Due to set sail at 6:00 at the peak of the Friday rush hour, RM’s ‘St Helena’ slipped her moorings alongside HM Belfast and was guided through the raised bascules of Tower Bridge by two bright red and white tugs on her way downstream to Tilbury on perhaps her last voyage. (The tugs were Maltese!) She is a vintage cargo passenger ship which plied her trade carrying cargo and vitals to the remote mid-Atlantic island of St. Helena – very rarely seen in these waters as her business is based in Cape Town, bringing sustenance to isolated communities, as well as an essential passenger link and, of course, the last of the traditional packet ships which set sail from Falmouth to the Commonwealth bearing the essential mail.
It was at supper time two days ago that I was astonished to see her unfamiliar lines pass by on her way to London town. Not dissimilar in size to the Royal Yacht Britannia, she would have made a marvellous 90th birthday present for HM Queen. I bet she has been on board in her extensive travels around her Commonwealth. (She was built in 1990 by A&P Appledore at Aberdeen.)
We no longer see such merchant ships of her size and multiplicity of usage. She looked in spanking bright condition and we raised a gasp of appreciation. So I waved my English flag of St. George in respect (two hoots from the tugs in return). Not a soul seemed as moved as I did from my Greenwich vantage point. As she bore away downstream I also recognised the art of the shipwright as her graceful lines became even more evident against our rapidly-changing shore. What a joy she must have been to the waiting islanders set in their stormy seas where passengers’ cargo containers had to be craned into awaiting tenders and anxious pontoons, containers swinging perilously to be towed ashore to the tiny harbours; perhaps as hazardous as the newly-built St. Helene airport designed to replace her!!