An online cruising guide for yachts sailing to Ascension Island.
Ascension was first discovered by the Portuguese in 1501 and rediscovered two years later and named Ascension. For the next 300 years it was ignored, except by sailors who stopped to hunt turtles and leave mail. This all changed when Napoleon was exiled to nearby St Helena in 1815. The British claimed the island and set up a garrison on the site of Georgetown.
The garrison slowly developed into a small town. By the time Napoleon died in 1821 Ascension was an important naval depot and quarantine base for ships. In 1899 Eastern Telegraph Co laid the first submarine cable to Cape Town via St. Helena. The navy withdrew in 1922, making the telegraph company the sole permanent residents until the BBC arrived to set up their South Atlantic relay station in 1964. Meantime, WW2 bought the US army engineers who built Wideawake Airfield. In 1943 there were 4000 servicemen stationed on the island but in 1947 they all departed the island, population diminished to 170. The Falkland conflict in 1982 saw the population mushroom overnight. After the conflict the RAF were given a permanent base on the island.
Cruising the region
The landing on the pier head is notoriously tricky. The concrete landing is slippery and even with the help of ropes to hang onto; jumping off the dinghy must be well timed with the swells. In December the swell arrives, caused by storms 2000 miles to the north, and these often crash over the pier head, making landing impossible. Ascension is 35 miles square and is situated in the middle of the South Atlantic with St. Helena the nearest neighbor. It is not as isolated as St. Helena, being linked to the UK by flights on RAF Tristar and is also served by the RMS St. Helena.
There is only one supermarket in town and it carries most things, but at a higher price than on St Helena.
For petrol and diesel you can hitch to the only petrol station on the island, a few miles out of town at One Boat. The post office is opposite the Solomons shop in Georgetown, right next to the Saints club where you can order a cold beer and a snack meal at lunchtime. The Exile club used to be naval barracks, but now boasts a bar and restaurant with the best view in town from the balcony overlooking the pier head and anchorage.
Visit Comfortless Cove that was used as a quarantine area by ships whose crew was suffering with fever. Food and water was brought from town and placed nearby for the victims. Today you can see the cemetery on the rocks, but the white beach is a popular swimming cove. English Bay is the most popular beach as it provides safe swimming on an island full of beaches with dangerous undertows. Nearby, the BBC's "golfball" and antennae farm dominate the scene. It is here that the power station and desalination plant produces most of the islands power and fresh water.
There are very few facilities as such for visiting yachts, but all necessary facilities exist, an important one being fax and telephones. These enable yachts to order equipment and have it flown in. Showers are available at the swimming pool near the pier head. There are some large cranes on the pier head which can lift 30-ton boats if necessary and if the weather permitted. The local folks are very friendly and will fix or replace anything they can. All you have to do is ask and someone will do something about your problem, if possible. This is a fascinating and most unusual island, perhaps not the easiest to get to, but a worthwhile stepping-stone across the Atlantic Ocean.
Note: Clearance Bay is an open bay, but any yacht wishing to stop here should enter from the east, as there is a reef which extends from the west. This reef has a marker at its northern extremity and you have to clear this if approaching from the west. A floating pipeline extends almost from Long Beach across the middle of the bay. It is easy to see during the day as boobies sit and roost along its length. But at night it has no lights.
- BA1771 Saint Helena with Approaches to Ascension Island
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- Weather info sources
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Cruising yachtsmen will find dealing with the authorities much easier than expected. Staying over is not a problem provided you have full travel insurance. All yachts are subject to a curfew. If you wish to be ashore after 7pm until 11pm you must have a local "sponsor" who must complete an official form at the police station. All official business including clearance is done at the police station.
Immigration & Customs
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Health & Security
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Links to Forum Discussions
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References & Publications
- Cape to Caribbean Cruising Notes by Tony Herrick
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