Chapter XVIII – From Easter Island to Pitcairn Island

We set out from Easter Island on May 19th. Faithful to its tradition, the sea was horrible on the first two days of the trip: the boat was rolling so bad we had hard time not falling from our bunks. Kanni was having such a difficult seasickness case she could barely function. That’s why, when the wind subsided after two days, we could finally breathe with relief: after so much trouble from the sea, we deserved some peace. Danni uncovered his ukulele, a traditional Polynesian banjo-like instrument and entertained us with traditional Rapa-Nui singing: turned out, his main job was culture performances, and he even represented Rapa-Nui during his tours on Marquesas Islands. He also participated in experimental trips on reconstructed traditional Polynesian boats, which were built to demonstrate how the Polynesian people were able to reach remote areas like Easter Island and New Zealand.

The first big dorado caught - and the smallest of them

This passage was marked by huge fish we caught every second day: due to remoteness of the area, not much commercial fishing was going on, so the fish grew to remarkable sizes. Three times, we caught a fish weighting more than 25 kilograms; the last one, nearly 40 kilograms, was comparable in weight to the female part of the crew. This was another opportunity for cultural exchange: Danny’s Rapa-Nui father was a fisherman, so he showed us quick and efficient ways of filleting the fat dorado fish, called Mahi-mahi around the Pacific; the dialogue was slowed significantly by the fact the Danny barely spoke any English, and my Spanish left much to be desired.

The days of peace, however, were short; soon, the atmosphere on the ship started to deteriorate rapidly. Kanni was having a very hard time getting used to marine discipline: she probably expected to be treated more like a passenger, and Lorraine-D didn’t have passengers on this voyage, only crew. For her, it was especially challenging, as in Chilean culture the ladies were treated with care and respect, with clear distinction between what “men’s job” and “woman’s job” should be. She therefore found it very difficult to participate in deck cleaning initiative Pupi raised, to make the deck a bit more pleasant to us all. Insubordination is treated radically on any boat, and Ziki took it especially seriously due to incidents in the past. After a couple of arguments and explanations, peace was reachieved, but the incident rocked the atmosphere for a few days. In addition, Elena’s attitude towards the boat, its crew and the captain deteriorated after her injury, and the tensions between her and Anna and me were quite tiresome. Our spirits weren’t improved when fresh water started running out unexpectedly, meaning we had used up about thrice out usual norm in 10 days. This meant the end of fresh water showers, and was hard for most people, who didn’t quite get used to showering in sea water. Therefore, we were all glad when we finally saw Pitcairn Island appearing on the horizon.

Closing on Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island was definitely the least-visited place most of us would visit in our lives, and we were waiting to reach it with keen interest. Its history is tied closely to the Bounty mutiny in 1790. Bounty was a British ship that came to the Pacific with a mission to collect the bread fruit plants and transport them to West Indies. For that purpose, it arrived to Tahiti and the crew spent there five months, collecting more than a thousand plants. During that time, the crew familiarized itself with the local culture, and some of them married Tahitian women. The captain, in the meantime, was harsh and unforgiving, and tensions grew among him and the crew, which wasn’t too delighted about leaving the tropic paradise. Finally, after Bounty set sail and was already 1300 miles in the ocean, the mutiny rose, and the 18 rebels set the captain and 18 crewmembers loyal to him afloat on the ship’s launch. The ship then returned to Tahiti, and set out again with Tahitian men and women aboard. They finally settled on Pitcairn Island and set fire to the ship. During the next years, the population was having hard times: violence, alcoholism and diseases took away the lives of most of the settles, until John Adams rebuilt the society using the ship’s Bible. The island’s only town, Adamstown, is called in his honour, and he was even granted amnesty by the British after they rediscovered the island 24 years later. During the 200 years, the colony’s population was growing and diminishing, peaking on 233 in 1937. Nowadays, only around 50 people reside on the island, and many of them do not originate from it, coming to seek peace on this tiny (2 miles across) peace of wood-covered rock, which is only visited by a supply boat once 3 months and occasional yachts during the sailing season. The islands are a British overseas territory, but proudly name themselves “the smallest democracy in the world”.

The concept of 50-people island fascinated me, and I was really curious to find out how such a small amount of people could survive in reasonable comfort, and how many facilities would they need to operate for themselves and for the tourists. When on the next day Ziki went ashore for a fist contact, he brought back with him the first brushstrokes of the picture of Pitcairn life: ready to receive tourists but having so little of them, the island had one souvenir shop that opened upon demand, a restaurant that was opened once a week and served two dishes each time, and an internet café where the internet was actually cheaper than in most South Pacific countries. The people themselves were friendly, hospitable and ready for exchange: we could swap some of the dry food we had for fresh fruit the islanders grew.

The next day, it was my opportunity to go on the island. As we landed on small dock used mainly for fishing boats, we were warmly welcomed by the locals, who gave us all a map of the island; it contained more names than I have ever seen on a map, seems that naming any road, valley or cape was the favorite pastime of the bored Pitcairners. They gladly offered us a ride up the steep hill, which bore the name Hill of Difficulty, and seeing its angle, you could understand where it came from.

Typical Pitcairn sign: the island probably has similar number of offices and people

I started the Pitcairn exploration from Adamstown. Surprisingly for such a small place it housed all the possible facilities a town of any size might need: two stores, a courthouse, school, a post office, a hostel, a restaurant and a café. The island also held a tennis and a golf court. Turned out, all the people who work in these places receive a proper salary from the British government, otherwise it would be impossible for them to make their living. After hanging around the town, I headed to explore the island; quiet and deserted as it was, Adamstown had a bit of Steven Kingish feeling, like something dark was lurking behind the welcoming smiles of its small isolated community.

The majority of Pitcairn can be overviewed from any high point

As the island was so small, it was probably the first time when I had enough time to explore it all. As always, the first goal was The Highest Point (that’s its official name!), where you could see the Pacific Ocean all around you, and feel how vast it was. Other than that, the island featured quite a bit of cliffs and edges – and the beauty of the thing was, that from any high point you were able to see all of the island’s grounds or at least most of it.

As I got back to the meeting place, bad news awaited me: the weather was deteriorating rapidly. It wasn’t perfect already when we came, the swells rocking the boat so badly that some of the crew with weaker stomachs felt mildly seasick while onboard. But the next day, the weather promised to be downright stormy, and we didn’t want to be near the shore in such a weather. This meant we had to leave, preferably – that same evening. We planned to stay on the island around 4 days, and the change of plans frustrated deeply some of the crew, especially Danny and Kanni. They tried to negotiate with the skipper about staying longer, but failed, and we agreed to meet in an hour and a half on the shore to take the dingy back to the boat, weigh the anchor and leave. In due time, though, they were not in the meeting point – aggravated by the previous tensions with the captain and unsatisfied from the short visit to Pitcairn, they decided to stay on the island and wait for another boat. As their belongings and passports were still on the boat, we had to wait for the next morning to deliver them ashore: crossing back to the island in the dark through the nearly-stormy sea was too dangerous a venture.

Ziki was worried about staying the night, though we backed up our anchor by another one, attached to the ship by a strong rope, but there was not much to do. We divided anchor shifts between ourselves and went to sleep, to be awaken after a mere hour by Ziki. He himself got up purely accidentally, to find Alon asleep in his shift and the boat moving away from its position – the anchor was dragging, and the rope that backed it up snapped. Again, we needed to seek shelter at a more protected point, thankful for the lucky timing of the captain’s alertness.

The next morning, Danny and Kanni were brought to the yacht by Pitcairn Island authorities: according to the laws of the land, people were not allowed to leave the boat they came on, so the pair was denied the right to stay. We spent the morning searching for the end of the rope that snapped yesterday, to retie it and pull the spare anchor back on board. The atmosphere was this with tension: Dannny’s and Kanni’s extreme case of insubordination to the captain was punishable under marine law, as their failing to show up in due time without warning endangered the lives of us all. They, on the other hand, didn’t feel any regrets, and merely were disappointed by the fact that they weren’t allowed to stay on the island. As disobeying crew is one of the more dangerous things to have on the ship, it was known that they would have do disembark on our next destination; and so, facing physically and socially difficult passage, we set out for Gambier Islands.

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