St Helena Sailings Extended As Airport Delayed – Other Cruise News: National Geographic Quest – Iceland Pro Cruises
by Kevin Griffin
This week the news is all about small ships. First, the 128-berth St Helena and Ascension supply ship RMS St Helena visited London during her last UK visit before leaving service. At the same time, however, because wind shear is preventing safe landings at the new St Helena airport, her contract has been extended for three more voyages from Cape Town. Next up, Lindblad have revealed preliminary itinerary details for their latest ship, the 100-berth Quest, which is due to enter service a year from now. And finally, the 224-berth Ocean Diamond has started her second season for Iceland Pro Cruises out of Reykjavik.
THIS WEEK’S STORY
St Helena Sailings Extended As Airport Delayed
The well-known 128-berth supply ship St Helena arrived in London last week, where she tied up alongside HMS Belfast to receive HRH Princess Anne, a former passenger, for a function on board on Wednesday evening.
This is the ship’s last visit to the UK as when the new airport is finally opened at St Helena her passenger capacity will no longer be needed.
St Helena arrived at Tilbury Docks last Sunday June 5, with 123 passengers on board. She then moved to the Pool of London and departed on Friday evening to return to the London Cruise Terminal at Tilbury, where 600 members of the public visited on pre-booked tours this Saturday.
AWS Shipping of London, the ship’s managers, had previously advised the final sailing dates via the islands with two calls at each of Ascension and St Helena northbound and two calls at each of St Helena and Ascension southbound and also Tenerife in each direction:
Cape Town May 7 to London June 5, 2016
London June 14 to Cape Town July 15, 2016
The RMS, as she is called, is scheduled to depart from Tilbury at 16:00hrs tomorrow, June 14, en route to Tenerife, Ascension and St Helena.
The present vessel was built in 1989 and replaced a Canadian-built namesake that had served St Helena since 1978, when ocean liners ceased to call on the tiny island.
The present St Helena’s replacement has now been identified as a Dutch-owned general cargo ship called the Eemslift Christiaan. As the Helena, the replacement ship will be able to carry up to 4,979 tonnes of cargo and twelve passengers.
Meanwhile, following certification of St Helena Airport on May 10, the presence of wind shear was noted by the first few flights into the Airport.
This has needed work that includes the development of operational procedures to allow use of the northern runway (20), where wind shear has been identified, and options for using the southern runway (02), where wind shear has not been identified as a problem.
Air service, when it eventually opens, is to be provided from Johannesburg by Comair, a South African franchise of British Airways.
While this work goes on, the St Helena government has extended the contract for the St Helena to supply three more voyages for passengers and cargo from Cape Town, on July 8, August 20 and September 9, with final return to Cape Town on September 27. Bookings for the extra voyages opened last week.
St Helena voyage 243 leaves London tomorrow for calls at Tenerife, St Helena, Ascension and St Helena and Ascension again before arriving at Cape Town on July 15 to begin her final three voyages. The vessel is now for sale.
OTHER CRUISE NEWS
National Geographic Quest
Lindblad Expeditions has named its new ship National Geographic Quest. Currently under construction at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders near Seattle, she will enter service in June 2017 as the first of two sister ships.
The Quest will take over some of the programmes currently operated by Lindblad’s Sea Bird and Sea Lion. But the Quest has about 60% more capacity than either of those vessels. The Quest is 238 feet long by 46 feet and accommodates 100 passengers while the Sea Lion and Sea Bird are each 151 feet long by 31 feet and carry 62 passengers each. The Quest will also be able to offer larger cabins than her sisters, ranging from 136 to 187 square feet.
Though the Quest is larger, Lindblad’s engineers have designed her with a shallow draft so she can still travel to the places the smaller ships have been serving.
Like other Lindblad ships, the Quest will be fitted with kayaks, inflatable landing craft, snorkels and wetsuits as well as the latest developments in the technology the company has developed over the years to provide special glimpses into the areas round the ship. These include the hydrophone, an underwater microphone that makes it possible to listen to whale songs.
The US-registered Quest will join its fleetmates in a circuit that includes Alaska, the Columbia and Snake rivers, Baja California, the Pacific Northwest and Costa Rica.
The Quest’s first voyage will be 13-day Treasures of the Inside Passage: Alaska and British Columbia.
She will operate on the Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness voyage beginning in July 2017 and will switch to Treasures of the Inside Passage: Alaska and British Columbia in September.
At the end of the Alaska season she will offer a new series of itineraries between Seattle and Vancouver, with stops in the San Juan Islands, Victoria and Alert Bay and will start her trips in Costa Rica and Panama in December. The following February she will begin a series of new trips in Belize and Guatemala.
Iceland Pro Cruises
Iceland Pro Cruises, the sister company of Iceland Pro Travel, which has more than twenty years of experience in Iceland, has now begun its second season of Iceland cruises.
After her positioning voyage from Hamburg to Reykjavik last month, the 224-berth Ocean Diamond is now in service for the summer. This season runs from May to September and the chartered vessel is offering seven 9-night Iceland circumnavigations, two shorter northern Iceland cruise-tours and three longer cruises that take in both Iceland and Greenland.
Built as the Fearnley & Eger truck ferry Gardenia (which explains her Ice Class 1D hull), this ship was later converted into a small cruise ship. Her most famous years were as Radisson Seven Seas Cruises’ Song of Flower, between 1990 and 2003, when she was restricted to just 180 passengers.
Connections from the UK to Reykjavik are offered by Icelandair, which flies from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow.
(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)