Monday 7 October 2013

A Colonial Feast On A Colonial Island

I have been pondering the title of this post at length. Other options were An Elegy On A lost Age or even A Lament For Lost Culture. Both perhaps a bit on the heavy emotional side, so I opted for the more positive one.

We arrived at St Helena Island two days ago after sunset in a light drizzle. Not the easiest harbour entry after dark, with lots of small craft moored on mooring lines stretching across the harbour. We made it safely to one of the new mooring buoys, compliments of the skipper of another Leopard 39 yacht on delivery. He guided us on the VHF radio.

After a good night's sleep we hit the sleepy Jamestown on a Sunday morning. Just to be stopped dead in our tracks by HM Customs official. The very nice lady required the skipper to go all the way back to the boat to get our passports. The Harbour Master neglected to inform us that the Customs office was open on a Sunday as well. We were under the impression that customs clearance would keep to Monday morning.

The vagaries of the bureaucracy! At least we had some time to spend with the customs lady, who happened to be very helpful and informative on happenings and folklore on the island. We spent a happy half hour, entertained by her stories.

Then it was time to prep for our braai. I bought six sirloin steaks at our local Food Lover's Market, a food chain in South Africa. Vacuum packed and all. This we kept in the dark in our refrigerator on board, not frozen, for the duration of our passage. Needless to say, these steaks came out soft like butter.

We planned on having the braai at Anne's Place, a rustic restaurant steeped in history, situated in the castle gardens on St Helena. A wonderfully relaxed atmosphere to share with friends. We arranged for some side dishes with Jane, the lady of the house. And, of course, we invited friends. I had totally misjudged the hospitality of the Saints and the next thing there were provisions fit for a king, the table bending under the strain of the amount of food. Luckily there were some more hungry sailors and we could make a real dent the mound of food.

We spent a most enjoyable afternoon having a real traditional South African braai. I had the honour of cooking, as Richard, the man of the house, decreed that, since it was our braai and he being a guest, I would have to do the cooking. Or braaiing. Whatever. He was going to enjoy the ride.

And he did.

Good conversation and good company. It was with heavy hearts that we took our leave of absence from our hosts to catch the last ferry of the day back to the boat.

Our sailor friends had postponed their hoisting anchor and casting off to after the braai. We waved a fond farewell to them as they disappeared into the dark, cloudy night. We may see them again in St Maarten, after crossing the Atlantic. They have another errand to attend to, so there is an odd chance that we shall only see them back in Cape Town in a month or so.

A wonderful experience. No cell phones, computers or other interruptions of electronic nature. The birds chirping away in the trees, with a light breeze making the leaves flutter every now and then.

Pure bliss. One would think

Except that this very experience may be made impossible by progress and modernisation.

The completion of the airport may put a whole new angle on the niche that the island will fill in the tourist industry. At present it looks like the people may opt for a modernisation of the island.

Although this is not untoward, there is a very real chance that the quaint island culture may be lost forever to urban advance. Hence my pondering of titles for this blog post. One can but hope and pray that common sense will prevail and that the saints will decide on conserving their culture and keep the historic, colonial air on the island. Five star hotels may come, a golf course, what else. But keep the urban sprawl and city culture away from the old town.

Perhaps renovate the financial systems. Get better internet links. But keep the cell phones to a minimum. It is bliss to be away from electronic media for a while and to enjoy the company of friends. Especially in these rustic surroundings, where hardly a motor car is heard. And the peal of the church bells carried on the breeze. The sounds of peace.

But keep the rustic atmosphere.

There are but a few places on earth left like this. And they are under threat of the very civilisation that needs the peaceful and simple atmosphere.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-10-07


  1. Sounds like a great get-together. Cellphones are soooo taking over our social lives.......

  2. Great description of a get-together with friends.