Location: St. Helena

Happy Valentine’s Day! We are in St. Helena, which means I get to wake everyone up on the boat any way I choose, which, in the spirit of the holiday, meant playing Hugh Grant’s opening monologue of Love Actually through the halls. Fortunately (?) for the students, I did not have the film downloaded and do not have service in St. Helena (Sorry, family and friends! Hopefully, I’ll get on shore today to find some WiFi), so they got my next best option, The Beatles “All You Need Is Love” blasting down the halls, horns and all, for a bright 7 am wake up.

Being in St. Helena, despite its unassuming size, life has felt hugely different from life at sea. On passage, days melt into nights with lulling ease, and life feels cyclical, the general consensus being that the only way you can tell a new day has begun is because your watch time has shifted. Over the last two weeks, we’d fallen into lockstep with our watch team and subsequent place in the, at times, hypnotic cycle. Now, those people who we swore used to be on the boat and probably are still there in class but otherwise are asleep when we’re awake, and vice versa, have magically reappeared. Days are reinvigorated with the presence of seemingly new people, even though none of them have ever been further than 112ft from us. Meals the past few nights have been notably punctuated with laughter – at everything from the movie Hot Rod to two random ladies whose grand misfortune was finding their way onto the same whale shark tour as us. With the first passage now behind us, we look forward to the next — with stronger stomachs, a more adjusted sleep cycle, and far more sailing knowledge than we left Cape Town with.

St. Helena is a crazy place. One road in a valley across from our anchorage is home to the bustling mecca that is Jamestown — the only real “mecca” on the island. Over the past few days, we’ve made our way up the street and back down again and have found ourselves surprised by all the quirks it contains – a DVD rental shop doubling as an ice cream store when the machine is magically pulled out from behind the cash register, a one-room “yacht club” cut into the side of the mountain, the best coffee we’ve ever had, but we’ll mix it with ice cream anyway, because why not, a restaurant/WiFi haven with flags and signed photos from the many ships passing through to refuel and stretch their legs, which is now home to a signed Vela photo – proof that we all set foot on this weird rock that few will ever explore. Today, though, we ventured where we hadn’t gone before – on a full island tour of St. Helena with our favorite wearer of many hats and local guide, Keith.

We first revisited the fan-favorite hairpin turns and supposedly two-lane roads leading out of town for some lovely lookouts – even one of a heart-shaped waterfall in honor of Valentine’s Day! Then, we headed off in search of all of St. Helena’s famed attractions. First, we visited Napoleon’s tomb and original resting place — we all took off our shoes and lazed down the grassy path – which was Napoleon’s favorite walk and horseback ride while in exile, and collectively agreed it was an amazing feeling – feet in dirt and grass for the first time in ages, the smell of pine and breaths of fresh air our parents used to nag us to take, and beautiful flowers all around. Not a bad place to be buried, but to each their own, as Napoleon was eventually exhumed and returned to France.

We then drove to the St. Helena Airport, a 300 million pound investment home to one flight a week and an especially treacherous-looking runway – go British government! A special brown spider found that made them re-route the whole thing anyway!

Then, we visited Longwood House – where Napoleon lived during his exile. The sheer amount of history present in the building, art collection, or beautiful gardens should’ve each been vying for the title of the most exciting part of this stop. But no. All of that was blown out of the water by two unlikely stumblings-upon. 1. Those two aforementioned ladies from the whale shark tour were waiting in the parking lot (Jake claims it has something to do with it being Valentine’s Day and the lady stealing his shirt as an excuse to see him again but the jury’s still out) and 2a local, semi-abandoned playground across the street. We were given about 45 minutes to explore the home, and I won’t reveal who split that time between ten houses / 35 playgrounds, but significant discoveries about centrifugal force via carousel and about the strength of a fulcrum via seesaw were made. I am proud to report many future engineers in the present company.

Then we headed to more lookouts, a drive really invigorated by a game played by Emma and Maddy’s families on road trips – it involves counting cows, then them being killed if you pass a graveyard, and revived if you see a church – anyway, our guide Keith really got into this game and I think started intentionally driving us on the most cow, graveyard, and church riddled path back towards town. We ended up with either 36 living cows or 0 – as we saw a graveyard directly in front of a church, a sight I just knew Keith intentionally routed us to stir up trouble.

Right around the corner from the Shrodinger’s Cow waypoint was the Governor’s Plantation – home to 4 giant tortoises, including the world’s oldest giant tortoise (and maybe the oldest anything??) named Jonathan, who recently celebrated his 192nd birthday. We were lucky, and Jonathan came right up to the fence to drink some water – and let me tell you, pretty limber for a 192-year-old! He was moving quickly, and then we saw the Governor’s black lab run outside, which may provide an incentive for his agility into old age. Anyway, he might’ve moonlighted as a pirate or frat boy somewhere in those 192 years because Jonathan can DRINK! He had his entire head submerged in this pond for minutes at a time. Honestly, we were getting nervous we were going to witness Jonathan’s demise at one point, but then he sauntered away a few steps before collapsing in the grass, at peace with the world around him and raising many questions about his sentience.

We then headed (yeah, I know you would’ve never guessed there were this many attractions in a 10-mile wide island) to an old fort, where some British soldiers were imprisoned in dungeons for treason after they attempted to kidnap the Governor when he wouldn’t grant their request for free beer. We stood on the cannon pivot points, which made your voice sound distorted and echoed, but only you could hear it, and then we explored the dungeons, which turned out to be pitch dark and the perfect place for scaring each other and screaming, and eventually just screaming. Supposedly, it was cathartic. I still can’t hear out of my left ear. Perfect, as tonight is karaoke night with a new machine the girls bought on shore.

The final stop of our tour was the top of Jacob’s Ladder, a 699-step staircase made to bypass the hairpin turns out of the valley. Keith, our lovely guide and apparent resident daredevil, showed us how he used to get down the staircase quickly to school, which involves laying flat on your back across the handrails and using one foot as a “brake”. Mum (and mums everywhere), you’ll be proud to know we collectively agreed this was a fast track to a broken neck, and no one felt the need to test Keith’s commute for themselves. Though upon hearing the fastest ever climb time of the stairs was just beaten two weeks ago, many of our students (and staff) felt that surely they could beat it, though shockingly no attempts were made, so I guess the jury’s still out.

We got lunch ashore and relaxed before returning to a lovely dinner of Chicken Schnitzel made by Christina. For squeeze, I had assigned everyone a Valentine at random this morning, and we shared our favorite memory and something we appreciated about our valentine. I also wanted everyone to tell me how many owls they could see in a day before they thought something was up, but that question was vetoed. If your answer is anything higher than 3…………..yeah…….okay

Hi Mum, Dad, Chris, Nikki, Disco, and Richard. Hope all is well and hope to have service in Brazil to say hey. Bislingiamasello family, if you’re reading this, I’ll meet you in the Pacific. Love you all dearly.

Cheers to being back on passage tomorrow! This land stuff is for weenies.