the Eye sailing!
Personal account of a return to Pitcairn Island
'Land ho!' came the cry from the top of the mainmast at 0830 on Tuesday 9th January 1990, twenty eight days and 3353 nautical miles from Auckland, it had been a long voyage and this only served to make us realise even more the remoteness of this tiny community. We had seen no other ship or land during the voyage, just a couple of whales and dolphins and a lot of albatrosses to keep us company.
We had a voyage full of contrasts, with a fantastic sail away from the heat of the Auckland summer, making great progress across the chart panned to the notice board in the upper saloon. On two days we had runs in excess of 200 miles. However, this was not to last. As we headed south it got colder and the winds were much more variable. Christmas came - Santa, too, in the form of Bruce Phillips dressed up in his familiar mask, handing out Christmas parcels for all.
We headed on as far as 42° S where the winds died right away - so much for the 'Roaring Forties'. The next day we found wind, or, rather, it found us so we were able to head NE towards Pitcairn and the warmer weather. New Year's Eve was welcomed by everyone, letting off streamers at midnight, singing and dancing continuing on into the small hours. Ray Young and his wife Eileen, who were returning to Pitcairn to join in the celebrations after having spent the past 50 years living in New Zealand, sang their hearts out. As we neared the island the winds died again and on came the engine to nudge us across the chart to our destination.
It took us all day from actually sighting the island to arrive at John Mills Point where we were to anchor. It was pouring with rain but through the mist we spotted a French supply vessel heading for the same anchorage. Having not seen any other ships in a whole month, it had to be Murphy's Law that there should be competition for an anchorage.
The Pitcairn longboat chugged towards us through the rain. Dave and Jay Brown, dressed i'n their oilskins, were heading out to guide us into safety. I had tears pouring down my face, luckily hidden by the rain - for eight years this is what I had dreamed of coming back to see. I could not believe it was real. The French ship was unable to get a firm holding near us so was led around the point to Tedside for anchoring. A few of our passengers went ashore that night whilst the rest of us stayed aboard to get ready.
The next day the longboat, full of islanders, returned and with it came the sunshine. They all came aboard to clamber over the ship. Not a locker or cabin was left uninspected. 'Eye of the Wind' is a popular visitor to the island known for its generosity and friendship. The warmth extended to all visitors seemed even stronger on this, my second visit. All the passengers and half the crew went ashore to be welcomed into the various families like long lost relatives. Long hot showers, washing done and more food and drink than is imaginable was provided. Life on the island continued to be as normal as possible under the circumstances, with the influx of the French sailors as well as us, not to mention the preparations for the celebrations to be held on the 15th and 24th.
The French crew were given a farewell party on the night of the 11th - a 'community dinner', in other words, more food to fill our ever extending stomachs. The next morning they sailed away, having been sung to in the traditional way by the islanders in the longboat.
The morning of the 15th brought the crew back to 'Eye of the Wind' to sail her into Bounty Bay, making quite a spectacle for all on shore. Three of the islanders - Tom Christian, Dave Brown and Jason Warren - were joined by Shane Quintal, Ray Young and Glen Christian (who had sailed with us from Auckland) to dress in 'mutineer costume' and row ashore in the jolly boat, accompanied by Carol Wilby and Nikki Allen from the galley as their 'Tahitian maidens', to re-enact the arrival of the mutineers on, the island. On reaching the island they were greeted by the rest of the community. A speech was given by the schoolteacher, Jimma, as the British representative. He also read out a letter from the Queen. When the formalities were over, the rest of the day was spent fishing and swimming, and finally there was an enormous barbecue in the evening.
The following day two more vessels arrived to join in the bicentennial celebrations. 'Edna', a small cargo sailing vessel, came from Honolulu, carrying a Cadillac in her hold, and 'Pacific Swift', a sail training vessel from Canada, arrived. An oil tanker paused briefly to allow supplies and one more visitor to be unloaded. The islanders went aboard to sell a few stamps, carvings and T-shirts, which is their main way of earning a living. All of us on 'Eye of the Wind' were rather pleased that we had a few days to get to know everyone before all the others arrived and the island was overrun with visitors. The population of the island had risen from 48 inhabitants to about 110, with another 40 due to arrive shortly from Norfolk Island, as well as a small yacht 'Te-Marnu' with four aboard from New Zealand.
The next day there was a 'Pitcairn Cricket Match'. Teams from all the ships as well as an island team took part. Since the rules were made up as they went along in the searing heat, the home team won, I think. (I wasn't actually there.) The following evening there was a marvellous community gathering, where a number of skits and songs were performed (with varying degrees of professionalism) by the islanders as well as some of the visitors. This was followed up by more drinks and snacks after which most of the visitors and the younger islanders went to Steve and Olive Christian's house for an amazing party, where we all danced the night away.
Sadly we had to leave the next day, before the 'Burning of the Bounty' celebration, as there would have been no time to visit any other islands. Everyone was back aboard in the afternoon with purchases and gifts strewn all over the deck. A long farewell was said to all the islanders who came aboard. They climbed back into the longboat and sang their farewells to us as we sailed away towards Mangareva, the Society Islands and Raratonga. 'Not a dry eye in the house'. So many happy memories, hospitality given so freely, which can never be repaid, except perhaps by going back again...