Bon Voyage RMS St Helena You Will Be Sorely Missed

In the late 1950’s when I was growing up in Cape Town, jet travel was a fantasy and there was no email either. I used to ride my bicycle through the city to see Union Castle Royal Mail Ships such as the RMS Arundel Castle and RMS St Helena loading and offloading parcels and letters to and from the U.K. I could not think of anything finer that the grand old RMS Arundel Castle, a veteran troop transport from World War II serving her time out as a passenger ship, and taking four weeks to sail inbound to Southampton.

St Helena: RMS Arundel Castle
RMS Arundel Castle

Farewell to the Venerable Arundel Castle

The arrival of graceful Boeing 707 jet airliners did away with all that history, as they streaked across the sky from Cape Town to land in London twelve hours later at a fraction of the Union Castle price. Captains of outbound mail ships increasingly said sad farewells to their counterparts inbound for the UK. After they discharged their final cargoes they sailed on to their ignominious end in breaker’s yards before their time. Amazingly, a few survived where there are no passenger aircraft to compete.

RMS St Helena
RMS ST Helena in Her Home Town: Neil Fantom / CC By 2.0

RMS St Helena Resting at Home

RMS St Helena entered service in 1990, to voyage regularly between Tilbury, London, and Cape Town. She stops at Tenerife to load stores, and then sails to the islands of Ascension and Saint Helena far out in the Atlantic Ocean. After she drops off her cargo and a few intrepid holidaymakers, she proceeds to Cape Town. These are the only visitors and income the islanders receive.

Holiday Makers Ahoy
Holiday Makers Ahoy: Neil Fantom / CC BY 2.0

Holiday Makers Ahoy

The RMS St Helena has excellent facilities given capacity for only 156 passengers, and 56 officers and crew. Despite this, the UK government decided in 2005 this was no longer a cost-effective solution for servicing her far-flung island dominions, and commenced building an airport on a clifftop of Saint Helena island to replace the ocean service.

The ship’s final voyage was due to end in Cape Town on 15 July 2016, but the new landing strip is currently ‘restricted’ due to wind shear. Her website is now showing more cruises going forward.  Bespoke ocean voyages like this could soon be gone forever. Grab last minute opportunities fast.

St Helena
RMS Promenade Deck: Neil Fantom / CC BY 2.0

About Richard Farrell

Richard FarrellI tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time.My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast (30.7167° S, 30.4667° E). I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned.

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  1. Cruise Ship Stories: From Past into the Future - Go4Travel Blog

    […] a child, I travelled quite often from Cape Town to East London in South Africa on Union Castle mail ships serving the Europe / Africa route. Names like Carnarvon, Arundel and Winchester Castle spring to […]


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