Anyone who sails and has heard the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty, may dream of one day visiting Pitcairn Island (pronounced Pitkern). It is entirely possible and well worth the effort for those travelling through the South Pacific with a well found yacht by those who are capable of being independent.
Those making the effort to find this island that is only two miles long and one mile wide are assured of one of the warmest and most genuine welcomes that you are ever likely to receive. Currently an average of only twenty-five yachts visit in any one year. It should be far more and nearly all will stay longer than they planned.
Most people approach Pitcairn Island, westbound from the Galapagos, Easter Island or South America. Pitcairn Island lies just outside the normal Southern boundaries of the SE trade winds and Tropical Storm Zone and is therefore an ideal place to visit before the season for French Polynesia. Reasonably easy and quick passages can be expected by those using the trade winds. It is also quite possible from the Gambia Islands (French Polynesia), 290 nautical miles to the North West.
Pitcairn Island is approximately 1000 feet high and can be seen from about 25-30 miles away on a yacht visibility and swell allowing. Approaching from the East, Pitcairn Island appears to have a saddle in the middle of it. This is where you should initially aim for. As you get closer there appears to be distinctive pinnacle, again head for this pinnacle.
The pinnacle (Ships Landing Point) is situated on the Southern edge of Bounty Bay, above the landing area. Suggested waypoint (WGS84) is 25o 03.987 S 130o 05.702W. This will put you on a line between the tree on Adams Rock and Isacs Rocks. You will be approximately 350m from the landing which on which the green sloping boatsheds can be seen.
If coming from the North or South staying one mile off the coast will keep you well clear of any hazards, until you are able to lay a course directly into Bounty Bay from the East.
It is possible to contact those on Pitcairn prior to arriving by email, but otherwise, calling on VHF Channel 16 (call sign Pitcairn) from about 12 miles out will normally illicit a response, during daylight. It is worth asking advice as to where to anchor. In addition to Bounty Bay, there are three other potential anchorages; Tedside, Ginger Valley and Down Rope. Their suitability depends on wind and swell conditions. Bounty Bay is useable in conditions up to and including Force 4, but if the swell is from the South it can be extremely rolly. Your best advise to listen to the information on where to anchor from the locals. They are able to scout the anchorages from the land if needed.
In Bounty Bay the sand can be clearly seen and you should aim to anchor between the eleven and fourteen metre contours. If using chain, at least five times the depth is recommended for peace of mind and the yachts security. The swell could drag out anything less. Aim to lie so that your anchoring circle is outside a line between 25o 03.853 S 130o 05.937 W and 25o 04.14 S 130o 05.544 W.
It is possible to enter Bounty Bay safely at night if there is enough ambient light. Before 2200 local time (UTC -8), shore side yellow lights may be visible by the landing. There are other yellow street lights. Again seek local advice
If called on the VHF Islanders will make arrangements to come and pick you up from your yacht. Put fenders down on the lee side and they will do the rest. For a first time this is highly recommended as a large amount of skill and experience is needed to negotiate the swell on the approach to the landing area at Bounty Bay unless it is absolutely flat. This is extremely rare. Clothing should be comfortable, loose and something you don’t mind getting wet , muddy and possibly dusty.
You will be met if they didn’t pick you up, by the combined forces of the Police, Immigration, and Tourist Officials. Please take with you your passports and ships registration document. Nothing else is required. Please do NOT attempt to land rubbish or any plants, fruits or vegetables. The paperwork you will be relieved to hear is minimal and those used to Panama, South America and the Galapagos will be delighted by its ease.
The landing fee is $35 (US) per person, with the “taxi service” costing $50 for the trip in and out. This can be shared between yachts. If a local uses their own craft, the charge should be still around $50 and or equivalent required trade goods.
You will often be given a quick familiarisation visit, some tourist information and invited for tea, coffee and fruit somewhere. There are two places that provide meals at very reasonable prices ($12-15 per person) and you are able to have alcohol with your meal. You will feel like you have become the personal guest of some of the Islanders. Takeaway meals can be ordered as well.
There are a small number of facilities, such as a Post Office, shop, museum and Medical Centre that are run by the Islanders. Generally they are open in the morning on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Saturday is the Sabbath and you are more than welcome to attend the local church for the interdenominational service, where you will meet many of the residents.
Do not be surprised to be shown the handicrafts of the Islanders. There is a wide range available at very reasonable prices and almost unique. You will depending on the time of year be offered fruit. The Islanders would rather share what little they have than see it go to waste. Please don’t abuse this, as even a small donation goes along way.
The shop has a range of basic supplies and accepts a range of currencies. Every item has to be brought in on the supply ship that arrives approximately every three months. Fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs are often available from the locals as well. The Post Office stocks the world renown Pitcairn Stamps and First Day Covers. Limited numbers are produced and after two years all remaining stocks are destroyed.
There is also a surprisingly well stocked library, and book exchanges are welcome as this is a way of turning over the stock. The Islanders are happy to do exchanges as well. Books should be in English.
The Island Treasury Office can give cash on credit cards and change some foreign currencies.
There is a, well-equipped, Medical Centre that can deal with minor emergencies, check ups and reassurance. However medical drugs are limited, so expect to have to delve into your own medical kits when ever possible.
Internet access is available, but is not high speed.
If you enjoy walking there are plenty of well marked tracks of varying difficulty, that lead to many varied and spectacular views.
Though fuel is not available and water can be very scarce, the necessary skills of the Islanders, means that many repairs can be undertaken including some welding of aluminium and stainless steel. The going rate is $10 (US) per hour and for that you get a lot of effort. There is even discussion about a slip being put in for the future.
Experience shows that no publication is currently ideal, however Charlie’s Charts of Polynesia has an accurate sketch map of Bounty Bay and the profile of the Island.
With the arrival of the internet and satellite communications, Pitcairn Islands radio communications is now restricted to VHF and Ham radio enthusiasts, though the radio station still exists and can be seen.
A visit to Pitcairn is worth the effort.
Information correct as at 22nd March 2011; James Bremridge & Nick Mercer