Wednesday

So its Wednesday afternoon and I sit, still on board the RMS, it has been a very long week, and the longest day maybe of my life, watching a clock tick by hoping that at some time soon Captain Rodney will announce that the winds have dropped sufficiently to allow us into Cape Town Port. Since Monday, and my last blog, the waves picked up considerably, slowing our journey and making our arrival in Cape Town very late. Immigration was closed, and we were told that an extra night on board the RMS would be the result. Bad news got worse as we were then told that high winds had closed the port to all traffic, and that, looking at the forecast it would be sometime around midday that we would be able to get onto dry land.

Alas even that claim was optimistic, and so it is that I sit, at 4.30pm, still doing circles out in Table Bay. Our flight will be missed, and it wont be until Friday, two days late, that we will eventually take our flights to London. The RMS is a long journey at the best of time, mentally an extra day feels like an eternity and the day has been a mix of long drawn out periods staring blankly, games of cards, and a good deal of TV. At one stage, two of our fellow travellers were engaged in a game of Guess Who, and, such was the boredom on board, were watched intently by five adults, awaiting the result of the hotly fort contest.

We are lucky to have on board Colin Owen, Financial Secretary for St Helena who has been in touch with St Helena Governments HR to re-arrange our flights. Others, have not been so lucky, missing flights, connections and starts of holidays. The Days now need an expensive taxi journey to catch up with holiday companions. Although the journey has been long, our spirits have been lifted by the ever staggering sight of Cape Town, sat under Table Mountain with its table cloth of white cloud flowing down the slopes. We are saddened that our time at home has been cut short, but must make the most of the circumstances and enjoy an extra night and day in the wonderful city of Cape Town.

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Robin Island, Table Bay at Sunset

Oliver and Charlie have behaved impeccably, I have been astounded at how well they have played and entertained themselves. The children have all provided each other with entertainment and companionship and have found an endless array of games to play and ways to keep themselves amused.

After spending the night in the bay, we woke to see Cable Mountain, clocked in its white table cloth. Cape Town really is a stunning city.

After spending the night in the bay, we woke to see Cable Mountain, cloaked in its white table cloth. Cape Town really is a stunning city. Click on the image to zoom in and see it in full detail.

As I type, the piolet has just boarded the vessel to take us into Port. I am reliably informed we have around an hours journey time left, a welcome relief that our seven day journey is nearly at an end. The journey has not all been bad, I have cemented old friendships, and made new. We shared our journey and dining table with a Sailor of World renowned, and heard tales of round the World Trips and trans-Atlantic rowing from a man who holds once held a World Record for rowing the Atlantic single handedly. Both Oliver and Charlie are now set on being sailors when they grow up.

RMS St Helena Part Two!

So we are back where it all began, on board the RMS St Helena, only this time we travel South East, across the Atlantic Ocean for five nights heading to Cape Town. The RMS has not changed, but the journey has. We sit not full of excitement and trepidation, but instead contentment and a little sadness at leaving our Island home, albeit for just a few weeks. The ship does not chatter with talk of St Helena and what lies ahead, there is no advice to be given from experienced hands, but instead there are good friends, comfortable in each other’s company having built strong relationships for the past 10 months.

Passing through customs at the Wharf we had to board a bus to travel 100yrds which are now very familiar to us. It seems ridiculous that we cant walk down the wharf considering the number of hours we have spent down there swimming off it. We stand on deck looking back at Jamestown for a significant delay in departure. This gave those people leaving the Island for good the opportunity for one last look at their soon to be former home. We were also treated to our first Humpback Whale sighting of the year, jumping and leaping and breaching over and over. A really special moment before we leave.

On board with us are twenty eight children, making life easier for parents given company and play friends, but I suspect distinctly less comfortable for the other adults on board. Our Captain is once again Rodney Young, an affable Saint who has been crossing the Atlantic for many years. His manor makes one feel assured and taken care of, and he has a knack of remembering faces and people. Captain Cocktails in the lounge provided me the rare opportunity to don my suit and tie, although it didn’t last long. Rodney tells me he has been reading my blog, and recommending it to passengers, high praise indeed.

The RMS remains a wonderful experience, a throwback to bye gone days, only this time round it is even more appreciated, the exuberance of food and drink being particularly welcome given the relative lack of variety on St Helena. I have drank my first pint of beer in ten months, and although not top of my list of beers a refreshing Heineken has been very welcome, as has the selection of cheeses!! As I write I look forward to the final night aboard, to include an afternoon nap, (making up for my 3am poker game last night) and the final round of the on board quiz, where our team, “What do points make” sit in a comfortable position just off the leaders.

Will I be sad to leave the ship? Less so than before would be the answer although once more I feel as though an extended family has been created on board, and I have enjoyed the company of old and new friends and learnt once more that people should be given a chance, and that quick judgement should never be made. It is wonderful also to see the children playing together and forming their own friendships. Saint, South African, Brit and Swedes, there is no thought to colour or creed, just to fun and friendship. Oliver and Charlie have grown enormously over the past ten months, able to make friends and socially comfortable. During our last journey, Oliver had to be pressed to take part in anything, and most of the activities found him watching from the sidelines. This past week however has seen him first in line to sign up for anything, competing against his peers in everything from deck quoites to tug o war

The crossing has, in the main, been reasonably smooth at the time of writing, although our first afternoon was pretty rough leading to a que of people outside of the ships doctor all looking for a bum numbing injection to calm the sea sickness. I was one of the lucky ones, seemingly not suffering. Although since that afternoon the crossing has been easy going, the predicted change in sea conditions has now arrived and as I write the ship is being buffeted by large waves and has entered into a washing machine movement rotating left and right, up and down like a corkscrew. Having been largely lucky to avoid any sea sickness until now, I can feel my stomach churning, the combination of movement and four days of over indulgence of rich food and beer now taking its toll.

Our last day aboard also turns my attention to island friends who are travelling on the RMS for the last time. Having waved god bye to several lovely people and families already, the departing of the Days from St Helena is difficult for us, we will miss them greatly, as will Oliver and Charlie. But at the same time we look forward to our return in a few weeks, meeting the next wave of people who will come to St Helena to start their own adventures.

The RMS is important; of course it provides the vital life line, supplying the Island with everything from water to food. But it also provides a transition period, five days to leave St Helena and prepare oneself for the change of Worlds, which ever direction you are travelling. To leave or arrive on St Helena on a plane, whilst undoubtedly convenient, almost seems daunting, leaving the peace and comfort of the Island to arrive in London in less than eleven hours. The countdown has begun for the RMS, a clock shows the number of days until her decommission, which currently shows 361, just under a year from now the last remaining Royal Mail Ship will be no more. What will become of here? No one yet knows, a floating hotel has been one suggestion although this seems to present more challenges than solutions. The RMS serves a unique function, carrying both passengers and cargo and it is difficult to see where else this exacting requirement lies. She does not carry enough passengers to become a passenger cruise ship, and nor is her cargo capacity able to match a dedicated cargo ship, making her an expensive option to transport goods.

There is a strong will to find this wonderful ship a permanent home, but whether that will can be married with a practical and cost effective solution is, in my view, unlikely and sadly I can see here being consigned to a considerable scrap value. It is with great pride that I am able to say I travelled on board the RMS St Helena, the last of her kind.

All Change

Winter has arrived in earnest here on St Helena, for what seemed like a biblical time span the Island was soaked with continual misty rain and low hanging cloud. Much to the delight of our utilities supplier, Connect, the solid downpours have raised water levels and averted a water shortage. The Island took on a different atmosphere for a while, cloud hung to the peaks and ridges forming a permanent barrier to the sun. The acclimatised Saint in me is cold, the Brit in me is still wearing shorts and determined that 15C is still warm weather and nothing to whine about. When we arrive on St Helena in August last year we arrived to similar temperatures, and I was ashamed at the ex-pats who were complaining about the cold weather, having got used to months of 26C plus however, this sudden drop in temperature has come as a surprise. It has been compounded by our house move, as we have once again uprooted and moved house. Oliver, at seven years of age is now on his eight home as we packed up and moved across the Island to the wonderfully named, Alarm Forest. We have also moved up in the world, and our home sits around 500m altitude, and is on the cold side of St Helena. This move coupled with the cooler weather has meant a drop in temperature in the evenings of around 10C and we sit wrapped in blankets on our new and distinctly chilly leather sofa’s.

I insist on wearing shorts and have now set myself the goal of going a full 12months wearing shorts every day, something that will no doubt be put to the test as we return to the UK in a few days time. We had decided to hold Oliver’s Birthday party in our new home, it is well suited with a large garden and huge front room that is not less than 42ft long. This had forced us to empty boxes and sort the house out in double quick time and just three days after moving we were all settled in.

Our new home is lovely, and old Saint house, possibly over a hundred years old, made of stone walls some 2ft thick. A large grass lawn opens out to simply stunning views across the North of the Island, Jamestown, Ruperts Valley and the peaks of Flagstaff are all clearly visible, as is St Helena first airport beacon, a red light sat high on the Barn as a symbol of the change that is about to hit all of St Helena. Although a little colder now, it promises to be an ideal place for most of the year and I cant wait to enter into Spring and Summer in a few weeks time.IMG_1877-Pano IMG_1870-Pano IMG_1868

Of course winter also brings the football season, and Oliver and I now have a team, as I was in the UK I am now coaching my own little group of Steven Gerrards. Oliver is loving his first taste of competitive football, and by all accounts is doing ok, scoring a few goals in his first few games and with a good sense of positioning and space for a seven year old. Our first match was reminiscent of British football, cold grey and wet, with parents huddled into their thick jackets hurling instructions and encouragement to their bewildered looking children. Bev, previously critical of such competitive behaviour found herself admitting, “you just cant help but get excited and shout at them”.

With the change in seasons comes a change in the Wildlife as the Humpback Whales return to ST Helena to calve and feed their young. We caught our first glimpse of these majestic animals whilst at the beach at Ruperts Bay, the weather having taken a turn for the better in the last week or so. This spotting prompted our first boat trip of the season and although we didn’t see the whales, we were treated to a large pod of Dolphins.

James Bay itself is busy at the moment as ships from the Ministry of Defence arrive in town to extract oil from the sunken wreck the Darkdale. It was Torpedoed off St Helena on the 22nd October 1941 and now lies as a top diving attraction some 30meters below the waves. Ceri Samson writes about the history of the ship here, and there are plenty of other sites with historical information on the ship formally known as Empire Oil,  so I wont go into it on my pages, but suffice to say the bay is busy and the MoD diving crew has caused something of a stir with the ladies during their stay on St Helena, like I said, St Helena has a way of making celebrities out of people.

 

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Please click on this photo and zoom in to see the detail and the ships in James Bay

We rapidly approach the end of our first year on St Helena, and on Thursday this week we will board the RMS St Helena for our five day journey across the Atlantic to Cape Town. I approach this journey with mixed emotions, joy of course at seeing family and old friends, but tempered by the fact this journey heralds the half way point, we count down from here. It feels all the more poignant as the Days, a wonderful family and friend who featured heavily in our story will travel with us on the RMS for the last time. We met the Days on board the RMS last as they returned from their own mid-term break, it seems fitting that we journey with them as we reach half way and their own St Helena story comes to an end. I wonder who will be aboard the RMS when we return in August, who will we introduce to the Island, I wonder if they will have read my blog.

 

I wonder too what I will be doing upon our return. Charlie starts main school for the first time, giving me full days to fill. There is lots of opportunities on the horizon for me, but none are yet certain it is a time of unknowns.

 

It is also a time to look back, on our first 12 months living on St Helena. What have I learnt, what have I achieved, have I changed?

 

I have changed, I have changed for the better, I am more sociable, and it turns out Ive learned to like people, and that conversation with others is to be cherished and enjoyed, and not seen as an inconvenience. I have learnt to appreciate things in life, to enjoy simple pleasures, and although we are by no means deprived, I have learnt that there are many material goods in this world we simply don’t need. Have I become more patient? in some ways yes, I don’t expect my goods to arrive from Amazon the next day, and waiting an hour for food in a restaurant is to be expected and in some regards enjoyed, but I still loath waiting in queue and have not quite got used to sitting in my car waiting for other drivers to finish their conversation in the road!

 

I have learnt not to judge, on appearances, on rumours, or on first impressions. I have learnt that people should be given a chance, and that first impressions are almost always wrong, I have discovered good friends in people that I wouldn’t have given the time to get to know in my past. I have learnt to say hello, to speak to people, and to listen (although I still can’t remember names).

 

I have accomplished a great deal, from starting out feeling lost, with no purpose or meaning to my time here, I have developed a successful photography and design business. I have built the business up through word of mouth and good service. I have learnt to dive, and will soon start my rescue divers course. I have learnt things about myself, some good, some bad. I have learnt that I am more needy than I realised, and yet I have learnt that I overcome dark times and low emotions and come out stronger.

 

Am I closer to Charlie and Oliver, yes, although it has not come as easily as I had hoped. I have come to admire them, and be proud of their achievements. They have taken everything in their strides, made friends and adapted so very well to their new lives, better than perhaps their Dad when we first arrived.  Have I become a house husband, no, I have learnt that I simply could not be. But I have learnt also that there is a balance to be found, and that having the love and admiration of my children, is more important than the love and admiration of anyone else, apart from my wife, who continues to hold me up when Im weak and push me further when Im strong.  I have learnt also the things I still need to work on, the things I need to improve to be a better father, to provide Charlie and Oliver with good guidance and not just firm guidance. Maybe the next twelve months can help me get there.

 

As I sit here now, I cannot picture myself in the UK, it seems a strange and alien place and as far away from St Helena as the journey we are about to take suggests. St Helena is in me, it is part of me now and I hope that I am part of it. And yet I fear that once we get back to the UK, it will be all too familiar.  We will arrive at Heathrow and drive for four hours, when my longest drive for 11 months has been twenty minutes. There will be more people in the airport than I have seen for nearly a year and I will be annoyed with most of them. They will not wave at me, nor say hello, just because Im a fellow human being. Most will not even give me a glance. I will wave at people as we drive and they will think I am strange. I will have more options of food and drink than I will know what to do with, but I am  looking forward to a choice of beer!!!