Only a spec on the chart of the Pacific, but Pitcairn could be seen from many miles away as the day gradually dawned. Adamstown is the focus of life on the island, several hundred feet above the ocean. The small jetty, from where the longboats are launched, is at the bottom of the ‘Hill of Difficulty’. Explanation not required.
We circumnavigated the island, eventually anchoring half a mile to the south of Point Christian in order to gain some shelter from the north-easterly swell. The long boat, crammed with forty of the islanders, was already in position, having been launched an hour before. There would have been no chance to use our own tenders but, as on previous calls, the islanders were intent on boarding in order to set up their stalls in our main lounge.
I went down to meet them at the pilot ladder as the last few were being assisted up over the sill, their great steel longboat rising with the heaving swell, one minute six feet below, the next over ten. An assortment of boxes, bags and holdalls quickly disappeared inboard and within fifteen minutes or so, the Ballroom started to look like some Cornish summer handicraft market.
With feverish activity, tables were quickly covered with carved wooden sharks, plates, miniature replica Bountys, plus postage stamps, t-shirts and coral jewellery. I asked one chap, aptly named Pirate Pete, what wood was the bowl I held made from? “Tree wood”, was the instant reply. He was big enough to ensure I wasn’t going to pursue the discussion.
Meanwhile, down aft on the mooring deck, the crew were having a fishing competition. By the time I arrived to take a look, I could see that this was being taken very seriously, the largest caught by that time was four kilos, and only with a baited line. The Safety Officer and Executive Chef, with their own impressive rods, were looking concerned.
Back in the Ballroom, the handicraft market was beginning to look like a car boot sale, while a roaring business was underway with the friendly locals cracking jokes with our passengers. Eventually, with deals all done, several locals ventured into our shop to stock up on essentials, apparently chocolate and sweets being some of the most important. Brenda Christian, a direct descendant of the infamous Fletcher, gave an informative lecture in the theatre, and then they all rallied back at midday upon the call of the Mayor. A quick presentation, then three songs enthusiastically sung, were followed by a vigorous attack on the lido buffet before all trooped back down to the pilot door, suitably replete.
As the anchor was brought back up from the crystal-clear blue depths, the loaded boat left the ships side. They ran up past the bow then back down the port side, while locals and passengers waved excitedly at each other as it sped past. Meanwhile at the stern, the Safety Officer thought he had clinched the competition with a 6-kilo prize, but was beaten at the last moment when the Chef heaved in a 14-kilo shark. Apparently the excitement was at fever pitch and the cheers were audible several decks above.
We followed the longboat and sounded three blasts as we passed Adamstown for the last time; the islanders were already alongside their jetty discharging their spoils of retail conquest. French Polynesia and the remnants of Cyclone Oli beckon.