The primary shipping lanes do not pass by Pitcairn Island. The northerly traffic passed 300 miles to the south while the southerly traffic passed about 100 miles to the north. A captain who wants to stop at Pitcairn must divert from his planned route in order to go by the island. Accordingly, few ships arrive off Bounty Bay, and those which do come mainly from the category of merchant ships― usually small tankers or container ships. Though in recent years the numbers have been growing, when we lived in the mission house we could expect no more than 20 a year at most. So the advent of a ship caused great excitement among Pitcairners.
The Islanders spend a good amount of their time crafting curios of one type or another to sell on these ships. A large percentage of their income must come from this endeavor. So every time a ship stops a caravan of motorized cycles descends the Hill of Difficulty carting boxes or baskets stuffed with their wares to sell to the crew on the visiting ship.
Imagine the joy felt by Pitcairners when they hear of the coming of a cruise ship. This will give them access to several hundred passengers and crew, most of which will want to buy something made on Pitcairn.
Here are some experiences that took place during the years 1982-1984. (A chapter in Stories from Pitcairn Island in the Library outlines some of the events that took place in association with the Russian ship. The story given here gives further information on that ship's visit.)
The "Mahsuri" 9/8/82
The "Mahsuri" (pronounced like the state, Missouri) had arrived the preceding night and had laid by all night. This is unusual because operating a ship is expensive (one captain told me it cost $1500 a day).
Everyone was in high spirits and yet a little quizzical: We had seen the lights of the ship all night (whenever anyone looked), but there was not a sign of her this morning. We went out to meet her anyhow.
We rode in No. 4 (now painted white with a red stripe around the top), and No. 3 (now orange) came out after us. We sailed straight out to sea, still unable to see the ship. No. 3 sailed east, looking in that diection, and when she didn't see anything she headed back west, still staying close to shore. We had gone perhaps two miles when we sighted the ship―out about 6-7 miles―coming for us. We slowed our engines and waited for her. No. 3 stayed for a while near land, until she also sighted the ship, and came up abreast of us before the ship reached our position.
We came up to the Port side (left, facing the bow), but one of the officers (1st officer we found out later) yelled us to go to Starboard. We sailed around to starboard, but couldn't hook up as we were on the wrong side for the sea―it kept pushing us away from the ship. We got close enough for Brian to get onto the ladder, and then we veered away. Brian went to the bridge to tell them to swing the ship around, which they did in short order. Then we tied up and began to ascend the ladder.
The ship's holds were empty, riding about 6-8 ft. higher than she would have had she been loaded. She had unusually high sides anyway and that caused us to have to climb almost 30 ft to get onto the deck―an exceptionally long climb. And to add to the trouble, the ship was rolling quite badly, which meant that it was hard to hang onto the ladder. In spite of it all, everyone reached deck―but most of them were weary from the ordeal.
After about 2 hrs. we discovered that the ship was in no hurry and that some of the crew wanted to go ashore. We decided to go with them. I helped Tom load his diesel fuel (he tied each 5-7 gallon plastic container to a rope, lowered it to the boat and I untied it and stowed it in the boat. I also helped load some dunnage (scrap wood) that was lowered from the deck. Then we were off for the shore. It took us about 30 minutes to reach the harbor as the ship was about 3 miles off.
All the visitors members wanted to walk up the hill, so after I helped unload the boat I went home. We decided to go back out to the ship as the longboat was not going to stay long and all the Pitcairners would be coming back. I took videos of what its like going to sea in the longboat.
When we reached the ship I stayed in the boat, not going aboard this time but videoing the people lowering their cargo from the ship and climbing down the ladder. I also got the songs they sang before they cast off. No. 4 longboat had to tow No. 3 because of engine trouble. It was interesting to video the scene of the departing ship―it's propellers whipping up water as they churned the sea. Our trip back took about 40 minutes.
The Tunisian Reefer 9/17/82
The day dawned beautiful, though not completely clear, the sun shone most of the time. The 5-bell ring went off at 8:05, in the middle of my breakfast, so I hurriedly finished. I got about 6 mandarin oranges (as big as baseballs) from the trees at the head of the road, took two cans of soda with me, and scampered down the trail to the landing.
The men already had No. 4 out at the landing and were preparing to slide No. 3 down the spillway when I arrived. I put my basket over by the landing and turned to help them with the boat, but it was already coming down. It didn't go all the way, however, but stopped with its stern in the water about 5 ft. The tide was low and the boat wouldn't budge.
The men heaved, and pulled on ropes for all their might, but they couldn't get the 5-ton monster to move into the water. They even started the engine and put the prop in reverse throwing water wildly everywhere. But to no avail. Finally they got the tractor out and shoved it into the bay. Whew!!!
We quickly loaded the boats (The ship was almost to the island by now) and scrambled aboard. But No. 4 wouldn't start, as the starting chain was broken. Brian jumped on his trike and went up the hill, returning in about 7-10 minutes with the chain. It took another two minutes to put it on.
The sea was rather high in the bay and the men took their time going out. The ship blew its whistle before we even left the bay, and it was very near in to shore when we came out. We went up next to Port (nearest land), as the sea was better on that side; they waved us around to Starboard as they had already put the ladder down over there. But we found it impossibly rough on the Starboard side. Brian clamored up the ladder and went to the bridge to explain that they needed to turn the ship around to put us into the lee. The officer in charge decided to move the ladder to Port and we went around to that side again and tied up.
It was a nice ship with all Danish crew―4 or 5 wives were aboard too. I helped Dennis with the mail until it was stowed in its appointed place, then I walked around looking at the ship.
The Pitcairners had set up shop in the ship's lounge on the first floor, a nice well-kept room that filled the width of the ship and was 12-15 ft. wide. Some of the islanders had to set up in the hall, but some always do that whether there's room or not.
I waited around until they passed out soft drinks; then I went up to the bridge. I talked a bit with the 2nd mate, but he didn't seem very talkative―it was his first time as 2nd mate and he was worried about being so close to shore. He kept running back and forth to look at his position, his instruments, and charts.
I asked to see the chief engineer and asked him if he had any motor oil. He put me in touch with a gentleman who took me back to where those supplies were kept. Sure enough: they had Mobil 10-30 motor oil. He gave me about 15 litres of the stuff, and wouldn't accept any payment.
The first mate on the ship was the same man who was 2nd mate on another Reefer ship when Royal traveled between Pitcairn and New Zealand. She was introducing him all around. The other Pitcairners kept the chief steward busy running here and there selling and giving them what they needed.
We sang to them and went home in choppy seas.
Essi "Gina" 9/18/82
We expected the Essi ship to come at 2pm, but it didn't arrive until 6pm. The road was about the consistency of school paste as we descended the Hill of Difficulty. We slid around several times, almost going sidewise at times.
The day was the Sabbath and, although we had to leave on Sabbath, we decided that it would be OK as we were not to get to the ship until after sundown. We felt that the men needed our help unloading cargo. (Ben didn't take any curios along to sell as he didn't think it was right loading them into the longboat and carrying them out to the ship on Sabbath―even though he would sell them until after Sabbath. I felt pleased with his stand. Most everyone else did take curios out to the ship.)
We left Bounty Bay at about 5:30 and motored out toward the ship that was still 5-6 miles out. It took us about ½ hour to get out to the ship, and they had to turn it around to put us on the leeward side. So it was already sundown before we climbed on deck. The sea was very choppy and the swells ran about 8-12 ft. high, making it difficult to get on and off the ladder.
I hunted down the chief steward and asked him if he had any wrapping paper for sale―and cheese. He got me a full role of good quality Kraft paper and about two pounds of cheese. He wanted me to give the ship some fruit, but I told him I was the pastor and didn't have any fruit. He said that he would give it to me, and I thanked him.
I helped the men load the longboats, and went down into the boats to receive the cargo. The seas were very heavy and the boat was tossing wildly. I stood down on the bottom of the boat and took cargo from Michael and Jacob, shoving it under the seats. In the half-hour I worked I got quite sea-sick, and finally went back onto the ship to get my composure back.
I went into the lounge where the others had their curios displayed, and sat for a while until we were ready to go. I looked at pictures of the Essi Cilia that had burned with island cargo aboard. What a mess! (The fire was so hot it buckled many of the steel plates. The crew had been forced to abandon ship, but none of them perished. Fortunately the cargo was not destroyed. The company will have to cut off the crew part of the ship and attach a new section.)
I was about the last one into the longboats as I was still feeling unsettled. I was comfortably situated on top of the engine housing of No. 4 and we had sung our song. As we pulled away from the ship the men decided that the boat was too heavily loaded in the front and all us passengers had to shift to the back. So I went back and sat on the middle back seat, facing forward. I was drenched in short order as the boat plowed through heavy seas―splashing its way toward home. It was a little scary. I prayed and recited certain Bible texts in my mind for a while. Then I began to sing softly to myself. Martha told me later that, even though she was sitting right across from me, and knew I was singing, she couldn't hear me. But I remember distinctly hearing someone harmonizing with me. And yet when I listened for it, it wasn't there. I don't know how to explain it, except that perhaps the angels were singing with me. The singing was sweet and soft.
We were so far out that it took us about 45 minutes to get in. I sang and looked at the stars that were finally coming out after so many rainy days. By the time we got to shore I didn't feel sick any more.
We unloaded the boat and loaded our cargo aboard our trike (ATC). We had bought several things from the ship's shop and a 5 liter jug of cooking oil from Olive. We made our way up the hill. On the way up I kept it in first gear knowing I would need extra power to get through the mud. I had the paper, the oil, the extras, Martha and myself.
We made it up most of the way until we hit a particularly soupy part. The back wheels began to spin and we slowed. I kept the throttle on. We swerved and slid toward the inner edge―the ditch―but we kept going. We soon got better traction and made it to the top.
Visit of the Russian Ship "Michail Lermontov" 2/5/83
The day dawned overcast, but dry and cool. As the day progressed the clouds cleared away and the sun shown through. What a beautiful day: not too hot and not too cold. I got a glorious burn!
Due to the interest of the passengers―a large portion of which were retired people from England―the captain received permission from the Island Council to bring all ashore who requested to do so.
As the time grew near we began to realize that it would be an exhausting day. But the day proved to be far more tiring than we had feared. It took longer to get started bringing people ashore than we had counted on. They didn't bring the first people ashore until about 10 a.m.
I went up to Shiplanding point to take some snapshots of the ship and the movement of the boats. I shot about eight pictures. Then I returned home, changed into dress clothes, and walked up the path to the church to get ready for the meeting. There were already people milling around the square, and coming into the church to see the Bounty Bible. I talked with many of them and explained some of the history of the Bible and the Island.
At 11 a.m., when the meeting was supposed to begin, we had 30 people sitting in the pews. I had advertised "Come sing with the Pitcairners"―but I couldn't see any Pitcairners. Then I realized that no one had rung a bell, so I rang the first bell myself.
Irma was worried that no one would come. All the men were in the boats, and the women had a lot to do too. I told her we would have to work with whoever came. Betty was helping Martha transport those passengers who were too feeble to walk up the hill. So Irma volunteered to play the organ. Mento rang the 2nd bell down by Ivan's, and I rang it in the square.
We started the meeting about 11:40―with less than five Pitcairners and about 90 of our seafaring guests. Others came as we continued the service. The group sang two favorite Pitcairn songs, and the children sang two songs as well. I gave a Bible Study on the 2nd Advent, and then we sang another song.
In the excitement of the moment I forgot to take the offering and one of the first guests who met me at the door reminded me of it. So I sent Jackie around for the offering bag. Most everyone dropped an offering into the bag, which altogether amounted to $52.41. We also distributed copies of "Pitcairn Island" from the Pilgrims Press.
(A Seventh-day Adventist passenger from England told me that when she booked the trip she didn't know if she would find any place to worship on the Sabbath. She was so pleased that she could share the Sabbath with us.)
A Russian journalist from TASS news agency asked me if I could take their photographic crew around on my bike. I told him "yes," and took the cameraman around. He was Serge Borgcor (I don't know if the spelling is correct), a bartender on the ship. Serge takes video pictures of the various places that the ship stops and shows them to the members of the crew who could not come ashore. He spoke passable English, and we had a good time together. His name means "little god"―he laughed shyly as he told me―and I told him that we must be related as my name (Petty) also means "little." I put my arm around his shoulders, and he smiled. I took him to the cemetery, Tom Christian's house, Gannet ridge, Brown's water, the radio station, St. Paul's, and Shiplanding point.
When we got back to the square, Martha explained that she wanted to escort the Doctor around the island, and wanted me to take the tour with the TASS journalist. The doctor's name was Michail and the TASS journalist's name was Vihilia. They had an officer with them―the helmsman―named Slava. We took the two―Michail and Vihilia―around to some of the same places I'd taken Serge. Afterward we asked all four of them down to the mission for a snack. By then it came time for us to go out to the ship.
The four men took us on a tour of the ship. We stopped at several decks, the library, and the bar where Serge works. Serge, now in his bartender attire, looked dashing in his red jacket, his bushy hair and mustache. As we don't drink alcoholic beverages we took some water and continued on the tour. Later, when we returned to the bar, Serge gave us some orange juice and showed us pictures of his wife and two sons―4 and 3―a beautiful family. Then he gave us a box of Russian chocolates. (The doctor also had a 5 year-old son.)
When they took us to the restaurant for dinner they ran into a bit of trouble as to how to serve me: I was the first vegetarian to eat on the ship in the 10 years of its service!!! (We stopped at the ship's curio shop and bought a pair of birds carved from animal horns―only about US$6.00.)
We didn't get to eat our desert, as the longboats were preparing to leave for shore, and the ship would soon sail over the horizon. When some of our Pitcairn boatmen entered the restaurant, they received a round of applause.
Everyone was tired when we returned to shore. It had been a long and enjoyable day.
After Thoughts About the Russian Visit
Some of those who sold only after the Sabbath was over sold as much as or more than those who had been at it all day. In fact, some of the passengers rebuked those who sold during the Sabbath hours and said that they were trying to take advantage of those who would not sell on God's holy Sabbath.
Olive purchased a guitar from one of the stores while she was aboard ship. But as she sold curios to the passengers someone stole the guitar and most of her money. This was made known to the captain who, during the days following their departure, did a thorough investigation and found the culprit. When he had retrieved the money and guitar he sent a check to Olive and an apology for the trouble she had experienced.
Captain Invites Children to Ship 4/9/83
One of the small tankers of the Essi fleet stopped to pick up Jimmy to take him to New Zealand for medical treatment. Soon after the longboats arrived at the ship, one of them returned with the news that the captain had invited the children to come out to the ship. So I went down with Joel and together we went out to the ship.
The seas were stormy with swells, I'd judge, about 20 ft. high. The surface of the water danced about in the wind, liberally spreading fans of spray over the boat while tossing us jauntily about.
As soon as we had cleared the harbor Judy Cox wished she hadn't come. She and her daughter were both affected by motion sickness. The captain's decision to move to a point east of the island didn't help her as it took us about 45 minutes to get out to the ship because of this shift. By the time we got there Judy and her daughter Jackie had both lost interest in the trip.
We finally linked up with the other boat that lay aside the vessel, it's fore and aft mooring ropes tied to pilings on deck. I suggested that someone help Judy up the ladder as she was weak from her ordeal. Other men looped ropes around the small children and hauled them aboard like so much cargo. The side of the ship stood high, and took a great deal of effort on our part just to climb aboard.
I had taken with me 50 tracts about Pitcairn Island, and began handing them out to the crew. Word must have gotten around quickly because I had only given out about six when other members of the crew began to ask me for them. By the time I had finished I'd given out 41.
The captain came to the dining room while all us "children" enjoyed eating ice cream. Afterwards, one of the officers took us on a tour of the ship, during which we talked with the captain and several of the crew. The crew were all cordial―more so than the crews of most ships. We remained on board the ship for about 2 hours enjoying the graciousness of the entire crew.
When it came time to go ashore, we descended the Jacob's Ladder into the longboats. According to tradition, before casting off we sang to the crew from our little boats: "There's a land that is fairer than day . . . . In the sweet by and by we shall meet on that beautiful shore."
We had a rough passage home. In spite of
the boisterous seas the two boats raced each other for a short distance,
passengers and crews smiling at each other as they bounced over the waves.
For the most part, however, we moved along at a slow pace in order to
prevent the excessive splashing of we passengers.