Luggage retrieved, we found our transport waiting, along with Matt Joshua, manager of the Mantis Hotel, and Anthony Thomas, owner of dive-centre Sub-Tropic Adventures.
The Mantis occupies an 18th-century row of former officers’ quarters. It’s the poshest place in town and also has free wi-fi, a welcome commodity there.
With a free afternoon, I explored. Wedged between sheer cliffs, Jamestown is steeped in history, with more than 100 listed buildings. Main Street is renowned for its pristine Georgian architecture, with many buildings constructed from the local volcanic rock.
Boasting an impressive façade, the century-old Consulate Hotel features a life-sized figure of Napoleon on the upper terrace. Dating from 1772, St James’ Church is the oldest Anglican church in the Southern Hemisphere.
However, Jamestown’s most iconic structure, built in 1829, is Jacob’s Ladder, a 699-step staircase linking Jamestown with Ladder Hill Fort.
No photos do justice to its sheer scale. Merely looking up the ascent was enough to induce vertigo. Maybe later.
The inhabitants call themselves Saints. They speak English but with curious usages that take some getting get used to. A friend referred to it as a cross between Cornwall and Australia, but I could detect Kiwi and Irish inflections. They tone it down for the tourists, but once the locals start conversing, a translator is required!
Past the old Customs House I found Sub-Tropic Adventures and, beyond that, the Steps, the embarkation spot for the next day’s diving. Swathes of netting encased the cliffs above to prevent rockfalls. Painted on the bare rock were the words “Welcome RMS St Helena”, with the newer “Farewell RMS St Helena 2017” alongside.
Everyone was gathered at 9am to assemble their gear. Two groups were going in two RIBs, downright chaotic by St Helena standards! Getting aboard proved tricky, stepping down onto the RIB as it pitched in the relentless surf.
Clockwise from top left: butterflyfish at Lighter’s Rock; the Frontier wreck; the Bedgellet wreck.
Fortunately, numerous helping hands ensured that divers and gear boarded safely. With Anthony’s dad Larry at the helm, we set out for Lighter Rock, 20 minutes’ away east of James Bay.
Plunging into the water revealed dramatic seascapes echoing the craggy terrain above, with huge boulders and sheer rock-faces honeycombed with caves, archways and overhangs.
Visibility was exceptional, at times approaching nearly 50m, doubtless due to the lack of run-off sediment. Water temperature was a comfortable 25°C, my 5mm suit providing ample warmth.
Reef-building corals were absent but an abundance of tunicates, algae and sponges shrouded the rock-faces.
Endemic orange cup corals added a splash of colour, along with harpoon weed (a red algae), tiny anemones and various species of hydroid.