April 21, 2007 (updated 02-01-20210


For the photo album go to:  St. Helena


At this writing I am about 375 miles from making my first landfall on the N.E. Brazilian coast after a nearly 4000 mile crossing of the South Atlantic Ocean, from the Cape of Good Hope. I left the American continent from Santa Barbara, California on April 28, 2005 and at this rate I will be setting foot on shore again

of the same continent on April 25.

At Bali, I had accumulated roughly 12,5000 nautical miles; from Bali to Brazil an other 9,900 miles were added. That is just slightly more than the circumference of the earth at the equator, 360 degrees x 60 miles per degree equals 21,600 miles. On about 100 gallons of diesel, you figure out the mileage for me. The church count has gone up to 35 and 19 countries are added to the passport since leaving the U.S.A.


In the previous log section on South Africa, I bragged abut having chosen Simon's Town over Cape Town, for my departure point from the Cape of Good Hope.

The one disadvantage turned out to be the fact that it is difficult to sail out of False Bay against the predominant S.E.winds, which tend to accelerate at the end of the bay, at Simon's Town. It took me an extra 5 days to finally manage to not be beaten back into port by the wind and waves. I left on Friday the 16th and rounded

Cape Point in ideal conditions. But that Saturday night a cold front blew in from the South with winds of 40 plus knots per hour. It lasted through Sunday afternoon.

The wind vane gave up under these wind strengths and the boat laid ahull, drifting sideways in the right direction. All I could do is take all the sails down, lock the companion way and lay and listen to the scary vibrating of the rigging and the waves and wind trying to out shout one another.

Now that I am 25 degrees closer to the equator I am slowly starting to unthaw. The cold currents flowing up the South Atlantic from the Antarctic make this ocean many degrees colder than what I had been used to in these latitudes in the Pacific and Indian Ocean.

The S.E. trade winds have seldom dropped below 20 knots. Other boats on this route have encountered much lighter winds. Because the wind is dead aft, the ideal sail configuration is "wing on wing", with the main on one side and the head sail poled out the other side. But with my light displacement I cannot carry more than one sail with winds over 15 knots. With just one sail one has to be slightly above the wind direction, which means that I keep on gibing over the rhumb line.

The distance from Simon's Town to St. Helena is 1800 miles and I managed to sail this in 16 days, not withstanding the laying ahull for one day and making an unexpected course correction to avoid the Valdivia Bank. The current leg from St. Helena to Cabedelo is also 1800 miles and it looks like it will again be done in16 days. I caught one Mahi Mahi close to St. Helena and one Tuna close to Brazil, on this leg. 


I arrived at St. Helena on April 1st., Palm Sunday morning. From the ocean the steep volcanic rocky shores make a stark, inhospitable impression. A good place to keep a resourceful prisoner like Napoleon Bonaparte. There are no beaches anywhere. The anchorage in front of the main town, James Town, is over 60 feet deep. I used my 25-lb plow anchor for the very first time. One of the cruisers describes my Danforth anchors: "Jack can put his main anchor in his pant pocket and his reserve in his shirt pocket"; it was one heck of a chore to pull that plow anchor up from 60 feet, by hand.

Because the shore and landing stairs are steep, you cannot pull your outboard up on shore. You either take the motor off and row or take the water taxi at $2.00 round trip. I only have oars for my inflatable dinghy anyway. There are thick ropes strung overhead on the landing stairs and the trick is to swing up the shore on the height of the surge. Everyone visiting the island has to ascend this way. Once, when Prince Phillip, came this way, the island's governor, in full regalia, extended his helping hand, slipped on the wet landing and took an undignified dive into the bay. There is no airport on the island, everything has to be brought in by the R.M.S. (Royal Mail Ship) "St. Helena". During my one week stay certain items, like welding acetylene gas, were no longer available. The government subsidized vessel was in dry dock in England for an unscheduled engine repair. This vessel is also the main link for the islanders to take passage to the nearest airport on Ascension Island or to sail to England or South Africa. A change in the English immigration laws makes it easier for the islanders to lave St. Helena for a new life in England.

Most of the younger households have taken advantage of this and the depopulation and high average age is very apparent.


St. Helena was discovered by the Portuguese on May 21st. 1502. May 21 is the feast day of St. Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great who declared himself the first pope of what became the Eastern Rite of the Christian churches. The reason the Portuguese would honor a schism saint has to do with the fact that the Portuguese had close maritime ties with Greece and their trading ships often carried a number of Greek crew members.

Co-incidentally, I happened to be on the island during Holy Week, which this year, as a rare occasion, coincides with the Orthodox calendar.


"Stella Maris", with Gjalt and Corrine, who I had met in Richards Bay, had been here more than two weeks. I was surprised that this "rock" could keep one's interest for that long. But they had explored the small island by rental car and walked many of the trails and raved about their experiences. Above the lower elevations of steep red brown rocky slopes sparsely covered with Prickly Pear Cactus, Yucca and wild Geraniums the one lane switch back roads take you up to Pine and Eucalyptus shaded ridges and green meadows and valleys. The higher elevations are often shrouded in the clouds that blow in from the Atlantic Ocean.

The trails lead you to exotic sounding places like: “Lot’s Wife’s Pond, Old Woman’s Valley, The Asses Ears and The Gates of Chaos”. Most of these hikes offer beautiful vistas of the coast line and the Atlantic Ocean.

In these cool highlands, in the small community of Longwood, is where Napoleon spent his last years from 1815 till his death in 1821. I made my pilgrimage to his grave and last exile. His body was re-interned, under much pomp and ceremony, in Paris, in 1840. The grave and Napoleon's home have been purchased and are being meticulously maintained by a private French foundation. The home was specially built for Napoleon, he lived here in comfort and surrounded by several of his former staff members. It has little or no association with a prison for the defeated European conqueror.

The signs in the Longwood home, giving details of the individual histories of the rooms, are only in French. There were no guided tours that day and the Anglo

tourists from a visiting cruise vessel wished there were English translations. When I visited the Jacques Brel grave and his museum on Hiva Oha, in the Marquesas, all the signage was also strictly in French. "Vive l'independence"...


The island held another discovery for me.   

In the family history, from my mother’s side, there is a story recorded by my great aunt about her great grandfather, my great-great-great grandfather, Sybolt Ottes de Vries who went to war against Napoleon. With my limited knowledge of the Napoleon period in Holland, where I was born, I had always assumed that he fought Napoleon’s invasion of the low lands. But comparing the dates and spending time in the extensive library on Napoleon, here in Jamestown, I now realize that he fought in the final battle against Napoleon in 1815 at Waterloo.

Sybolt Ottes was born in 1769 in Woudsend, Friesland. His folks were dairy farmers but he opened a mast and block making business in 1805 in Woudsend. This same business stayed in our family for six generations, almost for 200 years, until my cousin, Carol de Vries, closed the company in 2002.

The old aunt wrote”Their marriage was blessed with 10 children but after the fourth child was born Sybolt Ottes was drafted to fight Napoleon. He returned safely and was awarded the Citadel Medal.”

In the library I learned that the Dutch king William of Orange II led 85,000 Dutch soldiers under the overall command of the British general Lord Nelson against the advancing French armies. The Dutch king together with his son, Prince Frederick, set up his field headquarters in the small town of Braine le Compte.

This is just 2 miles away from the neighboring town of Ittre where our family lived from 1966 till 1970, while I worked for an American company in their Brussels office. As it turns out the decisive battle was fought about 15 miles south of Waterloo at La Belle Alliance. The Dutch troops retreated initially to Halle, this is the town our daughter Jeannine was born in 1969. This was all very close to Ittre and I had to come to St. Helena to learn this.

Had it not been for Sybolt Ottes’ career change, I probably would have never ended up in a life-long career in the wood business.

As a small child we would play in the piles of wood shavings from the Pitch Pine and Douglas Fir masts and we would fill gunny sacks full with the heavy shavings to sell to the bakers, who fired up their ovens with the dry shavings. The smell of pitch and turpentine stayed with me from that time forward.

Our grandfather would take my twin brother and me by the hand when we were barely able to walk and take us to the water’s edge and teach us the names of all the different types of commercial sailing barges.

If it had not been for Sybolt Ottes, I might be milking Frisian Holstein cows instead of roaming the Seven Seas in a wooden boat.