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. 

Arriving in Pitcairn on Red Admiral in 1979

Pitcairn 1979: Meeting Kari Boye Young from Oslo with her baby Timothy - half Norwegian, half Pitcairn Mutineer descendent!

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!

April 1986: About to leave after nearly three fascinating months on Pitcairn : Elisabeth (13), Martin (12), Diana, Robert (5) and Stein

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.
A proper Polynesian welcome in Tahiti Airport

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 the island's oldest) 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. 
Burning the Bounty on Bounty Day

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!

After successful cardioversion: Darralyn, the nurse, Ray the patient, Stein the happy Doc and Millie, the supporter

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.
Diana doing eye-lid surgery, Carol watching and learning fast

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! 


  1. Hello Stein and Diana..
    Just found your blog.
    What can I say about you two..You are the most travelled sailors I know.. your adventures are always so interesting.
    How great for you both to be back on Pitcairn.
    I see you have officially retired Diana.
    I could never imagine you both not having something to do or involved in.
    Its been many many years since we communicated.
    I received a new e mail message from Elisabeth.. changed her e mail..
    Not sure where you both are at the moment. I do hope that you get this comment.

    Our dearest Manuel, passed away on december 11th of 2013.. You can imagine how sadly missed he is.
    We draw strength as a family together.. knowing that he will always be with us ..He taught us much. He was loved.
    He was a very good man, father and friend.

    Manel now has a 76ft Bermudan. He sailed it to Trinidade and Tobago february this year.. Himself, his son Thomas 15..Filipe now 34,35 in september.. and our Son in Law..Nina's hubby also a sailor Paul. It was a great sail.. daily progress and Manel said that "Pheonix" sailed well at 11 knots most of the time.
    Filipe now has "Ilustrious6" Manuel's new 37 ft Sea Gib.. its moored in Lisbon.
    I am sending you both big hugs..
    Remembering such wonderful sailing stories we shared and sailing too on faithful "Red Admiral"
    Best wishes..
    Val Rosa da Silva.. xxxxxxxx

    1. Dear Val,
      Finally caught up on your nice comment. I should have checked for comments here earlier!
      Very sorry about Manuel. He was a gentle, nice man, very friendly and welcoming to us always.
      Otherwise you give us very nice news and you have of course had to repeat them in a separate mail. Amazing to hear of your yachting family - 76' yacht, my word!
      All well with with Diana and me, our three children and five grand-children. But if you read the reports as they come out in the next two weeks or so you will catch up on some more news about the family.
      For now - keep in touch and hope to see you soon here or there - lots of love from Diana and me, Stein xxx

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