I have, on day four, started to re-appreciate the many charms of the Royal Mail Ship St Helena. Last night I took part in a “Fancy Hat” competition. Not normally one to take part in such events the prospect of a £5 reward simply for wrapping some paper around my head was too great a reward to pass up.
Saints have a remarkable capacity for sitting, just sitting, during the five night voyage, and many continue to confine themselves to their cabins for almost the entire duration. Despite this, a fancy hat competition it seems draws them out and the main lounge was packed out with onlookers. A parade of hats, and the declaring of “Everyone’s a winner” was followed by silly party games, I retire with my dignity only partly intact after one or two beers too many!
Of course last night saw the start of the RMS quiz, during which only a badly timed, point doubling joker prevented team Bernie and Rob (so called after the two members who defected) from taking the first round.
Cricket this morning saw “The Saints” some what demolish “The Rest of the World” team. I have the bruises to show for it as I fearlessly and selflessly threw myself in front of well hit balls of twine. Despite the best efforts of our team motivator Bernie, we lost 135 runs to 91.
Despite all this, and the genuine improvement in my mood I have begun to contemplate and reflect on the leaving of St Helena in a new way. Up until three days ago I lived on one of the most remote, inhabited Islands on earth. A place that takes a five day sea voyage to reach. I lived on an Island that many have not even heard of , with a unique story of history and discovery, where animals and plants found no-where else on earth can be found. Until three days ago I swam with Whale Sharks or dived with Devil rays before dinner. Until three days ago I was unique and special. But as we pass the the two thirds (67%) mark of my journey I am no longer unique. I return to society, to the norm. When I pass people in the street they will not wave or say hello. When I tell people where I live they will simply believe me, instead of looking at me in disbelief, my home address will have a house number and street name, when I say where I live it will be of no consequence at all.
And as for St Helena she will carry on without me, her people will wave and smile at others. New people will come in and make their own temporary mark as my own impact will fade. Despite words of kindness of the difference I have made and the impression I have left I will soon disappear from peoples conciousness initially fading to memory before being dropped completely.
In my isolation however, whilst I may no longer be a part of St Helena, she will always be a part of me. Her beauty and isolation, her rugged cliffs and green peaks, and her people most of all will forever be in my heart and soul.
The Royal Mail Ship St Helena.
Its my last day aboard the RMS, tomorrow at 8am we will arrive in Cape Town and shortly afterwards I will step ashore and leave the life I have known for nearly three years behind.
This has been a tricky voyage for me, for many reasons, some of which I care not to mention. The combination of marking my final goodbye and not having my family by my side to share it with has led to a journey full of sadness for me.
But as the days have gone by the ship has inevitably sucked me in. Today, St Helena day, marks the 515 anniversary of the Islands discovery and special celebrations on deck have included a crazy morning of “sports”. Most events were either humiliating, wet and messy or both. It was well attended and I was pleased to take part and have a bit of a laugh. My quiz team, Bernie and Rob has been renamed Barney and Bob thanks to the consistent mispronunciation of Bernie and Rob name’s. We enter the final round tonight, lagging behind, Im not holding out for much although we are still with an outside chance.
Of course the RMS should of been of of service and decommissioned some 12 months ago and my final departure should of been on a plane. Despite my troubles I am, in the end, glad that it wasn’t, and had had the opportunity to have one last voyage aboard this unique vessel. The RMS is special and has a hold over most people who sail on her.
The RMS is a through back in time, Cricket on the deck, traditional furnishings and fine dining. Time is spent in a leisurely way, sunbathing on the deck, reading, or enjoying a glass of wine or cold beer with good company. The RMS does not claim to be the hight of luxury, or at the cutting edge of modern transport, she is leisurely, making her way steadily across the Atlantic time and again. Everyone aboard the RMS has a story to tell, everyone has a reason for being there, not just that they are on holiday, but an adventure, or starting or finishing a way of life, or perhaps a medical evacuation or return for treatment the people aboard, make the journey.
The staff are second to none, nothing is too much trouble and each and every one of them makes you feel like you are part of their family. Travel once and they will remember your name.
Travelling on the ship also gives a sense of its importance to the Island. It is the heartbeat of St Helena, the passage of time is marker by her arrival and departure. Everyone and everything on the Island has been aboard. In the days following her arrival shops of full of new stock, slowly dwindling down as time passes and her next arrival is eagerly awaited. When the RMS is in port, shops and bars often open longer, or just open where they don’t normally, she is a powerful kick start to the Island each time she arrives. I wonder how this pulsating way of life, dictated by the Rhythm of the RMS will change once she is finally replaced by a weekly flight. People will arrive every week, good every 6 weeks on another ship. As someone who travelled to the Island to start a new life, the RMS is a wonderful introduction to the pace of life, the people and of course to those whom would become good friends. Arriving on a plane will not give time for ex-pat workers to integrate and make friends with Saints before they arrive, how will this affect the mixing and community spirit of the Island, will the divide between Saint and Ex-pats become wider? Only time will tell.
Tomorrow I will awake early to watch Cape Town come into view. The RMS is an extension of the Island and it is not until I step onto land that I will of truly left behind St Helena’s special charm. Some 100,000 words after I wrote my first ever blog post I am writing the last words on “St Helena”. I will continue my blog for some time to come, to record the emotions and adjustments to be made coming back to the real world. But for now I wish to say thank you. Thank you Saint Helena, to the many people who have touched my life and crossed my path. To those I have photographed, bought food from, laughed and drank with, to those I have dived with and worked with. Thank you to you all.
It is time for me to move on now. I shall return one day, no doubt by plane. I will see changes I’m sure, but fundamentally St Helena will be the same, its people will ensure it. Until such time as I touch down on runway 20 HLE airport I bid you goodbye and I take with me memories that will last a lifetime.