The daily astonishment of the Log of the Watch
A guest blog written by popular author Niall Griffiths, who has six published books to date and also writes travel pieces. This is what brought him to our small island last month. Today he writes about what it was like travelling on the RMS St Helena.
You’re on deck, basking, with your beef tea or your lunch or coffee or whatever, comfortable and settled, and then the friendly female voice over the tannoy tells you that your nearest point of land is over 300 miles away and that you’re sitting on top of 18,000 feet of black, cold, salt water. And suddenly you don’t feel so settled; you realise how tiny you are, how pathetically small and insignificant, and the minute warm core of yourself is utterly dependent on the think skin of steel that is keeping you afloat and the unseen, marvelous people who keep that skin intact.
This is all part of the thrill, of course. The boat becomes your entire world; it is where you sleep, exercise, eat, socialise, and work. On such a self-contained floating world, you need good company, and there were many fellow passengers who had that special twinkle in their eyes who quickly became kindred; returning Saints, South African airport workers, members of the Saint Helena government, English teachers, Zimbabwean journalists, old Australian islophiles – intriguing adventurers and personalities, all. The deck barbecue of the final night is something almost magical; this vessel, a speck on the south Atlantic, lit up like a Blackpool Christmas, the sounds of music and laughter leaping across the waves, a cocoon of companionship in the vast wet wilderness.
It is a huge amount of fun. True, there’s not a great deal to see – I found my vision becoming fixated on the petrels which seesawed across the wake and the flying fish which leapt to avoid the prow – but, for me, boredom was never an issue; the wonderful crew stave that off with talks and films and deck games and the like (including a casino evening in which I won enough money to cover my tip obligations), but give me something to read and something to write with and leave me to my own devices and I’m never bored anyway. There’s a truth in the maxim that active minds know no boredom, isn’t there? And besides, where’s the tedium in uniqueness?
This is the last Royal Mail boat on the planet and it’s not going to last long; 2016, to be exact, when the island’s airport will necessitate decommissioning. It’s a trip I’d always wanted to take. I’ll be forever glad that I did.