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World's most remote yacht club has busy pandemic

by Vince Thompson 16 Mar 06:58 PDT
St Helena Yacht Club: After the paint job and a new kitchen on the upper floor, a new roof is required © Vince Thompson

The St Helena Yacht Club had a busy time last year and the heightened activity has rolled over to this year. As the pandemic took hold across the world, the word lockdown became a new and regularly used word on everyone's lips.

Yacht crews on the high seas had their own special and serious problems. Some islands in other oceans refused to accept yachts; leaving their crews roaming the wide ocean looking for a safe harbour while fuel and rations reduced to dangerous levels. In St Helena quarantine regulations were enforced but no yacht was turned away.

The usual peak yachting season is October to April but in May last year there were almost double the peak number of yachts at the moorings and many of them stayed all year. There was nowhere else to go. A range of T-shirts with 'stranded and lovin' it' were produced for these unusual times. Several long-stay 'yachties' bought them and wore them.

More yachts moored in James Bay mean more remarkable characters with many interesting stories to tell. It also meant more customers at the yacht club bar; some stranded yachties even took a turn behind it. As the weeks passed several found temporary jobs; some had particular skills which were most useful. St Helena Yacht Club members were also helped. One completed a re-wiring job on a Colin Archer where previously there was no end in sight for the job and a Hobie Cat was back in the water much earlier than expected thanks to the generous time and effort from stranded yachties. In return, some of those stranded had the opportunity to see Whale Sharks up close followed by the seasonal arrival of Humpbacks.

One long-stay and stranded couple ended their blog with, "All in all St. Helena's been a fascinating spot to sit out this pandemic. We'll miss the Saints with their barely intelligible New England (to my ear at least) accents, ethnic mix of various Asian, European and African countries going back hundreds of years and their seemingly endless ability to wave at every passing car (even taxis which begs the question of how exactly you go about hailing a taxi). And we'll miss the fabulous community that's developed among the sailors here, both visitors and locals."

As the world opened up a little the stranded sailors turned their minds to 'where next'. The number of yachts at the moorings gradually reduced but this did not mean the St Helena Yacht Club adopted a sleepy, slow and quiet existence. The social events continue to increase. The Yacht Club, set in James Bay is in a prime location. The regular Sunday afternoon opening has made it a popular venue for a drink and chat against a back drop of the sun setting across the Bay. Wednesday afternoon opening followed, together with the revival of fishing competitions and yacht races. More recently there have been special events such as the recent Friday evening cocktails expertly mixed by Jose and Luis Soto. This was followed by the first of many Pancake Breakfasts. Led by master pancake-maker James Fantom, assisted by others in his family, the first Pancake Breakfast on 6th March attracted three times more people than expected as breakfast drifted in to brunch.

James reflected, "On Saturday we opened the Kind Café (Our name) for the first time down at the Yacht Club. We couldn't have asked for a better day as the sun was shining, the sea was sparkling, and air was buzzing. We opened for a morning of thick fluffy American-style pancakes with various toppings and locally grown coffee, courtesy of Neil and Debbie Fantom out at Wrangham's, Sandy Bay. In total, made and sold 267 pancakes, about 3 times as many as anticipated! We are donating a percentage of all profits to the yacht club to aid them in their roof restoration and other works. It's pleasing to see the Yacht club becoming a more popular venue; I really hope that trend continues. It was great to be able to take advantage of such a beautiful location. Big thanks to everyone for coming out and enjoying the morning with myself, Jess, Debbie, and Neil (big shout out to each of them too; you rock!)."

The Yacht Club building is the focus of some TLC. The exterior has had an excellent paint job and the upper floor has been fitted out as the kitchen. As James Fantom has already mentioned the Yacht Club roof needs renewing and at the same time an upper floor balcony will be restored after an absence of many decades. The restoration of the balcony will restore the Yacht Club to its original, historic appearance.

Funding for this next project is already under way but, as usual, more funds are needed. To move the fund-raising forward, the St Helena Yacht Club has set up a crowd funding page on crowdfunder. Despite the tough economic climate it is hoped overseas friends and supporters of the St Helena Yacht Club may join in the fund-raising. The crowdfunder link is www.crowdfunder.co.uk/st-helena-yacht-club---a-roof-above-our-heads

With the Royal Cape Yacht Club led by Race Chairman Dale Kushner forging ahead with the organisation for the Cape to St Helena Race 2021, The St Helena Yacht Club members plan to have a much improved venue ready and waiting to welcome old friends, familiar faces and especially first entrants to the Cape to St Helena Yacht Race when they arrive in January 2022.

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