This post is one that I have dreaded for quite some time, and the time has finally come to make it. However, there is much more to it than a mere farewell, because it is really the culmination of many parts. It really starts way back in the in 1992 when I first saw the newly built RMS St Helena in Cape Town from the Canberra. Both of these vessels are legends, but at the moment we are more interested in the RMS. and this was the first photograph that I took of her.
Because her prices were in £ she was very expensive to sail on, and a short cruise was not easy to get because she ploughed a long furrow between Cape Town, St Helena, Ascension Island and finally the UK. She was amongst the last passenger ships doing a dedicated line voyage and was also amongst the few ships left that flew the Royal Mail pennant.
By some weird piece of luck I heard about spaces being available on board her for the voyage to Tristan da Cunha that was happening in 1993, and I took a chance and booked passage. It was not cheap by any means and I am thankful for my travel agent who helped me with my booking and the associated flights to and from Cape Town.
Naturally sailing day was a long drag away. I was stuck in a dead end job with a company I loathed, and was only too glad to get away from them for awhile. Around about the same time I picked up issues with my health and ended up having to lug a stash of pills on board with me. There was no way in hell I would be stopped by aches and pains. The report of my voyage exists on allatsea so I am not going to repeat it, suffice to say I enjoyed it thoroughly; Tristan was a fascinating destination, but the ship was so much better. She is really a hybrid passenger and cargo ship and of course does not have the glitz and glamour of the modern cruise ships, if anything she really came from a much nicer era of travel. Her crew were composed of a mixture of “Saints” and ex Union-Castle staff and of course that meant that I was experiencing just a tiny piece of the legacy of the glorious Union-Castle mail ships.
I was very fortunate to get that opportunity of a voyage and I kept an eye on her as much as was possible in the intervening years. At some point she stopped calling in the UK, and she was managed by Andrew Weir Shipping as opposed to Curnow Shipping. Work was started on an airport at St Helena and that was really the death knell of my favourite ship, although it was still a number of years away.
A number of years have passed, the airport was ready to open and it was announced that the RMS would make one final voyage to the UK, arriving in June 2016. At first I thought “Who do I know that can get me pics?” And then I decided I would get them myself and set out for London on the 7th of June to see the RMS for the last time. I have told that story before and you can read about it on the blogpost.
The airport was not without its problems though and the RMS was granted a reprieve for another year and a half.
A year and a half has passed, and sadly the RMS has sailed from Cape Town on her last voyage. The moment that all of her many fans dreaded has finally arrived.
What of her future? she is came into service in 1990 so is already over 27 years old and is in the zone where a replacement should have been on the table. She has always had engine issues, and recently had to return to drydock for repairs in Simonstown. The odds of her finding a reputable buyer is really very small, and the odds of her becoming a static hotel in St Helena is even smaller. Unless a buyer can be found she will make one last voyage to the beach, and that will be incredibly sad. However, rather she gets broken up than stuck in some backwater and left to rot. I am a realist, and preserving ships in a very costly business, even one as small as her.
When the end of Union-Castle was inevitable the print ad below was published. That is now also true of those who wish to visit St Helena Island.
She will be sadly missed, there will never be another like her.
The end of the era has come.
Glenn Kasner took photo’s of that last sailing and these images are copyright to him. I am using them with permission.
Sadly she had somewhat of a poor send off, but thanks to the tug for showing some respect. And while Cape Town hardly budged from their torpor the same could not be said about her send off at St Helena. These images were kindly sent to me by Sabrina Harper and are used with permission.
10/02/2018. The RMS sailed from St Helena for the last time. The ship, which has supplied the island since coming into service so long ago was expected to reach Cape Town on the 15th of February (Since revised to 17 Feb) where they will disembark the last passengers who sailed on the ship. Thereafter she will go into lay up or alternatively head off to her next destination, whether it is the beaches of Alang or a new career. The Master was unable to reveal what the final destination of the vessel will be as he would only find out while en route for Cape Town. Once I know more I will post it here too.
Farewell RMS, fair weather for your final journeys. Thank you for the experience of real sea travel the way it used to be.
It was announced that the RMS has been sold to Tahiti Shipping, a subsidiary of MNG Maritime, bought the ship for an undisclosed amount. Under the name MNG Tahiti she is to be based in the Gulf of Oman, and used as a floating armoury, packed with automatic weapons, bullet-proof jackets and night vision goggles, all stored for maritime security operatives who keep vessels secure from piracy attacks. At this point there has been no announcement as to when she will sail from Cape Town for the last time.
The MNG ownership did not last long and she was sold yet again for use as a base ship for Extreme E electric SUV racing series and was due to be refitted in Liverpool. She did arrive in Liverpool however in the light of the covid-19 pandemic it was not known whether this racing series would even happen in 2021. By some miracle the St Helena underwent her refit and emerged from Cammell Laird dry dock 6 in Merseyside on 19/09/2020 in her new livery. Images courtesy of Christopher Trigg and are used with permission.
The St Helena has now emerged from Cammell Laird dry dock 6 in Merseyside, United Kingdom (19/09/2020) in her new EXTREME.E livery. Images courtesy of Christopher Trigg and are used with permission .
DRW © 2018 – 2020. Created 25/01/2018. Cape Town sailing images are by Glen Kasner © 2018 and last 3 by Sabrina Harper and are used with permission, updated 15/02/2018, additional images added 18/04/2018. Images of St Helena in new livery on 19/09/2020 courtesy of Christopher Trigg