Friday, March 4, 2016

Shore Leave - Pitcairn Island

I hadn't heard of Pitcairn Island before I started sailing but among tall ship sailors it seems to have a bit of an iconic status as a really cool place to go. It's also really isolated so it's not somewhere a lot of people go.  

Maybe you've head about Pitcairn from the mutiny of the Bounty. Back in the eighteenth century the mutineers brought their Tahitian wives to Pitcairn where they burnt their ship ensuring the rest of their days would be spent on this tropical island. Today most of the population (of 46) are decendants of the mutineers. 

The island is pretty small (3 square miles) and very vertical. This is the main road and actually rather on the flat side. 

We came in to our anchorage without a problem and soon some locals came out to clear us through customs and see the ship. Once that was all done the students, teachers, volunteers and a couple crew members headed off for a stay on the island. My turn would come in a couple days. In the meantime there were only 9 on board so not so much to do food-wise. Took advantage of that an baked up the rest of the marzipan into (over 300) kransekage cookies. 

On Wednesday morning the crew who were off switched with some crew who were on. Getting to and from the island required going in one of the local long boats. Those guys are crazy good boat handlers which is a good thing as the swell getting in and out of the harbour is not to be taken lightly. On our way in we motored around for a bit trying to catch fish but after an hour or so of nothing we went in to the landing point. It had been quite wavy so I was wet from spray over the side, then while I was on the pier a big wave came and soaked my feet so I wasn't off to the greatest start. 

Mike, one of my hosts, met the boat with his quad (preferred method of transportation on the island) and drove me up to the house where I'd be staying. 

After getting settled in and eating lunch I went off with the school for a hike to St Paul's Pool. The hike was hilly, through areas of vegetation (jungle? Forest?) as well as plenty of parts with no cover from the sun. 

At the end there were stairs which were very welcome. It didn't take us long to scramble down the last few rocks and get in the water in what I think is the most stunning place I have ever swum. 

We spent the afternoon here, snorkelling, taking pictures, climbing rocks, watching the surf and being amazed that we in this incredible place. 

On our way back from the pool some of us detoured to see Miz T, the resident Galapagos tortise. While we were swimming Terry, the police officer, found Miz T and left her a bunch of bananas to keep her happy. By the time we arrived she'd wandered off but it didn't take us too long to locate her and then we all had a turn offering bananas to her while we posed for photos. 

That evening there was a community supper in the town square. This is something the islanders do fairly often so it was well set up with tables and chairs enough for everyone. It was potluck style with households bringing a dish or two as well as dishes and cutlery for themselves and their guests. 

After dinner there was a special opening of the post office on my request! Usually the post office is open Thursday mornings (as well as two other mornings a week) but the supply ship was due to be unloading cargo at this time so they very kindly had a short evening opening so we could buy stamps and postcards. It was pretty good timing as the mail will leave early March when the cargo ship passes by on her return voyage, with mailing leaving only 4 times a year 2 weeks isn't much of a wait!

On Thursday morning I joined the school again for another hike up to Christian's Cave. (Named after Fletcher Christian, one of the mutineers.) The end of this hike was rather vertical and we were definitely using hands as well as feet to make it up. 

At the top there was a tunnel with a lookout (and a steep drop) at the end as well as the "cave" which isn't really a cave, more like a sheltered spot in a rock. We enjoyed the view and a rest and headed back down which turned out to be not as bad as expected. Just before we got to town there was a bit of a shower, very glad we were off the steep hill when that hit!

After lunch we had a bit of time to relax and pack our stuff before heading back to the ship. Many islanders came down to see us off and after giving them three cheers we set off singing a sea shanty to them. 

We returned back to our home, got our stuff stowed, rinsed off the boxes and boxes of fruit the islanders gave us (currently the passionfruit and bananas are ripening faster than they can eat them) and were off in an hour or two. I enjoyed Pitcairn but the anchorage was quite rocky so I was happy to be headed out to sea. 

Fun facts about Pitcairn:
Power (from communal diesel generators) gets turned off every night. 

They supplement the supplies from the quarterly supply boat with provisions from cruise ships that stop by (8-14 a year).  

One of their biggest sources of income is selling handicrafts, T-shirts, postcards, etc to cruise ship passengers. 

Most cruise ship passengers don't actually get ashore, the islanders go to the ship. 

Queen Elizabeth has stated that Pitcairn Island honey is her favourite breakfast spread. 

Last year the island produced about 3 metric tonnes of honey. 

Islanders don't pay taxes but help out with public works like unloading cargo or maintaining trails. 

The police officer, doctor and teacher are brought in on yearly contracts. 

Houses are equipped with 2-way radios as well as telephones. 

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