Captain Adam Williams allowed the club a two-hour slot between ship operations on the afternoon of Thursday 8 February 2018, in recognition of past services. Sam said: “Some of the dive club members have been involved in prop inspections over the years, and this was a final ‘thank you and goodbye RMS’ before she left here.” A guide rope was attached to one of the blades for safety. “We had a few nervous people – some novices – and 60 metres of water below, plus a bit of current,” said Sam. “We had some shoals of fish come in occasionally too.” A large St Helena flag was unfurled underwater for photographs, and then it was back to the surface.”We were very privileged,” said Sam.
Some watched from the quayside, and some climbed to the high ground to watch the RMS St Helena steam across James Bay and out towards the horizon, for what everyone thought would be the last time. It didn’t turn out that way. Just when everyone was coming down from two days of high emotion in Jamestown, the news came through that the ship had turned around. There was an emergency on board, its nature not disclosed. Few wanted to see the RMS sail away after 27 years service; few would have wanted to see her return in such circumstances. It would be the briefest of return visits.
Friday 9 February 2018, the day before the intended final departure, had been declared a public holiday by the governor, Lisa Phillips – who had been aboard the RMS for the ship’s final voyage to Tristan da Cunha a few weeks earlier. But celebrations of the ship’s significance to the island had already begun with a church service earlier in the week, at which Captain Adam Williams returned a Bible that had been presented to the first RMS St Helena many years before. There followed, on Friday and Saturday, “a true St Helenian style programme of farewell events,” as Kerisha Stevens put it in the report from The Castle.
Flags hung from the cranes on the wharf, there was a fancy hat competition – judged by Governor Phillips in a red and blue creation of her own. And there was cake, crafted in the shape of the ship by former crew member Steve Yon, and shared among the crowd.
An open day was held on the ship on the Friday morning. For those who could not get tickets, Saint FM broadcast a live programme from the deck. Who knew there were so many songs about farewells?
In a speech on the Friday evening, Governor Phillips pondered what people would want her to say.
“I think it would be that the RMS St Helena has been as much a part of the island as the island is a part of the RMS. She has been Intricately woven into the lives of all St Helenians wherever they are in the world.”
There would be thank-yous, and many of them: for babies brought home, for families reunited, and potatoes delivered (though more potatoes would have been good).
The highlight, though, said Kerisha, “was the evening performance by the RMS Amateur Dramatics Society as they performed their Final Act of Stupidity much to the crowd’s delight.
“A firework display and release of lanterns rounded off the evening.”
On Saturday morning, the crew of the RMS led uniformed groups in a parade from The Canister to the seafront, watched by a large crowd. And on the Landing Steps, a white “paying off” pennant was presented by Kedell Warboys MBE, director of the St Helena Line, to Captain Adam Williams, its newest captain.
The pennant was 27 feet long – one foot for every year of the ship’s service.
On the rocks above the wharf, in island tradition, the fire service had “updated” a farewell message, originally painted in 1989 by a young Dale Bowers – now Father Dale – in 1989. The earlier message was written at the request of a councillor to mark the final departure of the first RMS St Helena; it just needed refreshing, and the addition of the date – 2018.
The fire service artists were roped up, but young Dale had no such safety measures. He was dangled over the edge and painted the letters on freehand. As he told Sharon Henry of What The Saints Did Next, he was used to coping with upside-down writing, because he worked in the printing office.
When the time came for departure, a flotilla of boats, including lighters, yachts and jet skis, encircled the ship. The fire & rescue service saluted her with a water arch, fired from one of the floating pontoons normally used to carry cargo between ship and shore. Passengers looking down from the decks could see a rainbow formed in the spray.
They had had to go aboard several hours early because a day’s delay to the weekly flight from South Africa meant the customs service had to process all the ship’s passengers before going up to the airport. But they had a close-up view when dozens of red, white and blue balloons were released into the sky after being held down in the ship’s tiny (and otherwise empty) swimming pool.
The anchor hauled up, the RMS made her way to Buttermilk Point, turned around and steamed past the harbour in full dress.
Around the world, many St Helenians watched video footage of the weekend’s events to keep them in touch with what Jackie Stevens called “the saddest day on St Helena, the Final Farewell of our lifeline to our home.”Spectacular footage of the ship sailing, and the wake of the flotilla of following vessels, can be seen on the St Helena Phantom View page on Facebook.
On Facebook, Catherine Turner thanked the RMS “and her wonderful crew.”
“You are the rhythm we live our lives by, time measured in ship-cycles. You have been our lifeline and link to family and friends for so long.”
And Paul Blake wrote: “I just have to say that today has been one if those days that you were glad to say you were there. As promised I shed a tear or two for you that could not be on island in this special day as the RMS upped anchor shortly after 4pm.
“But what a sight she was, speeding across James Bay towards Lemon Valley. Something unique.”
Like many others, he headed to vantage points across the island to watch the ship round South West Point and pass below Sandy Bay before turning sharply for The Cape.
“Goodbye old lady,” he wrote. “Remembering memories sailing away.”
- This was not the first “farewell voyage” that had not turned out quite as expected. In 2016, a last voyage was made to the UK in anticipation of the ship’s retirement from island service, with the new airport opening for scheduled flights. The airport did not open, and the ship stayed in service. Island broadcaster Tony Leo was on board and made a film of the voyage that captured the working life of the ship and its traditions. One of those featured was Adam Williams, who would soon become the third St Helenian Master of the RMS St Helena, and the person who would skipper the ship when she sailed away for the last time.
A contract to operate a cargo ship to replace the RMS St Helena has been signed – and it will include a small number of passenger berths for the Ascension run.
The deal with AW Ship Management Ltd has been completed four months before the planned retirement date for the RMS St Helena. The company has yet to buy a ship to operate the service.
But it appears the legendary skills of the St Helena boatmen in unloading cargo at sea will no longer be needed: the new vessel will be able to berth at the wharf that is nearing completion in Rupert’s Bay.
It will sail from Cape Town to St Helena and back every five weeks, moving to a four-weekly cycle after a year. It will also operate a voyage to Ascension every two months.
It is expected to depart Cape Town for the first time voyage to St Helena on 27 July 2016, arriving on 2 August.
Unlike the RMS St Helena, the new service will not be subsidised, meaning some cargo prices may rise.
A St Helena Government statement says:
“The intention is for the new cargo service to continue on as seamlessly as possible from the St Helena Line service.
“AW Ship Management will now move ahead with purchasing its own vessel dedicated to the St Helena and Ascension service. ”
“The ship selected will be a geared container ship capable of carrying 250 TEU or equivalent. The vessel will be around 100m long, with a breadth of approximately 18m and a summer draft of 4.5m. Thus, AWSM will be able to discharge cargo alongside at Rupert’s Bay even in a fully loaded condition.
“Cargo bookings for the new service are now being accepted. AWSM’s agents and contact details remain the same as the current service for ease of transition.
“AWSM will be making a small number of passenger cabins available on the new vessel so that passenger sea services can be maintained for those wishing to travel by sea to and from Ascension.
“The dedicated ship for this service will be owned by AWSM and operated with the same skill and dedication that has been applied to the RMS St Helena since 2001. The use of a dedicated ship will ensure that a reliable schedule can be maintained.
“AWSM has been involved in the shipping of cargo to and from St Helena for sixteen years and is fully aware of the importance of a regular, reliable and direct freight service to the island.”
Freight rates are expected to be “broadly the same as the rates for the RMS”. They have been submitted to the island government for approval.
“It is inevitable that rates for certain types of cargo will have to rise given that the RMS is heavily subsidised, but AWSM has worked hard to ensure that such increases are kept to an absolute minimum.”
Pricing will take account of fuel prices, exchange rates and anticipated volumes.
Three stowaways have been found hitching a ride to St Helena’s airport, nearly two years before it is even due to open.
Even though they had no papers on them, David Pryce of St Helena National Trust had no trouble identifying them as pachylomera femoralis – giant flattened dung beetles.
Their remains were spotted in the back of a trailer by Basil Read workers who were assembling new plant in upper Rupert’s Valley.
The discovery sparked a bio-security alert, and was promptly reported to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Division (ANRD).
Giant flattened dung beetles burrow beside fresh dung of various mammals for feeding, as well as rolling away balls of dung to brood their young. They are attracted to a wide range of dung types, carrion and fermenting fruit. Their native distribution is wide, from South Africa up to the Congo.
Basil Read has mapped the trailer’s journey from Port Elizabeth on the coast of South Africa up to Walvis Bay in Namibia, where it was loaded on to the company’s supply vessel.
A press release from St Helena Government said: “The beetles are believed to be attracted to lights and they probably fell into the open trailer while it was parked under security lights at some point.”
Ravi Michael, logistics manager for Basil Read on St Helena said the discovery was investigated swiftly so that any weaknesses in biosecurity could be closed up.
Photographer Christopher Godden has kindly given consent for this site to publish his fine picture of the RMS St Helena at Cape Town, taken from the MSC Sinfonia. Christopher is a member of The Ship Society of South Africa, whose club house in the city’s harbour area has a library of several hundred books and journals on shipping. Christopher says that a party of 30-or-so members of the society are planning a voyage to St Helena in March or April of 2015. Doubtless they’ll enjoy swapping tales with Bruce Salt, the island’s own shipping enthusiast and a much-valued contributor to this site.
Traders in Jamestown have been strongly critical of the plan to land cargo at Rupert’s Bay – leaving them with a difficult journey to transport goods to the shops, on narrow roads that hug steep hillsides. Executive councillor IAN RUMMERY offers a personal response.
The thing about Rupert’s is that with limited funding, albeit £15 million, we are limited to construction at Rupert’s.
While Jamestown is the main wharf at present it cannot continue to be all things to all people. If it is a working port then it cannot be used for leisure purposes.
At present there are significant health and safety risks. There is no room for warehousing. What would happen if we enforced health and safety measures and then prevented yachties from coming ashore? What happens if a yachtie/tourist/Saint gets run over while on the wharf as they are moving cargo?
Another potential issue is that without a wharf we would require ships with their own cranes. We have yet to receive the tenders for a new freight service but my understanding is that options would be more limited if the ships had to have their own crane.
There is a plan to upgrade the road from Rupert’s (Field Road and Side Path Road) and this is in the capital programme.
Rupert’s is not ideal but it is a compromise. Also, the haul road potentially opens up development opportunities outside of Jamestown, so in this case Rupert’s is ideally situated as the port.
The new sailing schedule for the RMS St Helena includes two voyages beyond the planned opening of St Helena’s first airport.
And they may not be the ship’s last trips to the island, according to a statement issued after executive councillors approved the schedule.
The ship is also set to drop anchor in James Bay on the day before the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s arrival on the island on 15 October 1815.
A ten-day spell in dry dock has been booked for August 2015, and a Christmas voyage to Cape Town is scheduled for the end of the year.
The ship is set to leave Cape Town on its last scheduled voyage, number 241, on 25 March 2016, in the month after the projected opening of the airport.
It appears that there might be further voyages beyond that date, though – including to Tristan da Cunha. Previous trips to St Helena’s sister island have sold out very quickly.
A press release said: “A question had been raised about the possibility of a voyage to Tristan, but the expected demand on berths as a result of airport construction and economic development ruled this out.
“The schedule post airport opening has yet to be confirmed and possible voyages such as this will be considered nearer the time.”
Executive councillors approved the schedule after consultation with various groups on the island.
The last listed voyage, number 241, sees the ship depart Ascension on 3 April 2016, leaving James Bay four days later. It ends in Cape Town on 12 April.
The ship entered service in 1990 after being built by Hall, Russell & Company in Scotland.
Its capacity was extended in 2012 with the addition of 24 extra cabin berths, giving space for 152 passengers.
The ship broke down while heading south from the UK in 1999 and had to put into the French port of Brest for repairs, leaving passengers stranded – including one family who had been heading to the island for a wedding.
The incident intensified the battle to secure an airport for the island, which was left without deliveries of supplies.
- Executive councillors also approved a “small” rise in passenger and freight tariffs, in line with inflation and a commitment to reduce subsidies.
A patient has been transferred to hospital in Namibia from the RMS St Helena after the ship diverted by 399 nautical miles to put them ashore.
St Helena Government issued for the following statement on Tuesday, 28 January 2014:
At 2.30pm this afternoon, local time, the RMS arrived at the pilot station in Walvis Bay, Namibia, as planned.Shortly after, two paramedics came onboard from a launch, and the patient was prepared for evacuation. The transfer went smoothly and family members accompanied the patient, who has now been transferred to hospital.At 3.40pm local time, the operation was complete and the RMS departed Walvis Bay for St Helena. The RMS will monitor her speed over the next 12 hours and advise accordingly on the estimated time of arrival at St Helena.Credit goes to the crew and medical team for a rapid and professional response.
No information has been given about the nature of the medical emergency that prompted the rare decision to change course on Monday, two days after the ship left Cape Town.
St Helena’s supply ship changed course for Walvis Bay because of a medical emergency, it was announced on Monday (27 January 2014).
The statement from St Helena Line Ltd did not say whether the situation involved an incident on board the ship, nor whether the patient was one of the 122 passengers.
The RMS St Helena was 399 miles from the Namibian port, two days out from Cape Town, when the decision was taken during the afternoon.
The ship was expected to reach port at about 14.30 hours the following day, steaming at just over 16 knots.
“Options are currently being pursued to deal with the situation at Walvis Bay,” said the statement.
The ship had been due to reach St Helena on Thursday, 30 January. Arrival in James Bay was expected to be at 20.00 on Friday evening, or at 06.00 on Saturday – when the ship was scheduled to travel on to Ascension.
- A special meeting of the Executive Council was due for Tuesday, 28 January, to discuss the sailing schedule for the RMS St Helena for the year 2015-16: previously reported to the be ship’s last year of serving the island before the opening of its airport ion February 2016.
The first, by Scott Stander, shows the vessel being manoeuvred into position, bow-first, and the first construction vehicles being unloaded: all condensed into 53 seconds. Watch it here.
The second, much-longer video, shot by an unnamed Saint, shows the various movements of vehicles and workers. See it here.
Another video by the same Saint producer shows one of the biggest explosions on the airport construction site on Prosperous Bay Plain. See it here.