E1. South Pacific Adventure: Rapa Nui to Pitcairn

The 8-day trip to Pitcairn was much easier than our crossing to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) since we’d left the South Pacific High in our wake.  We weren’t in the trade winds, but enjoyed winds primarily in the mid-teens from the NE or E.  Except for (another) minor flooding of the aft cabin due to leaking lazarettes and flooded gas-bottle locker, the trip was uneventful.  Need to redesign the exhaust hose pass-thru from the aft cabin into the lazarette.  Our spinnaker served us well all the way across the South Pacific!

Pitcairn Island (pronounced pit-kern by the Islanders) lies about 1200 miles west-northwest of Easter Island.  It’s the principle island of the Pitcairn Islands which include 3 other low-lying atolls within about a hundred miles of the main island.  The island, best known as the final hiding place of the mutineers of the HMS Bounty in 1789 after setting Captain Bligh adrift in the middle of the Pacific, is a protectorate of Great Britain but is managed by New Zealand.  The island offers 3 anchorages arguably suitable for various wind and wave directions.  All three are deep and rolly roadstead (along the shore) type anchorages with little or no protection in the case of shifting winds.  It’s no surprise that the island doesn’t see many yachts.

Landing on Pitcairn ranges from entertaining to impossible – depending on the sea-state.  In the principle port of Bounty Bay, a substantial breakwater protects a solid concrete wharf and a couple of railways for launching the Islander’s long boats used to ferry passengers and freight between supply ships and the wharf.  With a big sea running and breaking across the entrance, access to the protected water behind the breakwater is impossible.  Even in moderate conditions,  the entrance requires caution and good timing to make the tight turn around the breakwater and into the surging but calm water inside.  Inattention to the breaking waves will make quick work of a slow dinghy!   

Pitcairn, about 1.5 miles square has a dwindling population currently about 40 strong plus a dozen more off-island for school, medical treatment, and visiting family elsewhere.  The island is rich in fruits and vegetables with abundant water from catchment systems Island-wide.  Islanders raise pigs, goats, and chickens but import most of their food-stuffs from New Zealand.  The British government covers the cost of shipping so goods are not far off their cost in NZ.   Many of the islanders are Seventh Day Adventists, but this doesn’t mean the island is dry.  Indeed, Pirate Pawl and his wife Sue run a bar in their house.  Brenda, a direct descendent of mutiny ring-leader Fletcher Christian, is Pitcairn’s immigration officer. She collects $50/person for a passport stamp and welcomes visitors to her island.   Olive runs the community store and is happy to organize crates of freshies.  She collects the booty by visiting her neighbors on her quad bike.  Bruce, the island policeman, is a Kiwi serving a 12-month stint on the island and is more than happy to show off “his” island. Brenda’s son, Andy, built himself a pizza oven and offers pizza once or twice a month… if he can secure enough ingredients.  Communication on island and with marine traffic is via VHF radio which is a “one-to-all” communication mode.  Everyone gets to listen in on the conversation.  Therefore, private communications are either via letter or in person.

We spent only 3 days anchored in Bounty Bay where a few of the Bounty’s original keel ballast can be found near the shore.   With our Dutch friends Jaap and Minke aboard “Eastern Stream,” we hiked the length and breadth of the island, visiting the Western Harbor anchorage at the (surprise!) western end of the Island and the cliffs above “Down Rope” where the mutineers could access a semi-protected beach with use of (another surprise!)  a long rope down a crack in the cliffs.  Team Pazzo hiked to Saint Paul’s Pool, stopping along the route to fill up on mangos and avocados littering the trail.  The pool is a natural pool, filled with pristine salt water thru fissures in the pool floor and the ocean swells that pour in over the pool’s rocky rim.  The chilly water makes a delightful reward after the hour-long hike.

A fascinating highlight was our visit to Pitcairn’s no-longer-functional radio station located near the island’s high point.  The last transmissions were made from the old radio station in the 1980s by a woman still living on the island.  The station was intact with old vacuum-tube transceivers and morse-code apparatus still fastened firmly to the bench.  Radio logs and spare parts collect dust on deteriorating book shelves and cabinets. 

It is rather ironic that Pitcairn is a British protectorate only because of an act of high treason against the British Admiralty.  Real bad guys, in effect, delivered a rare jewel to the British Crown! 

It would have been fun to spend a few more days rolling around in Bounty Bay and getting to know more of the Islanders, but we didn’t want to be late for our date with the French High Commissioner.

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