St Helena is to the south east but the anchorage next to Georgetown is on the north west side of the Ascension. So it makes little difference which way you head out. I’ve been both ways. If you travel down the west coast you get to see the fuel depot and the American air base before turning the corner round by the airstrip and all the weird and wonderful masts which make up Mars Bay. But I much preferred going round the east side of the island. You leave Georgetown behind and pass the golf balls near Comfortless Cove but then have a superb vista of the BBC World Service Transmitters and power station. The backdrop of the taller mountains in the centre of the island is incredible here, the colours so vivid in the sun, but it only gets better and you come turn southbound. As I’ve already explored in other places, there are only a few places you come down to the coast on this eastern side of Ascension Island, and although it is good to see North East Bay from the sea side, it was much more revealing to see the low coast beyond the firing range, and then the dramatic cliffs of Spire Bay, White Horse and on to Boatswainbird Island and the Letterbox, all of these unreachable by vehicle under normal circumstances. The sea bird colonies were a hive of activity, the sun was starting to set behind Green Mountain making that even more dramatic than usual, a fiery cauldron of light and cloud against the dark silhouette.
Near Comfortless Cove
BBC transmitters and Green Mountain
Last view of the Transmitters
The beautiful cliffs near Spire Beach
The gathering gloom
Baby and main island
I stayed on deck as we passed by, but I could see as we turned the north east corner of the island that we were not going to stay close inshore and the island started to retreat into the distance. As an escort to the departing ship, a pod of pantropical spotted dolphins leaped about in the RMS’ bow wave.
Dolphins running alongside
Goodbye to Ascension, hello open ocean
As it went dark I headed on inside and back to the cabin. It was getting to dinner time and I needed to get changed.
As we walked back, I was staring right into the eastern array of the World Service transmitters. Five huge Faraday cages supported a network of wires from which the BBC World Service pumped out its content over the Short Wave. Peter Gillies, the manager of the power station, had given Edsel and myself a tour of the facilities earlier on our first trip in return for us talking to him about mapping all the amenities on the island. This oil fired station at the time created most of the electricity on the whole island, save for a few smaller generators at the airfield and US Base, and the small wind farm near Travellers Hill. Of all the electricity generated by the power station, up to 70 % went into powering the BBC transmitters. I was gobsmacked by the sheer quantity of power throbbing through those wires. The position of Ascension slap, bang in the centre of the ocean meant it could beam radio to both western Africa and South America. Originally it would use tapes of programmes shipped down from London, nowadays the live World Service feed is directly downloaded through a satellite dish near the power station and broadcast out through the transmitters. A big chunk of the power stations other use was to produce desalinated water for most of the island. Peter showed us the drawings of the electricity poles and the water pipes, and in the centre of Georgetown and Two Boats we got maps of where the streetlights were and the sewage pipes leading to the small treatment plant next to Long Beach.
The BBC transmitters behind the BBC Klinka Club
The BBC transmitters
He also dug out some very old maps of Ascension Island. I loved these as it showed how different elements of the island had changed. One map, barely 100 years past, showed that the roads went different routes to get across the island – and I wondered why they had been abandoned. I also saw the pipeline that came down from the water catchments. Ash and I had walked past these catchments on our route around the Bishop’s Path. Large concrete surfaces had been pasted onto the south east facing mountain side to catch the prevailing rain and cloud mist that were often covering this area. The water was channelled down to small hole at the bottom, and from this a pipe connected under the ridge, through a series of holding tanks where the flow could be controlled a lot better; and then dropped past Two Boats to Georgetown and the main storage tank opposite the church.