Having enjoyed my first Christmas in the UK for three years it is now time to head back to St Helena. The trip takes almost a week from UK to the island and longer if time is spent in Cape Town.
This trip is different in as much as it will probably be my last voyage on the RMS.
She is scheduled to finish her service to the island in July 2016 by which time planes will be taking off and landing at the airport. The travelling time to the island will be vastly reduced to a tolerable five hours from Johannesburg.
As this is to be my last trip I am documenting some of this voyage for posterity… Although I am sure there will be many other records to keep the memory alive.
Arriving at the dockside in Cape Town is more like a homecoming for many, as anyone who has been to the island before, whether Saint or Expat, will know someone else on the Ship. Also many of the local Cape Town Saints will make the journey down to the Seaman’s mission at the port to hear news about their island and loved ones at home. Now passengers are transited through a smart new ocean terminal complete with clean toilets and electronic immigration and security which makes things more efficient.
Travelling home on the same ship is Giselle Richards who had to travel to Cape Town for the birth of her baby. What happens to the new born’s nationality when you have to travel to another country to give birth? Giselle informs me that Baby has a full British passport as this has been pre-arranged with the British Consul in Cape Town. Always something interesting going on!
Checking in at the normal time, we are informed that the ship would be delayed as the cargo ship carrying frozen food from the UK to Cape Town is still in Cape Town bay due to the high winds which the cape experienced the previous week. There is a back log of ships in the bay all waiting for their slot to unload their cargo.
Later, there is a communication that the cargo ship is not going to get unloaded for another 24 hours so Captain Andrew Greentree has to decide whether to wait or not.
The decision to set off without the frozen consignment is made and we set off at around 11.00pm, around 6 hours behind schedule. I make a mental note to get to the shops in Jamestown as soon as I get back as there isn’t going to be much frozen food left and it’s at least a month before the next lot will arrive.
Routines are soon formed, the sound of the mealtime chimes set off an auto-response of hunger, in spite of it sometimes being only four hours since the last mealtime
Meals on the RMS are a highlight of the voyage, quite a challenge to cater for as there are all manner of people travelling: business, leisure and medical being the three main groups. Dinner is served in two sittings the dining room and also to cabins in the event that someone is overtaken by seasickness or are travelling for medical reasons.
Diners are allocated a table to sit at with fellow passengers, the catering team do the allocations and are usually very accurate in picking who should sit with whom……….perhaps they should start a dating agency! Dinner is a four course affair with the addition of cheese and a savoury course if desired, far too much food but who cares when it’s flowing freely along with wine at around £10 a bottle.
Lunch and breakfast can be taken in the dining room and also in the Sun Lounge which is popular with most as it offers sea views, fresh air and a more casual setting.
Other routines include the Captain’s cocktail party, the RMS quiz which is always popular and of course a variety of deck games. Cricket on the penultimate day into port is well patronised and great entertainment. A number of the rope balls inevitably end up over the side when an enthusiastic batsman takes the crease. The final scores are read out by the officer of the watch at 12.30 along with the ship’s position, air and sea temperature, depth of water beneath the vessel and estimated time of arrival. Also mentioned by the officer of the watch is when to change clocks as Cape Town to St Helena covers two time zones.
The final day is soon upon us and is spent, amongst other things, getting bags packed and laundry items washed and dried in the super-efficient drying room…..I wish I had one like this at home, clothes go in damp and within around an hour they are as dry as a bone.
The crew collect bags for shipment to shore and then it’s just a case of waiting to arrive. The sun deck becomes out of bounds as below it lays the hold. Passengers mill around the remaining decks and start to gather in the lounge awaiting their call to disembark. Disembarking is done in an orderly fashion by numbered landing cards.
Once off the ship and through immigration and customs, we are welcomed by a sea of familiar faces all who want to say hello. Giselle with her new baby is surrounded by well-wishers and is swallowed up by the crowd. I quickly lose sight of her. My friends and colleagues have come to meet me, hugs and kisses all round and I immediately feel the St Helena Home from Home welcome which makes me glad to be back.