blank Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

RMS St Helena

The last ocean-going Royal Mail Ship

blank Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

Sailing o’er the rolling billows, Sailing through the azure vapors, Sailing through the dusk of evening, Sailing to the fiery sunset, To the higher-landed regions, To the lower verge of heaven
The Kalevala, a Finnish mythological poem

Until February 2018 you can still travel to St Helena on our dedicated mail ship, the RMS St Helena.

This page is in indexes: Island Detail

The RMS St Helena, seen here in James Bay Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
The RMS St Helena, seen here in James Bay{3}

Ways to get here Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

Other ‘getting here’ pages:

• Getting Here

• Fly here

• Yachting

• Cruise Ship Days

• Fly Yourself Here

• Visitor Information

Below: Why ‘RMS’About our RMSAudio Clips25th AnniversaryEnd of serviceEarlier shipsNot without incident…Read More

Don’t have the time for a leisurely sea cruise to St Helena? Then fly here instead!

Why ‘RMS’

Crowds greet the RMS Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Crowds greet the RMS

So why is our ship the ‘RMS St Helena’? Why not just the ‘St Helena’?

RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship, and shows that she is a seagoing vessel that carries mail under contract by Royal Mail. The designation dates back to 1840 - also the year in which the Penny Black stamp was introduced{4}. Famous ships carrying the designation RMS have included

Having the designation "RMS" was valued by ship owners because it was seen as a mark of quality by customers - the mail had to be delivered securely, and on time. For more about the history of Royal Mail Ships see the Royal Mail Ship page on Wikipedia.

About our RMS

The RMS St Helena off St Helena, © www.artbyLeora.com leora@artbyleora.com (reproduced with permission; contact the artist to purchase) Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
The RMS St Helena off St Helena, ©www.artbyLeora.com leora@artbyleora.com (reproduced with permission; contact the artist to purchase)

RMS Logo Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
RMS Lifebelt Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

The RMS St Helena is one of only four ships with the right to the prefix or its variations{5}, and one of only three that actually carries mail (the Queen Mary 2 has the designation but is a cruise ship and does not provide a scheduled mail delivery service).

She:

  • Was built for the purpose in Aberdeen by Hall, Russell and Company;

  • Cost £32,420,000{6} to build, against the original contract price of £19.5 million;

  • Was launched by Prince Andrew on 31st October 1989 (making her years old) and entered service in 1990;

  • Is said to be the last ocean going passenger ship built in a British shipyard;

  • Is British registered, 6,767 gross tonnes and originally had berths for a maximum of 128 passengers plus 56 officers and crew, this capacity being extended in 2012 by the addition of 24 extra cabin berths and a new gym;

  • Is 105m long and has a cargo-carrying capacity of 1,800 tonnes.

  • Was scheduled for retirement in or around 2010, the original proposed opening date of the St Helena Airport. However due to the many delays encountered she has been extended until February 2018;

Nameplate Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

The RMS maintains many of the traditions of the ocean liner era, including the captain’s cocktail party in the main lounge, the traditional crossing-the-line ceremony{7} and a cricket match on deck between passengers and crew. The images below illustrate your trip to St Helena:

Leaving Cape Town Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Leaving Cape Town{a}

Flag, aft Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Flag, aft

Cabin Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Cabin

Deck sports Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Deck sports{b}

Deck sports Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Deck sports

Deck sports Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Deck sports

“ It’s definitely a mermaid! ” Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
It’s definitely a mermaid!

RMS arrival at St Helena Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
RMS arrival at St Helena

RMS unloading Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
RMS unloading

From Ladder Hill Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
From Ladder Hill

From Shy Road Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
From Shy Road

Onboard departing RMS Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Onboard departing RMS

Back towards Cape Town Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Back towards Cape Town{c}

For more information on the RMS St Helena, or to book a passage, please see her website at www.rms-st-helena.com.

RMS dwarfed by MV Amadea Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
RMS dwarfed by MV Amadea

RMS’ 2015 Christmas Card Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
RMS’ 2015 Christmas Card

RMS Float Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
RMS Float

In LEGO {1} Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
In LEGO{1}

Disabled Passengers

Air Taxi Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

Elsewhere we describe how, at St Helena, passengers descend from the RMS to a small boat, are ferried across to the Wharf, and climb onto land swinging on ropes. This begs the question: what about less able-bodied passengers?

The answer is the ‘Air Taxi’. This is a small-ish cage which is lifted like cargo onto and off the RMS using the crane, travels to shore on a barge and is craned onto land, again like cargo. This is used for anybody who has difficulty walking, not just the wheelchair-bound. It was also used for the more severe medical patients, though nowadays these mostly travel by air.

Mail ship turns back…for mail!

The RMS St Helena caused a stir within Jamestown on Wednesday afternoon after news quickly travelled through the street that she had turned back toward James Bay an hour after her departure at lunchtime. The reason for this was to collect important documentats that could only be sent to Cape Town as hard copies. The transfer of the documents was made between the Wideawake and the ship, whilst the RMS had stopped in the harbour. Within minutes of the transfer engines were started and she was on her way again bound for Cape Town.{d}

Audio Clips

Arrival: 30th November 1990

You can listen to an extract from a broadcast made on Radio St Helena recording the arrival of the new RMS to St Helena on her maiden voyage from the UK:

Our lifeline

Governor Gurr speaking on Saint FM in 2010 about the importance of the RMS to St Helena:

‘Blowing Off’

Hear the RMS ‘Blowing Off’ prior to departure (a single blast signifies arrival):

The RMS unloading passengers Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
The RMS unloading passengers

25th Anniversary

Published on The St Helena Wirebird 28th October 2014.

The legendary Royal Mail Ship (RMS) St Helena celebrated its 25th year in operation this month. The RMS, one of only four surviving Royal Mail Ships in the world, connects St Helena with Cape Town. To mark this special milestone, Master Rodney Young welcomed guests on board the ship moored in Duncan Dock, of the Cape Town Harbour.

Young, who was born on St Helena, is one of two shipmasters who share the responsibility of sailing the ship. The second captain of the RMS is Young’s cousin. He has been the captain of the ship since 25th October 2000. “I was married exactly one month prior to my appointment. For every year that’s gone by, I’ve worked for six months on board the RMS. The RMS is very much part of the Island; it’s an extension of the Island. I know the passengers, I know who the cargo is intended for, and I know the store owners.

Over the weekend the RMS St Helena was featured in The Sunday Times’ ‘Small Ships, Big Adventures guide’. This shows that the RMS St Helena holds a prestigious place in the highly competitive UK cruise market, offering a truly unique journey.

In 2010 the Government of St Helena and the United Kingdom announced plans to construct St Helena airport, which will be operational by 2016. The airport project continues to run on time and on budget. With the opening of the airport, the future of the RMS St Helena has yet to be determined but Young is optimistic about the crew’s prospects.

The crew has worked together for a long time. They are very close, and in fact some are family. We have a brother and sister, mother and daughter and a father and daughter on board. Whatever the plan following the completion of the airport, the RMS St Helena crew is very well trained and service orientated - they will be an asset to St Helena as tourism develops.

RMS 25 Years stamp issue Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

End of service

Below: RMS in London, 2016For SaleSchedule Extended!For Sale…Again!

RMS in London, 2016

When the scheduled commercial air service was planned to commence in May 2016 it was planned that the RMS would go on a sort-of ‘farewell tour’, up to London and back before sailing down to Cape Town to be decommissioned. Despite the delay in starting the scheduled commercial air service, the London trip went ahead. On 7th June 2016 the RMS sailed up the River Thames, through Tower Bridge and moored alongside HMS Belfast for a stay of around a week.

You can see below a gallery of images of the RMS in London:

Final UK voyage Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Final UK voyage

RMS in London: lower Thames Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
RMS in London: lower Thames

… Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

… Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

… Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

RMS in London: at Tower Bridge Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
RMS in London: at Tower Bridge

… Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

… Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

… Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

… Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

RMS in London: with HMS Belfast Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
RMS in London: with HMS Belfast

RMS in London: Welcome! Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
RMS in London: Welcome!

RMS in London: nighttime Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
RMS in London: nighttime

The Last Christmas of the RMS St Helena 1 Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

For Christmas 2015 the moonbeamsforall.com: Moonbeams Shop • opens in a new window or tab Saint Helena Island Info RMS St HelenaMoonbeams Shop Christmas decorations had the theme ‘The Last Christmas of the RMS St Helena’, reflecting that with the planned opening of the St Helena Airport in 2016, the RMS St Helena would be decomissioned, so 2015 would be her last Christmas serving St Helena.

This theme was also used by Pilling Primary School in their 2015 Festival of Lights.

However, as the start of the scheduled commercial air service was delayed the RMS was actually continued through until early 2018.

The Last Christmas of the RMS St Helena 2 Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

For Sale

In April 2016, with the scheduled commercial air service due to start in May, St Helena Line announced that she would be put up for sale, with London shipbroker CW Kellock & Co Ltd handling the sale. No ‘asking price’ was announced. She was, at the time, expected to be ready for delivery to buyers in Cape Town during July/August 2016. However the service extension changed this…

Schedule Extended!

Due to the delay in starting the commercial air service the RMS schedule was extended, and it was extended further on 12th June 2016 to continue until February 2018. To see this schedule, go to rms-st-helena.com/schedules-fares.

For Sale…Again!

On 5th October 2017 St Helena Line again announced it was putting the RMS St Helena up for sale after it is withdrawn from service in February 2018. London ship broker CW Kellock & Co. Ltd. will again handle the sale. The full announcement appears below:

Further details about the RMS St Helena:
UK flag
Built 1990 A&P Appledore, UK.
3130 dwt on 6.016m draft.
105m loa, 19.2m beam.
Class: Lloyds Register.
6,767 gross tonnes.
Accommodation: 156 passengers in 56 cabins, 56 officers and crew.
Dining salon. Lounge. Sun lounge. Swimming pool. Gymnasium. Stabilisers. Air conditioning.
Cargo capacity 3750 cbm bale. 92 teu (of which 17 reefer).
2 holds, 2 hatches. Cranes 2/30 Derricks 2/10.
Main engines: 2 x Mirrlees KMR6MK3. 8880BHP.
Service speed 14knts IFO180- 19MT per day MDO 2MT per day

Operated by St Helena Line Ltd (SHL) on behalf of the St Helena Government (SHG), the RMS has been part of the Island’s history for over quarter of a century and provided the sole regular means of access to the Island, a remote UK Overseas Territory located 1200 miles off the West coast of Africa in the South Atlantic.

She was built in the UK in 1990 specifically for the St Helena route. At 6,767 gross tonnes, she can accommodate 156 passengers in 56 cabins, together with a cargo capacity of 3750 cbm bale, and 92 teu (of which 17 reefer). She is staffed by 56 officers and crew.

The RMS St Helena is one of only four ships left in the world which has the right to carry the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) prefix.

The RMS currently operates out of Cape Town calling at both St Helena and Ascension Island on a regular schedule.

With the start of scheduled passenger flights to St Helena on 14 October 2017 providing the main passenger access to the Island, the RMS St Helena will be withdrawn from service.

The RMS St Helena is now embarked on her final programmed voyages and in the coming weeks will make a farewell call to Tristan da Cunha and then a final voyage to both St Helena and Ascension Island. She is expected to finish her last voyage in Cape Town on 15 February 2018.

SHL has appointed the highly experienced London ship brokers CW Kellock & Co Ltd (Part of the Eggar Forrester Group), to handle the sale and it is hoped that a buyer can be found to continue to trade the vessel elsewhere in the world.

Commenting on the sale process and her withdrawal from service, SHL’s Chairman, Matt Young, said:

The RMS St Helena has played a vital role in sustaining St Helena’s population and, for the past 27 years has been the sole means of regular access to the Island. Her combined passenger accommodation and cargo design makes her well suited to a number of different trading options and we are confident that she can continue to play an important role elsewhere in the world.

Further details on the RMS St Helena can be found on: www.rms-st-helena.com

Prospective purchasers should contact:
CW Kellock & Co Ltd: Paul Willcox
Tel +44 0207 4481395
Email: Kellock@eggarforrester.com
Media Contact: Simon Quarendon, Keene Communications
Email: simon@keenecomms.com
Tel: 00 44 (0)207 839 2140, 00 44 (0)7850 618418 (M)

The vessel is currently in service and can be inspected in Cape Town, South Africa, where she is scheduled to call on 17th to 21st Oct, 8th to 11th Nov, 29th Nov to 1st Dec, 27th to 29th Dec and 22nd to 24th Jan 2018. The vessel is expected to be ready for delivery to buyers in Cape Town at the end of Feb 2018.

St Helena Line Ltd
5 October 2017

Sailing into the sunset Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Sailing into the sunset{c}

Earlier ships

The first RMS St Helena

The current RMS St Helena is not the first to carry this designation. In 1977, faced with the closure of the Union Castle Line{8} services between the UK and Africa which called at St Helena{15}, the British government found in Vancouver and purchased the part-passenger, part-cargo 3,150 ton ship Northland Prince, launched on 11th June 1963 and previously used between Vancouver and Alaska, for a price of £940,000{9}, to fulfil the role of servicing St Helena.

After being refitted with room to carry 76 passengers and supplies at a cost of £1,500,000{10}, she was renamed the first RMS St Helena{11}. She arrived for the first time at St Helena on 5th October 1978, on her maiden voyage. Five years later a serious fire in the ship’s engine room while at sea was, fortunately, brought under control by the crew.

Many Saints always believed the green-painting of the RMS would make her anlucky ship…

The ship was used by the Royal Navy during the 1982 Falklands Conflict as a minesweeper support ship{12}. The RMS arrived at Avonmouth in the UK on the 22nd May, where the passengers and cargo were off-loaded. She then sailed that evening for Portsmouth where she arrived the following day. It was here that she was to be extensively modified for her new role as a support ship. A flight deck was built aft for the Wasp helicopter (which carried AS12 missiles). Four 20 millimetre Oerlikon guns were fitted, extra fuel tanks were installed and the derricks were replaced with Rasing gear. The RMS sailed south on 13th June 1982. She saw action supporting minesweepers, off Stanley from 9th June, and from 15th July off San Carlos. She completed her duties on 14th August and set sail for the UK, calling at St Helena on 25th August to drop off Saint crew. Inexplicably, there was no welcome. But her return was short-lived because she was recalled immediately for further military service, not returning finally to St Helena until 8th October 1983. While she was away, Curnow Shipping chartered the RMS Centaur and MV Argonite as replacement vessels to serve St Helena.

By the late 1980s it was becoming apparent that the ship was too small and too old for the island’s needs. In November 1989, an article in the St Helena News stated:

Because of the age of the present RMS St Helena, it is reaching the stage where she’s becoming unreliable for the Island. The need for a more efficient and reliable new ship is inevitable.

The new (current) RMS St Helena was built and the old RMS was sold to South African based interests. She was renamed the Avalon and traded for a while in the Mauritius and Mozambique areas before going to Singapore for scrap. More of her more recent history can be read here{13}.

Northland Prince Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Northland Prince

Northland Prince Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Northland Prince

Original RMS, in the UK Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Original RMS, in the UK

Original RMS, in James Bay Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Original RMS, in James Bay

Original RMS, unloading in James Bay Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Original RMS, unloading in James Bay

Original RMS in the 1982 Falklands Conflict {2} Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Original RMS in the 1982 Falklands Conflict{2}

Original RMS with Falklands fittings Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Original RMS with Falklands fittings{e}

Model of original RMS in the Museum of St Helena Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Model of original RMS in the Museum of St Helena

Original RMS 1988 Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Original RMS 1988

Original RMS on a postage stamp Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Original RMS on a postage stamp

Original RMS renamed Avalon Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Original RMS renamed Avalon

Old and new RMS together in Cardiff, 1990 Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Old and new RMS together in Cardiff, 1990

The ‘SS Saint Helena’

Also in the 19th century a ship called the ‘Saint Helena’ was used by the British East India Company as a packet ship, sailing between St Helena and the Cape of Good Hope. She did two tours of duty at St Helena, from 1814 to 1821, and again from 1822 to 1830 carrying, cattle, grain and stores to St Helena. More on the Wikipedia.

RMS, Embossed Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

Not without incident…

The RMS is a mechanical device lovingly cared for by humans, so the occasional failure is inevitable:

Give us an airport, say islanders

People on the remote island of St Helena are pressing to be given an airport after their only supply ship broke down. Panic-buying has started in shops in the South Atlantic territory, where nearly all food is imported. Margarine and long-life milk are already selling out.

The Royal Mail Ship St Helena was taking cargo and passengers to the tiny British territory, more than 1,600 km off the coast of Angola, when one of its engines failed. It is now awaiting repairs in the French port of Brest. It will be about at least month before she reaches the island.

Around 60 of the passengers bound for home are sitting out the delay; 35 tourists have abandoned their cruise. Some islanders are stranded in South Africa with little money.

The breakdown has intensified the long-running debate over the island’s lack of an airport. It has come only two weeks after a cargo ship diverted for 36 hours to pick up six-year-old Danni Clifford, who’d collapsed with acute leukaemia. She is now in Cape Town and is expected to recover - a great relief to the 5,500 island residents.

But the front page of the St Helena News is asking, “Does it take a death to end our isolation?” The new Governor, Governor David Hollamby, has said it may make economic sense to build an airport when the ship needs replacing, but that’s 10 years away.

More immediately, there’s a chance some Christmas mail will arrive late. St Helenians are used to this - last year’s presents only arrived in April, because the British Post Office missed several sailings.

The residents of St Helena, best known as the site of Napoleon’s final exile, depend for a living on fish exports and ship maintenance.{f}

Propeller failure, 2017

On 25th February 2017 the RMS reported a problem with the starboard propeller. The ship completed its voyage (254) and returned to Cape Town, running on only one engine. In Cape Town the RMS was put into dry dock in Simonstown, as a consequence of which the following voyage, 255, was cancelled. On 14th April the engine problems were reported to be worse than originally thought. The RMS had left dry dock on 12th April, the repairs having been certified by both the Rolls Royce engineer and the surveyor from Lloyds Register, but had to return immediately because the ‘fix’ apparently had not worked. Voyage 256 was therefore also cancelled. A flight was chartered by the Government of St Helena to bring stranded passengers back from Cape Town and deliver people stranded here to South Africa.

The RMS eventually left dry dock on 3rd May and sailed for St Helena at around 2am on 5th May, arriving on 9th May. It should be noted that this breakdown occurred approximately seven years after the RMS’ original scheduled decommissioning date.

Fire on the First RMS, November 1984

Yesterday, telegraphic news was received from Andrew Bell of Curnow Shipping, to the effect that the RMS St Helena en route from Ascension to Tenerife had hovered 270 mls South West of Freetown after a fire in her engine room. The fire was centered on a generator and was fought by the prompt and coiirageous action of the ship’s staff. ‘A’ Deck, that is the crew’s accomodation and ‘B’ Deck, the passenger accomodation, were affected by smoke with the fire having spread up the engine room casing. Fortunately there were NO casualties amongst crew and passengers. The ship was put on power from an emergency generator located in another part of the ship. A passing tanker was seen standing by during hours of darkness. Radio It Helena, in its Local News Bulletin, will keep you up-dated with further information.{g}

Nearly Never Finished

While all the fuss was being made about Wind Shear at the new Airport it should have been remembered that construction of the new RMS was not without problems. The builders, Hall, Russell and Company of Aberdeen, went bankrupt in October 1988, half way through the build. Fortunately the situation was recovered and the build was completed. Napoleon’s Curse anybody?

Read More

Below: Article: “Date set for final voyage of last Aberdeen-built ship”Article: “Royal Mail Ship St Helena to Retire”Article: “Royal Mail Ship St Helena - saying farewell to the beating heart of a community”

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

Article: “Date set for final voyage of last Aberdeen-built ship

BBC NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland, 10th October 2017{14}

The RMS St Helena was built in 1989 Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
The RMS St Helena was built in 1989

A date has been set for the final voyage of the last ship to be built in Aberdeen.

The RMS St Helena is being retired from service as it will not be needed due to the long-awaited opening of an airport on the remote South Atlantic island it was built to serve.

The final official voyage serving the island of St Helena will be next February.

RMS St Helena is being offered for sale so could operate elsewhere.

The vessel - built at the Hall Russell yard in 1989 - can carry 3,000 tonnes of cargo and more than 150 passengers.

The passenger service to St Helena is being replaced by flights Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
The passenger service to St Helena is being replaced by flights

Situated in the middle of the South Atlantic, St Helena is 1,200 miles from the coast of West Africa.

It is just 10 miles (16km) long and six miles (10km) wide.

Article: “Royal Mail Ship St Helena to Retire

By Wendy Laursen, The Maritime Executive, 20th January 2016{14}

RMS in James Bay (Evening) Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

The RMS St Helena will be missed dearly when she retires this year after 26 years of service.

The RMS St Helena is one of the last three remaining Royal Mail Ships in operation and has been servicing the British Overseas Territory Island of St Helena Island and her dependencies for the past 26 years.

St Helena lies in the South Atlantic Ocean, 4,000 kilometres east of Rio de Janeiro and 1,950 kilometres west of the Kunene River which marks the border between Namibia and Angola in southwestern Africa.

The RMS St Helena first came into service in 1990 and primarily shuttles between the St Helena Island, neighboring Ascension Island and Cape Town.

Other than the sporadic international cruise ship visit over the years, the RMS St Helena has been St Helena’s only constant link with the outside world. It’s a legacy that will come to an end this year as the island will open its first airport.

The current RMS St Helena was built by Hall, Russell & Company in Aberdeen, and is Registered Class 1 passenger/cargo ship. She is British registered, 6,767 gross tons and has berths for a maximum of 156 passengers plus 56 officers and crew.

She is equipped to carry all manner of cargo to meet the needs of the Island’s small 4,000 population. From wind turbines to automotive parts; sheep, goats, and Christmas turkeys to furniture, food and paint, everything has to be carried by ship to the island.

Her industry and freight importance aside she provides St Helenian’s the world over a connection to their home island.

RMS 1990-2016 Poster Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

Resident Emma-Jane Richards has created a commemorative poster to mark the vessel’s retirement. She reminisces:

When I was younger I always hesitated when someone asked me ‘where are you from? I can’t quite pin down your accent’. Not because I am embarrassed of my heritage or the way I sound.

On the contrary I am very proud of where I’m from. No, my hesitation comes solely from explaining, what often is met with bewilderment, that I am from a small isolated, obscure island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. That remote outcrop of volcanic rock is one of a few remaining British Overseas Territories around the world; St Helena Island.

The bewilderment and disbelief quickly changes into pure excitement when people find out just how isolated St Helena is and the logistics of how you get there. Up until now the only way to access the island was via sea. Yes, you read right, in a world where the other side of the world is just 24 hours flight away or you can jet off for a weekend to any major European city in the course of just a few hours, you still have to make an epic journey to reach a place like St Helena.

At its quickest route you fly for some nine hours to the closest land mass, its sister island Ascension Island, where you board one of the last remaining Royal Mail Ships in the world and sail for two to three days. Or alternatively, you fly to Capetown in South Africa and catch the ship there to sail for five full days before the island looms on the horizon. In the course of my life I have made the journey to and from the St Helena many times, four of which were on a long 14 day journey direct between the Island and Portsmouth.

Some journeys have been through record high waves, others on ocean so still and expansive it feels like you’re not even moving. The constant in all those journeys has been a vessel that holds an endearing place in many hearts.

A vital physical link for islanders to the ‘outside’ world, the RMS St Helena has, for generations, been a steady, loyal friend who offered a welcomed break from the isolation island life offers.

To some she is just a boat who simply transports cargo and mail to and from our island home. But to many the RMS St Helena represents far more than that, she has tirelessly served the people of St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha. Bringing long lost friends and family back home on triumphant returns. She’s been the backdrop to childhood adventures and given Saints everywhere something to be proud off. If you have had the pleasure and privilege of travelling or working on the RMS St Helena you, my friend, have been a part of a beautiful history.

Article: “Royal Mail Ship St Helena - saying farewell to the beating heart of a community

By John Honeywell; published in The Daily Mirror 23rd August 2014.{14}

Dwarfed: RMS St Helena meets the Queen Mary 2 Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Dwarfed: RMS St Helena meets the Queen Mary 2

No one could quite understand my determination to visit the remote island St Helena.

Why would I take three weeks out of my life - a week to get there, eight days on a speck of rock in the South Atlantic, and a week to get home?

I wasn’t even sure myself, although once the seed had been planted it began to grow and grow; nothing would stop me.

Here was an opportunity to visit one of Britain’s last remaining outposts before it changes forever and the opening of an airport drags it into the 21st century.

I was invited because I write about cruise ships.

The only way to reach St Helena - unless you happen to own your own yacht - is by passenger ship.

The sturdy RMS St Helena is the vessel that makes the journey regularly.

Not long ago it ran a scheduled service from the UK, now it is reduced to shuttling from Cape Town, sailing onwards to Ascension Island and occasionally making a detour to Tristan da Cunha.

It is one of only two remaining passenger vessels designated Royal Mail Ships - Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is the other; they once ‘met’ at Tristan da Cunha - and who knows what might happen now our post offices have been privatised.

Community: View over James Bay and Jamestown waterfront Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Community: View over James Bay and Jamestown waterfront

The hefty subsidy that the Foreign Office lays out each year to keep the service afloat is one reason why we are pouring £250million into building St Helena’s first airport, which should open in about a year.

Once the scheduled commercial air service becomes established, the 344ft RMS St Helena - built in Aberdeen in 1990 - will be pensioned off and the unique experience of its passage across the South Atlantic will be gone.

The ship is more than just 6,767 gross tonnes of steel capable of carrying 156 passengers, 55 crew and up to 1,800 tonnes of cargo.

It is the beating heart of the small community.

When the ship is in James Bay the 4,000 islanders smile more broadly than usual.

When it bobs at anchor, life in the sleepy capital, Jamestown, perks up; shops and bars open specially, or for longer hours, than during the rest of the month.

The RMS is the residents’ lifeline. The ship is the only way to get to Cape Town when islanders need treatment beyond the capabilities of the island’s small hospital.

It transports them to the outside world for education, training and employment.

It brings them back for family celebrations and when they decide to return home for good.

It brings everything needed for daily life - food, household goods, cars, tools.

You name it, it’s all there in the containers winched off the ship and on to pontoons to be floated ashore.

For many Saints, a regular job on the ship has set them up for life.

History: Catching some sun on deck Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
History: Catching some sun on deck

Like the island, the ship is a journey back in time, but it would be wrong to pretend it offers a luxury cruise experience.

The cabins, some shared by four people, are as basic as those on a cross-Channel ferry.

The extras-indulging occupants of the few suites are limited to a fridge and a bowl of fruit.

No balcony, or even picture window, from which to survey the ocean; just a simple porthole within splashing distance of the swell.

No television, just a radio with a choice of two channels - BBC World Service or music.

There’s a small gym somewhere up near the funnel - climbing the steps to reach it would be enough exercise for me.

The view forward from the ship’s main lounge is of containers on the cargo deck; the Sun Lounge looks out across a small swimming pool to a large area of open deck and the seemingly endless wake trailing behind the ship.

The emptiness of the sky is only occasionally broken by an albatross or a pair of petrels.

Highlight of the journey is the fiercely competitive cricket match between passengers and crew.

Nightlife: Barbecue night on RMS St Helena Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena
Nightlife: Barbecue night on RMS St Helena

Whether it was thanks to the presence of Governor Mark Capes on board to cheer from the boundary we will never know, but the passengers scored an exceedingly rare victory.

Just as on a cruise ship, the captain holds a welcome cocktail party; officers share tables with guests in the compact dining saloon, and there’s a quiz which is almost as cut-throat as the cricket.

The crew seem to have abandoned the habit of putting on a cabaret, although they still serve hot beef tea at 11am.

Entertainment is limited to deck games, the well-stocked bar and a few film nights.

Days are spent reading, sleeping, and scanning the empty ocean with nothing to see but sea and sky.

My journey coincided with Remembrance Sunday and the captain and the governor held a moving service on the afterdeck.

Eerily, an albatross flew over the wake as the Last Post sounded and a wreath was dropped on to the waves.

Before long, the Last Post will be sounded for RMS St Helena.

There are precious few opportunities remaining to make the journey before the ship sails into the sunset for the last time.

Closing Humour Image Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

Laugh at funny rms humour - LOL Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena


Credits:

{a} 20th August 2016, by Christopher L Godden

{b} Mail Online

{c} www.rms-st-helena.com

{d} St Helena Herald, 10th February 2012{14}

{e} Robert Wilson, via Facebook

{f} BBC News, November 1999{14}

{g} St Helena News Review, 2nd November 1984{14}



Footnotes:

{1} We don’t know who made this model. If it was you, please contact us so we can attribute this fine creation!

{2} RMS in the centre; the others are HMS Ledbury and HMS Brecon (but we don’t know which is which - sorry.)

{3} You may recognise this photo - it appears all over the Internet. Can we please just claim credit for it? John, a Director of Moonbeams took the photo in the evening of his first arrival on St Helena on 28th January 2005. It is released into the public domain on Wikipedia (just thought you should know…).

{4} In the UK. The first St Helena stamp wasn’t issued until 1st January 1856.

{5} See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Mail_Ship to learn about the others.

{6} 

{7} Though since calls to the UK were suspended the RMS no longer crosses the equator.

 

Union Castle poster Saint Helena Island Info RMS St Helena

{8} Amusingly, the Union Castle Line ships were painted with black and red funnels and a lavender-coloured hull, as a consequence of which the company was affectionately known as the ‘Lavender Hull Mob’.

{9} 

{10} 

{11} Though sometimes referred to as the ‘RMS St Helena Island’.

{12} The book ‘Falklands War - Get Stuft’ by I H Milburn tells the story. “A sailor’s diary from the Falklands War 1982, telling the truth with tongue-in-cheek humour. The book charts the voyage taken by the RMS St Helena (a ship taken up from trade - STUFT). She supported HMS Brecon and HMS Ledbury in minehunting/sweeping, and other ordnance clearance, including diving on the wrecks of sunken warships.”.

{13} See more blogs.

{14} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

{15} The last Union Castle Line{8} ship to make a scheduled call at St Helena was the Southampton Castle, which sailed on 16th September 1977.



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