Last days for ship that links UK’s St. He­lena to the world


Re­call­ing a by­gone era of stately pas­sen­ger lin­ers and quaint colo­nial tra­di­tions, the RMS St. He­lena is mak­ing its last jour­neys be­fore weekly flights to the far-flung South At­lantic is­land are in­tro­duced.

A day on board the five-day cruise to rugged Saint He­lena, one of the world’s most re­mote in­hab­ited is­lands, is marked by aris­to­cratic pas­times alien to mod­ern trav­el­ers ac­cus­tomed to no-frills long-haul jour­neys.

It’s a taste of luxury that won’t be around for much longer, on board a nearly seven-tonne ship built in 1989 to carry pas­sen­gers and goods across the ocean.

A fi­nal chance to ex­pe­ri­ence a slower way of life has spiked in­ter­est in the RMS St. He­lena, says John Hamil­ton, the cheer­ful purser who or­ga­nizes ac­tiv­i­ties on board, from card games to on-deck cricket matches.

“The ship is com­ing to the end, so more peo­ple want to travel be­fore she stops work­ing,” Hamil­ton said.

The ship­ping com­pany has added a dozen cab­ins to meet de­mand be­fore the ship cuts back on its trips when 4.5-hour flights from Jo­han­nes­burg begin in Fe­bru­ary 2016.

The RMS Saint He­lena — the only pas­sen­ger ship serv­ing the Bri­tish is­land — makes the jour­ney from the South African city of Cape Town ev­ery three weeks.

The boat trav­els 3,100 kilo­me­ters (1,900 miles) in five days at 15 knots, be­fore head­ing to As­cen­sion, an­other Bri­tish is­land.

The ship’s web­site de­scribes the ves­sel as a life­line for is­land res­i­dents, car­ry­ing ev­ery­thing from “wind tur­bines to au­to­mo­tive parts; sheep, goats, and Christ­mas turkeys to fur­ni­ture, food and paint”.

Pas­sen­gers sip tea or cof­fee served by staff in their cab­ins be­fore break­fast. They play tra­di­tional games such as deck quoits and shuf­fle board, and then share a heart­warm­ing beef tea — or Bovril — at 11:00 a.m.

Af­ter lunch, en­ter­tain­ment in­cludes doc­u­men­tary film screen­ings and a quiz game sim­i­lar to Triv­ial Pur­suit.

On­board Ca­ma­raderie

Pas­sen­gers spend time read­ing or swim­ming in the small pool on deck, knit­ting or work­ing on puzzles, as their ship cuts through the sparkling blue wa­ters.

The ac­tiv­i­ties aren’t manda­tory, yet they do al­low for fast-form­ing friend­ships.

It’s good to form bonds on board, as pas­sen­gers will in­evitably cross paths with each other in Jamestown, the tiny cap­i­tal of St. He­lena with a pop­u­la­tion of around 850.

“What is amaz­ing is that you meet peo­ple on­board and make friends. You be­come like fam­ily — al­most,” said Manuela Pat­ter­son, a tourist from Cape Town.

“It’s go­ing to be dif­fer­ent in that as­pect once the air­port is here.”

Built in Aberdeen, Scot­land, the ship can ac­com­mo­date 150 pas­sen­gers. It is one of the world’s two sur­viv­ing Royal Mail Ships — ab­bre­vi­ated to RMS.

As one might ex­pect on such a ship, there are some eclec­tic trav­el­ers on board.

The cast of char­ac­ters runs from the “Saints” — the lo­cal name for Saint He­lena cit­i­zens — to South African tourists and Thai work­ers head­ing to build the new air­port. from the Falk­lands War.


(Left) This pic­ture taken on March 15 shows the flag of the United King­dom flut­ter­ing from the seat of the gov­ern­ment in Jamestown, the cap­i­tal of the South At­lantic is­land of Saint He­lena. (Right) This pic­ture taken on March 15 shows a gen­eral view of Jamestown, the cap­i­tal of the South At­lantic is­land of Saint He­lena.

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