My first evening aboard was very quiet, a few drinks around the lounge chatting to guests. Nice to get to know who was going home, who was going to be working on the island, who was just starting out on their holiday of a lifetime. At the bar before dinner I had come across a large Scotsman who was downing a pint of draught lager and getting ready to order a second. He looked rather nervous and at first I thought it was the ship’s motion that was concerning him. He told me he was planning to start on St Helena as the resident dentist. He’d left his wife and small child behind in the UK and was going to get set up and if everything went OK they would follow him over. I could see he was not certain about his mission, and this was the first few hours of “the point of no return”. Here we were, at the mercy of the RMS, heading slowly but remorselessly to one of the most remote inhabited places on the earth’s surface. I could empathise with him a little. I took the plunge to move to the BVI in the October of 2001. There was so much to do to arrange the move, put stuff in storage, work out what I was to do with my house, my finances, as well as contractual arrangements at the other end and finding out what life was going to be like there. Emotions ran high from time to time, from excitement to sheer terror, to chastisement at how stupid I was being for giving up home comforts and familiarity. I remember being taken to Heathrow Airport by my good friend, Vicky, and after a tearful farewell and assuring her that if it was not for all her support and assistance I would not have been able to uproot like this, I went through to the departure lounge and felt a numbness. I was there – my life’s belongings either stored away in a shed in Maidstone ready for transhipment, or being processed into the hold of an American Airlines flight to New York. I’d travelled through here so often but had never felt so isolated.
As I sat on the aircraft and watched the UK grow farther away below me, I had a sense of resignation. It was not a particularly sad moment, although there were tears in my eyes. It was that now I was fated. I had no choice at this point. I just had to sit here and go through with what I had planned. And this was the sense I saw in this dentist’s eyes. He looked nervous, but in fact had just come to terms with his fate.
I suppose the prospect of St Helena had different affects on everyone on board ship. For the Saints, this was a homecoming; they looked forward to being with friends whom they may not have seen for a couple of years. For the holiday makers there was the sense of mystery. For some, like this dentist, it was more about the fears of whether the island, its people and infrastructure would be enough to sustain them. And there were those of us who were planning to work on the island for a short term. For a first visit, I fell more into the holidaymaker sense of excitement. When I returned it was more like a returning Saint. I’d already learnt to love many of its people and wondered at its scenery and could not wait to taste it all again. Second time around I had Edsel with me and could not contain myself at preparing him for the richness of experiences about to hit him. I had to hold back sometimes as I wanted him to explore and get involved himself, and particularly to experience that anticipation of doing everything for the first time.