SEA TRIALS

OF THE NEW LONGBOAT

 

Pitcairners take pride in their accomplishments as much as anyone else. So on May 11, 1983, most islanders showed up down at the landing for the sea trials of the new longboat. The hull of the boat had been finished in December, but because of delay in getting some of the hardware, the engine had not been installed until early May. Now at last The New Boat was completed and ready to swim.

The launching procedure went without a hitch as the boat slid backwards down the iron channel and into the bay. In fact, those who pushed it down the slipway had difficulty keeping up, and most of them quit before they reached the slippery, algae-covered lower ramp.

Boat No. 4 already lay beside the jetty as the men jockeyed The New Boat (that seems to be its unofficial name) into position so that its bow pointed toward the harbor outlet. Then they tied it to mooring posts on the jetty, ready for its first sea journey.

The island engineering staff worked for about 30 minutes putting the new motor through its starting paces, as this was the first opportunity they had had to run it for any length of time. Unlike the air-cooled engines in Longboats No. 3 and No. 4, the new motor is water-cooled. So the boat must be lying in the water whenever the engine is run for more than a few minutes.

When the engineers had satisfied themselves that the motor operated according to specification, they invited the restless crowd aboard. For the sea trials the men launched two craft so that if any trouble did develop, the passengers could be taken off The New Boat and brought safely ashore.

Everyone fidgeted through the tense moments while the signal man scanned the seas, waiting for a lull in the breakers. When the prime moment came he gave the signal and the engine roared into life, propelling the new longboat through the harbor mouth and out to seawith hardly a bounce from the waves. No. 4 followed quickly in its wake.

Once at sea everyone marveled at the strength of the waves. Large swells rolled in from the east, and the water surface was quite choppy. No. 4 followed The New Boat at a great distance and got further behind when Allen (the New Zealand teacher) caught a fish on his trolling line. So No. 4 came to a stop while he landed a medium-sized king fish (of the Tuna family).

As The New Boat breezed towards Adam's rock Martha lost her cap. Len immediately swung hard to starboard, and for a minute all aboard thought he would come to grief on one of the nearby rocks. But Len skillfully maneuvered his craft amidst the boulders, and retrieved the soggy cap.

No. 4, again under way after Allen's catch, now trailed far astern as The New Boat headed east toward St. Paul's. Both boats pounded into heavy seas and the dense, wind-blown spray drenched the passengers in No.4 within minutes. But because the angle of The New Boat's hull sent the spray far enough away from its sides, its occupants remained comparatively dry.

As The New Boat rounded St. Paul's point and headed for Tautama, Allen caught another fish, so No. 4 stopped again, this time within a stones-throw of the pillars. This fish was twice the size of the other and Allen had considerable difficulty getting it aboard. Meanwhile the angry seas splashed into his boat, sopping everyone to the skin.

By this time The New Boat had already rounded Tautama, fully a mile ahead, and No. 4 gave chase. Len must have eased up on the throttle, for No. 4 pulled up alongside by the time he drew opposite Ginger Valley. For several magnificent minutes the two launches skimmed the quiet seas in the island's lee side by side. What a sight! The New Boat rode the waves with marvelous grace.

Both longboats stopped at the "Northern Lights" yacht which had anchored off Christian's Point. Some of the passengers in No. 4 took this opportunity to crawl over into The New Boat before getting under way again.

Skirting the point, the two diesel-powered vessels cavorted in the Western Harbor for a time before passing Matt's rocks on the homeward stretch. Bow-to-bow less than three yards apart, they raced for home, splashing each other as they bounded over the rolling waves. But from the start The New Boat held first place, pulling easily away from No. 4.

Throughout the trials cameras clicked, and videos silently recorded the action. Brian stayed ashore throughout, speeding from one high point to another on his ATC to make shore-side video recordings of The New Boat from various locations. The crew of the yacht also recorded the event.

Safely back in Bounty Bay, everyone smiled with pride at the successful journey. And though some spoke more conservatively than others, all agreed that The New Boat ranked among the best ever built on Pitcairn.