Nine months ago my wife saw a job advert; an amazing, if unlikely opportunity, that would change our lives. Without any real regard for the consequences I encouraged my wife to apply, not believing said life-changing adventure could ever become a reality.
At yet, now I sit here with my wife, Bev, and two young boys, Oliver (6) and Charlie (3), in the tropical sunshine of St Helena; a small British overseas territory that is one of the most remote places in the world.
Without a doubt, our adventure started with our journey here, and it is no ordinary journey. St Helena is remote, very remote, 1200km from the West coast of Africa without an airport. After an 11-hour flight to Cape Town and a night spent enjoying the sights and sounds of South Africa’s capital, we boarded the RMS St Helena; one of the last remaining Royal Mail ships that would take us to St Helena, a 5 day journey.
The RMS St Helena has a reputation for leaving a lasting impression on people, and it is easy to see why. It is a throwback to a bygone era with games of dominoes and shove half penny, cricket, and tug o war on deck. The passengers and crew make this journey truly special and interesting. The ship contains an endless list of nationalities, personalities and stories each with their own tail to tell. We met many people from the UK in the same situation as ourselves, off to St Helena for new work and a new way of life.
We also had our first experience of the local Saints, warm, friendly and fascinating people. Always with time to say hello and spin a tale. Life on board is one of routine, based around meal times, but in between, regular entertainment is provided.
Our final night aboard was spent enjoying a fabulous feast on the deck, with barbequed meats, fresh fruit a plenty, and significant portions of cake before we headed off to bed. We had mixed emotions; excited to arrive at the island but sad to be leaving our extended family on board the RMS St Helena.
The next morning, crawling out of bed at 7.30am we made our way to the deck and there she was, the island, the focus of our attention for the last 5 months, the vision in our heads for what feels like a lifetime. What a wonderful exciting moment, shared with others emerging on deck to see their new home for the first time, whispers and murmurings of emotions giving way to a tide of noise and chatter as eventually all 125 passengers appear on deck wide eyed.
I peered at the rock emerging from the sea, imagining myself in the opening scenes of King Kong. As we approached the barren rocky cliffs the island’s secret lush interior is revealed only by the sight of a loan tree, sat on the Island’s highest point, Diana’s Peak (823m). Two things struck me; this is a small island, a spec in an endless ocean.
My mind turned to the pioneering explorers, the Christopher Columbus’s of this World, the excitement and sheer overwhelming joy that must have greeted those brave men who crossed Oceans with no maps, in the hope of forging brave new worlds. St Helena, although a British Territory for hundreds of years, was discovered in 1502 by Portuguese navigator João da Nova, on his voyage home from India and what must he of felt when, like me, he first saw the looming sea cliffs ahead of him?
The second thing that struck both Bev and I was its apparent lack of any recognisable inhabitants. Approaching the South side of the island, a huge wall of rock and sheers cliffs is all that can be seen, this imposing structure changes and becomes more welcoming as we move East round the island, the barren rock face gives way to welcoming peaks and troughs with lush green valleys and dry peaks. Eventually the ship approaches the North of the island, the capital Jamestown and the first clues of the Islands inhabitants and long history comes into view as we weigh anchor to disembark.
From our steady anchor point, Jamestown is clearly visible, a narrow town of colourful houses rising up following the line of a steep sided valley. We get our first glimpse of Half Tree Hollow, a residential suburb of Jamestown perched high on a plateau and our soon to be new hometown. We can even see our new house from here and thoughts of evenings spent looking out across the setting sun over the Atlantic Ocean fill my head.
Before we know it, our time aboard the RMS is through and we disembark onto a small shuttle boat that takes us to the Wharf. Waiting for a favourable wave to lift our boat high enough to step onto the dry land we have a nervous excitement and butterflies in our stomachs. A short shuttle bus journey to the customs post is filled with the chattering’s of expectant and nervous new Islanders.
Can this be true, that we are here; that this surreal dream is a reality; that I and my family now live, on an Island, six miles wide and ten long. 1200miles from Africa, 1800miles from South America in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; that we live, on the Island of Saint Helena.
To read more and see photos of our adventures on St Helena take a look at my blog, http://twoyearsintheatlantic.com/