Moving On the RMS St Helena

Moving On

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._MG_8878

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.

Goodbye

St Helena disappeared from view a few hours ago and with it goes my Atlantic Adventure, those words in themselves are very difficult to write. I flit from holding it together when in company to tears of sadness when alone, a strange emptiness fills me that is hard to describe. I hope that writing will, as it has done before, prove therapeutic, but at present it is hard.


For several weeks I’ve thought about travelling on the RMS without the boys, sad to be leaving but looking forward to the freedom. But as I sit here now I just wish I didn’t have time to write because Charlie is bored, or Oliver wants to show me a passing tropic bird.
It feels so very wrong and incomplete to be leaving without my boys and of course Bev. We have lived, loved, cried and shared every second of this journey and leaving them behind is the hardest thing I have ever had to do

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My last Panorama of St Helena

The day started in usual RMS fashion, a wake of departing at the coffee shop, only this time the wake was in my honour. So many times before I have hugged and kissed goodbye to people from those wooden benches, now, it was my turn.
So many friends turned out and I forgot to take any photos of people. As we reached 8.50 I couldn’t take any more and I had to leave, I couldn’t sit chatting any longer. Running round saying goodbyes to a host of people it was so difficult but I kept my composure to the last.
Ian Johnson and Lisa Rhodes tested me. Two very good friends who’m I have shared so many laughs and memories with. Susie Nixon then broke me. Susie, a kiwi, was with us on day one of our journey, booked into the Commodore hotel in Cape Town a life time ago. Saying goodbye was hard, very hard.
As I turned to say goodbye to Paul and Jenna Bridgewater I couldn’t speak. I had nothing I could say that would do justice to how I felt saying goodbye to them. Paul and Jen and at the time baby Myles, were also with us from the start, sat on our dinning table on the RMS as we set sail for St Helena and a new life nearly three years ago. I will never forget how nervous and insecure they appeared as they started a journey into the unknown, and how incredibly brave I thought they were to be doing it with a young toddler, just finding his feet.
As we sat for dinner that first night Jenna asked “so do you believe in the Loch Ness monster?” and with that wonderful opening line began a lifelong friendship.
I’m sure, as my last journey across the Atlantic progresses I will come to reflect and take positive stock, looking forward to the next adventure. But as I sit here now, just woken from my mid afternoon sleep (my RMS tradition) I’m heartbroken and empty. I genuinely cant believe that I’m writing the last pages of my blog. I had always continued to write well past our departure but as I hear the familiar dinner time jangle of the RMS I wonder whether to continue writing will just be too difficult.

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Soon we are far enough away that the whole Island fits into a single frame shot

Day 2

Day two on the RMS has felt long. Although I’ve always though Id enjoy a journey without the boys, it turns out that without them the ship feels empty and quiet. The passage feels long and I don’t want to be here.
In reality the ship is very quiet. Two friends are with me and a handful if familiar faces, but the majority are strangers to me, and I have no wish nor need to change that. My usual need to make new friends, or pass on knowledge or advice to tourists has gone. I am heading away from St Helena, not to it, tourists don’t need my travel tips and the rest I will never see again.
My previous journeys have felt homely and comforting, this is neither. I don’t need nor want time to think and contemplate. I need to be in Plymouth starting work, to distract me and take me from my dark mood. Far from comforting the RMS feels like a slow prolonged wake, five days to say goodbye, I dearly wish that airport had opened.

Splendid Isolation?

The past two weeks I have started the process of coming to terms with my imminent (maybe) departure from this wonderful Island. Were we to stay longer we would be delaying the inevitable, many of our friends would of left, and both mine and Bevs work skills would be in decline, now is the right time to go, and Im at ease with it.

That’s not to say I wont miss the place nor that leaving wont be traumatic and upsetting. Last night we had dinner at a friends house, the Gonsavles’s, who, through a strange twist of events which I shall discuss later are leaving tomorrow, rather unexpectedly. This meant a great night of food and booze, ended by tears all round as we said good bye to two of our greatest friends, not just on St Helena but anywhere, they will be back, we will not.

The past two weeks have not been helped with a degree of uncertainty over the functioning of the RMS St Helena, our lifeline to the outside world, which had been in dry dock for two weeks with essential repairs to the starboard (I think) propeller. Following the cancellation of voyage 255 it was with some relief that I welcomed the news that the repairs had been successful and that the ship was on its way to Cape Town to collect passengers and cargo bound for St Helena, my 15th May start date at the National Marine Aquarium was looking good. Good that is until the ship promptly broke again with rumor of seals not sealed and an official announcement stating that one of the engines was stuck in full forward and had to be shut down.

The RMS is currently in Cape Town, whilst passengers shore side are hurriedly moved into hotels, unsure of how they will get to St Helena, and those of us Island side unsure of how we will get off. To make matters worse, Ascension Island government announced that the RAF runway was closed due to the unsafe condition of the Tarmac. As I speak there are around 800 people stranded on Ascension Island, 140 or so in Cape Town, a good number in the Falklands and of course those of us on St Helena who have no idea how or when we might be travelling.

So what’s the significance of Ascension. Well St Helena has an airport that could, in theory, be used by small planes to bridge the gap until the RMS is fixed. However, any plane travelling anywhere must be able to reach the nearest other available airport in case of emergency. Up until three days ago, for St Helena, this was Ascension, now its not, and the nearest functioning airport is somewhere on the West coast of Africa, 1800 miles away!

The significance for me is that I won’t make my 15th May start date, nor, when I do get to the UK will I have my planned time with family that I haven’t seen for almost a year, I will have to start work immediately. Things have been made worse by this all landing on the Easter Bank Holiday Weekend making it difficult, however we have been assured that Saint Helena Government and others are doing everything they can to assess the problems with the ship and asses other options for transporting people and goods on and off the Island, be in on small aircraft or by another vessel, somehow, I’m sure I will get home, and hopefully not too delayed.

It is the first time I have felt Isolated on St Helena. We are reminded all the time through tourism and social media, and when looking out of the window that we are indeed a very small dot in a very vast ocean, but it has never concerned me. The RMS turns up reliably and we have never had any concerns. Only now, as I ready myself to leave the Island, and find that maybe I cant does it hit home just how reliant we are on the one ageing Royal Mail ship and as I look out of my window the Atlantic Ocean ahead of me feels just that bit bigger.

In the mean time we make the most of our last few weeks on the Island. Having already had  my leaving jolly boys outing, my last (or not) card game, the Tyson’s “Bring and Bye” and goodbye dinner with the Bridgewater’s, I am racking up the leaving do’s and still have some planned. I have also missed a few weeks of diving but have managed to plan a few and on Saturday spent over an hour with the marvelous animal you can see below. Punctuate that with a stag do and my first game of golf on the Island and as per usual I have been pretty busy.

The highlight of our “lasts” has been our last walk to Lots Wife ponds, this time with a bunch of nobbers in tow. The scenery of Sandy Bay, trekking through the gates of chaos and along the coastline across narrow paths with shear drops is both staggeringly beautiful and a little nerve wracking. Like no where else on the Island you are immersed in Grand Canyon like orange escarpments, sharp ridges and deep, steep valleys. As the sun beats down heat waves rise from the ground, causing more than a little exhaustion for some of the group.

 

The reward at the end of the trek, once the vertical rope lined drop is navigated, are the ponds, beautiful turquoise crystal clear pools, cut off from the raging Atlantic beyond by a steep volcanic rock wall. The water in the pools is warm, and very salty and the experience feels very tropical as five finger fish dart around and bright red and yellow crabs cling to the rock walls of the ponds.

After a few hours, some swimming, photos, sandwiches and a beer the trek back beckoned and before I knew it my last walk to Lots Wife Ponds was done. Its hard to know what or how to feel right now. One moment I am all set for a 27th April departure, now I don’t know when Im going.

This morning my first port of call was the Solomon’s shipping office to see if when and how I can leave St Helena and make my way to the UK, I am provisionally booked on the 17th May voyage to Cape Town, but there is no news as to whether this voyage will go ahead, or if indeed an alternative will be found before then. Whilst this probably sounds like a criticism of the powers at be, it is not. It’s a right mess they have found themselves in, two broken airports and a crocked old ship, but I have no doubt that people have been working round the clock to find potential solutions over the bank holiday weekend, and I’ve been impressed, on this occasion, at the regularity of communication. Having spent several hours this morning wandering round town, in a useless daze waiting from bread to appear in the local store, the current rumor is that the Queen Elizabeth Cruise ship may be made available for passengers to get to St Helena and for some to leave. If I leave the Island on a luxury cruise ship I wont be at all disappointed, if on the other hand I leave on the wonderful RMS I will be equally happy. Right now I’m still here, and until the point comes that I get on board something and wave good bye I shall just have to continue to enjoy this land of splendid Isolation.

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My quote featured in the Times this week!

Life

So we are now exactly 17 months into our journey and we have most definitely passed into a place where St Helena feels like home, and this feels like normal life. This time last year we had just experienced six months of whale watching, exploring our new home, walking, swimming diving and snorkelling with whale Sharks, in what felt like a working holiday, one of those volunteer type placements that students do in their gap year! But this year things are distinctly different, but no less brilliant. Life is more “normal” this summer. In fact we are still waiting for summer to arrive, it has been a very long and slow burn with St Helena’s wet, misty mild winter clinging on well past Christmas and into the New Year. The odd day of glorious sunshine arrives, heralding the start of months of sun, only to be wiped out by the evening by the next wave of fog rolling in from the Atlantic.

This has had its effect on our leisure activities, the usual snorkelling and sea swimming has been reduced, and I didn’t start diving until well into December this year as sea temperatures have been slow to rise apparently a result of the large El Nino effect this year. This has also had an effect on the Whale Sharks this year as we await our first swim with them. They have been around St Helena for some time, but only recently have they moved to the North Western, leeward side of the Island where swimming is safe.

Despite the weather we did manage a walk to Cox’s Battery under the magnificent gaze of the Barn.

This has all led us to think and appreciate the other elements to our life here, the general day to day living, the friendly meet and greet in the street and work, which, as far as work can ever be, is pretty great.

Bev introduced a new Marine O’level qualification ten months ago, not only was this a first for St Helena, it’s such a new qualification that it’s only the second year it’s been available anywhere in the World. It is great testament to Bev, and the students therefore that the recently released results read 100% pass, with 1 A*, 1B and 4 C’s. Fantastic result and if teachers are to be blamed when things go bad, there should damn well be some credit when things go well. Im so very proud of the positive impact Bev has made and continues to make on the Island and at Prince Andrew School.

As for me, my working days continue to be varied and interesting. Take last Friday, my day started with two hours of preparation for an online Air Traffic Control exam, the first step in a long process of my next potential dream career. My current dream career of professional photographer was next on the list as I spent a very enjoyable few hours at Rosemary Plain Coffee Plantation where one of the World’s rarest, best and most expensive coffees are grown. I have a new job toSt Helena Coffee produce photos that will potentially be used for point of sale imagery in Harrods, London! I then came home and did further work on some tourist interpretive signage that will soon be erected around the Island. This has been a fantastic job incorporating my photography, my design and much of my text and research that will hopefully be enjoyed by tourists long after I have left St Helena.

Next up was domestic duties as I prepared home-made Carrot and Coriander soup for Bev, nothing better than home cooked dinner when you get home from work as I do my best to juggle my almost full time work with being domestic Dad. This was followed by building another den for the boys who were looking forward to having a friend for a sleep over that night. I feel generally quite proud with how I balance things, there is no doubt that since I have picked up more and more work, the house is less and less clean and tidy, and granted I still struggle with the children and finding enough time for them, but overall Im doing ok at it all.

 

We were very proud of Oliver last weekend as he embarked on his first camping trip with the Local Beavers and Scouts. And what a weekend it was, as we drove to the campsite across the Islands central ridge, the journey to the end of the World sprang to mind as we drive through fog so thick I could barely see the end of the car, never mind the road. As we descended from the ridge the fog thinned and visibility increased to a positively clear 20m or so. We arrived at the camp site, an area called Thompson wood, which, under different circumstances I imagine very beautiful, but today it reminded me of summer holidays in the Lake District. Wet, cold muddy and really not inviting. Oliver was undeterred and although nervous he ran off with his friends, leaving me and Charlie to try and get the car out of the quagmire! Oliver spent two nights on camp, sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor, eating food they had made and cooked on a log fire, running around a muddy field and playing with friends. He came home in the same clothes I left him in, having not changed out of them even once, he smelt bad and his hair was disgusting, but he absolutely loved it! Considering we were over four thousand miles from the UK, this was camping UK style, in a way that only Brits can, or would even consider doing!

This last weekend has seen a return to the life we remembered from last summer on St Helena. On Saturday we celebrated Charlie’s 5th Birthday with a barbeque, swimming and water sports fun in Ruperts Valley. Charlie, having had his first taste on Jet Ski’s a few weeks ago at Lemon Valley was desperate for another go, so we agreed to hire one of the local providers, Oceano Extreme. Jet Ski’s, knee boarding, banana boat rides and speed boats were the order of the day and fun was had by all. Back in the UK I’ve no doubt that Charlies 5th birthday would have been a party at soft play, or maybe at home with a bouncy castle, the fact that we can have a barbeque by the sea, swim and enjoy jet skis is just one of the normalities, and huge bonuses of life here.

Sunday started as a beautiful sunny day, and despite all being tired and feeling rather lazy we decided to clear off the hangover with a swim and snorkel in James Bay. As the waters have now warmed up a bit we plunged in and enjoyed the site of hundreds of butterfly fish, curious puffers and the ever present five fingers!

 

Despite all the positives, life on St Helena was brought into stark reality last week, as a baby, born prematurely needed to be medevacked off the Island. An incredible joint effort and community driven machine suddenly rolled into action. The RMS, on its way back from Ascension Island was hurried to arrive in port some 12 hours early. Containers were unloaded and loaded through the night, and travellers, due to depart on the 17th January were contacted and rushed to prepare for departure a full 24 hours early.  Tourists cut short their holidays, crew cut short their shore leave and volunteers and staff at the hospital worked tirelessly through the night and early morning to ensure that the young child was on board with all the necessary life support equipment for the journey.

It is with huge sadness that I tell you the poor boy did not make the journey and passed away on route to Walvis Bay, Namibia. I cannot begin to imagine the suffering of the poor parents, one of whom travelled whilst the other waited anxiously at home. There are many sides to the airport story on St Helena and whether it will bring improvements, and prosperity to the Island, or destroy a way of life and community, but I feel the community on St Helena is more than strong enough to survive a few more tourists and when events occur as they did last week it highlights the desperate need to be able to get patients to medical care quicker than is currently possible. The hospital here is undergoing a multi-million pound upgrade, the staff are nothing short of incredible, but it is a stark reality that a population of four thousand people can never have all of the specialist care and experience that a medical team in a major city hospital will have, and there will always be a need to get people to that care as quickly as possible. We wait with bated breath to hear when indeed that airport will be open and quicker passage is possible.

I leave today’s blog with the words of Lisa Rhodes, Hospital Senior Nursing Officer, all round incredible woman, and Im proud to say good friend. I recall a message from Lisa before she arrived here, the strictly London City girl incredibly nervous about how she would cope on such a small Island and close community, everyone knowing each other’s business. Lisa travelled with the patient to Walvis bay and was integral in the effort to get him there, she wrote to the local paper whilst on route to Walvis bay and here is what she had to say. For all the ups and downs on St Helena, the problems people face and the wonderful experiences we have had, this is what St Helena is all about, and anyone who has had the privilege of living and working here, experiencing life here will know this all too well.

“ I am sitting on the RMS at a bit of a loss for words with the events of the last week. Everyone involved in this situation is truly devastated and our hearts are breaking for two wonderful parents and their beautiful brave little boy.

In the midst of all this I feel I have a need to say thank you.

Thank you to all of the staff in the hospital, who, when faced with an emergency ensured that everything kept running smoothly. It is a testament to your knowledge and skill. This allowed those who were needed to be able to focus on the job in hand. I am so very proud of the amazing team we have become; Cleaners, Nursing Assistants, Nurses, Doctors, Kitchen staff, Admin staff, Pharmacy, Laboratory,…..the list goes on. We were faced with a situation that no one wanted to be in, but together we dealt with it. In a time of negativity and bad press towards the services, it needed to be highlighted that an outstanding job was done by all.

I need to thank all of those who stayed late and came in early to help organise the medivac effort. We could not have done this without the hard work and support of our Director and Assistant Director. A huge number of hours were put in across SHG to try and get a solution. To the guys who were at the hospital at 5am to help us move the huge amount of equipment needed for our journey, thank you for your patience and care with our equipment and our very precious cargo.

To the RMS and shipping for their help in getting into St Helena early, and allowing us to leave earlier than scheduled. The Captain and crew have been no less than outstanding throughout. To all the passengers who had to leave a day early, thank you. Thank you for accepting this change of plan with such grace and compassion and for being so supportive towards us all on this trip. To the staff on the wharf loading and unloading passengers at unusual hours so we could get away early….thank you.

It is once again a testament to the Island that in times of crisis and need, everyone steps up and stands together regardless of whether they are Saint, British, South African or from elsewhere on the globe. The team work that I witnessed throughout could not be matched anywhere in the World and I am so privileged to be part of this team and this Island.

No number of thank you’s will ever be enough to convey my gratitude”.

Lisa Rhodes. Hospital Nursing Officer.

The Light Fantastic.

Christmas must be round the corner because once again St Helena took to the street for the annual Festival of Lights. This relatively new event has become the highlight of the Christmas event calendar as half of St Helena’s population take to the streets to watch and participate in a parade through Jamestown . With the town dressed up like a huge moving Christmas tree the precision winds its way slowly down through the centre of town with floats, cars, bike, people, prams and pushchairs all kitted out with fairy lights.

This time last year we turned up with a pair of glow sticks each, in what turned out to be an embarrassingly poor show. This year we would not make that mistake again. I wore a total of 100 fairy lights, spiralled around my body from tip to toe. Bev donned blue lights around her boots and skirt, cleverly held in place with clothes pegs. And the boys had fairy lights around their heads and enjoyed their “light saber” flashing glow sticks.

As we strolled slowly through town, dancing to Christmas tunes played loudly from the backs of the floats we had Christmas snow fall on and around us as we watched the statue of liberty, and Air Traffic Control Tower and the RMS St Helena pass us by.

Saints community spirit embrace these events like no other and what is achieved on an Island where stuff is hard to get hold of is remarkable. A truly brilliant and inspiring night of fun, frolics and festivities. I can’t wait for the next one.

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.

Waiting for Summer

Our life on the Island continues, my new found routine is taking shape efficiently, cleaning and shopping. I have Island shopping down to a tee now, Thursdays are meat day along with a fresh vegetable basket, Mondays and Wednesdays bread, wonderful and incredible cheap Tuna available daily, eggs from our neighbour weekly, although inflation has set in and we now pay a full £1.20 for them. Given that food is less readily available it is a pleasant surprise that my diet has improved immeasurably since living on St Helena. The sporadic availability of fresh fruit and vegetables makes them somehow more appealing and my retirement allows for home cooked meals with the family, (including local dishes such as Pilau, pronounced “Plo”, a Paella type dish with Bacon and Pork) instead the processed radioactive decay of ready meals eaten hurriedly at varying points in the evening we experienced back home. Our meals are then generally followed up by home baked cakes or biscuits lovingly prepared by my wonderful wife. Oh the virtuous life we lead. So as not to worry friend and family too much at this stage I will add that I have found a source for English Pork Pies and my cupboard has several packets of pork scratchings which are rapidly diminishing in number.

A new friend round for tea.

A new friend round for tea.

The RMS continues to excite upon its arrival, bringing with it a glut of fresh fruit to the island, which inevitably is snapped up rapidly just days after it lands on the shop floor. To that end we have also set up a fruit order with a local shop, who, upon receiving their quota from the ship, will divide the fruit up and pre bag it for their list of waiting customers. When the RMS arrives from Cape Town, Thursday is the day when the town goes a little mental, for a few hours at least. Rumours can be heard of Strawberries available at the Queen Mary store, as shoppers busily hurry from one shop to another hoping to grab their slice of pie. Alas, I was too late at Queen Mary’s but soon heard that there may be a punnet or two left at the Victoria, rushing over I was delighted to pick up two punnets of strawberries and some overpriced blue berries. FruitCoupled with numerous Bananas, Mandarins, Oranges, and Apples I felt proud of a good days foraging like the hunter gatherer returning home with a rich bounty to feed his family. I hadn’t however accounted for the volume of food I would later collect on my regular afore mentioned fruit order which combined with our weekly vegetable order resulted in the largest quantity of fresh fruit and veg my eyes had ever seen in a household!

The RMS’s arrival this week also heralded the arrival of our meat order, a shipment of choice meats from South African to fill up our deep freeze. Such is the exuberance and low price, of meat from South Africa that we have used up the remaining fillet steak on our St Helena Beef Curry, essentially a traditional stew with curry powder, now made with choice Fillet Steak!

RMS in the  Bay 2 RMS in the Bay

My fitness continues to improve, shopping twice a week means more in one go, I now carry multiple bags of shopping, as the convenience of a supermarket and all under one roof approach has not yet reached St Helena, thankfully. Walking back to the car I remind myself of days gone by, trying to keep up with my own Mum, who would walk back from town with an impossible number of shopping bags with two children behind asking her to slow down. St Helena is, in many ways just like the UK twenty years ago, and, in many ways is all the better for it. I have reached a respectable time of 8 minutes 30 seconds to climb Jacobs Ladder, although I seem to have hit a block and getting below this is going to take more work, meaning my wife still leaves me behind when it comes to climbing stairs! I have however had more success with the now routine football warm up, cross bar challenge, hitting the bar at the full length of the five a side pitch with both right and left foot!

My new timetable of walking and bird tagging took a hit this week when I left my first competitive game of eleven aside football with a groin injury. Called up to local football team Axis, to play alongside my good friend Paul

The chap with my kit did not turn up until the second half, embarrassingly leaving me wearing a white vest over my red shirt to distinguish me from the opposition! Dad, I know you taught me not to stand with my hand on my hips but we had a break in play for an injury!

In action, photo courtesy of budding photographer, Oliver, my son.

In action, photo courtesy of budding photographer, Oliver, my son.

(Liverpudlian with whom we shared our RMS dining table) in a must win Semi Final against the Fugees. A close game saw us leading one nil as we reached mid-way through the second half. A demoralising equaliser by the Fugees was followed shortly after by a tackle on my right leg which pulled my groin into places it didn’t want to go. This left the Axis with ten men and soon enough we were 2-1 down. A gallant effort by the boys saw a late equaliser take the game to extra time and then penalties, with everything resting on it, sadly two spots kicks were missed and we went crashing out of the tournament! Despite my injury, and following a very tentative start to my first competitive game of football in seventeen years, I thoroughly enjoyed the match, sadly I must wait several months for the new season, but with my face on the footballing map I feel confident I can find a team for the new season.

This week saw us invited round to the Governor’s home, Plantation House for a traditional drinks reception, welcoming the new teachers and celebrating the retirement and  long services of some of St Helena’s finest and longest serving teachers, who, between the three of them have given over 110 years’ service to school children on the Island. A pleasant evening was made all the more enjoyable after Bev met with a surprise guest at the occasion. Following a mistake in the invitation, two holiday makers, on the Island for just eight days found themselves at the prestigious occasion, surrounded by councillors, government officials, distinguished guests and indeed Governor Capes himself. I only wish I could find out who’s invitation they had received, and whether, upon seeing an incorrect name they made any protestations at all, or just took their chances.

Prince Andrews School celebrated their 25 years Anniversary last week. Bev and the other new teachers took their place in a celebration, including a song that will last long in the memory of all those party to it. Words were spoken by the current and past Head Teachers. It seems despite continuing difficulties, the school has indeed made great progress over the past twenty five years, last year posting their greatest ever exam results. Going back twenty years presents an intriguing picture of a young boy Nicky, who, at just fifteen, with no formal training and having himself just completed his exams, started as the schools Physical Education teacher. Nicky now works on the Island doing an incredible job running the local extra curriculum youth club and sports association New Horizons, giving children on the Island sporting opportunities that were not open to himself twenty five years ago. The tireless work of New Horizons resulted in several of St Helena’s finest athletes representing their Island at this year’s commonwealth games in Glasgow, a first for this Island Nation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMKV5u2Jdkc

Oliver meets a new friend on our photo walk. I think it reminded him of our lovely dog Ned, whom we have had to leave in the good care of our parents. We miss him dearly.

Oliver meets a new friend on our photo walk. I think it reminded him of our lovely dog Ned, whom we have had to leave in the good care of our parents. We miss him dearly.

Our weekend was a less dramatic one than previous and I have no stories of gigantic marine mammals. Oliver and I joined a good sized group of photographers to join in with a worldwide event, Kelby’s Photo Walks. The timing however was such to encourage a good turnout, rather than to make for good photography, and whilst producing little in the way of good photos, I did enjoy good conversation and a pleasant walk with Oliver and the others.

View from High Noll Fort to Flag Staff showing the haul road built by Basil Read for the Airport. The St Helena tourist office have asked if I can provide some photographs so Ive developed a watermark and will be including their logo on some on my photos in the future.

View from High Noll Fort to Flag Staff showing the haul road built by Basil Read for the Airport. The St Helena tourist office have asked if I can provide some photographs so Ive developed a watermark and will be including their logo on some on my photos in the future.

Ladybird TextureBev and Charlie meanwhile went to walk Donkeys at the Islands donkey sanctuary. Once a vital part of the workforce, the donkeys are now retired and well cared for. Children are invited to walk and feed the donkeys at the weekend. Charlie however, through a combination of poor carrot feeding technique and a short sighted donkey, found his fingers being eaten along with the intended food. Much screaming ensued as the donkey sucked on Charlie’s hand, eventually releasing him after expert donkey whispering, and no shortage of wrestling from Mum. No harm was done other than mild psychological damage and no animals were harmed in the making of this drama.

Having finally managed to locate some children’s fishing nets on the Island, Oliver and Charlie were thrilled to be able to head back down to James Bay for a spot of rock pooling. But it was their Dad who triumphed, catching three fish and this impressive Sally Lightfoot Crab

Sally Lightoot Crab

Amazing Ascension Sally Lightfoot Crab. Very very quick and difficult to catch as they skip across the rocks

Charlie Saves Bev

Charlie Saves Bev from falling in!

Bev Meets Crab

“Bev meet crab, Crab meet Bev”

Oliver Rockpooling

Oliver getting stuck in

James Bay Rockpools Looking West

Looking West showing the Rock pools at James Bay

And so, in Mid-October we await Summer to start, having been made promises that it is just around the corner for what now seems like months. Being British, it will be of no surprise that I am fascinated by the weather, even more so given that the weather and climate on St Helena are as extraordinary as the Island itself. The only surprise is that it has not come up in my writings more frequently. The general theme of the weather has been grey and overcast, with frequent mist rolling down of the central peaks. Speaking to one local revealed that this mild, occasionally rainy, inclement weather of a rather chilly thirteen to sixteen degrees centigrade, is the “worst and longest winter in his living memory” of sixty plus years. Given that description, I am pleasantly surprised and uplifted, as I have still been in shorts most days. However we would now welcome in the endless days of Sunshine and warmth we have been promised, especially by Bev, who spends her days in the somewhat cooler climbs of Prince Andrew School at Francis Plain, just below the central peaks.

Francis Plane Prince Andrew School and Diana's Peak

Before embarking on our trip, I’d read many quite clearly exaggerated reports, of extreme variations in weather, both across time and distance upon the Island. I am now going to give one such example of, it turns out, a not such exaggerated account. In one day I recorded on my car thermometer a high of twenty eight degrees centigrade in the lower reaches of Jamestown, the sun was beaming down and all was well with the world. Just three hours later, and less than a mile away, when collecting Bev from the school, the very same thermometer read twelve degrees. The rain and wind sweeping across Francis Plain confirmed this to be true as we waited for Bev to run to the car, still wrapped tightly in the bright blue bubble jacket that she has had to wear in the classroom just to maintain warmth on a daily basis since our arrival. Given that I spend my days in shorts, and just a stones through away Bev requires a bubble jacket nicely describes how the weather varies across this tiny Island.

I am confident however that the last couple of days have seen a serious upturn in our weather. Half Tree Hollow has been baked in sunshine and the blue skies and newly defined horizon are joyous to behold. They also herald the arrival of clear night skies, and our first glimpse of the stars that we have so eagerly awaited. Officially one of the darkest places on earth, the night skies here are famous. First put on the global astronomy map back in 1676 by Edmund Halley who set up an observatory on the Island and made the first scientific mapping of the Southern Sky, they now offer a new opportunity for exploration for this year’s traveller. They also open up a new avenue for my photography and last night as I write provided the first chance to view and photograph the Milky Way.Night sky Milky Way St Helena Night sky at Half Tree Hollow St HelenaThe experience left me a little awestruck. Despite it being just 9.30 in the evening, and just yards from my well lit house and the relatively high light levels of Half Tree Hollow the night sky was, like most things I have observed on the Island, extraordinary. I now cannot wait to get to Diana Peak, in the dead of night to view some of the most mind blowing skies I am ever likely to see.

Come on in Summer, you are most welcome.

*Footnote.

It may be that I spoke too soon about the weather, Wednesday has seen some of the strongest driving wind and coldest temperatures we have seen. One local described it as “English Weather”!!!

A Saintly Life

Having lived on this incredible Island for a full three weeks  and  feeling as though I have been a resident for an age, I am now,  of course, an authority on the Island and its people!  With this in mind I thought it appropriate to dispel some myths, or at least misrepresentations, that I encountered before we travelled from the UK.

The Island is, without question dependant on financial grant in aid from the UK government, from UK tax payers. This is often portrayed as though the local Saints are reliant on hand-outs, in the same way that many people back home are reliant on our welfare system. You will read that the Island has no natural resources to speak of, no agriculture or productivity and that it is dependent on the UK taxpayer to “keep” people on the Island. I have even encountered comments to the effect that people should not be permitted to live here if they cant “fend for themselves” and should be deported from the Island. The extreme end of these views angered me in their narrow mindedness before I left the UK, and now leave me bewildered by the inaccuracy of portrayal and authority in which they are given with little or no regard to actual research of the truth.

Upon our arrival in Jamestown we came across this sign in the local gardens. Feeling perplexed as to why exactly one could not sit, or wander and generally linger doing nothing, in what seems like an obvious place for such behaviour. As it happens the locals agreed entirely and after a series of complaints this inexplicable sign has been removed!

Upon our arrival in Jamestown we came across this sign in the local gardens. Feeling perplexed as to why exactly one could not sit, or wander and generally linger doing nothing, in what seems like an obvious place for such behaviour. As it happens the locals agreed entirely and after a series of complaints this inexplicable sign has been removed!

Saint Helena is a UK Dependant Territory, arguments can be made as to what this means but essentially, it is, and has for most of its long history been part of the United Kingdom. The East India Trading company and later the UK government directly, stationed people on the Island. They brought African slaves, Chinese labours and other ethnic peoples from their homes and forced them to this isolated outpost of the empire. After generations on Saint Helena the people here are proud to be part of that United Kingdom (poignant given the pending referendum across the Scottish border), and yet in 2014 we should then abandon the Island and absolve ourselves of responsibility because the Island costs us money. Should we equally absolve ourselves of the burden of the unemployed, disabled, or infirm!

The people of the Island do not rely on hand-outs, they work, and dammed hard. Most Islanders have at least two jobs, unemployment is very low on St Helena but so are wages. Unfortunately though there is little export and much to import, therefore UK government grant in aid is provided to maintain government services, education, welfare etc. In order to generate capital, an Island, community or country must have something that others wish to buy and simultaneously must reduce its need to purchase goods from elsewhere, hence bringing money into the economy in greater quantities than it leaves.

The two exports remain tourism and fisheries, both of which are historically very small in scale. Recently, huge efforts are being put into expanding both of these commercial areas as well as developing  in new areas such as extremely successful enterprises in coffee production and products from the Islands unique distillery.  Agriculture is also being advanced and has increased by 355% since 2010/11, reducing the need to import foodstuffs from abroad. The private sector economy as a whole is on the rise, and, combined with localised food production helps to recycle capital brought to the island and reduces the leakage of wealth back to the UK or South Africa. Many of the Islanders have great entrepreneurial spirit and St Helena certainly provides opportunities a plenty for those prepared to invest time and money to fill the numerous niches that are available.

The Island suffers from lack of a competition in its service sector, only one supplier of water and electricity exists, ditto for communications and media. Whilst providing an excellent service, the result is artificially high prices, but attracting a competitor to supply, for example, electricity, to a customer base of little over four thousand people (approx 2000 homes) is neigh on impossible, and would in all likelihood require a foreign Service provider and hence increase money leakage to overseas shores.

Low wages, coupled with a lack of corporate or council tax largely due (as far as I can tell), to a historical lack of central service provision, results in very low income generation for local government. A cash economy exacerbates the problem with hidden or absent paper trails for those earning more than the tax threshold. Change is required with increased rates and new taxation required, but vicissitude of this kind is always painful and is sure to be met with resistance if indeed it is proposed.

Our weekend walks continue. This time to the beginning of the ridge of Mount Eternity although sense prevailed and we did not attempt it with a three year old in tow!

Our weekend walks continue. This time to the beginning of the ridge of Mount Eternity although sense prevailed and we did not attempt it with a three year old in tow!

I continue my slide toward domestication, today getting excited at finding a hessian shopping bag, and even venturing to a friend’s house for tea and “a chat” this week. Those of you who know me well will appreciate the only time I arrive for a chat is if it is preceded by a pint or two. Caroline, my host for the morning, is an adopted Scottish woman, who left her home in California twenty years ago to start a new life in Scotland. In her own words Scotland has only just caught up to where California was twenty years ago, and now she and her lovely family have stepped back in time a further twenty years to start a new life on St Helena.

My life on the Island has settled to a routine of taxiing, shopping, coffee, household chores and an undue amount of plumbing thanks to the requirements of a new dishwasher and the accident prone feet of my youngest.

It seems my awkward demands of one and a half sugars in my coffee, have led to a quick transition from new comer to regular, at the St Helena coffee shop, where one of  the world’s most expensive coffees, (excluding those defecated from various animals) is prepared for me before my arrival at the counter.My FamilyFor the first time in my life I have a pocket notebook, necessary for planning my foraging trips, recording names and numbers, and for penning memory jogging notes on subjects ranging from where to purchase sandals for Bev to Christmas presents for the boys. On Christmas I am gobsmacked to find myself thinking of the subject in early September, in stark contrast to my usual Christmas Eve panic. However with last postal orders to be made by mid-October, present procurement is something we must start to think about. Unlike us mere mortals Farther Christmas is not limited by the availability of the RMS! For any family reading this, my own Christmas list is short this year and consists simply of a Go Pro camera, or money for thereof.

The coffee house provides a regular spot to read the two local newspapers. On this small Island newspapers and the two local radio stations are vital sources of information for both saint and expat alike. And on the subject of radio I have become an avid follower of the BBC World Service, which I am certain places me on an equal echelon to those listeners of Radio Four! I shall be listening eagerly tomorrow as the results of the momentous vote in Scotland come in.

My polite waving reached a new peak this week when I found myself giving a casual, but friendly wave, to a cat!! This has made me reassess the sincerity of my automated hand twitching and I am beginning to discover that, although still very friendly and partial to a wave, it was myself as opposed to the locals who instigated said waving during each passing of a car, pedestrian or feline. Under the suspicion that some Islanders are perhaps a little fed up of the stupid British man who keeps waving at people they don’t know I have decided to hold fire in future until I see the first and instigating hints of movement from the hand of those passing by!

My wife continues to impress me, and I have become in

The My Nemeis Jacobs Ladder as seen at night. Bev shattered my time by a full two minutes and has left me questioning my manliness! I must beat her before we leave the Island!

The Descent down my Nemeis Jacobs Ladder as seen at night. Bev shattered my time by a full two minutes and has left me questioning my manliness! I must beat her before we leave the Island!

awe of her ability to developed her professional aptitude, instigate positive change in her department, dedicate herself to the care of her pupils and yet still maintain her position as number one Mum, the apple of her children’s eyes and the glue that holds the household and family together. Bev is now being asked to help raise standards and implement change in the Science department, and she seems to be happy with the challenge of this role, although we are both mindful of her main objectives of introducing Marine Biology to the school curriculum and hope that the opportunity to do this is forthcoming in the new year. Add to the above the fact that my wife tackled Jacobs Ladder, not just beating my time but knocking a full 2 minutes off my attempt with an unbelievable time of eight minutes eight seconds and a picture of a pretty incredible woman who fills me with pride emerges.

Exploring the Island further continues to leave me fascinated and often without words to describe the stunning scenery, diversity of landscape, fauna and climate. A sense of history pervades every turn, road, building and view point. Whether it be centuries old canons from shipwrecks washed up upon the shoreline, my gruelling walk up Jacobs ladder, World War Two gun garrisons or the long succession  of historical statesmen  to of trodden the old wooden floors of the Consulate Hotel, this settlement in the South Atlantic has maintained its long and important links with the past. The sense of connection to the mariners and explorers, admirals and emperors, captains and scientific scholars of the past is a heady charm of this unique place.

A stunning sight at night anchored in James Bay

A stunning sight at night anchored in James Bay

Maintaining its own place in history is the RMS St Helena, arriving back in James Bay today following its latest trans-Atlantic journey to Cape Town. The Last Royal mail ship has a magical effect on the Island. A life line to the outside world it may be, but more importantly is the connections with virtually each and every person on the Island. Most of the people have travelled upon her and walked her decks. Many of us arrived on the Island aboard her and those who fall outside of those categories have seen friends, family and loved ones depart and alight on her. An unexplainable sense of completeness spans Jamestown when she is in port and I suspect I am not alone in feeling as though it is my ship back home when she anchors in James Bay.

Jamestown at Night. Showing Jacobs Ladder rising steeply to the left ad the RMS St Helena anchored in James Bay

Jamestown at Night. Showing Jacobs Ladder rising steeply to the left ad the RMS St Helena anchored in James Bay

Final Night Aboard the RMS

Day five and our final full day aboard the RMS St Helena. Despite the long days, time has flown by and we are now turning our thoughts to what our first days upon the Island may bring. The RMS St Helena has a reputation for leaving a lasting impression on people, and it’s easy to see why. A throw back to a bye gone era with games of dominoes and shove half penny, to sitting on deck quietly reading or conversing with fellow passengers. A place where dress codes still apply and staff take pride in the correct attire for the correct time of day.

The journey has not been without its troubles and challenges, not least of which has been trying to occupy our two boys, Oliver (6) and Charlie (3). The limit space for them to run and play has led to a build-up of unspent energy and trying to find creative ways to express this has been difficult, but we have neared the end of the journey without annoying the other passengers too much. A daily attempt to relieve the boredom has been a dip in the pool. This ritual has involved Oliver and Charlie pacing around the pool for some time, demanding that Mummy or Daddy get in. When we eventually cave in and jump into the waters, Oliver follows gingerly stepping in, before jumping right back out again and is not seen to return to the water until the following days ritual begins again. The reason for this this rapid departure is the icy temperature of the water, due to the pool being filled with Sea Water taken from the Atlantic Coast of Cape Town but Oliver certainly does not seem to mind his foolish parents getting into the freezing water on his behalf!

5.2 Charlie

The passengers and crew on board are what makes this journey truly special and interesting. And endless list of nationalities, personalities and stories. Each person with their own narrative and tale to tell.

We have met many people from the UK in the same situation as ourselves off to St Helena for new work and a new way of life, sharing stories of excitement and fear is a great collective comfort for us all. Then off course we have our first experience of the local Saints, and we have experienced a warm, friendly and fascinating people, always with time to say hello and spin a yarn. Stedson, a former St Helenan head teacher, retired some 20 years ago was returning to St Helena following a scan for Cancer, sadly his prognosis is not good, but I shall treasure the half hour spent in his company learning more of life on the Island and hearing a life time of wisdom and will pray that I may enjoy still further time in his company when reaching the Island.

As for our fellow Brits, our dining table has been shared with a wonderful couple, Paul and Jen and their beautiful young baby boy Miles, nervous and excited about their three month adventure full of questions and unknowns, our conversations covering everything from the potential for shark attack to the existence of the Loch Nes Monster.  A life changing experience for them I expect and to be taking it on with a young baby is even more impressive.

Then there is the irrepressible Christine, a true Scouser, remarkably strong, and worldly wise with a wicked sense of humour. I envisage Christine becoming something of a rock for the group of newbies and I look forward to passing the nights away in one of the local bars we have been briefed upon.

Andrew Day, his wife Lucy and lovely young boys Toby and Lawrence are returning from the UK following their first 12 months on the Island. They have all, Andy particularly proved to be both a fountain of knowledge and a pillar of support for the new adventurers on the ship and I have no doubt their help and support will continue to be invaluable as we take our first steps to a new life tomorrow.

Life on board is one of routine, based around meal times, but in between, regular entertainment is provided. Innocent but fun in its nature we have played tug o war, cricket, evening quiz’s and pub games.

Oliver takes part in the not so traditional form of Horse Racing. We had 20p on him to win but sadly he was just pipped at the post!

Oliver takes part in the not so traditional form of Horse Racing. We had 20p on him to win but sadly he was just pipped at the post!

Our eventual family tally was quite successful and reads as follows,

Tug o War, Winning team

Quiotes – Bev runner up

Quiz – Runners up, although the winning team had significantly more players and more than allowed, a point that Christine was keen to stress.

Skittles – Semi Finals.

Our final night aboard was spent enjoying a fabulous feast on the deck, with barbecued meats, fresh fruit a plenty, and significant portions of cake.

We head off to bed, with mixed emotions, excited to arrive at the Island but sad to be leaving our extended family on board the RMS St Helena. When the airport arrives on St Helena in 2016, the RMS will be de-commissioned, this will be a sad day but at least we now have our own small place in the RMS archives. Tomorrow we intend an early start to see St Helena Island arrive into view following days of endless blue and empty horizons.  Our 2200 mile trip across the Atlantic is nearly over; our journey however, has only just begun.