And of course, from this point you could see miles and miles of ocean with nothing else to break the view. For most of my time on St Helena it was like the people cut themselves off from the sea, they lived for the most part in Jamestown, and the steep sides of the gorge kept you from seeing the coast, or in the leafy interior. With so few places to access the sea it was ignored. But there were a group of people who made their living from the sea, and several more who from time to time head off the land. The waters around St Helena are rich in life, partly the position of this massive volcano rising thousands of metres from the ocean deep bring up huge amounts of nutrients from the floor which make plankton life bloom and start the whole food chain off. Migrating and sedentary fish populations feed the island; like in Ascension, the Yellow Fin Tuna abound. Two ships are registered in St Helena to trawl a massive empty quadrant of ocean almost alone, coming in to Rupert’s Bay to offload their cargoes for the canning factory there to make valuable export pounds.
We knew of a few people who had smaller fishing boats and sold to the local markets, and would take their friends and relatives out for fishing trips along the north west coast. And once in a while special tourist trips would head out. I took two of these and they gave me some of the most phenomenal experiences of my life.
We used one of the launches that ferried people to the RMS, and we used the same set of ropes we had on which we embarked to St Helena to board. Then we headed out of James Bay. Both times the water was surprisingly calm and we headed perpendicular to land. The fantastic views of the island from this angle reiterated its fortress qualities – the huge cliffs almost completely surrounding. Later we would come in close to the coast and spot the numerous noddy and booby colonies along the shore and on the stacks; their nests well away from potential predators on steep cliffs.
And we would see the marvellous geological formations, layers of different soft rocks spewed out by volcanoes and twisted and turned over time by the plate movements and more rock being laid overhead. And the interplay between this rock and the relentless erosive quality of water. If you said what was stronger, rock or water, you would naturally take the solid’s side, but if you were in this for the long term you saw how the ocean could lay waste a whole continent. And we went in close to some of the little isolated batteries set up along that coast, particularly at the vulnerable Lemon Valley. I always regret not having had a chance to walk down this valley from the top of St Paul’s but at least I saw its secret exit to the ocean.