1.17.2011

St. Helena Pit Stop

My newly found land legs floundered briefly below me, and I grabbed for firmness, plopping down on a wooden log bench next to three islanders. Overlooking the harbor of Jamestown, St. Helena, the tanned and elderly men looked back with amusement from under their bright yellow hard hats at the creature that had just washed up on their bench… I was definitely not an endemic species to the island. Regardless, this is not Manhattan, and there was a sweetness sent through their eyes… sweetness, mixed with story, mixed with island calm and a twinge of hardship.

I liked them instantly. It was a split second deduction I'd made with a handful of other characters on the islandwithin just hours of landing.Like the woman at Napoleon's Hotel who taught me that the rainbow sprinkles I requested for my icecream are in fact called "hundreds and thousands." Like Genevieve from the welcome office, who touched my arm with a laugh when I fell asleep in her lobby with a book of St. Helena marine life open on my lap. Or like Dave, whose words of advice were "don't drive off a cliff" as he trustingly gave me the keys to his car that I drove on the left side of the road and operated the manual gears with my left hand for the first time in my life. And just like Susan at the St. Helena National Trust, who'd yacked it up with me for a quarter of an hour, calling her girlfriend who worked down at the Castle who was Jonny's girlfriend, and told me to find him at the docks.

"Good afternoon," I smiled.

"Hello there," said the dockworker closest to me, tipping his hat. "You must be from the yacht." Everyone in town knew we were here. It had come in on the radio the evening prior.

I came to look for "Jonny at the docks."
"I am." For some reason, it felt good to be known… like coming home after a week at sea. Pointing to the Sea Dragon, that was anchored on the perimeter of all the working ships, bobbing bright blue in the sapphire water, I acknowledged, "That's her over there. You guys wouldn't happen to know Jonny, would you?"

Moments later I was hearing strains of a conversation with the alleged Jonny over Channel 16 on the old man's radio. Jonny, as it turns out, was not at the docks, but rather out on a boat doing maintenance and wouldn't be able to take us diving that afternoon. A 1901 shipwreck, the stern of which was just visibly poking through the water, teased from about 20 yards away. Tomorrow, maybe.

I turned back round to face the island – rugged, jagged cliff's rose straight up out of the sea, the waves working their cave-cutting magic on their eroding faces. Jamestown ran a rainbow vein of rooftops and Georgian architecture up the middle of the valley, and at the top, the faint hint of rainforest hung like a canopy to the island in it's own right. Trophy birds swooped gracefully from one dramatic ridge to the next, their long tail feathers flashing through the flax, cactus and eucalyptus.

Where to then?

It's a funny thing to wash up on land for just 36 hours, a week into a transoceanic expedition. Odd, in that we've only just gotten in to the rhythm of boat life and our worlds, in a sense, have shrunk to 72 feet in length coupled with endless horizon. It's beyond sensory overload to all of a sudden be on land with other people, currency, backwards cars and a whole new geography. But the kicker is a suspended reality of sorts… the weight of what's to come once we leave St. Helena.

It's funny to be on the hunt for plastic. Teetered just 400 miles north of the gyre, St. Helena feels like a funny rest stop where I get to get out of the car and evaluate what the heck is going on. In days time, we'll sail due south and turn a hard southwest in to the South Atlantic Gyre, stopping every 60 miles to trawl for plastic marine debris on the surface of the ocean. On the one hand, I'm stoked to be involved with research that is unveiling the seldom-seen truths of our world's oceans, and the "plastic monsters" that lurk within. On the other hand, I really don't want to deal with the heart sinking truth that I'm holding a plastic reality of overproduction, gluttonous consumption and artifacts of a plastic era in my hands every time I clean out the trawl.

So as far as St. Helena's concerned, it's one foot in front of the other… pause on questions, and move forward with gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to visit one of the most remote islands in the world. Literally, one foot in front of the other 699 steps high – up Jacob's Ladder, an old staircase that leads to the rainforest plateaus above Jamestown. Accelerated steps down to the beach, to do my first beach plastics transect and hold my first nurdle (a 5 mm plastic pellet) in my palm. Two steps forward to feel the rush of the waves over my feet, and 15 quickly back as the wave crashes up over me. One broad step off the side of the boat to submerge in an underwater world for an hour of blissful diving, finding flight and weightlessness.

And a final step on to the water taxi after an amazing 2 days in St. Helena – refreshed, amazed and ready for the next leg of our journey. As we ferried back to the ship, excitement among us to get in one last sunset swim and dive before setting sail, I notice there's another man on the boat, smiling at me."You must be Sara,"he says. "Sorry I missed you, I'm Jonny."

Go figure. Jonny at the docks. "Great to meet you," I said. "Maybe next time around."

Guess that timing just has a way of working itself out. Island time, working time, discovery time, boat time… As I sit here writing this, we've just turned in to the gyre, and the ocean is still as a lake. I'm flanked on either side by some of the most amazing women I've ever had the privilege of knowing. The sunset burning behind us has turned in to a road of silver behind the boat, cascading down from the nearly full moon. The stars shine, SigurRos plays on the deck speakers, and a tear for much of the world hangs in more than one of our eyes. May it reflect where we're coming from, where we're headed, and the beauty of the moment that. Is. Now.

1 comment:

  1. Ah Sara, beautifully written...I felt as tho I were there...safe travels!
    Love & Light, Hayley ~~

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