Captain's Log

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Arrival at Pitcairn

Picton Castle sailed past Henderson Island, one of the Pitcairn Islands, on Sunday afternoon. There are actually four islands that make up the Pitcairn Islands – Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno. Pitcairn is the only one that is regularly inhabited, although the islanders make occasional expeditions to the other islands. Henderson is a raised atoll, one of only a few in the world. The Captain visited there on an expedition to collect wood on a previous visit to Pitcairn, while sailing around the world on the brigantine Romance in the 1970s. As we sailed past, he told us about landing the longboat on the beach on the north side of the island, chopping down trees and floating them out to the Romance, anchored off, to be loaded on deck. At that time, most of the wood for carvings came from Henderson, but now most of the wood is grown right on Pitcairn Island.

We had motored through the day to reach Henderson, but once we were there the engine was turned off and we set sail again, including stuns’ls. We sailed through the night, making between 5 and 6 knots to cover the last 120nm to Pitcairn Island. Paul sighted Pitcairn first on his 4-8 watch. By breakfast time we were just a few miles away, sailing in the direction of Bounty Bay, still with stuns’ls set on the port side of the foremast. As we approached land we took in the stuns’ls, and sailed along past Adamstown, around Matt’s Rocks and over to Tedside where we dropped the starboard anchor.

Shortly after 10am the Pitcairn longboat came out to meet us. The longboats are pretty incredible boats – very strong and sturdy, able to carry piles of cargo and people. The people of Pitcairn are great boat handlers, bringing the longboat alongside as gently as possible in the considerable swell. We had fenders all along the starboard side, and two heavy braided lines, one run from the bitt on the well deck and one from the bitt on the aloha deck, for the longboat to tie up to. There were all sorts of happy hellos as the Pitcairn Islanders came aboard – crew who hadn’t been to Pitcairn before introduced themselves eagerly and crew who were returning greeted old friends heartily. In between the chaos of meeting and reacquainting, Brenda took care of the immigration formalities by stamping our passports and Simon handed over some forms for each crew member to fill out. We got the lumber and barrels of gasoline, which had been stored on deck, unlashed and ready to load into the longboat. The next step was to open the hatch to the cargo hold so that we could pass things up. A previous log mentions a partial list of the cargo we carried to Pitcairn – all of it was passed up and over the rail, including lawn mowers, empty stainless steel drums, canned goods, bags of cement and more.

The first load of cargo went ashore with the starboard watch, who helped to unload it, then came back to the ship with the longboat for the second load. By the time we were done with the unloading, the cargo hold looked completely different – so empty, aside from the usual galley supplies and deck supplies. After the second load of cargo was loaded, the port watch loaded their personal bags and jumped into the longboat. Getting cargo into the longboat can be a bit of a challenge, with the longboat and the ship both moving in the swell, and getting people in and out takes waiting for the right moment when the longboat is an easy step/jump from the ship’s rail. The little turtles went ashore on the second long boat ride, getting sloshed around a bit in the bucket as the longboat beat through the seas toward the Landing. We got a good look at the steep, rocky edges of the island, and then saw the roofs of Adamstown as we motored past. To get into the harbour, the longboat crew look behind them, waiting for just the right moment between swells, to quickly scoot in and around the jetty, getting the boat tied up quickly alongside. It was an exciting ride and the port watch gave a cheer for the longboat crew once we were safely tied up.

As we got off the longboat, we started moving cargo and greeting again, getting the longboat unloaded for the second time and saying hello to the islanders who had come down the Landing. After all the cargo was ashore, crew found their bags, along with care packages for their hosts, then met their host families and threw their bags and themselves on the back of their hosts’ 4-wheel ATVs (referred to here as “bikes”) for a trip up the Hill of Difficulty and on to the homes where they would be staying for the next two days. Already changes were obvious to those of us who had been to Pitcairn before – the Hill of Difficulty was just being cemented on our most recent visit and now the paved road goes through Adamstown, past the square and all the way to Len’s house.

Within minutes of being ashore, some of the crew said to me that they were starting to understand why Picton Castle crew who have been to Pitcairn before speak so fondly of it. The atmosphere at the Landing, as crew and islanders met, was one of excitement and anticipation. It was hard to tell who was more pleased – we as guests or our hosts.

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