On the 17th of March, we cruised into view of the volcanic Ascension Island.
Melting under the scorching sun, some avid fishermen quickly grabbed their lines, attached some eggplant cubes from the leftover fridge to their hooks, and threw them in the clear blue water. Some locals in St. Helena mentioned that Ascension was like the Jurassic Park of the Sea, and boy were they right. During lunch break, people gathered on the bridge deck, looking down at the water and spotting what we initially thought were sharks. Turns out they were simply massive yellow-fin tunas. Fish were being hoisted out of the water non-stop and a couple Jacks were filleted and sent down to the galley. The next morning, we quickly (too quickly in all honesty) finished cleaning stations, and tendered to shore. The ride was a little eventful, the swell being pretty strong and basically throwing Black Betty on the fishing dock as we tried to disembark.
We were greeted by some Ascension Island Turtle Conservation interns, who gave us an overview of the game plan and brought us to a nearby beach. For the next few hours, armed with gardening gloves and big garbage bags, we made our way along the beach and picked up any garbage and plants that we found. We learned how vegetation such as the Mexican Thornbush can attract rats who then dig up the turtle eggs and eat them. For lunch, many walked to the nearby US Air Force base to enjoy a very traditional American meal in the cafeteria.
Trust me, when the American floaties saw the menu, their eyes widened like never before. After many Philly cheese steaks, BLTs, burgers and curly fries, we piled into Land Rovers, driven by local biologists, and trekked all the way up Green Mountain. The change in scenery was striking; we went from desert-like Arizona dry weather to a lush green tropical rainforest. We eventually disembarked and made our way up around the mountain, guided by locals explaining the different species in this cloud forest. Through the dense vegetation, we could sometimes get a glimpse of the surrounding view of the island covered in mist.
Fishing club had a busy few days!
Our hike in the ''cloud forest'' on Green Mountain.
The second day was our first full day of shore leave, so people parted in groups of four and headed their separate ways. My group walked all the way to the West side of the island and under the recommendation of Polish workers, we visited Mars Bay, where the endemic Ascension Island Frigate Bird nests. I kid you not; there were thousands of them. We then sat, our feet in the water, eating our bagged lunch prepared the night before by our lovely cook Sue. It was a nice cool-down given that the Bay and surrounding area did feel like Mars: non-stop rocky terrain and no plants to offer shade.
We spent the rest of the afternoon following a questionable hiking path through the rocks along the coast, which lead us to numerous shelly beaches. As we tried to make our way back inland, we got lost and ended up walking along the Military Air Strip of the US Air Force Base. We, as you can imagine, were very worried we'd get in trouble but the military mechanics were very helpful in guiding us back to the main road. From there we walked and got back to the main settlement of Georgetown. Since the only place open on that Sunday afternoon was the Saint's Club, all locals and Class Afloat students ended up there enjoying cold beverages. A bunch of students opted to go for a swim in the outdoor community pool to cool down a tad.
Mars, where we got lost.
On our last day of shore leave, Watch 5 (the best watch!) made our way 45 minutes East, towards Comfortless Cove. Due to the strong riptides and undertow, as well as an apparent shark infestation, this beach and English Bay were the only swimmable beaches on the island. The water was incredibly clear and the marine wildlife present made for some very fun snorkeling. Don't worry parents - we layered on that SPF 50 sunscreen (but still got mildly burnt).
After returning to Georgetown in the afternoon, most CAF students hopped onto a school bus and were brought to the US Military Base to get a guided tour of the refueling jet that was being repaired on the runway. It was fascinating to tour around this massive plane and get a peek into the cockpit and refueling station. The military personnel were very generous with their time, answering all our questions. The crew made it back onto the pier in time to welcome a tender transporting our dinner and enjoyed a lovely evening picnic admiring the sunset setting over our ship in the distance.
Comfortless cove, one of the only two swim-able beaches on the island.
The maritime crew was spotted from the refueling station.
When it got dark, we were debriefed by the Turtle Conservation Team and headed out in three groups onto Long Beach, the main turtle nesting ground of the island. These turtles had crossed the Atlantic Ocean, coming all the way from Brazil to find a partner and nest in this conserved marine area. Ascension Island is one of the biggest nesting grounds for the green turtle, and our guide told us that they count up to 470 turtles nesting on Long Beach in one night.
Equipped with red flashlights so as to not alarm the turtles, we found a nest and watched as a female laid her eggs. It was beautiful. It was nearly as if she was breathing like a human, and her intricate carapace was hiding two powerful back legs which patted down the sand over the eggs, being very careful to aerate the whole thing. Spirits high, slightly sunburnt, and crusty from the salt (all signs of an amazing day), everyone said goodbye to land for 26 days and jumped onto the tender, which zoomed back to our ship.
Only red lights were allowed on the beaches as to not alarm the nesting turtles.
- Written by Grade 12, Class Afloat student, Adele S.