Then the farewells , the jokes, the hugs and the kisses have to stop. The officials in the port start to gather the passengers for their security checks (yes even here) and line them up for the launch departures. That moment where you drop down off the main wharf on the little platform under the cliffs to swing over to the launch, and sit there in your red lifejackets staring up at those left ashore, know you have left the island, but know you will be able to see it for several more hours to come, is another emotional hurdle to plough through. No quick take off and away like aircraft. The launch roars into full throttle and away you go – boarding the ship once more, the welcome and familiarity of the rooms and the staff, anticipation at the days of nice food and silly games. But you must go up on deck one more time and look at the island.
And once you are there you cannot leave that deck. You grab a mug of tea in your hand and piece of cake and head out, and with all the passengers, some you know, some you don’t, you longingly stare back at Jamestown proudly sitting in its gorge, the ladder and , if you are lucky, a glimpse of the green heartland in the clouds above.
You sit there for what seems like hours as all the official activities are seen through, finally the land crew disembark, the final doors are closed, but still you stare back at the land, you cannot bring yourself to embrace the ship. You might be dragged back in for the safety briefing but once complete you are back on deck. The island is starting to recede; first it gives you a wider view of the island – you spot a few new features you now know well – Flagstaff Hill, there is Lemon Valley, High Knoll Fort becomes prominent and you see the houses of Half Tree Hollow below. Look – there is the Barn standing out at the end of the island one end, and now the peaks are standing proud as a backdrop.
Now it is starting to become fuzzy, the late afternoon haze is making the detail less visible. But the overall shape of the island gives one final surprise – you see the shape of a beautiful maiden, maybe St Helena herself, lying on one side across the ocean, her shoulder pointing up where you used to know Flagstaff Hill was, and the Barn has taken on the curious shape of her curly hair.
I always planned to stay out here until the island sank beneath the horizon. But it never did. It just faded, and faded and faded and then, no matter how tightly I screwed up my eyes, I could not be sure what I was seeing was land or just a billowing cloud.
St Helena was gone.