For some obscure reason buried deep in my distant English heritage and my abiding love of islands, this has been a lifelong dream.
Now you may well ask who would want to visit a fairly barren volcanic mountaintop perched precariously in the southern Atlantic Ocean somewhere between Southern Africa and Brazil.
Many people, is the correct answer, for those of you who guessed and have bothered to read this far.
It’s just not easy to get there. Or away for that matter.
Famously, Napoleon Bonaparte, after a short but impressive stint as King and self -proclaimed Emperor of a country in Europe somewhere, was exiled to this supposedly lonely outpost to die in disgrace.
However, after a number of unpleasant scuffles over the past few centuries with various seafaring nations, regarding strategic outposts, the Brits are the current proud owners of this truly remarkable piece of the planet.
It’s fantastic. It could easily be a movie set. Every one of the 5000 odd loyally British inhabitants on the island, together form a microcosm of humankind at its best. In a “country” of about 40 square miles, surrounded by a vast ocean it’s a necessity, so people are family orientated, friendly, kind and respectful.
A cliché certainly, but visiting this island truly is like going
backwards in time.
Up until very recently the only way to access or leave St Helena was by boat, which arrived from Cape Town monthly. Sadly, the old ship, HMS ST Helena, has now been decommissioned. But fortunately, for the Saints (what people from St Helena are known as) SA Airlink now provides a weekly flight as an alternative….well, not really an alternative, unless you fancy private yachting.
Anyway, for now, this innovative airline company is a lifeline for the people of St Helena, both from an incoming tourism perspective, as well as connecting Saints, via South Africa, to the rest of the world.
We shacked up at the excellent new Mantis St Helena Hotel in the heart of Jamestown (the capital) for the week. It’s ideally located for both socializing and strolling down to the harbor to board your fishing or diving boat within minutes.
From the vantage point of the sea, looking back at the island, the incredible lengths that earlier generations went to in order to fortify the few access points onto terra firma are obvious and impressive.
We had plenty of time between fishing outings to appreciate the diversity of the island, from the lush green forests and pastures of the higher mountain areas, to the steep barren slopes dropping sheer into the ocean. We were even lucky enough to be there over the annual St Helena Day festivities, when seemingly the whole island population take time to strut their stuff and socialize together in the main street of the ancient capital village called Jamestown.
There are so many game fish in these waters that the locals have refined a method of “chumming” the water with a few handfuls of live bait to attract the Tuna species, and then bouncing one hooked bait fish, attached on a short line to a long bamboo pole on the surface near the boat. Within seconds this bait will be attacked and a very green Tuna unceremoniously landed on deck before it even knows it’s been caught.
We enjoyed amazing art-lure angling. Even though the few charter operators based there are generally using more traditional methods, they are true seamen and once they understood what we were trying to do, became very intrigued and got fully involved in putting us on the right spot for various species we might be targeting. We landed and released over 10 species of fish in 4 days. These included large Yellowfin Tuna, Skipjacks, big Wahoo, Blackjack Trevally and Grouper.
Incredibly, the island drops off so quickly into deep water, the large pelagic species could virtually be targeted from the shoreline (if it weren’t so steep) and we were seldom fishing more than a few kilometers away from the harbor at any time.
Due to the plethora of their favoured food, all the Billfish species can also be targeted, although there are currently a limited number of charters offering this option on a fully professional basis.
More than the fishing and the truly unique landscape though, it was the friendly people of the island that set this apart as one of the most memorable fishing trips we’ve ever been on.
I liked St Helena a lot, but I really loved the Saints.