Pitcairn Arrival!

At 2300 UTC (3pm boat time) we dropped anchor in Bounty Bay, Pitcairn. The morning of our arrival was a touch frustrating – dead down wind in light air. There was a huge swell from the south west – indicative of something large spinning around down there in the Southern Ocean – so we were rolling back and forth violently and had to motor in order to maintain just a shred of sanity (let’s face it – we can’t have much of the stuff at the best of times, otherwise we wouldn’t be here to begin with!). Alan Jr., our apparently not-so-trusty tiller pilot, then gave up the ghost when his motor cooked itself so we now have no automatic pilot while motoring. Not to worry – we do at least have hands, and can even use them if forced.

The Pitcairn Islanders have lived up to their incredible reputation. Having called us on the radio and offered their greetings we explained that we would be unable to come ashore in our dinghy since the conditions would not allow it (our dinghy would quite simply have been swamped and then turned upside-down by the breaking waves coming into the landing. Jay Warren, with whom I had the honour of staying when I last visited back in 2003, jumped into one of their boats and picked us up within half an hour. A good 10 or so people (20% of the population of the island) were waiting on the dock for us. First we were given bead necklaces as a welcome gift, then immediately following the decidedly informal formalities we were whisked off to Jay and Carol’s gardens and orchards and given an incredible amount of food.

The islanders were genuinely happy to see us. Apparently they have had 3 yachts come by over the last few weeks but none have been able to land on the island because the weather has simply been too bad for them to anchor, let alone get ashore. Only last week they had a large storm here, with 50 knots of sustained wind and gusts of 70 to 90 knots.

These figures are on the one hand comforting to me because they mean that my estimates of wind speed over the last few weeks have not been wildly inflated. We had consistently experienced higher wind speeds than those that were forecast. I estimated, on average, about 5 knots higher. On the other hand, given our current predicament this is slightly worrying. The highest wind speed forecast for us over the last 3 weeks was 19 knots. We experienced about 25 knots at that time. The storm that I just mentioned that was here a week ago was something that I was following closely and the highest wind forecast was 34 knots. As I said, the islanders clocked 50 knots sustained.

Our situation currently is that we are anchored in a very precarious spot (there are no anchorages in Pitcairn that could ever be considered even remotely protected) on the south side of the north west bit of the island. We are in 66 feet of water and are experiencing 15-foot swells from the South West as well as 6-foot swells that are continuing to build from the East. The wind speed, forecast to be 15 knots at this time, is closer to 25, and the forward cleats and anchor chain are under some serious load from the shock loading imposed on them due to the combined efforts of the wind and, more importantly, the swells. The chances of us being able to raise the anchor in these conditions without ripping the windlass out of the deck or breaking the chain are 50:50. It’s 1730, half an hour before sunset, and we are fervently hoping that the wind will do as it is forecast. It is forecast to build to 22 knots (read – 30 knots with gusts to 45). Not good. However, it’s also forecast to back quickly to the North, which would leave us nicely in the lee of the land albeit with those large residual swells from two different directions.

The problem is that a nasty little low pressure has sprung up over Southern French Polynesia and is due to pass over the Gambier Islands and then proceed toward us, passing overhead about 24 hours from now. There’s nowhere for us to go since the wind speeds don’t get much less until you get several hundred miles from here and the thing is coming at us directly from the one place we might wish to head for anyway. So, here we are, bobbing in Bob, me getting progressively more agitated as the wind and swells build and Sarah doing her best to placate me and stop me worrying about stuff that is beyond our control. It’s a valiant effort, and I commend her for it! As I write this the wind is whistling through the rigging and Sarah is calmly chopping up garlic to go with a lovely vegetable stew for dinner. She really is incredible