SETTING SAIL ON THE RMS ST HELENA | Darrin Henry
A 513 year culture of travel to and from St Helena is about to change. 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.
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.
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.
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.