April 17, 2013 Georgetown, Ascension Island

April 17, 2013  Georgetown, Ascension Island

Ascension Island was first discovered in 1501 by Juan da Nova Castella, but the discovery apparently went unrecorded, and the island was re-discovered on Ascension Day 1503 by Alfonso d’Albuquerque. Ascension became strategically significant with the exile of Napoleon to St. Helena; the British were concerned that it could be used in any attempt to rescue Napoleon. Thus a small British naval garrison was established on the island in October 1815. By Napoleon’s death in 1821, Ascension had become a dispatch station for ships engaged in the intercepting of slave ships from the West African coast. Thus, Ascension played a significant role in ending the kidnapping of African natives and the trafficking of human beings to the Americas. In 1823 the garrison was taken over by the Royal Marines and the island remained a naval possession until 1922 when Ascension became a dependency of Saint Helena. In 1982 the island was used as a British staging post for the ill conceived Battle for the Falklands. Wideawake Airfield is still used today by the United States and Royal Air Forces.

The main export item is Ascension Island postage stamps, first issued in 1922. The first post office on the island was established in the early 19th century. At that time stamps were hand-made. The first self-adhesive stamps were introduced in 1856. Ascension stamps are coveted not only for their rarity, but also for the interesting designs.

Tourism was non-existent until recently because of the inaccessibility of the island. However guest cottages and a nice hotel have recently opened. Sport fishing is a main attraction for many visitors and the island “boasts” what was once officially the worst golf course in the world. The course has 18 holes and the greens are in fact brown due to the sand and oil mix used to make them. The rest of the course is made up of volcanic ash and rock, which can make for some interesting rounds.

Unfortunately we were unable to get ashore to see what the island had to offer. Several tender boats were loaded full of guests and sent toward shore, only to find that the swells were too large and the sea was too rough to safely secure the tenders. The only dock is very small and protrudes out into the ocean with no bay or inlet to protect it from the elements of the ocean. After twenty minutes of drifting in the ocean, we were sent back to the ship, never able to step foot on the island. The captain did circumnavigate the island before sailing for Brazil so that we could at least get a glimpse of the island.

The island has thirty-two beaches where about 3,000 rare green turtles swim annually from the waters near South America to lay their eggs. The terrain of the island appeared quite desolate with the exception of a few buildings in the port area. The island has several high peaks climbing up to about 3,000 feet. There are several satellite communication towers on the island from the BBC to the worldwide GPS System.

The day’s activities were altered to give guests things to do onboard the ship, but it was mostly a quiet relaxing sea day.

The entertainment was a classical and percussive guitar concert by Declan Zapala from England. The percussive guitar refers to the use of the guitar as not only a guitar but also a drum. It was an enjoyable evening and he is a very accomplished musician although I am not that fond of guitar music.