Pitcairn Island Expedition, Oceania

Compiled dispatches, originally sent live from the field with a PDA / Sat phone combo

View Pitcairn Island with Google Earth

Pitcairn bound     20 Jun, 05 - 03:37


Polynesian seascape                    Mangarevas beaches                    Our vessel the Picasso

Tahiti, principal island of French Polynesia is our current locale. Equivalent roughly in longitude with Hawaii but just under the equator. Even with this skip across the Earth centre line seasonal shift into winter is far from evident. Shorter days but a temperature jump for us all.

Tomorrow morning we fly 1000 miles over the speckled French polynesian ocean to its southern most island Mangareva. Following will be sea fairing days toward Pitcairn.

(22 Jun, 05 - 03:37) Flying over Polynesia yesterday was nothing short of stunning, islands dot the ocean between stripes of reef and the endless stretch of water.

Coconut palms hover over white sand beaches, fish dart around one's feet when wading the warm southern ocean, in every direction small islands strike from the horizon and all the while temperature is quite perfect.
Mangareva largest of the Gambier islands is the source of unrivaled pearls: Renown for perhaps even the finest on the planet. Our position is roughly one hundred yards from its coastline aboard the sixty six foot Picasso. Last night was all of our first at sea, a mellow introduction in the calm water of the port.
Our morning was just spent helping Captain Mike & first officer Kathy re-mounting the main sail. Unbeknown to our crew the sail accompanied us on the flight from Tahiti due to it tearing on the ocean leg between there and Mangareva. Weather is currently looking favourable to engage the journey to Pitcairn, we'll see this afternoon?


Storm at sea!     24 Jun, 05 - 02:06


Picasso in Mangareva                    Pitcairn bound                    Captain Mike

Pitcairn is unfortunately not our location: We Arrived back in Mangareva shortly after dark last night following a day in truly high seas. Prior to casting off from port none of us were able to answer on how we'd feel while sailing. Only Jimmy survived without effect, Greg, Mark & I did little more than lay in the boat's cockpit groaning; occasionally punctuating our misery by launching stomach contents towards the fish.
Captain Mike made the decision to turn around and return to Mangareva just after six am (06-23-05) yesterday. Conditions deteriorated through the night, forty six knot (fifty five Mph) winds and huge swell finally forced Mike to turn back. Continuing toward Pitcairn would have meant heading deeper into the storm and risking the integrity of our vessel the Picasso.
By this stage the four of us felt so far beyond our element, simply trying to maintain was hard enough. We'd sway thirty degrees side to side, pound similarly up & down all the while trying to read Mike's expression to see if it was time to panic?
Mangareva is a calm anchorage, protected by reefs on every side, difficult to navigate into but a safe haven when attained. Today's program: Safely fill our stomachs and wait for the next weather window.


Gambian Atoll     26 Jun, 05 - 12:33


Pearl farms, Mangarevas prime industry                    The islands dense tropical vegetation                    Our 66ft basecamp, Picasso

Pitcairn island was the chosen hideout of Fletcher Christian and fellow mutineers following their capture of HMS Bounty. Captain Bligh and a scant few of his loyal crew were set afloat in a longboat: Enduring a huge ocean crossing finally landing on East Timor 3600 miles west.
Pitcairn proved perfect, it was miss labeled on the British Naval charts by several degrees and offered no good anchorage. The Royal Navy wouldn't even find the island was the mutineers thinking; they stepped ashore after setting light to the Bounty and established residence. Descendents of the crew and their Tahitian wives still occupy Pitcairn to this day and the anchorage has not improved. Having no safe haven upon arrival cancels the island as a destination, freighters, sail boats & passing vessels occasionally anchor to trade with and resupply the islanders.
Trying to land feels akin to playing the alpine climbing game: Get into position then be ready at the drop of a hat. The weather vigil has been that of a basecamp with tents traded for bunks and acclimatisation to the vessels constant motion.
A strong low pressure system has been pining us to the shelter of the Gambian atoll, Mangareva. A positive trend toward stable high pressure could have us on the high seas tomorrow?


Ringed by reefs     28 Jun, 05 - 19:05


Mangareva harbor               Head trawling               Tropical sunset

Mangareva is the largest Gambian island hosting four hundred residents; school just finished for the largest annual holiday effectively dropping this figure by a hundred. Yesterday proved fun social, we played football (soccer), table tennis, Frisbee, and enjoyed their end of term energy.
Classes revolve around success in the local environment, construction, electrical supply, boating and jewelry, working with local pearls. This island boarding school hosts students from all points of French Polynesia, todays exodus sees the excited children heading back to their respective islands for a two month break.

Prior to the sports evening we toured and snorkeled around the reef viewing abundant Parrot fish, Black Tip Reef Sharks and many varieties of small bright colourful fish. Look but don't touch was the granted advice, many creatures have venom protection specially the stone fish. It negates paddling from the beach, a bottom dweller with sharp dorsal spines capable of piercing through shoes.
Mark was enjoying a turn in the water just off Mangareva's southern point, shaded by the abundant coconut groves and deep due to rocky shoreline: Apparently idyllic for the larger fish higher on the foodchain than we non aquatic mammals. Shhhaaaaaark was his bubbling cry through the snorkel, perhaps a Tiger, we didn't see? Certainly spooky enough to keep us from further dips and limit activity to head trawling: Dunking ones face in the water with mask & snorkel while cruising in the Zodiac.

Weather still enforces our holding pattern yet hope grows: High pressure is slowly moving our way from New Zealand, tomorrow morning (29th) is slated for departure?




Pitcairn bound     29 Jun, 05 - 09:38


Pearl farms on the reef                      Reef                     Hopefully this won't be us

The wind has shifted, boat preparation is the current mode, we're off across the southern Pacific to Pitcairn!
This time medicine will be taken prophylactically we all remember groaning with sickness and uselessness, hopefully no gale force winds this trip? Given good conditions we should arrive on the mile by mile & a half island in thirty-ish hours.

Truly a fine hide out; normal conditions hold the wind between French Polynesia and Pitcairn in a south easterly track, exactly the direction of travel. Only a shift from this norm allows passage: Reputation as the planet's most isolated community is well founded.


Afloat on the South Pacifiic     30 Jun, 05 - 15:56


Casting off                Stormy beginning                Last land till Pitcairn

Afloat on the south Pacific without a speck on the horizon.
We'll arrive to Pitcairn first thing tomorrow morning, circling the island to check anchorage possibilities and of course the abundant seacliffs.
Mike, our Captain hopes to be able to stay just off shore but if the wind shifts boats have to be ready for immediate departure. If need be Mike & Kathy will drop us with the Pitcairners and return to pick us up. Mangareva's protected atoll is the closest safe port but not exactly close, 340 nautical miles.
Time aboard the Picasso has granted sea legs to us all, we haven't felt seasick even though the constant motion still throws equilibrium. Gale force winds were the bane of our prior crossing attempt, thus far we've been en route thirty hours without adverse weather.
Looking forward to landing and meeting the descendants of the famed Bounty mutineers. They receive hundreds of landing applications each year ranging from 'paradise seekers' to scientific research but the population remains unchanged. A short visit is possible should you have a vessel but they are much more stringent with long term visits. No Hotel exists, one is placed into a family home, Trading with passing ships offers limited income, a supply freighter travels from New Zealand once in a while but cannot be pinned to a rigid schedule: A school, post office, church (7th day adventist) and co-op store are their only facilities. The Pitcairners largest revenue generator is the sale of stamps, highly revered by philatelists world wide, a Pitcairn postmark even more so.



Pitcairn!     2 Jul, 05 - 01:14


Pitcairn island              Bounty artifacts abound              Christian's cave

We made it to Pitcairn!
Arriving to the island at first light it wasn't certain that we could land even after such journeying. Heavy swell was pounding the rocky shore on all sides so much so it was impossible to launch the zodiac from our yacht. Pitcairners standardly use their powerboats to greet vessel and take people to shore but the islands boat ramp is currently out of commission due to construction work. Luckily for us a boat was launched by the construction crew's crane.
Pausing briefly at the mouth of Bounty bay the pilot then gunned the throttle timed with an incoming wave riding us rapidly into the calm water beside the jetty.
Lush vegetation and friendly residents greeted our first landfall. Each of us is staying with a family on the island as there are no official guest facilities.

Greg and I checked out Fletcher Christian's cave while Mark & Jimmy received brief island tours: En route through Adamstown we passed the Bounty's anchor, cannons and John Adams grave (only surviving mutineer following civil unrest). Mutiny artifacts abound plus fine boulders, bananas, coconuts and most importantly cliffs.
Tomorrow our plan is to circumnavigate Pitcairn and search out the finest seacliff.




Surf, sun n' seastacks     3 Jul, 05 - 01:08


Freshly picked Lunch picked en route to the crag.           Seastacks of St Pauls point.           Myself (KT), Mark & Greg summiting over the S Pacific


Pitcairn Island is a wonderfully unique place, rich in history and adventure. Inhabitants are warm and friendly to we outsiders and one another, they operate as a large cooperative. Public meetings dictate internal policy and the nature of goods inbound on tri- monthly deliveries via supply ship. A great deal of their sustenance comes from gardens slotted into the lush landscape yet most resources have to be imported. The island is without an external transit network and relying on shipments from New Zealand can sometimes fall foul to rough ocean conditions. Vessels stop when conditions allow and the Pitcairners use their longboats to bring goods ashore. It's not uncommon for supply boats to sail right past the island laden with the seasonal shipment: In which case everyone must wait until the vessel is heading back to New Zealand and hope for calm seas.
Residents have proved very open with their homes, information and time, eager to show us their slice of utopia.

St Paul's point has been our locale the past couple of days, a beautiful ocean fed pool surrounded by unclimbed sea-stacks (everything precipitous here is untouched). Yesterdays tour for rock ended there (2nd location we checked) and I must admit the stunning clear water and abundant marine life did have us a touch side tracked with snorkeling. No sharks in the pool unlike the surrounding sea! Today we chose the most aesthetic of the spires enjoying a fine climb above the foam and spray. Occasional freak swells blew through the rocky rampart firing water almost to the summit 100+ft above the boiling surf: Only the tricky task of naming the spire remains. Tomorrow a trek to the grand cliffs below the far side of the island know as Tedside and en route a visit with "Mrs T" the resident Galapagos Tortoise. Reputedly she hangs out in a similar spot each day waiting for bananas to be handed down from the trees.



High Seas manana     7 Jul, 05 - 11:16


Feeding Miss T.           Pirate Paul and quarry supplies.           Greg en route

During our stay on Pitcairn construction has been moving along on a quay. Constant swells have pounded the existing jetty almost to break point and revision is necessary. Ironically the construction crew has also been searching out rock on the island but to blow it up for ballast; luckily our paths only cross socially and their rocks are much smaller. Plans for a breakwater are already being drawn and more rock will suffer. Suggestions were made to the crew on the angle and features of a possible quarry, who knows a future custom cliff?

Yesterday we established a climb on the cliff adjacent Christians cave, originally thought to be several pitches but Greg did a fine effort with a stretched 60m rope. Afternoon fun was back on the sea stacks of St Paul's point, much calmer than prior visits. Swells can crest the towers & dowse the summits as we found out.

Tomorrow is slated for exodus, hoping for calm seas and are busy restocking motion sickness medicine.


Paradise lost?     11 Jul, 05 - 16:28


White sand beaches, adding crags would form utopia.                     Greg tries wakeboarding.                     Swiming with Ramora

French Polynesia is quite the contrast to Pitcairn, back in the realm of pearl farming instead of a subsistence existence. The journey was free of seasickness entirely pleasant compared to the outbound.
Truly an incredible journey, specially for a gaggle of Alpinists completely out of their environment. Without our able Captain it would have been insane for us to undertake such a venture.
The Pitcairners are commendable for their commitment to the island. From the point their ancestors stood on the shore and watched His Majesty's Armed Vessel "Bounty" burn to the water line, continuing through present day isolation. A group of less than fifty enjoying a slice of utopia and cooperating to sustain the vision.
Pitcairn remains firmly beyond the physical network of the planet, perhaps a scheduled stop from a cruise ship, weather permitting but equally as likely not.
I'd be surprised if it became a future climbing destination, we enjoyed fine steep adventure but it could only be described as limited. Certainly a qualifier in most unattainable locations, once arrived abundant fruit and fishing could sustain?
Next year plans for a breakwater could draw a better link to the outside world but I feel Pitcairn will remain free from crowds. Neighbouring British Polynesian islands are uninhabited, Oeno, Ducie and Henderson; the latter (world heritage site) hosts a group of scientists part of the year.
No fresh water springs exist other than Pitcairn's and it remains a hard earned island paradise.

The Gambiars group, southernmost in French Polynesia granted a fine exit to the region a chance to snorkel the reef and swim in the warm southern ocean.
The Marquesa group or Bora Bora look to offer fine cliffs without the seafaring commitment of British Polynesia, perhaps next year?


     Expeditions Page

     Back to the Title Page