Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Travel Report 67: Pitcairn Revisited

Pitcairn revisited
By Diana & Stein.    Bahamas, April, 2014.
For corresponding photographs go to: Picture Gallery 67

Visits in 1979 and 1986.

It is now nearly three weeks since we ended our three month visit to beautiful Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific. To return was a dream for many years after two previous visits in 1979 and 1986. 

Our first visit was sailing there in our yacht “Red Admiral”, with our two children Martin (born 1973) and Elisabeth (born 1972). It was in late August, the southern winter, and we had a 28 days long, tough sail with gale after gale from Easter Island, and were on the point of turning north and giving up, but we were encouraged to keep going by Kari Boye Young (Norwegian, married to Brian) and Tom Christian on the ham (amateur) radio. We were also encouraged by a short stop on uninhabited Henderson Island, but when Len Brown and Steve Christian came out to meet us in the “Rubber Duck”, followed by a long - boat with friendly faces and baskets full of fruit and vegetables, it seemed like we were coming to Heaven! We soon discovered though, that having a yacht at Pitcairn in the winter is not just a blessing; during our two week stay we had to move anchorage four times, including 36 hours just drifting off-shore. The Pitcairn men, especially Len who was a big strong man at that time, were always ready to help us lift anchor and move in the roughest weather. The reception ashore was just as warm, with huge meals at “Big Fence” with Steve’s wife Olive and their four children and Steve’s parents Ivan and Dobrey. Ivan was the Magistrate at the time – a title now changed to Mayor. We also had meals with a Norwegian touch “Up Tibi” with Kari and Brian and “Down Flatcher” with Tom, Betty and their four girls. What a wonderful experience for our children to suddenly have so many playmates!

We knew that we would have to come back to this special island, and seven years later we arrived again, this time getting a free lift on a Norwegian chemical tanker,” Stolt Integrity”, from Texas, now with our bigger family of three children, Robert having been born five years previously in New Zealand. This time we stayed for three months, and as Stein was able to serve as Medical Officer, we were allowed to live in the hostel which was vacant. Our children all went to the school which at that time had Leon Salt as teacher, with wife Brendda looking after the pre-schoolers. In fact this was Robert’s first school experience. He did not quite understand the seriousness of education, as he just walked home when he felt he had had enough for the day! We had a real medical drama during our stay, when little Adelia Brown, 15 months old, was found drowned in a cistern. She seemed to be quite dead, but amazingly was able to be resuscitated, probably the most dramatic recovery we have ever seen. We felt the same welcome as before from the islanders, enjoyed the hospitality, the fishing trips and the public dinners. In addition we loved walking on this spectacular Island, and trips down to St Pauls and out to Ship’s Landing Point were unforgettable.  We filmed and took notes and photographs and later produced a TV series and a book about the children, both popular back home, but unfortunately only in Norwegian. We hitched a lift to go north on a 39’ French yacht, well loaded with their family of three, our family of five, a dog, a piano, and crates and baskets of fruit and vegetables for friends and relatives in Mangareva!  As we watched the rugged silhouette of Pitcairn disappear below the horizon, we knew we would have to come again, and hoped it might be in another seven years.

A contract that was terminated.

 5th December 2013 we were back again, but it was twenty-seven, not seven years later!  Our visit had a bad start. We had originally planned to come for ten days on a supply-ship (Claymore II) rotation to Mangareva, but having been made aware that a doctor was needed for three months at this time, Stein applied and  the Pitcairn Administration signed a contract with him to act as Medical Officer for that period, and we arranged our lives accordingly. After having had this contract for over three months, we were asked to go for a briefing at the Foreign Office in London. (Pitcairn is an Overseas Territory of UK, what used to be called a colony.)  This seemed like a pleasant conversation with a civil servant and her assistant, talking about our friendship with the Pitcairn people, and with her warning us that we must be aware of the dark side of Pitcairn. (Several of the men have been found guilty of and have served prison sentences for sex with young girls.) This of course we agreed to, and left with a promise of a tour of the fine old buildings of White Hall when we were back in London. But somehow we cannot have sounded convincing enough, as the bureaucrats in London and Auckland then decided that Stein would not be safe as Medical Officer and without any more contact or warning, the contract was terminated in a mail two weeks later!!  We were of course upset and furious at this insult, and complained of breach of contract, resulting in him being well compensated.  We took this as a sort of admission that a misjudgment had occurred, but what a waste of taxpayer’s money!  It is of course laudable that there is a policy to keep the Pitcairn children safe, but it needs to be practiced with some common-sense to avoid what some of the islanders feel is an “over-kill”, which our experience seems to be one good example of.  Anyway, we still decided to come as paid tourists for the same period and try to forget this bureaucratic nonsense.

Flying on Thanksgiving Sunday.

This time we came the normal, modern way, with flights to Papeete and Mangareva, then a couple of days on the charming, rolling Claymore II! We had left our sailing yacht White Admiral in Spanish Wells, Bahamas, in early morning rain, but all went well with the ferry to Eleuthera, the taxi to North Eleuthera Airport and the 15 min flight to Nassau. However, that is when the stress started, as our flight from Nassau to Orlando, Florida, was three hours delayed and we lost our connection to Miami and Los Angeles. (When buying cheap tickets you may end up zig-zagging!)  This was on Thanksgiving Sunday when everybody in USA was flying home, the busiest day of the year in fact, and we were given very little hope of getting across to Los Angeles that day. However, by some miracle and the help of a friendly agent in Miami, we managed to get two stand-by places on the last flight to LA which would connect to the all-important Papeete flight. It was wonderful to fall exhausted into the turquoise seats of the Air Tahiti Nui plane!  We have certainly learned that anyone going on Claymore II should leave loads of time between flight connections. (The plane from Papeete to Mangareva is only once weekly!)

First reunions.

 Our excitement at revisiting Pitcairn started at Tahiti Airport, meeting some of our old friends from the island; Olive Christian, Len Brown (now 87) and Brian Young, who had been on medical business, and others who no longer live on Pitcairn but came for a family reunion, including Anette Boye Young from Norway and other children and siblings of Olive (Len’s daughter) now living in New Zealand. An unexpected bonus to meet old friends!  At our stop in the atoll of Tureia, we first met Carol Nicholson from New Zealand, the doctor who had replaced Stein.  She had no idea about us and was of course innocent of the bad treatment we had been given, so we quickly became good friends and faithful walking- and bridge-playing companions during our time on Pitcairn.

Anette, Tania and Nig at Tahiti Airport

Back on the island.

How exciting to awake on “Claymore II” and see the impressive Pitcairn cliffs soaring above! Soon after breakfast an aluminum long-boat, “O’Leary”, came out to take us and the other passengers ashore.
Between Claymore II and Down Landing
Len Brown, 87 and Kari Boye Young are old friends

View of Bounty Bay and Down Landing with the new concrete road at the start of Hill of Difficulty

From our first walk: Christian's Cave in the cliff north of Adamstown

Claymore II and the cruise-ship Hansiatic off Ginger Valley on the west side of Pitcairn. View from Highest Point - 330 m above sea-level.

 It seemed quite rough going into the Landing, but we have been here before and could rely completely on the Pitcairners’ ability to handle the long-boats. Smiling, mostly familiar faces met us on the jetty, would we recognize everybody 27 years down the line, and would they remember us?  There was our old friend Norwegian Kari, who had visited us back home and whom we knew well, some like Carol and Jay Warren who seemed almost unchanged, some quite a bit older, and of course eight new children. The children we knew from earlier are now adults, Randi, Shawn, Jacqui, Darralyn and Charlene, but others like Trent, Dean and the other Christian sisters, unfortunately for Pitcairn have left for a life elsewhere. Would we find Pitcairn itself unchanged? The first changes we noticed as we were driven on quad bikes up the Hill of Difficulty were the new concreted road and at the top a big SLOW DOWN sign!  So no need to get all muddy going up or down that steep road in bad weather any more – a big improvement! Signposts new to us are dotted here and there throughout the island, and what must be the greatest amount of public toilets (known locally as Duncans) per capita of any country in the world! The paths and roads and a surprising amount of picnic places were beautifully maintained. Another good help for the tourists are fine signposts with information and pictures about the various places of historical interest (well done, Heather Menzies!). Otherwise the island is as before, maybe even greener and more wooded, flowers everywhere, beautiful, wild and awe-inspiring, and a lot of our time has been spent climbing the steep paths, and gazing out at the spectacular views.

The problematic past.

Would we find the people changed after what we know has been a tough period for the island with the court-cases ? Well, it did not seem so at first, among the people we found the same friendliness, humour and directness that we had experienced before.  But after three months, we realize that there is tension between groups, bitterness under the surface, and resentment about how HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) is tackling the situation. At the same time, everybody wants to move on, and this seems to be happening as time heals wounds. We admire how everybody works together despite their differences, for example in handling the boats, loading and unloading cargo, visiting cruise-ships and working to improve infrastructure, including roads and picnic areas.

Three months went very quickly, and it was a privilege to share in the life of this unique society, known throughout the world as the home of the descendents from the 1789 “Bounty” mutineers and their Tahitian wives.  It may be a tiny isolated island, (the nearest island with an airport is Mangareva, more than 300 n.miles away), it has a critically low population of 49 resident  Pitcairners, but something of interest seems to happens all the time. If it is not a visit from a cruise-ship, there might be a public fishing trip, a communal dinner, an obstacle race, a rounders game, a visit from the “Picton Castle” (a veteran sailing ship and regular visitor), Christmas and New Year celebrations, “Bounty Day” celebration, concerts from a visiting top pianist, to name a few things that happened while we were there. 

Doctor activities.

Stein was not able to fill the role as Medical Officer which he had first expected, but he made himself busy in other ways, helping with painting and various carpentry projects, including a roof over the terrace at Dennis Christian’s house (which we rented), a chicken run for Cynthia Smith, the Gov.Rep.’s wife, work on the Sea Scout’s sailing boat, new cupboard doors in Betty Christian’s kitchen. He has had plenty of time for training, swimming and paddling shorter and longer trips around the island in borrowed kayaks. 21 times he has made it around, mostly in rough conditions, once with 13 year old Kim Warren Peu and 4 or 5 times with Jacqui Christian (Jacqui we know well  from previous visits). His record was 1hour, 20 minutes.  His plan to do lots of SCUBA-diving was a disappointment though; everybody seems to have been so busy in this cruise-ship period that there has not been time to lend a hand with one of the small boats, but he did one trip in Bounty Bay on his own swimming in full gear under water to Adam’s Rock, did some amazing filming of corals and fish, and had a tough swim back to the Landing on the surface as he ran out of air. He was able to be medically useful in his capacity as a cardiologist on two occasions; first doing a routine check on the one islander with a pacemaker, and then when one of 10 visitors from Norfolk Island during  the last week of our stay had a cardiac arrhythmia. The 74 year old patient had a high pulse rate and was short of breath on activity and did not respond to ordinary medical treatment, so for the first time in history, an electric cardioversion was done on Pitcairn. Doc Carol administered the intravenous Midazolam and Ketamine anaesthetic and Stein performed  the synchronized shock with a brand new adjustable defibrillator – a recent gift from cruise-ship “Pacific Princess”. Success!

Diana was useful as an ophthalmologist for the 59 people on the island, giving an eye-examination (for free) to all those who wanted one.  In addition, she has removed a couple of tumours, and five of the island’s residents now have a larger field of vision after a visit to “Diana & Carol’s Eyelid Clinic”! She has declared that although this work on Pitcairn was all very satisfying and without any complications, that this is the definite end of her medical career and she is now is going into proper retirement.

With the kids.

The school teacher left at the same time as we arrived and the replacement, Jim Park from New Zealand, arrived only a week before we left. This meant a longer summer holiday for the children than ideal. Especially Stein is a bit of a big kid himself and combined with missing our own grand-children enjoyed being with the kids and thinking of things to do with them. Having visited the dramatic shores of Down Rope and seen all the floaters, rope and bits of plastic that has gathered at this lovely beach, he got the three biggest kids, Kim, Torika and Bradley,  to join him in collecting and burning the garbage two days in a row. On the second day they also had help from Suzanne, the Family Community Advisor (i.e. social worker – a tough and not always welcome job, but one demanded by HMG), and her partner Mike.) This produced lot of black smoke, but a much cleaner area. A few days later the kids and Stein were back for a day of just enjoying the swimming, fishing and a barbeque picnic. A rain shower nearly finished the bonfire, but the meal was a success, and the weather OK until they were all safely back up on top the steep path. Then the heavens opened!

Skolebrød Down Isaac

Kari had hinted how the islanders love her Norwegian “skolebrød”, a bun with custard filling and covered with icing sugar and grated coconut. So one day we had a picnic for all eight kids Down Isaac, a steep zig-zag walk from our house. The rock pools Down Isaac are shallow and great for small children, as long as you look out for sea urchins and what is known locally as “Bitey-bitey” – a mollusk that grows in a spiral and has a very sharp opening. On this day occasional big splashes of sea created added excitement also for the bigger ones. Ryan, 8, had his arm in plaster, and thought he would have to stay out of the water, but in the heat found out that he could hold his arm above his head and cool down all the same. Lunch was served on the large “picnic rock”. Diana’s home-made pizza  was followed by skolebrød and water melon.  Then more swimming and jumping. Stein filmed the action above and below the water and showed the film on the TV back up at our house afterwards. Very popular! This event was recreated for the three smallest only a few days before we left, the bigger kids were preoccupied as guides and helpers for visitors from Norfolk Island.

Relatives from Norfolk Island.

The connection between Pitcairn Island and the far distant Norfolk Island is very special. When the population on Pitcairn reached about 200 in 1856, the British Government decided to move everybody to Norfolk Island, a bigger island in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand. This island had been a penal settlement – a prison island – but was now uninhabited as the prisoners and all personnel had been moved elsewhere. But although it was a much easier life,  some of the Pitcairners became home-sick and two years later moved back to their dear rock followed by another group 8 years after that. But to this day most of the 1500 people on Norfolk are their relatives, have the same exotic background and speak the same unique language (in addition to Queen’s English.). Interaction has become regular, and some Pitcairners like Trent Christian, Olive and Steve’s oldest boy, have moved there permanently.
But 10 visitors from Norfolk at once, including Coleen who had arrived at the same time as us and was also staying for 3 months, is a new record. 9 of them came on one of Claymore II’s rotations from Mangareva and had 10 days on the island, staying with various locals, some being distant relatives. This was both an emotional and hectic time with special activities in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, fishing trip, public dinner, sing-song with guitars and ukuleles, trips to see John Adam’s grave, Christian’s Cave, Down Rope(for the fittest), St Paul’s, Gannet’s Ridge, Highest Point, Tedside, the giant tortoise “Miss T”, the museum,  “Bounty” relics, etc.. For such a tiny island, it is just amazing how many special attractions it has to offer and 10 days is certainly not enough. We hardly thought our 3 months was enough! One of the places we never got to was Tautama off the south-west coast, where the Polynesians, who lived here long before the mutineers, must have made most of their rock tools. The steps carved in the hard soil near the top were mostly washed away and had to be cut again, and entry by sea was never possible whenever Stein paddled past the rugged shore. Jacquie and Stein planned to carve new steps and go and look for artefacts, but this had to be postponed to our next visit!

Visit from yachts.

The last couple of weeks we were there, yachts started to call in. Some bobbed around in Bounty Bay for one day, others gave up and sailed on without stopping. But one Swedish yacht, Miramis, with two couple aboard decided to risk the conditions and even spend one night ashore. So that is how we ended up with captain Conny and Maia as our guests the second last night on the island.  The other couple stayed with Jacqui and Leslie, who also had Yalcin as visitor. This gave Stein another excuse for a trip Down Rope, now as a guide. Yalcin is Turkish, living in Switzerland. He is a real globe-trotter and has been to more countries than anybody we know. He only had four days ashore with Claymore II anchored near Miramis outside Ginger Valley. Our trip was on a lovely day, the climb down was slow and careful with one of the girls in flip-flops. Well down, everybody was struck by the rough beauty of the place as well as the Polynesian petroglyphs, and an opportunity to swim off the only beach on the island. They also found some obsidium stone, an unusual, black, hard rock and some seashells to take back as souvenirs. Conny and Stein raced each other to the top in 4 min10 sec, 3 min faster than on Stein’s previous attempt on his own – a good work-out!  Back home Diana served lunch for everybody.


As Stein had his final paddle round the island that evening, Miramis hoisted her colourful  genaker in the sunset.and sailed off to French Polynesia.
Sunday 9th March at 5 pm It was time for Doc Carol, the Norfolk Islanders, Yalcin, Danielle (the legal advisor who had spent 10 days on the island) and us two to depart. Most of the islanders met up Down Landing on the jetty, some even came on the long-boat all the way to Claymore II on the other side of the island.  Good-bye good friends! Kari we will hopefully meet again when she visits Norway, but the oldest like Len, Irma, Royal, Mavis and Daphne – who knows? We will now read the newsletters Pitcairn Miscellany and Dem Tull with renewed interest and try to keep track of them all, old and young. Three year old Isabel, who gave us a big hug and a seashell and said she would miss us, and her seven year old sister Adrianna Christian were probably our biggest fans… Isabel came out on grand-aunt Brenda’s lap, and it seemed particularly hard to wave her goodbye…

But soon we were busy settling into our tiny cabins in the bowels of the little ship, the anchor was aweigh and Jane was serving dinner. The movements were much more gentle than when we arrived, we made good speed with the wind with us, and from the aft deck we saw our green, rugged rock with the many people and places we love, receding into the distance. We wish to thank the islanders for making our visit so enjoyable. Certainly as a visitor there is always a warm welcome to this beautiful place with its extraordinary people, which bodes well for the future of tourism on Pitcairn. Special thanks to all those who invited us into their homes, gave us fruit, vegetables, home-made honey, carvings etc., took us on fishing trips and even made sure we had our traditional taste of lobster at Christmas. We would love to be back, but as we are now both nearly 70, we cannot leave it for another 27 years! 

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Intra-Coastal Waterway and Bahamas. Travel report No 66

Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) and Bahamas

Travel report No  66 . For all the pictures go to White Admiral Gallery 66
Written by Diana on Pitcairn Island Dec 30th, 2013

Back to St Augustine.

The storm in London on 28th October caused our plane to be three quarters of an hour late in arriving at Miami. This left us with only one hour and a quarter  to go through immigration with its questions, photograph and finger-printing, pick up our luggage, give a form to customs, check in the luggage and ourselves once more, find the terminal, go through another security check  and board the plane to Jacksonville.  Thanks to friendly officials (have they been to a Smile–course recently?) we were ushered into fast lanes and tracks and to our surprise found ourselves in our seats as they closed the doors of the plane! In Jacksonville, after another pleasant surprise of finding that our luggage had also made it, and realizing that we had not eaten for hours, we de-stressed with a glass of red wine and a sea-food salad at the bar of the airport’s American Diner, before bundling into a taxi. An hour or so later, we arrived at the St Augustine Marine Center with a load of Wall-Mart groceries, got through the code-locked gate and found White Admiral waiting for us with canvas in tatters, but otherwise in good shape and surprisingly clean after the hurricane season.
The next couple of days were spent in the usual routine of getting everything back into place for sailing, and Stein doing some engine work. The parts which we had ordered before we left in April were, as so often happens, not correct and had to be re-ordered.  One of these arrived two days later, but the other would have to be collected further South on our way down the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW).  White Admiral was hoisted into the water as planned on 30th October, and later the same day our faithful sailing companions, Anne and Knut from Arendal, joined the crew. While Stein was getting the engines ready, the rest of us had one day to be tourists in St Augustine, the oldest city in USA, which we did it in the most touristy way possible on a jump on-jump off bus tour. This proved to be a rather pleasant way to view the historical buildings, while rattling along in the sunshine between stops.
Back on the water at St Augustine Marine Center

Intra-Coastal Waterway.

On 1st November we were ready to go. To get to the Bahamas from USA, the Gulf Stream has to be crossed, something which seems to strike fear into small boat owners here, as all maps and sailing guides are full of warnings and advice about how and when to do this. We decided to go south along the Intra-Coastal Waterway to West Palm Beach, where we would pick up the re-ordered spare part for the engine, then cross to West End on Grand Bahama, about 70 nautical miles, hopefully an overnight sail. The weather forecast was not promising, several days of fresh winds ahead, and as we motored out of our dock space, the wind and current immediately caught us and pushed us into the next boat. Fortunately we managed to push off without doing them any harm, and more fortunately they were not at home to yell at us as we almost damaged their vessel!  Once out in the channel, we motored along the well buoyed waterway, rather relaxing for Stein and me as Anne was happy to steer for long periods at a time.
Anne at the helm, Diana calling the bridge operator on VHF Channel 9
For four days we made our way South, sometimes in narrow channels, but more often on broad lakes where we could put up the genoa, and enjoy sailing in a fresh, beam breeze with almost no swell. We had to pass under many bridges, some high enough for our mast to pass under, although still many that we had to call to open for us. As when we made the opposite journey half a year earlier, we were impressed by the service and friendliness of these bascule bridge operators who usually opened on demand ((VHF channel 9). We even managed to time the passage so that we could sail under a couple of them.  At a few we had to wait for the opening time,  which could be difficult keeping still in the often brisk tide or current. 
One of the many bascule bridges along ICW that open on demand. At busy intersections, like going 
through large towns, they open twice or three times per hour.

Before dark we would consult the guide and find the nearest anchorage alongside the channel to stop for the night. One feature of the trip that is not so well-known is the abundance of wild-life in and along the ICW: Birds are everywhere, especially pelicans (mostly brown, sometimes white), terns, gulls and herons, king-fishers and ospreys (fish eagles), and in the water dolphins in pairs or larger pods are almost everywhere. We even saw some manatees. In fact, seeing one of these large and strange animals caused the helmsman to lose concentration and we went aground for a few minutes. Fortunately, it was skipper Stein himself at the helm and no one else to blame!
We had decided to reserve a berth in a marina at West Palm Beach, to be able to stock up with supplies, collect the spare part and fill diesel and water before leaving USA. I organized this by phone and also phoned the immigration authorities to inform about our imminent departure from the country. To our surprise we were told that all was now well and no need to meet up anywhere in person. And have a good trip to Bahamas! We all know how difficult it is to enter USA legally, arriving by boat you also need a formal Visa, but leaving is surprisingly easy. Maybe they were glad to get rid of us?!

Aground at West Palm Beach.

On arriving at West Palm Municipal Marina, we were waved to a berth on the outside of the northern docks, and as we approached it, to our horror we stopped dead in the sand! Trying to reverse off in the stiff following breeze did not cause us to budge, we just rotated broadside to the wind. The marina employees might have warned us about the shallow area! They sent out a man with a mask to look under our boat and give us the not very surprising news that we were indeed well and truly stuck, and we were told to wait for rising tide in a few hours. We had planned to do a big shopping before dark, so Stein rowed out a long way up-wind with an anchor and a rope and we managed to pull ourselves first bow to the wind and then into deeper water using the anchor-winch in manual mode. The marina was a very ordinary place, but supplied us with the required showers and internet, and a convenient place to do our shopping with the help of a Haitian taxi driver who had to support 11 children both in Haiti and USA on his modest wage. We felt a bit sorry for the man and also had him drive us around for more shopping for a couple of hours the next day.
After shopping the last day in West Balm Beach with our Haitian taxi driver
On the afternoon of 6th November, we were stocked up and ready to sail to the Bahamas, and to our delight, after a week of heavy weather, this was the one night with light winds! This gave us a pleasant night sail in a light north-easterly breeze. The Gulf Stream caused some lumpy seas in the middle, but compensated nicely for our leeward drift. Towards morning the wind became very light and we had to motor the last few miles. Anne and Knut do not have much experience of night sailing, but in the good conditions they were happy to take a good long watch, making it an easy night for Stein and me. Early the next morning, we motored into Old Bahama Bay Marina at the very west end of the Bahamas –an area actually called West End. This was more like it! A well maintained marina in a pleasant resort with palm trees, swimming pool and white beach, in addition to clean showers, laundry, fitness room, free bicycles and kayaks - definitely a place to enjoy a few days relaxation (apart from the cost, which was pretty stiff, but worth it!)
We are in Bahamas and are serving fresh lobster for lunch!
(A local cycled past and offered them from a bucket shortly after we arrived.)

Grand Bahama Island, Freeport and West End.

Stein’s cousin, Stein,  or “Twostein” (Stein is «Einstein»!)  or “Buster” as he is more fondly known as, arrived late the next evening by taxi from Freeport, bringing his usual monster suitcase full of goodies, including whole smoked salmon, ingredients for pizza and buns, chocolates  and a bottle of Fernet-Branca. His taxi ride was not without excitement, the driver having to use a torch as there were no headlights working and no road-lights, and eventually running out of diesel! (The driver had to sleep in his car outside the marina!) Stein  soon made himself at home in portside stern cabin, having been aboard several times before, and having also sailed with Anne and Knut a year earlier in Panama. With Buster aboard the atmosphere is never dull, he is always ready for a laugh and a drink!  We decided to take a trip to Freeport to see what the second city of the Bahamas after Nassau had to offer. With Stein left to do odd jobs, the rest of us took the bus, which had to be ordered to come from West End village the last 5 km out to the marina, and filled up with local people as it drove through the flat landscape for an hour and half to the city. The Bahamians seem very pleasant and polite, most of them wishing us good-morning and some also giving us a blessing.  But the city itself turned out to be a disappointment, a flat sprawling American-like place with scattered shopping malls and fast-food outlets, though not unpleasant with lots of trees and flowers. On the advice of a friendly local lady we took another bus to the Grand Lucayan Waterway, a channel which splits Grand Bahama island in two. The southern end of this is where most of the tourists on the island stay. This was more interesting, although yellow and purple souvenir shops and restaurants was not exactly what we were looking for. 
Stein "Buster" and Knut are being proper tourists at the south part of the Grand Lucayan Waterways in Freeport.
After some strolling and a little souvenir shopping, we made an expedition to the big, excellent food shop and stocked up enough food for a few days sailing. Back at the bus depot, the expected bus never came as scheduled, but it did not take Buster long to get a good offer from another driver to take us back to our marina. Going through West End we also purchased lobsters and conchs from locals at the beach.

Little Bahamas Bank.

Grand Bahama is the most north-westerly of the Bahamas, with a huge shallow lagoon, the Little Bahamas Bank, to the north. Our plan was to sail across this to an islet called Mangrove Cay, then down to the main island again to meet my brother Jim who was arriving at Freeport Airport on 12th November. We checked out of the marina on 10th November, and in a gentle breeze picked our way through the channel into the shallow lagoon which has an average depth of about 4 meters – good to have a catamaran, especially as our echo-sounder was temperamental and we often had to measure the depth by old-fashion method using a lead and a line. Our cheap digital chart on the iPad however proved to be absolutely accurate, at about £13 for the whole of USA, this must be the best value for money we have ever had! Until mid-afternoon we sailed lazily across the lagoon’s blue water with fishing line trailing, then anchored off the islet’s west coast, a not very promising looking place with bushy mangroves and hardly any shore. All apart from me took the dinghy to explore the possibilities, but came back an hour or two later with not much to recount – not possible to get ashore and little interesting marine life to see (although Stein came face-to-face with a turtle).  So off we went again the next morning with no more shore expeditions, and sailed south to the northern end of the Grand Lucayan Waterway.

The Grand Lucayan Waterway.

We had read about this area which has a huge, failed multi-million-dollar project with miles and miles of channels dredged and walled, where luxury homes were planned, but for various reasons, including legal problems about foreigners owning homes and the financial crisis in USA, only a few homes were built.   However, it is a protected place for yachts to enter and tie up, and it looked as if it was not far to walk to the airport so in we went. It was indeed a strange place, flat scrub land with long concrete-walled channels stretching miles inland.
View of the end of one of one the many side-canals from the mast. We tied to trees on both sides. There was hardly any traffic on this road, and certainly no taxies. The trees in the background are dead from a bad hurricane a few years ago.
We drove the yacht far in to a dead end to get near a road, and tied up to trees on both sides of the channel. Then Anne, Buster and I walked off to meet Jim at the airport. From the tourist map it looked as if there would be about an hour’s walk to a large highway called the Great Bahamian Highway which went to the airport and where we could surely get a taxi or a bus.  We set out optimistically along the road, but it would be difficult to imagine a more desolate area, forests of dead trees for miles on either side, damage from the last big hurricane a few years ago. We were glad when we came to a large motorway as expected after a long walk, but how very odd, there was no traffic on it, in fact the place was absolutely deserted!  We continued walking along this in the direction of the airport, but after a while it came to a complete stop in the middle of nowhere. Maybe this was not the Great Bahamian Highway after all? We retraced our steps and tried to get further south to another big road, but ended up totally lost in a maze of small roads with almost no houses or cars. We rang the bell of a couple of houses, but apart from barking dogs there seemed to be no people around, perhaps only suspicious Americans? At last a car appeared, and we were now so desperate that we jumped into the road, arms outstretched and two black guys stopped to hear of our problem. They were on their way to check a job they had done on a house, and they happily took our offer of 30 dollars to drive us to the airport. We understood that this whole area is part of the failed plans to develop the area. I knew that Jim would be anxious if I was not there to meet him at the air-port, as we had missed all his calls and e-mails due to no mobile service in the lagoon, so when he appeared from the plane we were both very glad to see each other.

Jim, Diana's brother, arrives after what became quite an expedition for Diana, Anne and "Buster". Knut is the ferry-man.

Back to Old Bahama Bay Marina.

By this time we had lost faith in Grand Bahama as a very attractive destination and given our relatives who are visiting in Spring instructions to fly somewhere else! But we had now to make the best of things and chose another island, Great Sale Cay, as our next destination.  This was a pleasant day’s sail north-east in a freshening breeze. We anchored in a large well protected bay on the south side of the island, and the next day woke to a full gale. This day was spent exploring the island, round the bay was a rocky shore, but on the west side after fighting through the dense shrub, was a beautiful sandy beach. Trouble was that the wind was so strong it was difficult to walk upright and blowing sand was stinging our legs. Different experiences are all part of sailing! Fortunately the wind had settled by the next day although still a fresh north-east breeze, and we decided the best place to go was back to the lovely marina at West End. 
Sailing back to Old Bahamas Bay and testing out the storm jib and the smaller jib (instead of one of the two genoas) wing-and-wing in the fresh tail-wind. Also known as sailing butterfly - appropriate for a yacht named after one!

 This meant a fast sail with the wind, again with Anne as the main helmsman/woman, and we also had an easy place to get to the airport for our guests who were soon to leave. 
The channel out of the bank is very narrow and with hardly any navigational markers (taken by hurricanes), but our Navionic charts on the iPad were surprisingly accurate.

Depth or echo-sounder is essential for safe navigation in shallow waters, ours frequently fails when we most need it (below 3 m depth), and until it can be repaired we have to rely on the old lead-and-line way of measuring the water depth below. Here Knut is doing the job on starboard bow and shouting out "2,5 m!". Below 2 m we get nervous, but will only go aground at about 1,1 m (3,5').
First to say goodbye were Anne and Knut, and although we agreed it had not been the greatest of their sails with us, we had still had lots of fun and as usual enjoyed each other’s company. And although Bahamas so far had been a little disappointing, the Intra-Coastal Waterway was even better than expected.  
For the next couple of days, Buster, Jim, Stein and I borrowed bicycles from the marina and explored the area. The nearest village was West End, a typically poor Caribbean village with friendly locals, where we could buy conch shells and tropical lobster.  The landscape is flat with dense bush, but the lagoon is beautiful with its shades of aquamarine.  Stein enjoyed some longish trips in kayaks and with the depth seldom more than 1,5 m could see marine life like sting-rays quite easily. Going south  from the marina is another failed project, mind-boggling in its megalomanic absurdity. This was a 4.9 billion dollar project(!) begun early this century by an entrepreneur named Ginn.  It was fascinating to cycle round the area, where there are roads with traffic signs, concreted channels into the land where houses would be built, plots of land laid out with infrastructure in place for electricity, water and telecommunications, an airstrip and a golf course designed by Jack Niklaus!  Apart from a few beautiful homes beside the marina the whole area lies deserted, optimistically waiting for new owners, but so far a massive failure. Ginn is apparently in hiding!
Strange landscape of unfulfilled dreams near West End.

Heading for the Abacos.

Buster left us on the 15th November, to have a look at Nassau on the way home. Jim still had a last two days and he thought it would be interesting to visit the local Anglican Church in West End on the Sunday morning. We all turned up to find there was a harvest Thanksgiving Service already in progress.  It was interesting to see the locals all beautifully dressed up and hear the choir with their great voices, but after we had listened to a sermon about how we could improve our personal behaviour  for a boring 40 minutes we found it was time to slip out quietly. 
Jim ready to return to wintery Oakville, Canada.
Jim left on the early morning bus on the 18th, leaving the rest of the month for Stein and me to take White Admiral to Spanish Wells, an island farther south-east in the Bahamas where we had arranged to have her stored and given an estimate for a paint job.
There was a good weather forecast for the next two to three days, so as soon as Jim’s bus was out of sight we paid our bill, filled diesel and motored out of the marina. Half an hour later we were back as I had left my sunglasses in the laundry where I had done a last load before breakfast! Luckily they were still there. There was not much wind, so we had to motor-sail cross the lagoon back to Great Sale Cay, where we anchored in the large bay in the dark. With the moon shining across an absolutely calm sea, it was a magical night and we could not help reflecting how the same place can be so different with nature’s changing moods. We pulled up the anchor again before dawn, keen to get to the beautiful Abaco Islands, and motored eastwards, arriving at Powell Cay early afternoon, where we were the only yacht anchored in a large bay with a long white beach.

Finally, a perfect beach! This is Powell Cay, but the Abacos have many like it.

 The Abacos are the most north-easterly of the Bahamas, they consist of Little Abaco, Great Abaco and a number of smaller cays (islands). After the disappointment of Grand Bahama, we were keen to see if these islands were more attractive to bring visitors to, and as we walked along both sides of Powell cay with its white sands and attractive lagoon just right for children to swim in, this certainly looked promising. 

Marsh Harbour and Hope Town.

The next day we continued south to the main town on Grand Abaco, Marsh Harbour.  We partly sailed and partly motored, especially in some of the narrow channels through the shallow water, very glad to have the sun overhead, good water visibility and a draught of only one meter.  At Marsh Harbour, there is a big protected anchorage with quite a few yachts anchored, and we found a place among them. Pleased to be back in civilization, we were soon ashore for a walk around the small town, drinks in a bar overlooking the charter boats, and free use of internet.  By this time the weather had broken down and we sat watching the pouring rain, happy to be in a sheltered place.  The wind had also picked up and the weather forecast was again not so good, but it looked like we would be lucky again as one night, the 23rd November, had a gentle north-east wind to take us south to Spanish Wells, our destination for this sailing period. First we had a day shopping in Marsh Harbour, finding the large supermarket and the large ironmonger to stock up on our various needs, otherwise the town does not have much charm. It does however have an airport and so it is a useful place for meeting people and getting supplies. 
We had seen from a guide that the little town of Hope Town, on a cay not far away looked much more pleasant, and so the next morning we motored straight into the wind, then through the narrow channel into its little round harbour with buoys for the yachts. This was indeed a lovely spot, with old colonial houses, and bars and restaurants around the water-front, and we could have spent more time here, but wanted to go south to near the passage in the reef where we would leave the Abacos. The day was blustery, but with just the genoa, we had a good sail in the protected water behind the reef to Little Harbour, another well protected round harbour with buoys for the visitors.  
View of the superbly protected Little Harbour. White Admiral is swinging from a buoy. 

The usual charge is $20/night for these buoys. Little Harbour is a very laid-back, bare-foot sort of place with a large bar where yachties have left T-shirts decorating the walls, an art gallery and only a few summer homes, another good place for our guests in April-May, so now we were satisfied that the Abacos are much better for us than Grand Bahama.

Spanish Wells.

On the afternoon of the 23rd November, we were ready to move in the good weather from the Abacos to Spanish Wells, one of the northerly islands in the Eleuthera group.  This is about 50 nautical miles across the deep Atlantic, and after negotiating the slightly scary passage through the reef, we had a gentle sail in a moderate breeze, the island appearing over the horizon at dawn – perfect! Just west of Spanish Wells is another island, Royal Island, which looked on the map as if it had a great anchorage, so we decided to spend a day there.  We had a long walk ashore and were surprised to find yet another failed project, dozens of plots laid out for summer houses, but no buyers. Bahamas is really the land of shattered hopes!
We rather regretted our decision to visit this island as the wind blew up to a gale later in the day, and the next morning our last trip for this season was a few hours of motoring straight into the gale, before we arrived at Spanish Wells. We tied up at a jetty in front of the boat builder who is going to give us an estimate for a paint job, but he was away and his secretary arranged for us to get a better berth at the Yacht Haven marina further along the waterfront. We motored along and tied up in an ungainly manner, the gale still blowing and pushing us almost into the fancy motor-cruiser in the next berth.  But the fenders took the blow and again no one at home, thank goodness!
Getting the anchor up in the gale in Royal Island before the 5 miles slog into headwind to get to Spanish Wells. Took us nearly 3 hours! (The electric motor for the winch has again broken down, good to have manual back-up!)
It was very relaxing to have a last few days to get ourselves and White Admiral organized. We had time for a bit of sightseeing on Spanish Wells, an island community with a population of about 1500, mostly white descendants of a group of loyalists who settled here after the American Civil war. A lot of the inhabitants are related to each other and nearly half have the same surname – Pinder.  It is a friendly community with little crime, everybody driving around in golf carts, wishing us good-morning and offering us a ride. Main income is lobster-fishing. We had a splendid thanksgiving dinner in the Shipyard, the one good restaurant, huge amounts of turkey and pecan pie for a very reasonable price. White Admiral was put into storage for 3 months at a private jetty and we got everything on deck packed away, so she is ready for a paint job if the estimate is more reasonable than the one we were quoted in St. Augustine.
Spanish Wells dressing up for Christmas
Splendid Thanksgiving Dinner at the Shipyard, Spanish Wells. When we came to the pecan pie we wished we had not taken soup first!
With nearly half of  Spanish Wells called Pinder, and only few have the same first name, you find some unusual names, like Mr Gurney Pinder who is in his 70's but still runs a several-times daily ferry service across to Eleuthera  (about 30 min) where he and his assistant has a mini-bus for another 30 min drive to the North Eleuthera Airport.  

On the 1st December, we were up at 4 a.m., bags packed the night before, had a quick breakfast and walked along in drizzle to Pinder's  ferry taxi and car taxi to the airport on North Eleuthera Island, the first leg on our exciting and complicated journey to Pitcairn Island, South Pacific.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Summer 2013. Travel Report No 65

Summer 2013
For all the photographs and captions go to Picture Gallery 65

Written by Stein on Pitcairn Island,  December 2013.

I can only apologize for being so late with this report. But it was another busy summer!

After that long sail from Panama to Florida and a brief visit to Elisabeth, Hugh and their boys in London (Report No 64, see below), we were back home in our apartment, Fjordsvingen 22, Gullaug near Drammen, on 28th April in time for the miracle of late spring. May and June are such beautiful months in south Norway - flowers popping up everywhere and birds returning to forests and shores. 
The faithful and much loved little Blåveis (is in fact our National
flower) is usually the first spring flower 

I started back at my part-time, post-retirement work doing two days of cardiology out-patient clinics weekly at Drammen sykehus, a practice I really like. Diana, however, does not want to do any more regular eye-work, although she is in fact doing some right now here at tiny Pitcairn – more about that in reports to follow. She can be excused, normal retirement age in Norway is 67 and on May 1st she rounded 69, Martin and Tonje, upstairs friends and neighbours Dagmar and Christian helped me to celebrate a most unusual and loved wife, mother, mother-in-law and friend.
May 1st and we are celebrating Diana's birthday with Tonje (now very pregnant!), Christian, Martin and Dagmar

Goodbye Veierland

With our children agreeing, Diana and I had decided to put up the cottage at Veierland for sale. Not an easy decision as I have always loved the place and have spent a lot of time there since I was 11 years old. But it was in need of repair and maintenance, is inconveniently placed on an island (for senior citizens, especially) and it was not suitable for any of our children to take over. So since early August, our old cottage at Veierland has had new owners, an energetic couple from Oslo with three younger children. They love it there already and we are sure that both the place and the relationship to our neighbours will be well looked after, and they say we are welcome to come and check this out for ourselves any time!
Clearing the beach for seaweed after winter 

So spring and summer meant a lot of work to prepare the place for new owners. But July had just about the best weather ever recorded in our part of Norway, and we were able to celebrate and say good-bye properly with a long string of family and friends visiting.

Oscar is born and other celebrations

Oscar was born on June 18th and here he is one day old with proud mummy Tonje and grandparents Diana and Stein

The first family gathering was 15th July when Diana and I could celebrate 45 years wedding anniversary. On the same day our “English” grandson Finn was 5, and in July also our daughter Elisabeth, son Robert and Norwegian grand-son Johan have their birthdays! The cake had a lot of names on it!
Johan, Robert and Elisabeth also have birthdays in July, but today is July 15th and Finn is 5 years old
on the same day as it is 45 years since Diana and Stein were married in Glasgow University Chapel!

Celebrating ourselves and the weather: Stein, Hugh, Finn, Diana, Elisabeth, Soren, Hedda, Tonje, Martin and Robert. Johan is taking the photograph and Oscar is asleep. Also we are saying goodbye to Veierland together.

 But the main guest of honour was Oscar Hoff!  He is not likely to remember much though,  because he was born on 18th June and so was not yet one month old. He is our 5th grand-child and Tonje and Martin’s first child together, a healthy little boy with big half-siblings Hedda (11)and Johan (9) who also love him dearly. So everybody was there for a proper seafood buffet, not to mention the cakes, strawberries and ice-cream! (Except Oscar, who was happy just with mummy’s milk.)

Diana did a lot of travelling!

In between getting Veierland ready, and sailing again in the autumn, Diana fitted in some trips abroad. One was for a girls-only medical reunion combined with seeing friends and family in England and Scotland, another was an old school friend trip with Sandra and Fiona to see Liz in France (becoming an annual tradition). 

Beta Club Medical girls-only 45 year reunion, Bute Hall, Glasgow. Diana in 2nd row, 5th from right.

Time to see Sandra and take at hill-walk in Isle of Arran, Firth of Clyde

The annual visit to Liz in France with two other Hutchie Girls Fiona (Aberdeen) and Sandra (Glasgow).

She also took Hedda and Johan to London to see their cousins Finn and Soren for a long week-end. One highlight there was a tour on Beatrice, an amphibian vehicle driving both in the streets of London and on the river Thames. Beatrice is an old “girl” who first took part in the D-day Invasion in Normandy in World War II!

The old amphibium vehicle took them for rides both in the streets and on the river - very popular!
Lili (originally from Brazil) is Finn and Soren's Nanny and happy to also entertain cousins
 Johan and Hedda from Norway. 

In august Diana also went to Edinburgh Fringe Festival where she was joined by her cousin Tom, they plan to do a play together at the next Fringe in 2014.

Hillwalking in Varese, Italy and hillwalking in Rondane, Norway.

In September Diana came to cheer me on when I rowed in the World Veteran (Masters) championship  in Varese, north Italy. 
A win in the single sculls class G (65-70) for 3rd year running.

Breathtaking vistas hill-walking near Varese

Tough going in strong and freezing winds halfway up Storronden.
(In fact we had to turn round shortly after this picture was takendue to my frozen fingers and toes!)

Later that month back home we drove up to Gudbrandsdalen and Rondane to stay at the Rondvassbu Turishytte and do some hill-walking before  visiting my cousin Stein “Buster” and other family members in Oppdal and Trondheim.

Another 2013 challenge was to reduce the amount of stuff we have collected, partly gathered ourselves over the years, and partly inherited from Stein’s parents in Sandefjord and Veierland. As our apartment is not very big, we have had to rent two City Storage rooms in Drammen. Diana has done a lot of sorting and organizing mostly by herself, but all our children have also visited the stores and chosen items. Books and many other items we have had to throw or give away and some we finally brought in the car filled to the brim inside and on the roof-rack across the North Sea to Robert in Cambridge and Elisabeth in London. This was early in October.  Finally, we only needed to hire one room. While in England with our own car we took the opportunity to visit Diana’s family in Leicester and Lincoln as well as other friends we had not seen for a long time.

Arriving at Robert's with the car full of stuff inside and on top.
Taking the opportunity to follow Finn to school. Hugh and Diana.

Oscar's Christening.
20th October was another big family celebration in Stabekk in connection with Oscar’s christening in Haslum kirke. Elisabeth and Hugh and their boys and Robert came across once more, and we met many new members of Tonje’s family.
The Christening, Haslum Kirke. Elisabeth is Godmother.

The Minister presenting the now christened Oscar to the congregation.

Close-up of a wee charmer!
A final burst of activity was cleaning and preparing our apartment for renting out for 8 months.  We will in fact be away for nearly ¾ year as we are both sailing White Admiral all the way from Florida to Norway and visiting Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific for 3 months in the middle, when the yacht will be waiting for us in Bahamas. But 26th October all was done, and we were off again, first staying overnight with Tonje, Martin and Oscar, then next morning got an SAS -plane from Gardermoen to Heathrow and Elisabeth, Hugh and the boys in London. 

Off again.

Very nice to be with our London family again, even though it was just for one day.  
Morning 28th we were off to Heathrow and the flight to Jacksonville via Miami, a flight we nearly missed due to a violent storm that hit London the same morning. Fallen trees suddenly blocked the rails and stopped the Heathrow Express as we were standing at the Acton station, where Elisabeth has dropped us 10 minutes earlier.
Ignorant bliss at Acton Town station. Another passenger took the picture.

 But Elisabeth was fortunately able to come back and picked us up once more, and drove us out the M4 motorway to Terminal 5 just in time. 
And off we flew, west with the sun, for more adventures on White Admiral in Florida and Bahamas.