Holidays

Bounty Day, January 23

 

Bounty day is the only holiday that is distinctively Pitcairn. The day commemorates the burning of the Bounty by the mutineers in 1790.

History records that the Englishmen feared discovery by the British Admiralty. So, about a week after Fletcher Christian, his motley crew, and their women landed on Pitcairn, they torched HMAS Bounty. She burned to her waterline. A great deal of the wreckage can still be found on the floor of Bounty Baycovered with the silt of two centuries.

Bounty day, 1983, was spent enjoying various festivities down at the landing. The time was dedicated mostly to water sports. I saw people fishing from boats and atop nearby rocks. Some took snorkeling gear, boarded a "canoe" (any type of privately owned boat), and motored off-island to dive beneath the waves with spear-gun in hand. They hoped to bag a giant crayfish (leg-spans of 12-18 inches are not uncommon) to sell to the cook on the next ship.

Those who stayed at the Landingincluding all the childrenswam in the comparatively shallow water of the harbor inside the jetty, or just sat around and talked and/or worked on crafts, and/or nibbled on food, cleaned fish (Carol cleaned nearly 40 fish), or just relaxed.

On Pitcairn an unwritten rule allowed each individual the freedom to do whatever he/she wanted to dowhen they wanted to do it. And Bounty Day is no exception.

Earlier in the day several men had built a small, rough, replica of the bounty. The body and sails were formed of palm branches and mounted on an iron platform attached to four oil drums. They hoisted this craft into the bay and then towed it by outboard motor canoe out of the tiny harbor into Bounty Bayjust beyond the surfwhere they let it ride at anchor all day, gently rolling from side to side with the incoming swells.

The children made good use of the waves that rolled into the harbor from the sea. Though these were not large by any stretch of the imaginationthe largest couldn't have been more than 3-4 ft. in heightthe young people put them to use as locomotion for body surfing.

The children used several kinds of "surf boards" to aid them in their quest for the perfect ride. Some were homemade, like Ron's red board shaped like the prow of a boat with a representation of a shark's eyes and teeth painted on its sides. Others used commercial, rubber boards, and still others used short planks.

Ron and Jackie Beth had obviously had a good deal of experience. The two swept into the harbor toward the rocks on the far side, only to expertly curve to the left just in time to avoid grief. Clarice wasn't so lucky. At one point she landed on the rocks and soon found herself sitting high and dry as the water receded. She laughed and scrambled back into the water to swim out and take another run.

Andrew Cox used a plywood kayak he and his father had made. Although he had difficulty catching the waves just right, when he actually got the boat to surf, the sharp nose sliced into the water and struck the bottom. It had two affects: Andrew found himself plopped head-first into the water, sticking out the now underside of the craft; and the bow of the boat was broken off (humiliation/grief).

I tried body surfing, but could never catch the wave at the right time. Later I put on flippers and snorkel for a swim out into Bounty Bay in search of the wreckage. No one else was in the water at the time. When I reached open water I felt a sense of foreboding and chickened out.

Four-year-old Joel stood at the end of the jetty with his line in the water. He caught an eel which Steve killed for him and then threw back into the water. Joel was never a quitter and persisted in throwing his bated hook into the harbor again and again for most of the afternoon. Later in the day Steve slipped into the water, retrieved the dead eel and put it on Joel's line again. So Joel had the pleasure of hooking an eel again!

About 5:30 the scattered sportspersons materialized for teapublic dinnerdown at the Jetty. The makeshift table held mostly picnic fare, and there was plenty of freshly fried fish, cooked beans, salads, watermelons and cantaloupe for all.

At about sunset the "mutineers" went out to the "Bounty" and put it to the torch. The replica burned well. I found that the scene mysteriously moved me as it blazed away in the calm evening breeze. A perfect end to a perfect day.