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.