Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The R.M.S. and the Rhythm of Life on St. Helena

The mail ship is the heartbeat of life on St. Helena.

Virtually everything that is consumed on St. Helena comes on the RMS.(1)

On this ship virtually everybody arrives and virtually everybody leaves.(2)

It is hard to imagine this town and this quay when, with the completion of the airport, this heartbeat is stopped forever.

Before the RMS arrives the local papers give the names of the important people that are coming. Nobody has ever heard of any of them.

When the ship arrives the quay becomes crowded.

The coffee shop opens early for business.

Local radio provides up to the minute information on its time of departure.

The Post Office displays information on the deadline for posting letters.

For the French Consul it means that he has to work on something called his Diplomatic Bag.

We have already watched the R.M.S. leave twice, each time for Ascension Island.

When it returns the second time we know that it is our turn to go.

For us then it means delivering our luggage to the customs, and the sadness of saying goodbye to people we will miss.

It is the least happy time of our holiday.

Time for a few parting photographs.

Goodbyes are an essential part of the rhythm of this island.

So we get on the launch to take us out to the R.M.S. St. Helena.

For centuries people arriving and leaving have gone on deck for their first and their last view of St. Helena.

As we sail away, this is our last view of the island.

This way of seeing the island and this experience will soon be a thing of the past.

In future the visitor's first view of Jamestown will not be from the sea, but from Napoleon Street.

You just can't keep that man out of it.

1. Water, oil and fish are the main exceptions. There is also some local meat and vegetables. Oil arrives on a tanker to the terminal at Ruperts Bay.

2. The only exceptions are cruise ships, now few in number, and a few private yachts calling in en route from the Cape to the Americas. It was not always like this. In the early nineteenth century hundreds of ships would call in every year for water and other provisions; the consulates of many nations were then established in Jamestown. The sign that used to appear outside the Norwegian Consulate is now displayed in the local museum.

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