Extra hands were hired at the hotel in preparation for the island’s guests. Imagine baking a thousand cupcakes and countless pastries apart from all the other food prepared by local restuarants and food outlets. Imagine if the cruisers had come ashore and no one had gone to the trouble of preparing anything. Precious resources were used up in order to ensure that the visitors would be happy and satisfied. It is in the nature of the people of this precious island to ensure that no visitor goes hungry and unnoticed. How sad, that they should have been taken for granted in this insensitive manner. I was told this has happened previously.
Cruise ships sometimes fail to land passengers, but the RMS St Helena has (I think) never been unable to disembark and embark its travellers. So the message must be: if you really want to see St Helena, travel on the RMS St Helena!