Boats and Their Men


Through the years Pitcairners have had many good and bad experiences with their boats and the sea. Here are a few entries in my diary telling of them:


Tom told us that they had had a "hairy" entry into the harbor. They had gotten onto a swell at the wrong place, and it pushed them toward the rocks. Then, when they tried to turn toward the harbor, the boat lurched up onto its side, almost capsizing. They got in without any injury to themselves or to the boat, but all were a bit shaken. 10/30/82

The sea was very rough and the wind was out of the East and high. The Supply ship came right on schedule and the men went out to meet it. Due to the rough seas, and trouble with the ship's crane, the loading went very slow.

The first time No. 4 came in, Nig was at the helm and he nearly hit the point on the pier. When he tried to avoid it he over steered the other way. A wave shoved the boat into the rocks and the next wave nearly capsized it. Warren fell out and the boat was swamped and stovebut no one was hurt. They were able to pull the boat off the rocks at the next big wave. They removed the cargo and took the boat up into the boat house and fixed the broken planks.

No. 3 got in 4 loads before No. 4 was back in service. At about 7 p.m. the people quit for the night. They had brought a total of 7 boatloads into the harbor and everyone was bushed. 2/26/83

Boat Caulking

After the boat is planked it must be caulked in order to make it waterproof. We glued wood over the cracks on the inside of the boat to give us a backing.

Caulking consists of hammering oakum into the cracks of the boat. First we used a wide chisel-like tool with a rounded working edge, and pounded it with a hammer into the cracks to widen them Then we put oakum into the crack.

Oakum seems to be made of well-oiled Jute or some similar substance that clings together in a mass. We took a length of about two feet, rolled it between our hands to catch all the strays that may be sticking out. We then hammered it in between the planksinto the cracks we'd just madewith a hammer (or mallet) and the same wide chisel we'd used to open the cracks. 12/82


Conversations While Caulking Boats 8/18/82

I rode down to the Landing on the tractor with Jay and Terry where the men were repairing and caulking the boats. As I busied myself with oakum, Brian got me into a discussion about Henderson and Oeno.

"You got to go to Henderson," he said. "Most pastors don't go. Von did. [Von is the wife of the previous pastor.] It's quite an experience." He talks with a far-away look in his eyes, seldom looking directly into the eyes of the person to whom he talks, but just to the left of themseemingly studying something in the distance. "They keep saying that there's not much Miro left on Henderson," he continued. "But every time they go there, they come back with a load." He smiled, and looked me in the eye.

Charles, standing nearby, said: "The Yankee Trader's coming. They usually take us to Henderson."

"Can't take the long boats into the coral reef," continued Brian. "They have too deep a draft. So we usually tow "Dumpy" and it can get in over the reef. They anchor the longboats outside the reef." [Dumpy is a longboat that has no motor, and comes from the time when oars were the means of propulsion. Dumpy is stowed in the longboat house, just south of No. 3]

I mentioned that I wanted to go to Oeno. "That's a gorgeous place," said Charles, "especially the lagoon. It's about that deep (he indicated with his hand that it was about six ft. deep). Lots of octopuses, though. I got one wrapping around my legs once." He laughed. "It scared me so, I jumped, and that scared him, so he let go. I speared one that had tentacles about 12-14 ft. long, and his tentacles coiled up the spear."

While I was working on the boat I discovered a plank that appeared rotten to me. I called in Ben to look at it. "That doesn't look good, Pastor," he drawled. "Better leave it. Charles'l fix it." He smiled. [Charles was the chairman of the committee that allocated public work. The stock phrase that was said whenever some difficult chore had to be done was "Let Charles do it."]


Harbor Trouble

We'd been out to a ship with the children. The seas rode highswells up to 20 ft. high. We had ridden out to the ship on No. 4 but came back on No. 3. 

No. 4 was first into the harbor. No. 3 came in afterward, but because of the rough sea and over steering on the part of the Tiller, our boat side-swiped No. 4 and stove a bit of the bow.

Then the trouble started. When the men tried to get No. 3 up the ramp it went aside from the channel, and they had to stop pulling it up. They had to push it back down the ramp. The surf was so fierce that it would have broken the boat up had they left it half in the sea like it was.

They hooked the boat up to the winch again, but the halter that is put around the back of the boat broke. [The halter is a 3 in. rope that is draped around the boat so that the boat is pulled up from the stern in order to keep from putting undue strain on the boat as would be the case if the boat were hauled up from the bow.] The men tied the halter up and finally got No. 3 into the boat house.

But when they placed the halter around No. 4 to haul it into the boat house, they couldn't get the winch engine started again. They worked on it for about an hour, and finally decided that it wouldn't start at all. So they dragged out pulleys and a new rope, hooked them up to the boat and the tractor. The tractor drove out the Jetty to it's end (about 25 yards), pulling the boat several feet. The tractor returned to the shed, the rope was again fastened and Jay made another trip to the end of the Jetty. The tractor had to make several runs before No. 4 was far enough from the water to be safe from any large waves.


The Aluminium* Boat 6/6/83

The island had ordered an Aluminium boat from New Zealand. There was a lot of talk for and against the fact that it was not made of wood. "If a wood boat flounders," said one, "it will still float. You have something to cling to till help comes. But if an Aluminium boat flounders, it'll go strait to the bottom because the metal doesn't float." Others felt it was a good idea. Still others had a wait-and-see attitude.

So, when the 5-bell signal sounded at 4am, I ate breakfast and walked down to the landing. We loaded the parachutes, the pallet, and straps from the air drop into the new boat. We had just put to sea when the Act 5 rounded the western end of the island.

We soon boarded her and moved forward as the main hold slid open. There, about 20 ft below us lay the boat-its aluminum polished to a shine, the wood fittings expertly finished. It looked beautiful. Before long crewmen from the ship attached 4 cables to the boat from the 25-ton hoist positioned next to the hold. Jay had gone below deck and appeared standing on the center bench of the boat. He kept his pose until the boat lay in the water.

We then spent 3 hours loading the goods and passengers that had been shipped to Pitcairn as cargo and headed back to shore. The Aluminium boat seemed to perform well. The only negative item in the crew's report was that it splashed water back on the passengers more so than their other boats did.

The Aluminium boat was eventually dubbed Tin, and the New Boat became known as Wood.

* Aluminium is a British spelling of what Americans call Aluminum. Aluminium is pronounced "al-u-MIN-i-um."