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Published: March 18th 2006
On the ship approaching Pitcairn Island. Rocky and surrounded entirely by cliffs and reefs, it was extremely inhospitable to ships and all but the most skillfully handled small boats.
I’m sure most people have read or seen “Mutiny on the Bounty,” the story of the mutinous crew of the Bounty, headed by Fletcher Christian, and the infamous Capt. Bligh. After setting Capt. Bligh and his few faithful crew adrift in a small boat, the mutineers headed for the tiny uninhabited island of Pitcairn, a two-square mile speck of rock in the middle of the South Pacific. It was 1790.
This story was repeated to us on the way to Pitcairn Island by William Christian, a present-day descendant of the original Fletcher Christian. William Christian was born on Pitcairn Island but presently lives in England. He told us of his 50 relatives and friends who still live on the island, all of them descendants of the original band of 9 mutineers and the 18 Tahitians (6 men and 12 women) they brought with them. Population on the island has fluctuated, but has never exceeded 250.
One reason Fletcher Christian and his mutineers choose Pitcairn Island in 1790 was its inaccessibility. The island is completely surrounded by high cliffs and dangerous reefs, and has no real harbor. Only small boats can dock at the pier the islanders
Their small boat leaving the dock coming out to our ship.
have constructed among the rocks where heaving waves dash into white breakers at the foot of the cliff below Pitcairn village. Not even our ship’s tenders could safely approach the island.
Since we couldn’t leave the ship and go to Pitcairn Island, the islanders got on their narrow longboat and came to our ship. This was an exciting event. The captain sounded a long loud blast of welcome on the ship’s huge horn. Nearly 50 people waved and smiled from their little boat pitching in the rough seas. Hundreds of passengers leaning from the railings of the ship’s decks welcomed them.
We were the first strangers the Pitcairners had seen in many months. Cruise ships are a real rarity for them, as not many tourists bother to make the long trip to the out-of-the-way island.
Watching the Pitcairners leave their longboat and enter our huge (by comparison) ship was a tense time. The ocean waves heaved against the side of the ship and pitched their boat up and down. To get aboard, each had to reach up the side of the ship and grab a rope ladder, and then climb it several feet to the open deck
The islanders nearing the ship. Their longboat is said to be similar to the original longboat that brought William Christian and his crew to the island.
One by one they climbed up the rope ladder, carrying their bags of goods they brought for peddling to the ship’s passengers - a large part of their cash income for the year. They were about equally divided between men and women, some with European features and others with the features and dark tans of their Polynesian ancestors.
The plan was for this group of islanders to visit the ship, while a small contingent of ship’s officers went ashore. When the officers reached the island, they were met by the Pitcairn mayor and other officials. The officers carried with them medicine and other supplies that the Crystal Serenity donated to the island’s small hospital.
When the Pitcairn Islanders boarded the ship, they went to one of the upper decks where room had been reserved for them to set up small shops selling t-shirts and other souvenirs of the island - all probably ordered by email by enterprising islanders, except for small carved wood figures, handmade potholders and aprons, etc , which were local products.
After lunch provided by the ship, the islanders gathered in the ship’s large lobby and sang favorite hymns and other songs
Setting Up Shop
The ship's crew set up tables for the islanders on the open deck near one of the swimming pools, and it was quickly covered with cloths and each islander's offerings.
for us. A few children were with the group, obviously thrilled and a bit overwhelmed by the sight of so many smiling strangers. Hundreds of friendly curious passengers surrounded them and lined the railings of the deck above them. The lobby gleamed with polished brass and lighted boutique windows and a sparkling fountain.
Flashbulbs popped continuously while the islanders sang and made short speeches. Then they climbed back down the rope ladder and returned to their small village, one of the most isolated in the world. It was a strange and wonderful day for all of us.
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