Changes in St. Helena

The formerly isolated outpost has big changes coming, opening St. Helena to cruisers willing to make the trek.

Published 6 years ago, updated 4 years ago

This report by Cruising World Magazine.

We were about 20 miles out from the South Atlantic island of St. Helena when distinct lines started to break up the soft gray clouds that were obscuring the horizon. Charles Darwin once wrote, “St. Helena rises abruptly like a huge black castle from the ocean.” Closer to the coast, we spotted stone fortifications built into the cliff faces, and the impression that we were approaching a midocean fortress was reinforced.

For more than 500 years, the only way to reach the British Overseas Territory of St. Helena has been by the sea. Before the Suez Canal opened, more than 1,000 ships a year called at St. Helena. By traveling there aboard our own boat, we followed in the wakes of Capt. Cook and Joshua Slocum. In the more recent past, all the island’s visitors have come via cruise ships, private yachts or the mailboat RMS St. Helena, but now, thanks to the brand-new airport and weekly flight service from South Africa, St. Helena and all its wonders will be accessible to visitors from around the world.

For sailors, the new airport makes St. Helena a viable mid-­Atlantic port for dropping off guests, changing crew or having spare parts flown in. The increase in tourism will also mean improved provisioning options and easier access to the island’s highlights, which include fantastic ­hiking, historic stone fortifications, Napoleon’s estate and tomb, whale sharks, and spectacular diving.

Along with the new airport, other changes are coming to the formerly isolated outpost. RMS St. Helena is slated for decommissioning, and thanks to the new breakwater and pier in nearby Rupert’s Valley, freighter operations, cruise ship landings, and fish processing will all be moved off the historic Jamestown Wharf.

With the commercial and industrial center moved away from Jamestown, the Jamestown Wharf will be reconfigured as a public space. The St. Helena Yacht Club is looking forward to an increased presence on the wharf and providing a warmer welcome to cruisers. There’s also a plan for a short-term haulout facility on either the Jamestown Wharf or Rupert’s Pier.

While some cruisers have expressed concern that the airport will change the nature of the friendly island, early indications are that it’s making life better for the locals — offering jobs and opportunities they used to need to travel abroad to find.

— Diane Selkirk

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  1. January 1, 2017 at 11:02 PM
    Lynda Lim says:

    I was in St Helena in 2014 and yes it is amazing. However I should point out that large jets cannot land safely at St. Helena due to wind shear, and research is continuing about how to deal with this problem. Apart a Boeing 737-800 and a C-130 only smaller private and charter aircraft, including Medivac flights, have used the airport. No scheduled commercial flights are yet proposed and no airline has agreed to a contract, which will require a large subsidy. Until that time the RMS St. Helena is continuing services at least until July 2017. So no plans should be made for crew changes or parts arrival by air should be made by commercial flights at this time.