The Claymore journey was pretty smooth, or at least to me. Good to know I haven’t lost my sea legs! I still wanted it all to be over as fast as possible as I was itching to arrive, but it was good to have the couple of days to get myself organised a little, at least in theory.
There were no big seas and it was just plain chugging along at a steady 11/12 knots. We saw some nice sunsets and the skies were beautiful at night, which was an added perk of the nothingness of the sea. I liked being back at sea for that short period… I was never much of a fan of living on a boat, but I really don’t mind boat travel when it’s not your everyday. In fact I enjoy feeling miniscule and insignificant from time to time – partly because living in London can mean you spend so much time chasing after irrelevant things, or expending disproportionate amounts of your energy on pointlessness. It’s easy to loose perspective. Somehow being at sea puts all of that back into alignment – you realise we are just specks more infinitesimal than the faintest star in the sky, and somehow that’s comforting. You could do anything you like and it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day…
Throughout the journey I didn’t see too much of my fellow passengers – Heather was holed below deck working, and Darralyn and Michelle were in their cabins playing cards, social worker Jim seemingly vanished and I spent most of my time with Andy from the RSPB. He could usually be found out on deck with his Swarovski binoculars in one hand and a notebook in the other recording sea birds. Like a more advanced and worthy “I Spy” book!
The rest of my time was spent up in the bridge with the crew, chatting away about life events, where we had travelled on our boat, Fleetwood Mac, and their impressions of Pitcairn and its future. I could hardly believe the amount of new fangled technology that was housed up in the bridge – especially for an old boat (German I think originally, Hamish – the man in charge – said that there had been a whole load of Third Reich stuff on board when it had first been bought). These days you can pretty much press “Go” and wait till you get there it seems. Quite different to the high maintenance sail boat existence! Hanging out up in the bridge was great – looking at the charts, watching the log be filled out, it all took me back. All those sea rituals.
Jane cooked up some great food on the journey and we even had a delicious lamb roast en route, which is much more than I was expecting at sea! Mind you, I suppose the cost of the Claymore II is about akin to going on a 5* cruise! Heather told me en route that the price of the vessel would never go down, despite attempts because the government were using off-island passengers like myself to supplement and offset their running costs. Islanders themselves pay a reduced fee, but it’s still extremely steep and most can’t afford to leave.
Apparently tourism has really tried to appeal about the costs because it’s one of the (many) factors that make Pitcairn so difficult and expensive to reach. Though the service is reliable, there’s not much the islanders can do about cost as it’s under a permanent government charter. As a result tourism is very limited, and mostly comes through the cruise ships, or from special trips like the Norwegians we’d met at the airport.
The island needs outsiders in order to survive, but with such high transport costs, only very few ever manage to land on the island’s distant shores. I had heard about the islanders’ suspicion that the government was trying to ‘shut them down’, and it seems that may originate at least in part with the unwillingness to budge on transit costs. Because so few people then book to travel, it makes the interest in Pitcairn appear minimal which means that the Claymore remains the only sustainable passenger route.
Though since I’ve arrived here, many suspect that if the costs were lower the traffic to Mangareva could double, which may in turn create a sustainable future for the island. If outsiders visit, some may settle, creating a much-needed workforce. One of the other issues seems to be the amount of cargo the Claymore can physically carry – some islanders have to wait months or even years for space on the vessel. This makes it difficult for businesses that deal with the outside to survive so most islanders have multiple jobs to support themselves and rely heavily on the souvenir trade with the cruise ships. In a sense their isolation forces a subsistence lifestyle.
We approached Pitcairn at night, and there was an air of excitement on the boat. Both Michelle and Darralyn had been away from home for the last three months and were both itching to get ashore to their families and lives. I know how it is – no matter how much you enjoy being away, there’s nothing like your own bed. There were radio calls to the shore, and I sat up in the bridge recording what I could – “first contact” if you will. Sue was the first island voice I heard coming in over channel 16, and it sounded like they’d been having a good night! Sue is married to “pirate” Pawl, who is one of the first islanders you’d have came across in pictures if you Google Pitcairn island.
I tried to see the island as we steamed towards it, and I caught a glimpse of a dark looming hulk amidst the inky blue when I stuck my head out of the polyurethane panels surrounding our eating area. It was a shame to arrive at night so I missed seeing the island loom larger and larger, but c’est la vie.
Hamish made arrangements for the longboats to arrive at 8:30 the next morning, so we anchored up outside Bounty Bay as the weather was conducive and not too rough. We had a few celebratory drinks in the bridge – and I sampled some New Zealand Tui beer (a new one for me!) – I also got to meet Bob the engineer properly for the first time. He’s been to Pitcairn more than 50 times, and is a big collector of artefacts and motorcycles. He’s also the only crew member to go ashore these days.
I woke early to head to the bridge to record the radio communications for the BBC programme, and got myself packed and washed. I had a brief breakfast of Jane’s delicious freshly baked muffins and amazing Pitcairn passion fruit, and filled out the Pitcairn landing forms.
I’d inevitably left some of the important things (like film!) in one of the other suitcases in the cargo deck, so had to go and retrieve and as I was doing so, all of a sudden the longboat showed up. I still hadn’t finished in my cabin so I had to dash downstairs and sort that out, and run back upstairs again. There wasn’t much of a chance for recording the process as it all happened so fast. Brenda Christian (the island police officer) boarded the boat first and sorted out passport stuff and seemed to orchestrate our transfer.
The longboat transfer is something that I can see would be really awkward for those unsteady on their feet. The crew are deft and efficient, and grab you to get you on the boat. But the rise and fall of the longboats is very pronounced and all of a sudden its deck can drop below the ship’s gunnel and you could have a meter to fall. It’s all about timing. Even in the calm (ish) seas we arrived in, the longboat was surging up and down, and bucking and grinding against the Claymore’s hull. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, but I can see how some of the ageing Norwegians might not have been quite so thrilled at the prospect! Once you’re on the longboat, no time is wasted getting you ashore, and before you know it the ropes are cast off and everyone is waving you off. The longboats have little to hold on to, and the gunnel is only around 6” above the deck, so I can imagine it would be quite easy to fall off if you didn’t have your wits about you and a decent dose of common sense.
The best part is coming into the landing, where the longboat slows just outside and the cox watches the swells, timing the surge so that the boat doesn’t overshoot and plough straight in. When the waves are right, the boats moves in and before you know it you’re being tied off and offloaded and you’re standing on the concrete landing. Your luggage is hefted off onto the dock in a matter of seconds it seems, and your hosts are there to welcome you. It was all such a rush. I met a whole raft of people in the first two minutes of being ashore but probably only caught 25% of the names flying around. Melva Evans came up to me and put a necklace made from shells and seeds around my neck, and then my hosts Steve and Olive Christian made an appearance.
All of a sudden my luggage was loaded onto their quad bikes and little 4 wheel drive and we followed the procession of quads and the cloud of red dust up the steep hill from the landing as I was whisked up to Big Fence, their sprawling home at the beginning of Adamstown.…
Many of you have asked me along the way why the title “Big Fence” – well, now you know. When I was searching the crevices of my brain for a working title for this project, I remembered the name of Steve and Olive’s home. Big Fence seemed apt for several Pitcairn specific reasons, but also because I liked the parallel between the house name and the Pacific Ocean. Surely the ocean is the biggest fence, or hurdle, when attempting to reach Pitcairn.
I won’t be permanently based at Steve and Olive’s (as the plan has always been to move around), but because it is in the centre of ‘town’ and I’ve heard that they are excellent hosts, it seemed a perfect place to start. I hear they’ll give me a taste of the true Pitcairn lifestyle, and Big Fence is where I will call home for the next period.
But, I’m here! I’m finally here… and thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way!