Retrospective Shipwatch: Avalon

Alongside Ocean Terminal

In March 1992 we headed off to Durban to see the QE2, and when we arrived I was very happy to see the Avalon alongside. Recently retired from her St Helena role, she was in Durban under the name and livery, and theoretically starting a series of voyages carrying passengers on cruises to the Indian Ocean Islands. She was berthed alongside at Ocean Terminal, and had to vacate that berth as the QE2 was due to occupy it on the next day. By some skulduggery we managed to wangle a short hop across the harbour on board her.

What we did not know at the time was that this small vessel would never get to make any money and would end up laid up in Durban until she was eventually sold for further trading in the Indian Ocean Islands.

I did however have a soft spot for her, and a part of me really wanted to sail on this mini mailship. As RMS St Helena she had a loyal following, and she was a real oldie that was way too small for the service she was in.  Following her Falklands service she was succeeded by the new RMS St Helena, a ship I was fortunate enough to sail on in 1993.

Originally built in 1963 by Burrard Dry Dock in North Vancouver, Canada as a part passenger, part cargo ship sailing under the name Northland Prince. She was bought by St. Helena Shipping to service the island of Saint Helena, entered service in September 1978 on a route from Avonmouth, England to Cape Town, calling en route at Las Palmas, and Jamestown, Saint Helena. The  3,150 ton ship could carry 76 passengers and supplies. She saw service with the Royal Navy during the Falklands War as a minesweeper support ship. By the 1980s it was becoming apparent that the ship was too small for the island’s needs, resulting in the building of a new RMS St Helena, built in 1989.

The former RMS St Helena

Following our trip across the harbour we were fortunate to be invited to view the QE2 arrival and sailing from her decks. At this point we were hoping that we would manage a visit to the QE2, and I could not help remember that at that point when she arrived there would be two Falklands Veterans in Durban at the same time.

Our personal viewing platform

The boat deck

Sun deck, waiting for QE2

And then it was time for the QE2 to arrive.

and we posed for a shot with Avalon and the QE2 in the background. You can see how small the old RMS really was, but she was still one of my favourites.

The gang all ready to head off to the QE2

The ship visit did not happen and eventually some of us returned to the RMS to glower and grumble at the ship that we would label “the other ship” for a year or two. But, the former RMS had been friendlier, providing us with a place to view the Cunarder sailing later that afternoon.

And the Avalon?

Alongside in Durban

Things did not go well for her, she was moved to the layup berths at Salisbury Island and then put on the market. The venture to take her cruising had failed, and high prices were probably to blame for that, Realistically though, she was a tired old ship, worn out by the long voyages she made between the UK and South Africa, as well as her Falklands service as a minesweeper mothership.  When we returned to Durban on a later trip we found her berthed around the corner from N Shed, her hull was a darker colour than when we had last seen her. It is possible that she had just been sold by then.

And I would see her once more as she was getting ready for her new role in Mauritius, under the name Indianoceanique. I never saw her after that, and I heard that she was broken up in at Alang in 1996.

Indianoceanique in Durban

This image may have been taken in 1994 as the Achille Lauro was still afloat, yet it was taken off the back of a cruise ship, and I suspect it was from Kazakhastan II.  The RMS left me with a hunkering for her replacement, and she too is a fine ship and I am glad I did get to sail on her.  Sadly though, the former Northland Prince/St Helena has faded into history, although I have never forgotten her. Her replacement has also ceased sailing to St Helena and is now the mothership for Extreme E electric SUV racing series, although that still has to happen as the global pandemic has resulted in many changes of plans for everybody. 

The former RMS St Helena in her new guise

The RMS/Avalon in 1/1250 scale.

There are 2 models of the Northland Prince/St Helena/Avalon available. The first is by Albatros (left) and the other is a 3d printed version (right).  Curiously both are also available in their Falklands guise. 

© DRW 1992-2018. Created 05/02/2015. Image of new New RMS in Liverpool courtesy of  Christopher Trigg and is used with permission. Moved to Musings 10/02/2021.

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