Royal Mail Ships and the last few pink bits on the map.

I like to think of this site as a kind of ‘cabinet of curiosities’ on the web; of no especial purpose or relevance, but perhaps interesting and worth of the distraction… anyway, I was musing the other day about how to go about visiting some of the more remote islands around the world that are still painted pink on the map. Ben Fogle wrote a highly entertaining book on the subject called ‘The Tea Time Islands‘ some years back, and I can recommend it. (Ben must be a good chap to meet in a pub BTW; he seems genuinely charming, and among his achievements has rowed the Atlantic Ocean in 49 days and crossed Antarctica by foot in a race to the South Pole.)

So, after a little bit of research it seems that the best way to get to the Falkland Islands is, of course, to enlist in the RAF and hope (!) to be posted to RAF Mount Pleasant… This RAF station is currently home to between 1,000 and 2,000 British military personnel, and is located about 30 miles southwest of Port Stanley. To help you while away the time, you can entertain yourself along the world’s longest corridor; half a mile (800 m) long, that links the barracks, messes and recreational and welfare areas of the base. I bet the time flies past… while a trip to Diego Garcia in the service of HM Armed Forces might involve such cultural highlights as, “providing a visible demonstration of United Kingdom sovereignty on the behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and a number of civil functions ranging from policing to customs and excise.” Where do I sign?

800px-Mauretania_1930s

However it researching was how one might get to St Helena that gave me most pleasure. Do you remember those evocative names of old steam ships? The sort of Blue Riband, Cunard Line / Union-Castle line, ladies of the oceans… Mauretania, Olympic, Persia, Titanic, Lancastria? Well, almost all of them were Royal Mail Ships, and used the RMS prefix. Any vessel designated as “RMS” had, or has the right both to fly the pennant of the Royal Mail when sailing and to include the Royal Mail “crown” logo with any identifying device for the ship. The designation “RMS” has been used since around 1840, and was seen as a mark of quality and a competitive advantage, because the mail was supposed to be on time. How things have changed.

Anyway,  the shift in recent years to air transport for mail has left only an handful of ships with the right to the prefix or its variations. Queen Mary 2 was conferred “RMS” by Royal Mail when she entered service in 2004 on the Southampton to New York route as a gesture to Cunard’s history, while the Royal Mail has allowed British Airways to use their logo and crest on a plane’s fuselage, usually alongside their registration markings. But the ship that interested me was the RMS St Helena which sails between Cape Town and Saint Helena with regular shuttles continuing to Ascension Island. Her website is wonderful, and you can even follow the ship’s progress in real time (slow) on a map! The ship is a far cry from the floating ‘gin places’ one usually associates with cruise ships, indeed the site boasts that, “there are no theatres, no casinos, no golf ranges… Life on board is far from frenetic.” Its not cheap mind you, with cabins costing between £770 and £3,418 for the Ascension to Cape Town leg, but Ascention has to be one of the more bizarre holiday destinations anyway! You can find out more about her, and life abroad here.

RMS St Helena

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