Passage notes: St Helena to Ascension

sunset sailing underway to ascension south atlantic ocean

Graying dawn had barely begun to lighten the sky when we left St Helena under a nearly full moon. The distance to Ascension – a little over 700 nautical miles – was slightly awkward. Leave in the daytime, and we’d arrive at night, something we really did NOT want to do. So we departed in darkness, to assure a daytime arrival.

Totem’s 75hp Yanmar chugged through the first hour and a half, but the genoa was rolled out by the time the sun began to rise and the breeze filled in. It’s light, so rather than put up the main and bang gear around slatting, we make way under headsail alone. The rhumb line toward Ascension is dead downwind; pointing north for a better angle, 160 miles glide under the first 24 hours.

niall on deck for arrival in ascension

The second morning the main is hoisted and jib poled out. This wing-on-wing combination carries Totem for the remainder of the trip, about four days. It’s uneventful: a couple of birds visit the last night, brown  noddies we think, but they fly off just before sunrise and too dark to really see them. The wind blows a steady 22-25 true for nearly the duration. Preventer on the main, headsail poled in place, the on-watch crew doesn’t need to touch the sails, just ticks our course a little one way or the other to keep the wind behind the boat.

The wind fades as Ascension comes into sight, and we motor the last half hour into Georgetown’s Clarence Bay. From a distance the island looks almost crown-shaped: cone spires of red earth rise at intervals from a band of lowlands. As the water turns turquoise, and friends welcome us into the harbor.

3- Georgetown Ascension

The harbormaster was tipped off to our arrival by the crew of Obelisk, who stopped in briefly the day before we got in. We’re grateful for their help because we’ve arrived near the front end of Easter weekend, and the holiday is taken very seriously here! From Friday through Monday, business is closed, and it might have been more complicated to finish clearance without Jesse’s help.

turquoise water at ascension island Georgetown waterfront

Dead downwind can be relatively rolly point of sail, but the seas are mellow and we have a comfortable ride. We’re not eating quite as well as we did with our passage meals out of Namibia, but once again we have mellow conditions that make it easier to eat better, and didn’t require any advance meal prep or eating from cans.

Departure day

  • Oatmeal & raisins (it was chilly in those wee hours of the morning!)
  • Chicken salad sandwiches (fast/easy with chicken I canned in South Africa and corn relish made on the passage to St Helena)
  • Saint fishcakes procured from Queen Mary in Jamestown, homemade tartar sauce, steamed green beans, cole slaw and WARM BROWNIES (because chocolate is so good on watch at night!)

Day 2

  • Herb-onion frittata (in addition to island-grown herbs, we have a bounty of spectacularly fresh eggs from St Helena, thanks to a generous resident, who has chickens with names like Omelet and Souffle and Bearnaise!)
  • Chili bean, cheese and enchiladas
  • Seared yellowfin steaks (gorgeous fresh yellowfin tuna is a bargain in St Helena), curried carrots, cucumber salad, sushi rice

Day 3

  • Bullseye toast (egg cooked in the middle of a slice of bread)
  • Big green salad (gotta use up the last of the fresh lettuce)
  • Larb (Thai “salad” of minced pork with lots of cilantro and mint, in limey sauce), rice, breaded eggplant, carrot cake

Day 4

  • Granola (or, carrot cake!)
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches (courtesy of the kids. I’m not in the mood to cook)
  • Homemade hamburger helper (Niall craved pasta, and bulk; he made this with elbow macaroni, ground beef, in a cheesy-creamy sauce)


  • Breakfast burritos: bacon, eggs, cheese, and onion. Because nothing says landfall like bacon.

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14 Responses to Passage notes: St Helena to Ascension

  1. Bruce&Anne Stewart March 30, 2016 at 2:05 pm #

    Yet another impressive passage menu Behan. Most people don’t eat that well living at home (on land)!

    • Behan March 30, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

      I guess my advantage is…more time! Have a few handicaps on execution, though.

  2. Dan Haas March 30, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

    Another great blog entry, Behan!
    Thanks for “taking us along.”

    I’m really liking the galley notes as much as the weather and visuals and chart plotting strategy. Your descriptive writing is excellent, as is your family adventure!

    • Behan March 30, 2016 at 2:57 pm #

      thank you Dan – it’s my pleasure!

    • Behan April 2, 2016 at 11:51 am #

      thank YOU dan for taking the time to let me know!

  3. Kristen March 30, 2016 at 3:56 pm #

    I loved reading this! And now I’m hungry.

  4. Brandon Ford March 30, 2016 at 7:03 pm #

    Bulls eye toast, yet another name for one of my favorites. We called them sheepherder’s sandwich growing up and my wife’s family called it egg in a basket, which was my preferred name until I heard bulls eye toast.

    • Behan April 2, 2016 at 11:51 am #

      We called it toad-in-a-hole (actually something else entirely, not sure how that stuck) until learning bullseye toast, which just seemed so much more apt!

      • Judy Hildebrand April 6, 2016 at 3:28 pm #

        Ha Ha and I call it Egg in the Hole….I like Bullseye Toast, however. Could be my new name. Whatever you call it, it’s one of my favorite ways to have eggs and toast whether on land or sea. 🙂

        Judy H

  5. Deb Perfitt March 30, 2016 at 10:01 pm #

    Most people don’t realize how difficult it can be to make menus for passage that are interesting, varied, healthy, and delicious but not having the same old thing too often. You have made this look easy dispite the effort it take to prepare underway, use the ingredients available that your family will eat and make. Kudos to you on all aspects of menu planning. Could there be a “Vittles on Passage” book on the horizon??

    • Behan April 2, 2016 at 11:44 am #

      Thanks Deb- I think it may get a lot less interesting/varied/healthy/yummy on the passage ahead. Three weeks at sea and nothing but potatoes and onions to provision with in Ascension! Will see if we can get creative. Not a cookbook writer though – will leave that to Carolyn & Jan and the awesome Boat Galley cookbook!

  6. Colin & Lauren Streeter March 31, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

    Hey Behan
    Just wanted to congratulate you on such an impressive site in terms of writing quality, photos and layout. We will probably be sailing across the Indian and Atlantic to the Caribbean next year from Brisbane in 2007/8 so have been following your site for a while along with many others. Of them all, particularly the non-video based ones, your stands out to us as the most interesting, factual, best quality & scene choice of photos,website layout and the one we always look forward to opening each time you post. Well done, safe travels and God Bless you all. Colin & Lauren Streeter, Amel 53, Island Pearl II, Brisbane Australia

    • Behan April 2, 2016 at 11:41 am #

      Thank you so much Colin & Lauren, for the kind words and for taking the time to let me know you’re enjoying the blog! Sounds like you have some great adventures ahead too.

  7. Kia April 5, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    Always wonderful to travel with you, even if not side by side for awhile. If ever on passage together I now know that I will have to rig a passing line so that we can indulge in your feast with you. Passage meals on Atea could never compete!

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