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Setting Sail – Last Voyage On The RMS St Helena

The RMS St Helena anchored in her home port of James Bay, St Helena Island.

The RMS St Helena anchored in her home port of James Bay, St Helena Island.

WHY WE LEFT ST HELENA | Darrin Henry

A 513 year culture of travel to and from St Helena is about to change and this may be our last voyage on the RMS St Helena. Since the island’s discovery, anyone arriving at or leaving has done so exclusively by sea, be that a ship, yacht or boat.

For many of us passengers now onboard the good ship, RMS St Helena, this could be the last time we sail away from St Helena. I first did it forty years ago as a young boy, however, with the island’s airport scheduled to open in less than a year, this trip to Cape Town, South Africa, is for me at least, quite historic.

A deep rumble and a shuddering vibration throughout the ship tell us the engines have started. It’s a sound and a sensation I know well. The ship’s horn sounds and right on cue ‘My St Helena Island’ plays over the PA system as the vessel slowly begins to turn away from the anchorage.

Looking out from the Sun Lounge as the vessel turns on the anchorage. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

Looking out from the Sun Lounge as the vessel turns on the anchorage. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

Passengers gather on the Sun Deck to watch the departure from James Bay. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

Passengers gather on the Sun Deck to watch the departure from James Bay. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

A front seat view of the rugged St Helena coastline. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

A front seat view of the rugged St Helena coastline. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

Most of the 110 passengers have found their way to the open Sun Deck at the back of the ship as she pulls out of James Bay and makes her way along the leeward coastline. Familiar landmarks slip by and we all gaze in, absorbing the details in this slow and well rehearsed farewell; Half Tree Hollow, High Knoll, Cleugh’s Plain, Egg Island, High Peak, High Hill; each fading away behind us.

Our five day journey is underway. It’s a time for mixed emotions; everyone has their reasons for being here and they vary greatly:

The crew of a stricken yacht are onboard, their yacht strapped onto the foredeck being shipped back home for repairs.

Anxious medi-vacs are on their way for specialist treatment with doctor’s appointments already arranged.

A St Helenian family are taking a holiday together before their teenage children fly the nest.

An official from St Helena’s economic development team, off to the UK to help interview candidates for a new commercial link.

An expert in the hotel and the hospitality industry who’s been reviewing St Helena’s investment potential.

Having delivered management workshops to 31 junior and middle managers across the island for the last week, a trainer from the University of Cape Town is on his way home.

A Terrestrial Conservation Advisor and Trainer is onboard having completed a two year contract.

There are South African and Thai construction workers who have been building the airport, on their way home for a holiday.

Of course there are also traditional tourists who have completed a visit to St Helena, for some the realisation of a lifelong quest.

And there are those like Sharon and I, just heading off for a holiday; Saints getting away and expat contract workers on their mid-tour leave.

The sea voyage begins. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

The sea voyage begins. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

The distinctive skyline of Sugar Loaf in the far distance already.

The distinctive skyline of Sugar Loaf and Flagstaff in the far distance already.

This will be the last land we see for five days. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

This will be the last land we see for five days. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

Living in the close knit community of St Helena’s 4,000+ population ensures a fair degree of familiarity amongst passengers and crew, however, the confines of the ship is already forging new acquaintances and friendships.

Just 15 minutes into the voyage, as Lemon Valley slides by the port side, introductions and conversations are starting all over the ship:

“Where are you off to?”

“Holiday or business?”

“Are you leaving for good?”

“Why were you on St Helena?”

We’ve rounded South West Point, and turn left into a gentle swell as we leave the shelter of the island and the captain sets a course for Cape Town. A lone masked booby bird glides effortlessly alongside us, like a fighter escort seeing us safely on our way.

The masked booby seabird soars alongside the ship for a while.

The masked booby seabird soars alongside the ship for a while.

Our final view of St Helena. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

Our final view of St Helena. Voyage on the RMS St Helena.

After just an hour the island has become a chunky, dark shape on the horizon line, detail concealed by the combination of cloud and the midday glare in our eyes. The lunch gong sounds over the PA and people wander off in search of food. In another hour the island will be a tiny blip on the horizon and then it will just be the ocean for five days.

Voyage 221 is underway. We have left St Helena.

150306 Leaving SHL 08

 

COMMENTS

  • Carol Henry Cherry

    November 28, 2015

    My paternal grandfather was born on St Helena in 1884. He was next to the youngest of 10 or so children. He, too, was a Henry. As I read your posts, I wonder if we are somehow related.

    • December 1, 2015

      We might well be related Carol. My own (Darrin’s) family roots spring from the High Point (Thompson’s Wood) Henrys. Mind you, it’s a common name on the island. Might be traceable in the archives. Nice to hear from you 🙂

  • Cathleen Hughes

    March 10, 2015

    Looking forward to hopefully meeting up in Cape Town when you arrive. I’ll rally the troops and the rest of the Black Cat crew 🙂 Exciting news to hear you’re coming to our city. Pop me an email and I’d be more than happy to show you around 🙂

    • March 15, 2015

      Hi Cathleen, aww, so sorry – by the time you posted this we were on our last day in Cape Town. We’ll have to get together on our return. Hope Sophie’s wedding went off well 🙂

  • March 9, 2015

    Great blog, we look forward to seeing you soon.
    L and P
    xxxxx

    • March 15, 2015

      Cheers guys, was great seeing you both and such a good laugh 🙂

  • Benoit Helene

    March 9, 2015

    Hi dear Saints & happy travellers ! Have a very pleasant trip to Cape Town. I always read your posts with great interest and, yes, visiting St Helena would be the realization of a lifelong quest. I am really fascinated by St Helena as well as TDC (where I have a very good pen-friend). By the way, I am still looking for a Saint woman (in her 40 to 60) to become my pen-friend on St Helena. If someone could be interested in writing to me… it’s a bottle in the sea 🙂

    • March 15, 2015

      Thanks Benoit, glad you are enjoying the posts. Hopefully you will get to visit us one day soon. I was lucky enough to visit TDC once for a day; fascinating place. It was many years ago, but would love to get back to do a blog piece about it now. Good luck with the pen-friend hunt.

  • Leoni du Preez

    March 9, 2015

    Wow …. your blog capture every thought and emotion …. can not tell you the yearning I have to go back and visiting the island again …. Hope you have a save trip and a very lekker ( nice) holiday …

    • March 15, 2015

      Thanks Leoni – don’t worry, we can imagine your yearning to visit again, we have plenty of friends who feel the same way. Thanks for the well wishes, our trip is going well, meeting some wonderful people. Cheers.

  • March 7, 2015

    Really love the photography – it brings back fond m emories ogf our 2 tours to the Island

    • March 7, 2015

      Thanks for the feedback guys, we can imagine the memories you must have of this.

  • Pam & Clarence Roberts

    March 7, 2015

    enjoy your holiday !!!look forward to all pic & update of your travel

    • March 7, 2015

      Cheers Pam & Clarence 🙂

  • Terri Lou

    March 7, 2015

    Have an awesome trip guys and I will be looking forward to the regualr updates on your travels 🙂

    • March 7, 2015

      Hey Terri, great to have you with us, thanks for the comment. Will try not to get distracted and keep the updates flowing 🙂 cheers

  • Elaine & Spud

    March 7, 2015

    Enjoy your holiday guys. Look forward to hearing all about the travels 🙂

    • March 7, 2015

      Thanks guys. We can swap stories in September 🙂

  • Patricia Williams

    March 7, 2015

    Bonjour Darrin & Sharon, hope you both are enjoying your holiday and what seems like your last tour on the RMS!!! Wish I was there too haha! Joyeuses fêtes ! Au Revoir, abientot! x

    • March 7, 2015

      Thanks Pat, it’s going well. Yes wish you and the whole class were here, we would have some fun 🙂 Abientot!

  • Suzanne

    March 7, 2015

    love reading your posts Darrin/Sharon, thank you !

    • March 7, 2015

      You’re welcome Suzanne, and thanks, we appreciate the feedback.

  • John Jarvis

    March 7, 2015

    Just to say I have thoroughly enjoyed all of your blogs and hope to visit the island once again (like you I first went when I was only 1 year old so no memory ).

    My mother is Rita Jarvis (was Caswell ) and still have family on the Ireland – I will see her this weekend and hope to share these with her …I’m afraid she’s a techno dinosaur so unless one of your masked boobies can act like a carrier pigeon she would never see these !

    Thanks for sharing !!

    • March 7, 2015

      Thanks for the kind comment John. We will have a carrier pigeon of sorts from Feb 2016 so your mother could come to visit then 🙂 Cheers.

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