I haven’t had the best few days. The change of itinerary, involving the avoidance of the West African ports; the consequent letters from guests. While some of them have been sympathetic, others have not, quite the opposite in fact. I and my superiors took the decision with the well-being and health of all on board as our reason for doing so; however some were prepared to take their chances and made it quite clear how they felt.
Anyone with the responsibility of 1700 lives and $500m of ship, or for that matter, a pilot with his or her 500 passengers and a $50m aircraft, knows about the burden of responsibility. Often one is damned if you do and damned if you don’t and this is definitely one of those times. The problem with me, like many others, is that I take my responsibilities seriously and therefore take criticism personally; I am unable to remain above it all and lost sleep thinking about it.
Anyway, onto lighter matters. We were at the island of St. Helena today, former ‘prison’ for Napoleon Bonaparte, an island in the middle of nowhere in the South Atlantic. Of volcanic origin, it has towering cliffs on its seaward sides, pierced by narrow valleys and it is in one of these that Jamestown lies. It is part of the British Overseas territory and thus flies the Union Jack from its flagpoles. Lying at anchor was the RMS St. Helena, (Royal Mail Ship in case you wonder). She calls at Ascension and St. Helena, delivering stores and mail, she also takes passengers to Cape Town and back. She calls every few weeks and it was just our luck that she has been here on our past 2 occasions, she in the prime anchorage and so I decided to ‘drift’ on engines and use the joystick, so we could be near the tender pier.
The swell, deceptively low near the ship, caused unending challenges at the pier itself; the tenders ranging backward and forward as well as up and down. We were fortunate that every guest who went ashore did so without incident, in the main due to some great seamanship from the helmsmen and much assistance of our team of helping crew on the pier.
Having walked under a steep-sided cliff, past old warehouses and what appear to be barracks, one enters the town through what was once a narrow, fortified gate to reveal an inclined hill, either side of which are the buildings of the town. Their facades have not changed much in 150 years, just the names outside the doors.
On the south side of the valley is a towering hill and stretching from the town to the peak is the infamous ‘Jacob’s ladder’. Consisting of 669 steps, it was built by the Royal Engineers as a ‘quick’ access to a battery of cannons; it is a challenge for all ages and our intrepid guests were keen to ‘have a go’. If you suffer from vertigo, I don’t recommend it. I am told, (for I haven’t attempted it for 30 years), that coming down is worse than going up.
Karen I wandered in (again, because we were here last year), I taking photos and she, browsing. We were heading for the local store, which, amongst others, had a vast stock of Cadbury’s chocolate bars and their own pies; steak and kidney, steak and mutton. The aroma was almost sufficient, however we bought 10 of these, I had to keep the boys and girls on the Bridge happy. Laden with our booty, (including 8 large bars of chocolate) we headed back to the tender, the boarding of which was as adventurous as the disembarkation an hour previously.
And so, at 5 p.m. we left St. Helena and yes, we are going to Ascension. We will arrive there at noon on the 10th. I have called at both these islands over the years, regularly when I was on Union-Castle ships and I know that both a susceptible to these big Atlantic swells. Landing at Ascension is difficult at the best of times; a high, stone pier with slippery steps and a swell have posed challenges every call, in fact I think I’m correct in writing that we have never managed it, however we will see.