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.
WHY WE LEFT ST HELENA | Darrin Henry
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.
I have been blessed to have seen both the old and new St Helena ships – one in Cape Town the older one in Durban – as a passionate ship lover I am moved to tears to see a end of an era – ships have souls – and people have a avid interest in ships – and St Helena touched many lives – long will she be in our hearts and thoughts – Bon Voyage
Thanks for the comment Bryan.
Yes, we are the lucky ones who can remember both ships. I remember (like many others) travelling as a deck passenger on the old ship. Happy days.
The old faithful vessel will be missed by us all.
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.
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 🙂
[…] (they’ve passed away.) But finally our island is moving forward. Although we all love the RMS St Helena, the shorter time to leave the island will make it easier for people to go on holiday more […]
[…] At the moment St Helena doesn’t have an airport, although this fact changes next year. For now we have two options of travel, both by ship. […]
[…] have already posted a more detailed story about a voyage on the RMS, which you can read here, as well as the Top Ten Highlights of RMS St Helena, Part 1 and Part 2. Do […]
[…] have posted already about a recent voyage on the RMS which you can read here, as well as the Top Ten Highlights of RMS St Helena, Part 1 and Part 2. Do check them out when you […]
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 🙂
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 🙂
Great blog, we look forward to seeing you soon.
L and P
Cheers guys, was great seeing you both and such a good laugh 🙂
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 🙂
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.
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 …
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.
Really love the photography – it brings back fond m emories ogf our 2 tours to the Island
Thanks for the feedback guys, we can imagine the memories you must have of this.
enjoy your holiday !!!look forward to all pic & update of your travel
Cheers Pam & Clarence 🙂
Have an awesome trip guys and I will be looking forward to the regualr updates on your travels 🙂
Hey Terri, great to have you with us, thanks for the comment. Will try not to get distracted and keep the updates flowing 🙂 cheers
Enjoy your holiday guys. Look forward to hearing all about the travels 🙂
Thanks guys. We can swap stories in September 🙂
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
Thanks Pat, it’s going well. Yes wish you and the whole class were here, we would have some fun 🙂 Abientot!
love reading your posts Darrin/Sharon, thank you !
You’re welcome Suzanne, and thanks, we appreciate the feedback.
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 !!
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.