LONGBOATS:

AND A BROKEN WINCH

 

The winch that pulls the longboats out of the harbor broke early in 1983, and until repair parts arrived from New Zealand, the boats had to be hauled up with block and tackle by tractor power. It wasn't as easy as it sounds, especially in rough seas. The experience of April 18 shows how dangerous this procedure could be.

Pitcairners took both longboats out to Essi Gina in the afternoon, and stayed about two hoursoff-loading cargo from England, and selling curios. The half-hour cruise back to the harbor, though rough, was uneventful, and in the gathering darkness, both boats were unloaded at the jetty in record time.

But putting the boats away at night without the winch proved troublesome. The men fitted the rope halter around boat No. 3. (The halter is a 3-inch-thick rope that encircles the boat, thus pulling it up from the stern and minimizing stress to its superstructure. Smaller ropes attach to the halter and fit over bow and stern to hold the larger one in place.) Then they untied the longboat from it's mooring and, pulling from the opposite side of the ramp, they drew it over to the second channel.

Large breakers pounded into Bounty Bay at eight-to-ten-second intervals, causing a heavy undertow away from the ramp, so half a dozen strong men braced themselves to pull the boat against the current. Brian and Jacob went into the swirling water at the edge of the concrete ramp to hook the block and tackle to the halter. They had difficulty even standing in the rush of the incoming waves, let alone wrestling the bow of the boat into position and then hooking up the ropes. But somehow they managed to couple the forward pulley to the halter.

The tractor grunted and the rope attached to the 5-ton longboat grew taut. All eyes focused on that rope, hoping it would bear the tremendous strain. Presently the boat began to moveit slid forward about a foot and stopped, while the rope grew taut again. Foot by foot the dance continued until the keel was about half-way out of the water.

At that moment the rope broke, sending the pulley sliding across the concrete in a shower of sparks. No one was hurt, but the boat now stood in danger of being broken in half by the pounding of the breakers on its rear half. Men rushed in several directions at oncetwo secured a rope from the stern of the boat to a large rock on shore, while others tied it to one of the power poles on the jetty.

Working feverishly Brian and Jay rethreaded a new rope into the pulleys, and soon had it ready to go again. But as Jay edged the tractor forward again, the short rope that linked the forward pulley to the halter began to fray, and the work had to stop again while they replaced the faulty rope.

After nearly an hour of tense work the longboat finally groaned into place, and the men adjusted the ropes so they could re-enact the entire drama on longboat No. 4.

The ropes held this time, but a wave knocked Jacob off his feet, and he disappeared beneath the surging foam. Brian grabbed him fast, and everyone breathed easier when Jacob surfaced, unhurt and still wearing his glasses.

The Psalmist's promise had been fulfilled again: "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands.... 'Because he loves me,' says the Lord, 'I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name,'" Psalm 91:11-14 (NIV).