s/y Nine of Cups
Pitcairn Island Group
April 2009
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Bounty story in a nutshell...
The crew of the HMS Bounty
mutinies and sets Captain Bligh
and his loyal officers adrift at sea.
One group of the mutineers looks
for a south seas island to inhabit
where they won't be found. They
find Pitcairn, scuttle the ship and
set up their community with crew
and some Polynesian men and
women they've picked up along
the way. Too few women, local
alcoholic drink they learn to brew
and major differences of opinion
cause them to kill each other off
or kill themselves. Descendants
of the original mutineers still live
on the island.
About 1100 nm west of Easter Island is Pitcairn
Island. We always thought Pitcairn Island was all by
itself out there, but as you can see, there are actually  
four islands in the Pitcairn Group. Named after
Major Pitcairn of the British Marines in 1767,
Pitcairn Island itself is the only inhabited island of the

We e-mailed Pitcairn Island in advance to ask
permission to stop at Henderson Island. We'd read
about it and it was just the kind of
off-the-beaten-path place to which we were
attracted. Then as long as we were going to try to
stop at Henderson, we decided we'd at least aim for
Ducie Atoll to see what was there. Believe it or not,
Lonely Planet South Pacific had a small section on
each island of  the Pitcairn island group so we were
keen to at least do a sail-by if nothing else.
You have to admit that these Pitcairn Islanders have a great sense of humor. Take a close look at the names of some
of the locations: Break Im Hip, Tom Off, Oh Dear, Bitey Bitey and Bop Bop. Some of the names not on this map, but
on the local map are John's Catch-a-cow, Down the God, Where Dan Fall, Johnny Fall and Little George Coc'nuts.
We left Easter Island, the day before Easter, with the promise of
south/southeast winds to get us on our way. With Easter still a bump
on the horizon, David reeled in a small mahi mahi for our Easter dinner

The passage from Easter to Ducie Atoll was in a word...SLOW! The
slowest passage, in fact, we're ever made. The promised
south/southeast winds materialized for only a day or two and then
disappeared altogether. The weather was warm and mostly sunny, the
seas were calm and the wind ... well, there wasn't much wind at all.
Birds, like the brown booby left, flew over and landed near the boat
wondering what could possibly be moving so slowly.
The paper chart #83225 for Ducie
Atoll, taken from an 1937 British
aerial survey, didn't show very much.
Ducie was named for Lord Ducie by
Edward Edwards in 1791, during his

hunt and claimed for Britain.
We set a waypoint for the south side of the island
about one mile out, but stood off about 10 miles
until first light to approach. As you can see, the
chart plotter with its Navionics chart software
was off by about 1/2 mile. The magenta overlay is
the actual radar location of the atoll. At 2 miles
out, it was still not visible to the eye. Easy to see
how the
Acadia in 1881 was shipwrecked here.
We circumnavigated once around to find the best
possible spot for an anchorage. The south side was
exposed to huge southwest swells and subsequent
breakers. We decided on the north side in about
40 feet of water. The chart plotter showed us
nestled in the middle of the lagoon! Our anchorage
coordinates: 24S40.32 / 124W47.51
Ducie Atoll   -   24S42.00 /124W47.50
We hadn't had the opportunity to swim off the
boat in a long time. The water was crystal clear,
about 32C, very refreshing without leaving your
body parts numb. I dove in, checked on the
chain and anchor while David was doing some
chores aboard. Soon after, David went for his
dip and  said rather casually, "I'm surprised you
spent so long in the water with all the sharks!"
He saw at least four of them...3-4 feet long
within arm's reach of the swim ladder. No shark
photos, but less toothsome fish above, with a
clear view of the bottom...40 feet below.
Ducie is home to thousands of birds. We
could hear them above the sound of the
surf in early morning and at dusk.
Ducie is a classic coral atoll. A small island (Acadia) and a few tiny islets are surrounded by a coral reef which encompasses a lagoon. Other than
trees and birds, we read that rats abound...not high on our pets list.
Pitkern is spoken by the Pitcairn
Islanders amongst themselves.  
It is a blend of 18th-century
seafaring English spiced with
Polynesian words.
Days and nights here were equal in length. The
sun rose at 0600 and set at 1800. Sunsets were
especially awesome, lending a pinky-orange hue
to everything including "Cups".
We identified frigate birds (left), boobies,
terns (fairy tern above) and petrels among
After two relaxing days of 0-4 kt winds
anchored at Ducie, the forecast called for
north and east winds and we hauled anchor
for a pleasant sail to Henderson Island, some
200 miles west.
We'd learned through our research that
Henderson Island has a large population of
spiny lobsters, just there for the picking. David
spent his free hours at Ducie constructing a
lobster trap a la Dr. Seuss, from miscellaneous
odd parts found aboard.
Henderson Island  - 24S18.12 / 128W18.77
Once again, different sources provided different bits of
information about Henderson. To the left, Chart 83225.
Above, Lonely Planet's version of Henderson.
Henderson Island, the largest island of
the Pitcairn group, is an example of a
makatea or raised coral island believed
to have been lifted up by three underseas
The wrecking of the whaling ship Essex
on Henderson in 1820 after a charge by
a sperm whale in the Marquesas is
believed to have been the inspiration for
Herman Melville's
Moby Dick.
Polynesians settled Henderson between the 12th -
15th centuries and there may have been inhabitants
even earlier. The Bounty mutineers found it in 1790,
but it wasn't until 1819 that Captain James Henderson
aboard the British merchant ship
Hercules, claimed it
for Britain and named it for himself.
Four endemic land birds are found on
Henderson: the flightless Henderson rail,
Stephen's lorikeet, the Henderson fruit dove
and the Henderson warbler. The rare birdlife
coupled with the fact that Henderson's out of
the way location has rendered it untouched
caused the island to be named a Unesco
World Heritage site in 1988.
Fishing en route is a normal activity. It's
not sport though; it's food and lots of
work. This 18 lb mahi mahi took two
hours to land and required taking down
all the sails to slow down the boat. It will
render 6-8 meals plus bait for the lobster
trap. We've been rather fortunate with
fishing and now when I provision meat, I
assume at least 20+% will be fresh fish.
Above, the chartplotter version of
Henderson...again the magenta is the radar
image of the island.
The frigate birds seemed to like to fly close to our
sails, catching drafts and currents and soaring along.
We arrived early  in the morning and
hove-to till daylight. Northerly winds and
swells prevented us from anchoring or
landing so we circumnavigated the island.
Above, the North East Point.
The north shore is primarily beach, but the rest of the
island is edged by steep 50' cliffs. The black gray cliffs
were all undercut through erosion and there were
hundreds of huge caves and grottoes riddled with
holes. As the surf came up, there would be a dull thud
then "whoosh" and the water would burst out of
blowholes, some rising as high as the cliffs themselves.
The north side (where one might land if no
northerly swells) with its white sand beach and
palm trees looks especially appealing.
Ah, the vagaries of the winds and weather. When we were looking for a breath of wind to sail, we were
becalmed for days. Now,when we looked for calm to go ashore at Henderson, 20 knot northerly winds
prevailed and were forecast for days. After two days of being hove-to, we reluctantly headed southwest
...disappointed to miss the chance to explore Henderson, but excited about our impending visit to Pitcairn.
Pitcairn Facts:

*A British Overseas Territory

administered by NZ  (the only
BOT left in the Pacific Ocean, in
Population: 67 (a/o Apr 2009)
*Capital: Adamstown (only town
on the island)
*Language: English & Pitkern
*Currency: NZ $ (but US$ OK)
*Area: 5 sq km
*Time: -8 GMT

 Click  for more
Pitcairn information
Just a bump on the horizon, but land ho! Pitcairn
Island ahead ... 1,455 nm and 16 days after leaving
Easter Island.
We radioed ahead to Pitcairn and were told that
Bounty Bay  was fine for anchoring, so we went straight
in and anchored in sand, about 40' with good holding.
Bounty Bay, Pitcairn Island - 25S03.98 / 130W05.70
We arrived late in the afternoon and so waited till
the next morning to request permission to come
ashore. Though we could have requested pick-up
by the government boat ($50US/roundtrip), we
opted to take our own dinghy in. We were met at
the dock, given help disembarking and hauled the
dink up the longboat slipway.
Work was underway in the little harbor enlarging the
breakwater, but everyone stopped long enough to
welcome us and provide a helping hand. Health forms
were completed right at the boat house. Brenda
Christian, whom we'd been in contact with via email
since we left Chile, is also the Immigration Officer. We
went to her home for coffee, tea and Immigration
check-in. $30 US/per person, in and out, 14 day visa.
Morning Glory
Hibiscus...some blossoms as large as
dinner plates!
Banana (13 different varieties on the
island!), mango, papaya, grapefruit,
oranges. An island lush and verdant.
Panadus palms are used throughout Polynesia in
basket weaving.
Transportation on the island is almost exclusively via
Quads (ATVs). Everyone has one (or two or three)
and "nobody walks on Pitcairn!"  As we left the
harbor and headed up, up, up via a switchbacked
road to Brenda's house, we were immediately
impressed with the green lushness of the place. Palm
trees and huge Norfolk pines (a gift from Norfolk
Island).  A profusion of flowers bloomed everywhere
...striking in color, fragrance and variety. Hands of
bananas hung from the trees. Oranges and
grapefruits were heavy on the branches, just waiting
to be picked. Mangos, pawpaws (papayas),
coconuts and so much more we didn't recognize...all
in a 15 minute ride. So much to see and explore here
on this little 5 sq km chunk of land peeking out of the
South Pacific Ocean.
A small sign on the boathouse points
the way to the remains of the HMS
Bounty, scuttled by the mutinous
crew in about 40-50 feet of water in
the harbor  just off the landing place.
The Pitcairn warbler is endemic to the island.
Islanders pronounce Pitcairn as
Pitkern, which is therefore, the
correct pronunciation.
Though telephone and internet are both available
on Pitcairn, all islanders have a VHF at hand
because of the importance of ship traffic. It also
serves as a PA system to all households and we
heard many "general announcements" on
Channel 16 while we were there.
If I look uncomfortable, it's because I was.
You can barely see "Cups" below down in
Bounty Bay and we edged out on this little
ledge for a photo op.
Photo Bren Christian
At the highest point on the island, conveniently
named Highest Point, there's a camping area
and distance signs for faraway cities.
Brenda "Bren" Christian...great-great-
great-great granddaughter of Fletcher
Christian, is a ball of sweet energy.
She's as agile and nimble as a mountain
goat and graceful as a deer.
Everywhere we looked, there were beautiful
views and vistas.
Speaking of mountain goats, there are lots of wild
ones on the island. As long as they stay out of
mischief, they are left alone, otherwise goat meat
on the table.
We walked the Eco-Trail with Mike
Christian,  Brenda's husband. We found this
land crab under Big Stone, previously the
spot used by John Adams for his distillery.
John Adams, the last surviving mutineer, is
buried here along side his wife and daughter.
Bren leads the way down to the shore for a
closer look at  St. Paul's Pool.
The Pinnacles at St. Paul's Pool
Beautiful view of a blowhole near Ted's Side,
the west side of the island while we were in
search of Mrs. T...the lone Galapagos tortoise
that roams this side of the island.
A view from the ridge where we could watch
red-tailed tropic birds swoop below us.
Convenient signposts show the way to
points of interest on the island.
Pitcairn Island General Store is open on request
and carries basic food supplies.
The Post Office is also open on request and
after buying our postcards, we wanted to buy
some famous Pitcairn stamps and mail them.
Dennis the friendly postmaster was only too
happy to accommodate us and waited most
patiently as we carefully picked out colorful,
collectible stamps. He dutifully informed us it
might take months for them to leave the island
on the next supply ship returning to New
Zealand. Can't be much slower than Nine of
Cups!  No worries.
They opened the museum for us as well where
we had the chance to learn more about the
Bounty, Pitcairn's residents and their history.
The Bounty's anchor is on display in the Public
Square outside the Public Hall.
We were witnesses to history here! Our
second day ashore, an emergency general
meeting was called and we were allowed to
attend. The residents of Pitcairn , for the first
time ever, voted to close their borders to any
incoming ship/yacht traffic until further notice
based upon the WHO's recent statement
raising to level 5, the worldwide swine flu
alert. As an isolated population, healthy
Pitcairners are at a severe risk to their
population from possible outside infection.
Because we were already there, because we
came from a non-infected area and had spent
the last 2-3 weeks "quarantined" at sea with
no symptoms of any illness, we could either
stay or leave. Once we left, we could not
return until the borders reopened. Bren
helped us to determine if a similar situation
existed in Mangareva, Gambiers which would
have meant, of course, we could be turned
away from there upon arrival and then could
not return to Pitcairn. An interesting situation
to say the least and a good story, huh?
Luckily, all was clear at the border in
Gambiers and we made plans to depart.

We were ready to leave, but couldn't start a
new passage on a Friday...an old sailor's
superstition. The anchorage was untenable so
we hove-to till midnight and at 12:03am, set
the sails, gave a tot of rum to Neptune and
headed to the Gambiers.
When we returned to the boat on the second
day, the wind had picked up considerably and
was switching more easterly, making Bounty
Bay an untenable anchorage. We moved
around the corner to Ted's Side on the lee of
the island (25S03.69/130W07.17) We met
Bren there with the dinghy the next day and
she came aboard for a visit and coffee. David
set out us lobster trap, but was
unsuccessful...sigh! Maybe next time!
A final goodbye...Mike & Bren met us at the tiny
Landing Place on Ted's Side. They brought hands
of bananas, fruit, fresh bread, carvings, souvenirs...
their generosity overwhelmed us. These people and
this special place is why we cruise.
Our next port of call, Mangareva, Iles
Gambier, our entry to French
A gift of handwoven covered baskets made
by Dobrey  "Mag" Christian, Bren's mother
and the oldest resident of Pitcairn Island.
Look at Mike & Bren's website!