ATLANTIC TRADING POST IS OPEN | Darrin Henry
For more than 500 years, St Helena has been a vital fix on the Atlantic sailing map; a safe haven for vessels in distress, a watering stop for sailing ships of old and even a hospital for medical emergencies that occur at sea.
Today, even seeing air access within touching distance, we are being reminded our historic role as a victualling outpost is still as important for seafarers with an empty larder.
What Happened To The RMS St Helena?
I’m on board the ‘Gannet Three,’ with an excited group of people, heading out to sea toward the huge, rusting hulk of a pipe layer platform called ‘Castoro 7’ and red tug/supply ship, ‘Skandi Admiral.’ Excited because we are going to see this ocean-going curiosity up close.
I first spotted the bizarre looking pair soon after dawn when I looked out from my house in the country, expecting to see the RMS St Helena which was due this morning from Ascension Island. Instead a wing-like grey shape was emerging from the morning gloom which slowly, slowly got closer and then had many of us thinking it was an oil rig being towed.
It turned out the two vessels are here on a shopping visit for food supplies.
As luck would have it I have been out this morning photographing cargo operations on the wharf so was ideally placed to hitch a ride on ‘Gannet Three’ after noticing them loading groceries.
Thorpe’s Grocery Store To The Rescue
Local grocery store business, WA Thorpe and Sons, had been contacted ahead of today with a request for a grocery order. A few of their staff are making the delivery. I’ve spotted milk, sugar and a case of tomato ketchup amongst the pile of boxes. But most of the goodies are packaged in plain brown boxes and not giving away clues about what’s inside.
We’re perhaps a mile out and pulling alongside the tug, Skandi Admiral. We can see Castorol 7 being towed quite a long way behind.
Large plastic cargo bags are handed down for the stores to be loaded into. There’s quite a swell out here and now that the engines are idling the boat is really rolling from side to side; I’m perched against the side rail but very conscious not to accidentally end up over the side. The Thorpe’s team are fighting to keep their balance as they pack the large white bags.
It takes four cargo bags to load all the stores we’ve brought out. Frozen goods are placed in the first bag. The Skandi Admiral uses her small hydraulic crane to lift each one in turn off Gannet Three.
The Skandi Admiral has a gross tonnage of 4,370. Length 83m x breadth 21m. She is a high powered anchor handling vessel (www.dof.no) designed for field installation operations in a range of water depths and weather conditions. Skandi Admiral was built in 1999 and is currently registered in Norway.
Gannet Three Meets Castoro 7
And that’s it! All done; a re-supply at sea and the customer hardly broke stride. A real drive-by shopping trip. With a wave to the crew we are ready to head back in, but not before first taking a quick tour ride around the monstrosity being towed behind the tug.
Despite its appearance, the ‘hulk’ of Castoro 7 is not an oil rig, but in fact a pipe layer platform. Vesselfinder.com indicates she is on her way to Natal, South Africa. The word at the wharf this morning was that Castoro 7 is on her way to be scrapped. I’m thinking this may be true as the huge structure is very rusty and it doesn’t look as though it’s actually manned.
The Castoro 7 weighs in at a gross tonnage of 40,282. Length 179.7m x breadth 59m. Draught 13m. She was built in 1975 and is registered under the Panama flag.
I wonder if the crew on Skandi Admiral will be having a feast tonight?