So after ten long days and nights battling contrary winds and seas, we raise the green peak of Pitcairn on a Sunday morning.
As we sail closer we can see swell surging around the dark cliffs and off-lying rocks, shrouded in a mist of spray.
Above are coconut trees, sprouting from sheer rock walls, and the houses of Adamstown, overlooking Bounty Bay.
Barely even a bay! Open sea with some protection from south winds, but the island is small enough for the south swell to bend all the way round.
We pass the anchored supply ship ‘Claymore’ and drop our hook in to a patch of sand 12m down. I dive in the crystal clear water to check the anchor is well buried, hoping to spot the wreck of the Bounty.
Just as we are finishing off the Sunday Pancakes, the VHF crackles to life and welcomes us to Pitcairn, suggesting we dinghy ashore.
We motor through breaking waves and handbrake-turn in to the tiny dock. Our welcoming committee is ready to hoist our dinghy ashore with their trusty, rusty old crane.
We are greeted with smiles and beaded leis. The dinghy is set down in the middle of the wharf and we all board quad bikes to ride up the ‘Hill of Difficulty’ in to Adamstown. There we deal with formalities in the charming town square, meet the magistrate, get the Pitcairn stamp in our passports and arrangements are made for lunch to be cooked for us down the lane. We discuss provisioning from the one store, which will be open tomorrow.
We had been talking in the square about what livestock there is on the island. Jemima and I have been living on vegetables and the occasional fish. There are some goats here, maybe we could find some meat to take with us?
Our host for lunch is a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian, as are half of the people we have met so far.
As I am tucking in to my dessert, the phone is passed to me. “It’s Dave, for you”
Dave killed his goat yesterday and wondered if we would like a leg. Word gets around fast here.
After lunch another quad bike takes us up the steep muddy hill to Dave’s house to do the goat deal.
The Population of Pitcairn is currently about 50 people.
We met all of them that afternoon. The supply ship is the island’s only connection to the rest of the world. She arrives four times a year, bringing all the island’s imports from New Zealand. She happens to be leaving tonight, taking some passengers with her, islanders and visitors. It is the only way to leave Pitcairn and the arrival and departure of the Claymore is a big occasion. The whole population arrives down at the harbour that afternoon.
The longboat is launched, loaded with fresh island produce for the journey, the few passengers, plus half the islanders who are just along for the boat ride to the ship and back. It’s a great social occasion, young and old arriving on a variety of quad bikes, many with homemade plywood biminis against rain and sun. We are introduced to the everyone. The shopkeeper, who will supply us with fresh fruit and veggies, the manager of the museum, who will open it for us tomorrow, and whose hens are laying. Dave shows up with the consignment of free-range goat meat. All the islanders say hello and recommend the sights we must see while we’re here.
Almost all the residents are descended from the mutineers of the Bounty and their Tahitian wives. We wandered through the graveyard which contains the handful of surnames which arrived here on the Bounty in 1790. The mutineers intended to disappear from the face of the earth, and they succeeded, sinking the evidence and remaining completely undiscovered here for twenty years. It’s still a pretty good place to disappear to.
I wrote about how much I enjoyed the remoteness of Easter Island, but Pitcairn is on another level of away-from-it-all. Easter Island has an airport with regular flights to Chile and Tahiti. (Aviation trivia: the Easter Island runway was extended by NASA as a possible emergency landing for space shuttles. The Air France Concorde used to land there!)
No airstrip here on Pitcairn, if you want to leave the island, the ship calls four times a year. I think that really shapes the character of the island in a different way. There is such a strong charm to Pitcairn. It’s beautiful, fertile, everything grows here. On our hikes we are picking fruit everywhere. Wild pomegranates on the roadside, citrus falling everywhere, papayas, passion fruit, a coconut, the rucksacks are full.
One hike takes us up and over high country, deserted green lanes through the thick jungle, shaking ripe bananas from a tree for a snack, then down to the western point where there’s an Olympic length rock-pool to swim in, with a slight risk of being swept out to sea if a big wave crashes in.
Pitcairn is no better a refuge for passing yachts than Easter Island, we looked over a cliff to another of the listed anchorages, known as ‘Down Rope Bay’, because the only way to get from the cliff to your boat is down the rope. Sketchy place to leave a boat, but possibly an unridden surf spot.
After a long day exploring, we found ourselves at the island’s only pub. Now one of my favourite bars in the world. It’s also a sort of museum of curiosities. As I sipped my cold beer, the first artefact was slid across the table to me. A rusty ship’s nail through an ancient piece of timber, a relic of the Bounty. Next comes the skull of a tropic bird, a fossilised piece of genuine pterodactyl shit, the bar owner’s thumb, in a jar, (accidentally amputated a couple of weeks before while gardening with a sharp machete), old scrimshawed teeth of a spermwhale, in which shots of tequila are about to be served, a new hand-carved wooden replacement thumb (so that he can continue to strum his collection of ukuleles), all this while singing along to vintage Suzi Quattro videos playing above the bar. We could have stayed all night, but we were late for our arranged dinghy craning at the bottom of the ‘Hill of Difficulty’ so we had to leave. Be sure to call in if you’re ever passing that way.
The island shop is a gem, way down here in the South Pacific, so far from everywhere, a well-stocked village store where you can buy a jar of Branston Pickle!
We loaded up with English treats to supplement our mainly Panamanian larder, while fresh produce was being cut and picked for us in the gardens up the hill.
We would have loved to stay longer, but once again the weather forecast urged us to leave the anchorage in Bounty Bay and put to sea. We were grateful to have been granted the few days we had. It’s a magic island and we were made so welcome.
Just 300 miles to sail now to Les Iles Gambiers, French Polynesia…