Its not looking good!
Today is the day that many of the local businesses have been planning and anticipating for weeks. Menus have been planned, food has been stockpiled and cooked, events and trips have been organised with preparation starting for some on Friday evening. The Arcadia, one of P&O’s largest cruise liners is going divest herself of her 2000 or so passengers for all of four or five hours of sightseeing and we want to make it a show worth stopping here for!
Getting ready for work this morning I sense things are different today, I hear traffic on the road above me from around 6.00am…this is highly unusual to say the least. Peering down the valley I can see the sea from my patio but no sign of any ship. Once in my car heading for Jamestown I catch my first glimpse of Arcadia reflecting the early morning sunlight back up the valley where in fact it’s raining. Reaching town many of the locals are already up and about and there is a sense of urgency in the air. Our team at the tourist office are all in place wearing their “ready to help” tee shirts. Heading to the wharf I spy a long line of tour buses. Nearly every vehicle carrying more than 4 passengers on the island has been commandeered as a tour bus to take the 2000 or so cruisers around. St Helena having a population at the moment of around 3000 one can imagine the logistics involved in getting this show on the road.
At the wharf and landing area I see two men in white uniform and the orange tender from the Arcadia moored alongside. They have serious faces and are clicking and chatting on walkie talkies. It doesn’t take long to assess the situation. Although the sea is calm in St Helena terms, (MILK POND is how one local describes it to me) can 2000 people disembark the ship, do their tours and then embark five hours later? Much observing of the tender’s motion against the dock takes place and every time something resembling a wave occurs there is a great shaking of heads and more debate about what to do. The age of the passengers and the health and safety are significant factors in this analysis.
At 10.00am the sentence is passed. “No we will not be bringing our passengers to your island as the swell is too strong”. The disappointment can be sensed across town when I walk back up to the tourist office. One or two proprietors put on a brave face, Hazel at the Consulate hotel says it was a good dummy run for when the airport gets built. A very sporting thing to say considering she and her staff have been working all weekend to get her hotel ready with a local market set up in her ballroom and barbecue in the garden and cakes in the snack bar.
The slow procession of tour buses through the main street seem a sombre reminder to all on the island how hard it is to make a living here and what a difference the airport is going to make.
I wonder whether any of those 2000 passengers will ever return to St Helena.