THE MOST REMOTE PLACE ON EARTH
The 26°C water is crystal clear – dark and light patches are visible on the bottom from the surface in 57 metres of water and there are big Wahoo everywhere. Surely we have arrived in paradise!!!
Every spearo dreams of crystal clear waters where you can dive almost every day of the year – that one special fish and that one special place to dive. Often those dreams are realised close to home, but more often than not one has to travel far and wide to tick off your spearfishing bucket list items.
The brainchild of Pieter Zietsman, following excellent fishing reports from St Helena Island along with regular stories about giant YellowFin Tuna being speared at nearby Ascension Island (just over 1100 kilometres north-west of St Helena) from Colin Chester and Steve Ellis, saw our trip to St Helena Island materialise after months of careful planning.
An extremely relaxing fi ve day trip on the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) St Helena started in rough seas off Cape Town on the afternoon of 26 March 2014, with the initial limited use of the ships stabilisers adding to the mix. We were all a bit green around the gills the first night, but it did not take us four salty sea dogs long to begin to thoroughly enjoy the scenery with beers in hand on the sun deck. We were treated like kings and surely the cost of the food being offered on the RMS St Helena cost more than the ticket prices for the return Voyage?
The seasoned salty sea dogs who explored the offerings of King Neptune on this trip were Len de Beer, Pieter Zietsman, Sergei Bekker and I, Johan Jacobs. With a wealth of experience stretching back decades rather than years between us, several spearfishing stories were recounted and depending who did the telling, several versions of the truth emerged, often at the expense of one or more of the group. We took a break from everyday living, and just did the living bit.
Having taken a variety of spearfishing equipment with us, from tuna boogie-boards to float line and bungee combinations, breakaway rigs, a Rob Allen blue water bungee, several sizes of inflatable floats and a mix of Rob Allen, Free Divers, Johri and Mamba spearguns, we were ready for any eventuality. We soon settled on fairly conventional breakaway rigs and were getting stuck into the Wahoo without delay.
A bit of sightseeing on the afternoon of our arrival included a drive around the island and climbing down The 699 steps of Jacob’s Ladder.
The sea was however on the main menu and for the next seven days we were collected every morning at 6:15 by our host Keith Yon or his brother Craig. We dived most of each day off their spacious and well- equipped boat and had Yellow Fin Tuna sashimi and ice cold refreshments on return home after sorting out wetsuits and gear for the next day. Most days were rounded off with freshly speared Wahoo fillets as the main ingredient for supper, either at home (we rented a small house on the island) or at one of the local restaurants. Other than being treated to some local dishes at the Yon family home, the only change to our routine came one day when we decided to explore the aquarium-like shallows, which teamed with small fish, where we caught a few local crayfish for variety.
Most diving was done on the down-wind side of the island and within five to 10 kilometres from our base, Jamestown. The island is exposed to constant south-easterly trade winds and the majority of the craft available on St Helena find the going tough once outside the calm conditions. We managed to dive some pinnacles on the eastern side of the island one day and landed some nice size Amberjack, with the biggest weighing 16kg.
A visit to the bridge of the RMS St Helena on our journey to the island resulted in us obtaining GPS co-ords for several pinnacles. Sadly most of these remain virgin territory. A smaller Zulu-cat, C-ski or similar spearfishing boat would have resulted in easier access to these untouched spots, even in the windy and choppy conditions.
What a pleasure for us being able to dive seven days in a row in crystal clear water. We shot several Wahoo with the average size around 20kg and swam with whale sharks, devil rays, dolphins and a rarely seen thresher shark.
The water teemed with bait fish, and although we only saw bigger YellowFin Tuna on our last diving day, I am convinced that given the right conditions, these fish and other large pelagics can be targeted successfully.
A spearfishing trip to a new destination often does not go without being caught up in some local politics and our presence on St Helena Island was not welcomed by all, especially not by some of the local commercial fishermen. Luckily our hosts addressed this resistance towards the introduction of a spearfishing charter business in a subtle, diplomatic manner and we managed to focus on enjoying the trip.
Situated two time zones to the left and over 3000 kilometres north-west of Cape Town, and just north of the southern border of Angola nearly 2000 kilometres away, St Helena is a small (10 kilometres x 17 kilometres), beautiful, semi-desert, subtropical island of many contrasts. Hammered by the prevailing south-easterly trade winds and famous for being the last resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte, it is home to a friendly, cosmopolitan community of about 4000 residents, called ‘Saints’. St Helena has a vicious, rough history, which began more than 500 years ago. It is known as the most remote place on planet earth, played an integral role in sea-faring history, and also has not managed to avoid the socio-economic difficulties prevalent in the rest of the world.
At this stage the only way to get to St Helena is by boat, either by yacht or on the RMS St Helena. An international airport is however being built and by mid 2016 regular flights to the island will improve the economic viability of many business ventures and visibly enhance tourism opportunities.
Whilst only being on St Helena for just more than a week, we got a sense of the socio-economic complexities, started to see multiple economic opportunities, but above all, experienced a warm hospitality from our hosts Keith Yon, his brother Craig, their families and Tracey Corker, who looked after our culinary needs. They, without a doubt, were the main reason that we had such an enjoyable trip.
On 8 April 2014 all good things came to an end and we boarded the RMS St Helena for the five day journey home. Back in South Africa, many friends and family benefitted with several Wahoo fillets finding their way onto local braais.
Organising a spearfishing trip to St Helena Island is by no means an easy task and it is recommended that it is done with the assistance of people like Keith and Craig Yon. We would have been none the wiser if we tried to make all arrangements ourselves, especially given the fact that spearguns require firearm licenses and that there is a closed spearfishing season until the end of March each year.
Keith, Craig and Tracey’s contact details can be found on http://sthelenatourism.com/tours-and-excursions/