Sunday, January 20, 2019

St. Helena Island

By Carolyn

This is the last major stop of our ‘round the world adventure, and it was not without fanfare! The island colony’s British appointed Governor, Lisa Honan, met us on the tarmac, and news photographers captured greetings and group shots. The next morning we visited the local press office where we were interviewed for a feel-good story about making history as the first single propeller plane to land in St. Helena.

The $300M airport is extremely controversial, not the least being the challenging wind shear conditions, which had been predicted but never abated. (Jack and Josh witnessed the commercial flight make two go-around passes before landing on the third attempt.) The politics of the airport are equally fraught...previously, St. Helena was subsidized by the British government, but the airport was built under the theory of if-you-build-it-they-will-come and all those tourists mean no more subsidy.
Our arrival means three flights in one week!
Opened in 2017, numerous flights have been canceled, ruining vacations for incoming as well as outgoing travelers. At the time the island gained an airport, they lost their passenger ship, but it was also prone to mechanical problems and weeks could pass without delivery of various staples or tourists.

Other minor impediments to creating the next Tourist Mecca include a cash-only economy where there are no ATM machines, no roaming cell phone coverage, and very slow internet that you pay for in 30-minute increments. Plus, inconsistent food deliveries which can leave stores and restaurants with limited choices, no air conditioning, and a tropical locale with no beaches. Oh, and the only airport with flights to St. Helena is in notorious Johannesburg.
Counting cash at Briar House in the room where Napoleon lived for two months
BUT, don’t let that sway you. It’s a lovely, friendly, quirky, sunny, rainy, historical island! We’ve had a very special time here.
Main Street, Jamestown, looking toward the wharf
Stone walls and gate at the wharf
Our first full day was a guided tour with Kevin in his Land Rover. He roved us all over the island and we saw forts and flax; endangered wire birds and endemic ebony and gum trees; searing deserts and lush green pastures.
Flax from New Zealand was used to make twine until the 1960's when the entire industry fell to plastic

High Knoll Fort, overlooking Jamestown, built in 1799

Stunning views 

Millennium forest project restoring endemic gum trees 

The desolate coast belies the lush interior

Plantation House where the Governor lives

Sheep farm with Speery Island just off shore
We even visited France in three locations.
Garden at Briar House, where Napoleon waited for Longwood House to be refurbished

Napoleon's tomb (before he was moved to Les Invalides in Paris)

Longwood House, where Napoleon lived in exile until his death in 1821
St. Helena’s 47 square miles are the remnant top of an enormous conical volcano many millions of years old. It has since migrated off of the hot spot and was untouched by humans until the Portuguese discovered it in 1502. The Dutch East India Company camped out here until 1651, then the British colony was established in 1659 with the English East India Company building fortifications which still stand today. Our hotel, The Consulate, was built in 1762 and has 20” thick stone walls, high ceilings and big windows to catch the breeze.
The Consulate Hotel
Our dear proprietor, Hazel, has furnished it like a museum with walls covered by original artwork, antique lithographs, maps and stamp collections; rooms packed with antiques and ceramics; every form of Napoleonic memorabilia; and all things nautical. She has several remaining containers [as in massive shipping containers] yet to unpack.
Covered courtyard and bar

Green Drawing Room

Blue Drawing Room

Front room

Dining Room

Our second day began with a nice leg-stretch climbing up the 699 steps of Jacob’s Ladder...and back down again. The guys went to the airport to refuel the plane and I wandered thru the compact New Museum (very well done!) and checked out the LIMITED gift stores around town.
Looking up Jacob's Ladder

And looking down at Jamestown below
In addition to it’s most famous prisoner, Napoleon, St. Helena has held slaves from India, Southeast Asia, and Madagascar; the captured African Chieftan Denzizulu; some 6,000 Boer Prisoners of war; and Chinese laborers indentured with the East India Company. In the 1840’s, the Royal Navy intercepted slave ships, and 15,000 liberated Africans were first processed in St. Helena before being disbursed across the Caribbean. Some 543 opted to remain in St. Helena. Today’s “Saints” can claim a truly global racial heritage.
None of the famous prisoners stayed here
We have felt like special visitors on this special island, following in the footsteps of other explorers including Edmund Halley, Captain James Cook, Captain William Bligh, Charles Darwin and Joshua Slocum. Each had his own reason for coming here, but likely we all are here because there is no where else within 700 miles that one could be.
'Round the World 3.0 crew with airport in the distance

Botswana

by Carolyn

This was a brief two night resting stop. We stayed at a nice one-year old Cresta hotel just outside Maun, Botswana, so we were away from the congestion of the capital, but not exactly in the wildlife refuges. Becky and I were on our own for birding, and were under strict orders from our DH’s to not stray too far from the hotel, or get too close to the river (crocodiles). Even under those tight conditions we managed to see 35 species of birds, practically while standing in place! Kinda nice to just focus on birds in Africa without the distractions of mammals.
The courtyard was nicely done

Rainy season means everything is very green

Cheers!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Flying the Seychelles to Maun, Botswana

By Jack

On January 15 after four marvelous days of rest and relaxation in the Seychelles, we fly 2,217 NM (2,550 SM) to Maun, Botswana/FBMN with a fuel stop on the small French island of Mayotte/FMCZ. This flight would take us over the heart of summer-time south central Africa. Central Africa is well known for being able to produce huge thunderstorms and having less than optimal air traffic control.




Looking at the high level significant weather charts for the day, it is clear how the afternoon heat powers the thunderstorm activity. These three charts reflect forecast conditions at approximately 0900, 1500, and 2100 local time for our flight day...






While we brief weather from many different sources, these high level significant weather charts (High Lvl Sig Wx) are among the most important because they reflect a human interpreted forecast (as opposed to a pure computer model with no human interpretation) of the most hazardous weather for our flying - thunderstorms. We look at a lot of other forecasts to evaluate flight times, fuel burns, turbulence potential, etc., but in terms of weather that could be truly dangerous, thunderstorms are the most significant threat.  Back home the National Weather Service  provides a wide range of convective (thunderstorm) forecasts that are very detailed and useful. But in more remote parts of the world these high level significant weather charts are among the best references.

Overall, it appeared there was some chance of thunderstorms along the middle portion of our route from Mayotte/FMCZ to Maun/FBMN over Mozambique and Zimbabwe. But the forecast did not indicate the kind of impenetrable solid line of mega-tall storms could require us to land an wait it out in an expected place. Back home landing at an airport we have never been to in order to wait out a line of thunderstorms is not a big deal. In Africa where we would not have the proper permits and could face significant language barriers, a precautionary landing could represent a separate risk of its own. Our evaluation was that along our route the chances of needing to divert were small and thus we launched from the Seychelles at around 0700 local time.

On the main ramp (not the remote parking ramp) at the Seychelles International Airport with some of the Air Seychelles fleet of Twin Otters in the background...


We got some great views of the Seychelles as we departed to the north and then made a sweeping turn to the southwest...





The relatively short 807 NM flight from the Seychelles to Mayotte was uneventful with fairly good communications along the way using both HF and VHF. Approaching the Mayotte airport, the tower reported rain showers in the area and we encountered a very brief (~ 10 seconds) rain shower on final approach...just enough to give the plane a nice fresh water rinse!

Mayotte was landing runway 16 which has an almost 500 FT tall hill just to the left of the final approach.



While we were on short final approach, with his driest sense of humor, Josh said "Don't look out your left window, it might scare you."   Becky captured a nice video of the arrival where the hill is obvious!

YouTube link: https://youtu.be/SJZfdUQ4RIc



Although we did not leave the airport, from the air Mayotte looked like an inviting place to visit.




As we refueled a Mayotte, rain showers were approaching from the south. Although they were not dangerous thunderstorms (no lightning or thunder), we still prefered to take-off before they crossed the airport and so we encouraged a sense of urgency with the refueling staff.

The handling staff was efficient and we made a quick turn lining up on runway 16 just 40 minutes after landing...a very quick "turn" for an international stop.  The rain showers where still south of the field, so we turned on the weather radar before take-off (up up tilt) and were able to maneuver around the rain only encountering light turbulence.

Biggest excitement of the flight was when lining up for departure on runway 16, I inadvertently ran a "Lamp Test" which turns on all the indicator lights in the cockpit. The lamp check switch is next to the landing light switch and one of the last things we do before take-off is turn on all external lights. Just as we started the take-off roll we got the audio alert about the lamp check which caused me to look down and see all the warning light illuminated. As we are trained, if anything unusual happens before rotating for take-off, you abort the take-off and check it out. So, I followed my training and aborted the take-off. By the time we stopped the lamp check process finished normally with no errors. We ran it again and no errors and everything else looked good. So we did a normal departure with no issues.

As we proceeded west toward Botswana the communications were all VHF, but still there were difficulties. The African ATC controller had heavy accents and used terminology unfamiliar to us. But, we managed.

Although there were some fairly large area of thunderstorms forecast for parts of west Africa just south of our route, none formed along our route and with some modest deviations we were able to avoid any bumpy looking cumulus clouds and maintain a smooth ride the whole way. Landing at Maun, Botswana was normal with a few bumps at lower altitudes as it was a hot afternoon by the time we arrived. The handlers at Maun were efficient and we refueled and cleared customs with no significant problems.

We have one day "off" at Maun and, weather permitting, on January 17 will undertake the flight to St. Helena Island/FHSH with a fuel stop in Luanda, Angola/FNLU.  St. Helena has a unique set of aviation challenges I will describe in more detail in future posts. However, beyond the flying, St. Helena looks to be a beautiful and interesting place to visit.  If all goes as planned, we will have two full days to explore the island departing January 20.

More to come from St. Helena, South Atlantic Ocean!



Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Seychelles

by Carolyn

There are lots of islands around the world. So it is not surprising that we land on more islands than continents for this particular circumnavigation around the Southern Hemisphere. Of all the landmass on earth, 68% is in the northern hemisphere, so much of the Southern Hemisphere is ocean. Early explorers were convinced there must be a missing southern continent to balance the land up north, but of course there is not.

However, The Seychelles are considered a micro continent, now sitting on its own tiny piece of continental plate that was first pried off the Gondwana supercontinent with India some 167 million years ago, and then separated from India 100 million years later. Today this collection of 115 islands sits 200 miles northeast of Madagascar. It was essentially uninhabited (save a few random pirates) until the 1700’s when the French took control. In 1794, the British took over in a bloodless war when the French administrator declined to fight back. Independence from Britain was granted in 1976 and after some socialist experiments/coup attempts in the 1980’s the parliamentary Seychelles today boasts the highest nominal per capita GDP in Africa.
Seychelles International Airport
We enjoyed a very leisurely three days of pampering at the Four Seasons. The setting for this property, only 10 years old, was dramatic. Imagine a giant amphitheater, with the bay serving as the stage. Up the granite hillsides were the villas, positioned to ensure perfect views and total privacy. We did go “off campus” one morning to visit Le Jardin du Roi, but mostly enjoyed the beach, snorkeling, and a creole cooking class.
Enjoying the beach

Every villa has a view
Cooking class: octopus salad, creole fish curry, banana fritters

One thing that never ceases to amaze me in tropical locales is the abundance of huge tropical fruit trees. You could live surrounded by avocado, mango, banana, citrus, papaya, coconut, passion fruit, and breadfruits. I mentioned that possibility to a local woman and she laughed and said “it’s great until the fruit bats fly in to fight over the ripening fruit or until it’s dropping on your roof all night.” Speaking of bats, there are loads of them lumbering back and forth across the sky all day. I described Austin’s bats and she was shocked at their small size and asked “so how do you eat them?” I was shocked at that question, but apparently bat is a delicacy in Seychelles. We didn’t see it on the menu at Four Seasons, however.
Papaya
Mango

Coconut Palm
Breadfruit
Seychelles fruit bat
Le Jardin du Roi is a small private spice garden, scratched into another steep hillside overlooking another turquoise bay. It was well marked and the long established spice trees and plants include nutmeg/mace, clove, curry, lemongrass, vanilla, cardamom, ginger, etc. The most famous garden entry is the Coco de Mer, or sea coconut, the Seychelles’ endangered endemic palm which has the world’s largest seed, a buttock shaped monster that weights up to 50 pounds. Since it was Sunday, there was a lunch special of local salads, chicken curry, grilled fish and rice.


200 year old Coco de Mer

Lunch time!

Seychelles is leading the way in environmental protections, and it shows. They have banned import and use of many single use plastics (straws, bags, take-away boxes, etc.). Forty seven percent of the land area is under legal protection. And, in 2016, through an innovative debt-for-nature swap, the government will increase the country’s marine protection from 0.04% of their Exclusive Economic Zone today to 30% by 2020. Money that previously had to service debt can be placed into a national trust fund disbursing over $600,000 per year to help with marine management. Seychelles' “blue economy”, based on tuna and tourism, depends on a healthy ocean.

St. Helena Island

By Carolyn This is the last major stop of our ‘round the world adventure, and it was not without fanfare! The island colony’s British ap...