Ascension Island Wrap-up

We spent just under 5 days at Ascension. It is a very interesting place. We arrived Tuesday night in time to have a quiet birthday celebration aboard. Then on Wednesday the swell was significant and we were advised that we should not attempt to come ashore. We took advantage of the down day to do chores, inflate the dinghy, do an impromptu sewing project and work on the halyard. Jon spliced in a long dyneema anti-chaffe sleeve over the end of the asymmetric halyard. It is a long process, but he got well over half way done with the job on Wednesday.

Thursday morning we went ashore early. We checked in, walked around town and turned in our science samples. We went to the Conservation Center, met Tiffany the lead for the plankton drag / eDNA citizen science project, and learned more about the program. We toured the labs and went by the office to pick up some brochures about the local wildlife and geology, and to get recommendations for what to see during our visit. That was followed up by a look through the grocery store and some lunch.

Our friends on Skylark had secured the one rental car on the island. When they returned from a nice hike and drive around, we borrowed the car and drove around. We went to the US base and met the base commander - Matt. We had a nice chat with him and invited him to stop by the boats later as he usually goes out spear fishing on Thursday evenings. We continued our drive around stopping in the couple of other grocery stores scattered around the island.

That evening Skylark threw a cocktail competition party for the boats in the anchorage. We had a pleasant evening together. The Skylark espresso martinis were judged the clear winner, but Daxton's mocktail entry received an honorable mention.

Friday saw us with the car for the full day. There was a supply ship in port with goods to deliver to Ascension which meant that they didn't allow dinghies on the pier during working hours. Instead, we were shuttled in by the port control work boat. This is a complimentary service and we were told to return by around 5 to ensure we didn't miss the last shuttle back to the boats.

We had a great time exploring the island and managed to pack in 3 different hikes. On the first hike we saw the last of the nesting sooty terns. We even managed to see a couple of chicks. That hike continued on over a jagged lava flow under a blazing sun. We didn't manage to find the special tide pools that were out there, but we did find crabs, fish and even a small octopus in the waters along the beach. The second two hikes were on Green Mountain where the British Marines once maintained a farm to support the garrison and visiting ships. The first hike was to the highest point on Ascension. It goes through a bamboo forest and ends a few steps above a very green dew pond in a cloud forest. The second hike was relatively flat and went around the peak a little lower but still well into the cool, lush, green zone. It provided good views of the island, and included 6 short tunnels dug to complete the watchstander route. After we finished all of that, we drove around some more. We managed to view most all of the island and see the key sights with a day and a half of driving and hiking.

We returned to Georgetown around 4:30 and headed back to the boat. The plan was for the parents to take the dinghy back into town and head to the US Base for a burger. Jennifer from Skylark also agreed to come out with us. There was a bus service from town to the base so we could make it out and back without driving and could have beers at the bar while we were there. The challenge was the bus went at 6:30 and the next one wasn't until 9 and the food stopped at 8:30. It all would have been fine, except they didn't finish off loading the supply ship for the day until sunset and we couldn't get our dinghy in until almost 7pm! This was a bit sad as all the hiking for the day had us really looking forward to a good burger and fries. However, we were in luck as Matt and Dan (Tiffany's husband) were finishing up on the pier. They had just returned from spear fishing and were putting things away and filleting their catch. They offered us a ride to the Volcano Club and it was all sorted again.

They dropped us off, promising to return later, and the three of us enjoyed delicious burgers and beer. After awhile we were joined by Tiffany, Matt and Dan. We also met some other folks including José who works to organize recreational activities on the island for the base personnel. We had a nice evening and returned back to the pier with Jennifer giving out invitations all around for a Skylark party Saturday night.

Saturday we headed into town and toured the museum. The display plaques were simple but very informative. There were old photographs and lots of old equipment and items for the various sections. Ascension has a strange history and has basically been a base and work camp throughout its populated time. If you live on the island and are over 18 you are required to have a job. If you get into any trouble (drunk driving or fighting or whatever) you are kicked off the island. If you graduate high school and aren't employed, you get kicked off the island. If you are under 16, you can't be out alone. There are no local inhabitants though there are a number of Saint Helenans who have had work contracts on the island for many, many years. NASA had a long presence on the island, but is no longer there. There is a US Space Force unit maintaining a plethora of antennas and expanding and updating the runway. There is a British Ministry of Defense detachment on the island. There are BBC relays and any number of other antennas on the island. There is a population of around 1000, largely contractors for the US and Saints for the British. It seems appropriate that the British originally commissioned the island as a Royal Navy ship when they first occupied the island to prevent it from being used to stage any possible mission to free Napoleon from Saint Helena.

After the museum, we did a little shopping as some onions and squash had made it to the shelves from the supply ship. We also enjoyed a little live music for the local celebration of Saint Helena Day. We returned to Zephyros in the early afternoon to work on projects so that we would be prepared to depart as planned on Sunday. Jon finished the anti-chaffe sleeve on the halyard and we swapped the line around through the mast.

In the evening we headed over to Skylark for a party. They had invited Matt, Tiffany, Dan, & José. The party from shore added another friend and arrived via the work boat shuttle service. They had been out fishing during the day and caught a wahoo. So they brought a huge bowl of delicious ceviche and huge filets as gifts for Skylark and Zephyros.

The Zephyros crew all excused ourselves for awhile around 8pm to go into the beach to look for green turtles. The green turtles are laying eggs and the turtles are hatching on Long Beach. Long Beach was just in front of where we were anchored, but it is a very steep beach so it is advised that you land at the pier head. We took the dinghy to the pier and stopped to watch the Galápagos sharks that hang out there waiting for fishing scraps. Then we walked over to Long Beach. As soon as we were on the beach we saw a few baby turtles headed to the water! Then we walked the beach with our red lights seeing what we could find. We did find a couple of mama tracks, but didn't find any mamas laying eggs. We walked for awhile, but weren't seeing anything. Then we spotted a nest that was erupting. The baby turtles were swimming up through the sand. Once they were free we followed them down the beach. They move quite quickly and were down in the water before long. It was a very cool experience, and baby turtles are super cute. We felt so lucky to have been able to see it! After we had successfully found a hatching, we turned around. We walked slowly back down the beach towards the pier. We didn't see any more eruptions, but we did see a few more baby turtles. From there we went back to the pier. A fisherman had caught an eel on a line and he held it up for us to see. Then the eel tied himself in a knot. It was quite interesting. We watched the sharks some more and even saw a baby turtle swimming around. We then headed back to the party. We had a wonderful evening together learning more about the island and the people who work there. Quick farewells were said as we dropped everyone back off at the pier and the swell bounced everything around.

Sunday morning we got up and moving. We broke down the dinghy and made the boat ready for off shore passage making. We were all a bit tired after the busy few days and were looking forward to getting back to some (hopefully) relaxed passage making.

The stop at Ascension was really neat. You can see an amazing amount in a few days, or you could spend every off hour of a year tour/contract hiking and biking every trail through the National Park and conservation areas. There isn't really any way to visit the island except in an official work capacity or stopping in with your own vessel, and then you still must be individually screened and approved to go ashore. We are glad we made the effort to stop in and visit this unique volcanic mount, on the mid-Atlantic ridge, in the middle of the Southern Atlantic.

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