Layover in Ascension

cap’n alex, jack, diego

12 February 2012 | Ascension Island, South Atlantic

We arrived into Ascension island (another rock in the middle of the South Atlantic) under moonlight and because we had no charts, came in slowly with Diego on the bow, Jack trimming the sails and myself on the helm. The red lights of the many communication towers confused any that would have been there to guide us, but by three am we were safely anchored in 20 feet of water with a sand bottom. The water was so clear our flashlight went straight to the bottom and revealed a massive turtle circling the boat.

At sunrise Diego snorkeled to count no fewer than 30 turtles, many of them mating. While in the water he and I both had a male (over 600lbs) aggressively approach us, but luckily with no luck . Also surrounding the boat were hundreds of what the locals call blackfish, which look like a triggerfish and are said to be related to piranhas. Within an hour of sunrise they had cleaned our hull for us and would then ferociously swarm anything we threw in the water. We had some rotten potatoes on board and threw them in causing a feeding frenzy during which it was quite easy to pick several of the foot long fish out of the water by hand. Too bad they aren’t good eating.

Our friends on Exabite (Danish family) and Momo (German couple) were in the anchorage with us and after saying quick hello we proceeded to do the check in formalities. Ascension is a working island and its 800 people population consist of Saints (as those from St. Helena are known), Brits and Americans that run the BBC relay towers, GPS station (one of only 5 in the world) and both Royal and US air force bases. Its volcanic, mountainous nature gives most the island a lunar like feel except for its highest peak, Green Mountain, which is lush and true to its name. There are several rocks that nest thousands of birds (a section of BBC’s Blue Planet was filmed here) as well as sand beaches full of craters that look like bombing fields (In fact each of these holes is where the Green Sea Turtle nests 100 eggs at a time).

The main settlement is Georgetown with other places like One Boat (where one boat stands) and Two Boats (higher up the mountain, where two boats sit). Looking for some material to patch up the our blown out spinnaker we hitchhiked to the US base and met the locally famous Bobo (known as King Bobo to many) as well Joey with his Patriot (an old dodge van with an American flag painted down the side). The US base was a little slice of America and having Bobo and Joey (both Floridians) take us under their wings felt like being at home away from home. Bobo took us for a ride in the Patriot to dead man’s beach to watch the turtles lay eggs under a full moon and tell stories of his 25 years on the island, while the next night Joey threw us an American style barbecue that rivaled any in the states.

After Carl, a local saint, at the peirhead machined our wench back into shape, free of charge, I went down the motorpool to have a look at our waterpump. After helping me take it apart, free of charge, I was sent to the Royal air force base where three Ministry of Defense personnel, all saints, helped me search for the seal I was looking for, even treating me to lunch during the process. With no luck there I was sent to find Freddy Joe at One Boat where he and I searched through buckets of old parts. No luck again but Freddy would have given me the pump off his land rover had it fit. The saints truly live up to their name.

And now a word from Jack.

The stop at Ascension was of a different nature than the one in St. Helena, we had much to get done before we could continue to Brazil. We had a blown out spinnaker, bad wench, busted engine water pump, a frogged alternator, and solar panels that weren’t charging properly, all added to the list of normal passage preparations. We followed a lead given to us by the folks at the pierhead and headed for the U.S. Base looking for Bobo. Upon finding King Bobo, we also ran into Steve Stuart, the man with the stuff. We explained our spinnaker problem and Steve promptly donated an old sail he had, that ended up being the perfect material to repair our downed sail. With the forecast of lighter winds on our passage to Fernando, we needed this spinnaker. We got to work on the sail, while Alex took the alternator and water pump on a wild goose chase searching for a badly needed seal.

Diego and I met up with Carl at the pier, who had also helped us fix our wench, and he would run the sewing machine while we mended the sail. We spent all day sewing the sail back together and using the sail Steve gave us to reattach the clew. We took our time and made our Frankenstein of a spinnaker strong. While working on it our South African friends on Ocean Maiden showed up and donated us another spinnaker so at least we would have a back up. We got it finished at dusk, Diego and I saved the grommets from the donor sail, along with the pirate flag attached to it. Part of the new, exclusive Bubbles sail maker’s group. Now it was time to wait until we could test it. After we finished with the sail Alex returned with no luck on the water pump or alternator. No engine til Brazil, don’t need it anyway. We did finally find the problem with the solar panels (a bad battery draining the rest) and now have plenty of juice.

One cool thing about Ascension was its importance to the space program. Because of its position, Ascension is able to track anything launched from Cape Canaveral, among other stuff already in orbit. On our “day off,” we visited the Devil’s Ashpit, which in the old days was communications control for the Apollo Missions. It is rumored the Neil Armstrong’s first words from space were first heard on Ascension Island, before being transmitted back to the United States. Pretty cool. On our way there Diego tried to ride one of the islands many ferel donkeys, key word there is tried.

The day we planned to set off, we ran into Steve at the pierhead and Alex invited him to come check out Bubbles. He brought us some boating magazines and fishing gear, an awesome gift for the long sail ahead. We still had the pirate flag from the sail he donated. Steve signed it and hoisted up the mast of Bubbles, where it still flys as we head for the other side of the Atlantic.

Speaking of Diablo (what Joey calls him), here he is.

I can understand why Bobo (americano) have been living in this island for so long, 25 years going back and forward between Asencion and USA. This is an island where things get done in island time which is SLOOOWWW but get done, with only a few people living on the island makes them all friendly. Fishing is great around the coast with a lot of tuna around, dorados, wahoos, groopers and marling. Because is a tini island in the middle of nowhere is expose to any swell making it a great surf island, I had the chance to go and get some waves one morning after riding my skate 4kilometers uphill to buy a fishing loor and then a beautiful down hill back to the pear head. A small but fun right handed wave Bobo show me while we were looking at the turtles in the same spot Alex mention above.

Asencion Island is definitely an island where I can live for a few years. Good fish, surf, roads and great humans.

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