Saturday to Thursday (5 – 10 Oct)
The cool, windy conditions continued for the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday. At the point of departure, we went up on the sun deck to look at Cape Town as the boat manoeuvred her way out of the harbour leaving behind Table Mountain, still shrouded in cloud as if covered with a shaggy sheepskin. Dark grey storm clouds to the north provided an atmospheric backdrop to the sunlit metal skeletons of the port machinery, further enhanced by a broad short segment of a rainbow that suddenly appeared.
I showed Alan the library in the main lounge where we found a few novels and some non-fiction to keep us occupied throughout the voyage. It was good to find a book on seabirds that, in the absence of any RSPB members on board, would help me to identify some of the birds following the ship using my new binoculars (our previous pair having received disdainful appraisal from a fellow passenger on my first RMS journey as being too small to be of any use). How exciting to be able to spot, fairly confidently, wandering and yellow nosed albatrosses, cape petrels and Wilson’s storm petrels amongst other species I was not so sure about. I still missed the RSPB expertise though.
Our dinner table companions were all ‘Saints’ returning home after a brief spell away mostly due to medical reasons. One man, however, had just returned from visiting friends in Italy, who had befriended him on their first visit to St Helena the previous year. They had invited him to go and stay with them. It was interesting to hear about his impressions of Italy – all from the viewpoint of someone who had not travelled to Europe before.
The initial considerable swell of the ocean soon settled to a more balmy slight sway. The days passed by in the usual RMS St Helena routine of breakfast at 8, beef tea at 10, lunch at 12, afternoon tea (including sandwiches and cakes!) at 4 and dinner at 6.45; as well as the other distractions provided by the crew and advertised in the daily Ocean Mail such as Beetle drive, Scrabble tournament, Charades etc etc. Books were read, birds were watched, Canasta was played (we discovered that Lewis and Lauren are keen card players and happy to rediscover the rules of Canasta over several afternoons during Jack’s naptime) and too much food was eaten. At the Captain’s cocktail party I met the ship’s doctor and later visited him in his upgraded hospital quarters to see the changes in the facilities since 2011. The other significant meeting, thanks to cocktails with the captain, was with Michael the 3rd Officer. His Scottish accent prompted questions about his origins. He’s an old Watsonion who lived, until four years ago, in a flat above Toys Galore on Morningside Road just round the corner from Tim, AnnaLauren and Evangeline. Now he has a flat in Leith near the waterfront though he is at sea for six months of the year.
Although we didn’t participate in much of the communal activities on offer, apart from the Sunday service, we did join a quiz team along with Lewis, Lauren, Josie and Rob plus a few others. Unfortunately we only managed to make one of the three rounds as I started to succumb to a vicious flu-like virus. On the flight, I’d had a problem with a continuous ache in both knees which I could not shift. I put it down to immobility but even stretching and walking did little to help. This settled on arrival but by Monday morning I had general and shifting muscle pain in my back, neck, hips and shoulders as well as a slight dry cough. I became pretty poorly with fever, headaches, cough and cold symptoms and ongoing myalgia which lasted throughout the voyage. Just what I didn’t need! Thankfully, Alan is remaining well at the time of writing.
Shortly before we got to Jamestown, there was a total electrical failure on the ship. I was alone in the cabin as Alan was on deck looking at St Helena. The immediate effect of losing the power was that both stabilisers stopped working and the boat started to roll pronouncedly from side to side. It was a striking practical demonstrating of the difference stabilisers make to a ship’s movements, given that there was almost no swell on the ocean at that time. I hope it doesn’t happen again on the journey back to Capetown as I suddenly realised that I am not really a good sailor! It was such a relief when the situation reverted to normal within 15 minutes and the roll stopped.