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Saint Helena Review and Prices from July 2012

By Sue Richards last modified Aug 01, 2012 10:27 AM

Published: 2012-08-01 10:27:27
Countries: St Helena

First off, I didn't find this place very special other than the fact that it does cut the Atlantic passage in half so one isn't required to spend over a month at sea without supplies or rest. It is however worth mentioning that most of the other cruisers at the time with larger boats and budgets and a stronger interest in the history of the island, certainly thought it was worth the stop and several stayed quite a while longer than planned.

Secondly, other than the anchorage and the dinghy landing situation, this place didn't seem as difficult as most people had reported. There are a few walks and reasonably priced tours on the island to keep you busy for a few days. People are generally friendly and helpful however they do seem to work on "island time" and with no cell phone network it requires a bit of effort to organize anything, especially repairs or parts.

The prices of all goods seemed reasonable considering how remote the island is, most things were around double what you would expect on the mainland, but someone on a tight budget could certainly get by with local goods and things on discount. The currency is locked to the British Pound (£) - at the time about 1.6 USD to the £ - and is easy to obtain at the local bank with a credit card or by exchanging foreign notes for about a 5% fee.

Immigration is free for three days, however I paid £16 for 3 weeks, and the port fee was £35 for up to one month. All very reasonable by world standards plus super fast and easy checking in and out. If you opted to stay longer the weekly rate goes down further.

Some things were expensive: slow speed internet was £6.50 per hour, but WAS available in the anchorage; ffood like burgers on the street were around £2; beers in the pub were £1.50 to £2 and not much less in the store. Wine and Liquor was about 3x the price in South Africa, and cigarettes were £4.50 a pack. Fruit was limited, but I did find apples, bananas, oranges, and grapefruit (25/30 pence each), plus you can normally find potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, not a huge selection or great quality and all at about 50% to 100% more than it would have cost in South Africa or the U.S. There were a lot of bargains with non-perishable items that were just expired and if you provision well in South Africa I think the prices here are manageable.

Free water is available at the dinghy-jetty, but they recommended boiling before drinking. Also there was a wash room in the port with big sinks for doing hand laundry and 2 shower stalls, the previously reported hot-water was not working.

Most of the bars were very small, however there was one "club" that has a DJ and dancing on the weekend till very late, mostly filled with locals from 15 to 75 years old. I don't think there were more than 20 or so tourists on the entire island.

I feel the biggest deterrent here is the anchorage. It's basically rolly all the time and sometimes extremely rolly (seeming worse than when on passage) as the ocean swell wraps around the island to get you on the beam, not to mention the very gusty winds coming over the island. If you are very lucky and don't mind sitting close to the rocky shore you might get to anchor in 20 meters of water, but if there are several boats there already expect to anchor in 30 meters.

Next issue is the dinghy landing at the steps on the jetty. It seems that you can safely leave a dinghy on the jetty about half or more of the time using a stern anchor (expect it to get fouled in the rocks sometimes requiring a quick dive). The other half of the time the swell makes things too dangerous to leave a dinghy, however it was always possible to just drop people off or you could take the ferry during the day for £1.50 return trip per person. Using a Kyak actually makes it easier as you can just pull it up on the jetty under any conditions.

I would have only stayed a few days if I had not needed parts machined for my steering gear, but most other boats stayed 3 or 4 weeks by choice seeming a lot more tolerant to the rolly anchorage than myself. In summary I think that previous reports of very high prices and very difficult shore-access might be a slight exaggeration, even people on a budget can get by just fine and it is worth a stop if for nothing else than to break up the South Atlantic Crossing. While there are a few things of interest on shore, it really is only that, "a few things".

Kirk Little
SY Salsa (solo circumnavigation)