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Rapa Nui (CHL) – Pitcairn (GBR)

“We might just make it” Ivar says, more hopeful than convinced. The new grib files show that the easterly trade wind is about to die down. It has been pushing us from Easter Island for the past week, except for some days on which we just drifted. To catch every bit of wind and keep the gennaker full, we disengage our windvane Herbie and steer by hand for the rest of the way. It pays off: just before the 14th sunset since our departure we reach Pitcairn with the last breath of wind. We throw out the anchor in Bounty Bay and see it drop to a depth of 15 meters. That’s how clear the water is. Yet we must be careful. The island is notorious for lacking sheltered anchorages. Almost all around it, wind and waves have free rein. Now, with no wind and just a little swell, the conditions are ideal for landing on this illustrious island. But for how long?

Secluded Hideaway

What made this island famous was the mutiny on the Bounty, a transport ship of the British navy. In the 18th century, mutineers under command of Fletcher Christian took control of the ship. They left captain Bligh and crew loyal to him on a sloop and sailed the Bounty to Tahiti, where they became friendly with local women. As they were afraid of the long arm of the British authorities, they did not stay. After all, mutiny was punishable by death. So the mutineers and their Tahitian women went looking for a remote and uninhabited island. Little-known Pitcairn was the ideal hideaway. It was not along shipping routes and had a rugged coastline. To make sure no one would find them, they burned the Bounty in the very bay where we are anchored before founding their own community.

Hospitable Community

Even today Pitcairn is very remote. Literally, as a small spot in the Pacific, and figuratively. There is no airport, so it is only accessible by ship. It makes the residents almost completely dependent on themselves. “You really have to do your best to get here,” Ivar notes. “And then be lucky with the weather!” Floris adds while we paddle to the harbour in our kayak. Somewhat ironically, the island is now a British Overseas Territory. Nevertheless, the welcome sign proudly points out that it is the home of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers. We wonder if they are as self-reliant as their famous ancestors.

On the quay, three officials enthusiastically welcome us with necklaces made of shells and information brochures. We also get two stamps in our passports. One for our arrival and one for our departure. “You can fill in the date yourself,” immigration officer Brenda Lupton-Christian explains. “If the weather deteriorates you might need to leave and won’t be able to come ashore anymore”. Now that’s a sailor-friendly approach! Brenda then shows the way to her house on a map. “Come by if you feel like it,” she says casually. We are a bit overwhelmed by her hospitality, but are happy to accept the invitation to get to know her better and learn more about life on Pitcairn. But first it’s time to stretch our legs.

Pure Beauty

As we hike uphill, the steep and rugged coastline made of volcanic rocks gives way to countless trees, flowers and birds. Nature really rules outside the island’s only settlement, Adamstown, because its 50 residents take up only little space. Never mind that we didn’t bring food with us: we pick fruits that grow in the wild, such as bananas, guavas, passion fruit, and avocados. Coconuts are also up for grabs under palm trees along the coast. What a feast after two weeks at sea!

On the south-eastern edge of the island we find St Paul’s Pool, a natural saltwater pool between basalt rocks. Waves regularly break over the pool’s edges to bring in fresh water and sometimes make it impossible to swim. Yet on one of our visits it’s serenely calm. We are the only visitors and snorkel in crystal-clear water, surrounded by hundreds colourful fish that almost ignore our presence. “I feel like I’m an aquarium!” Floris mumbles through his snorkel. “In the Netherlands it would bustle with people here, and we would have to pay entrance!”

Living With What You Have

As we approach the home of Brenda and her husband Mike, we pass large vegetable gardens filled with pumpkins, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and melons. “The supply ship only comes four times a year, so we grow a lot of fruit and vegetables ourselves” Mike explains. “It’s all for our own consumption”, he clarifies when he sees our eager faces. “But my sister-in-law probably has something for you,” he adds. Later that afternoon, we can indeed replenish our fruit and vegetable supplies with bananas, melons, salad, cucumbers, and passion fruit. All fresh, organic, local and unpackaged; it doesn’t get more sustainable than that.

We learn that for the residents of Pitcairn, it is the most natural thing in the world to help each other. “Of course, we are a close-knit community” Brenda explains. Everyone has multiple roles and we all have to do with what we have. After all, we can’t just buy something new.” As a result, the islanders share things and fix whatever breaks. Consumerism and competition about who has the latest gadget are hard to find here.

Clever Waste Management

The mentality to fix things rather than replace them and the lack of consumerism also make for a smaller waste pile. Still, some garbage arises from packaging of imported food and goods, for example, so we wonder how they handle it on such a small island. Mike explains that the garbage is separated in different-coloured bins. Organic waste is used as compost for vegetable gardens, and they make souvenirs from glass bottles. Plastic is ground into small pieces and mixed with concrete to pave roads. Cans are put on the supply ship to be taken back to New Zealand for recycling. Now we understand why the island is so spotless.

Community Living

Our last day on Pitcairn coincides with Brenda’s birthday. To our delight, we are invited to the celebrations at the dock in the late afternoon. Earlier that day the birthday girl went fishing. We find her making a fire to fry the fish she caught. While chatting away she also peels and slices potatoes to complete the fish & chips dish. Within a few minutes, half the island population descends from Adamstown to partake in the festivities and contribute a dish to the buffet. We meet a young woman who was born on Pitcairn, but moved to New Zealand to go to school. She recently returned to the Pitcairn with her family. They consider this their island, their home, their paradise.

Still, according to Mike, the composition of the population is a matter of some concern. Many islanders are related to each other and young people move abroad in search of better opportunities. To encourage relocations to the island, all land is community-owned. Anyone who wants to live there can get a piece of land, for free. “You do have to arrange for your own income though” Mike points out, “but at least living here is affordable.” We hear of sailors who fell in love with the island and are considering to move here. If only there was a sheltered bay to leave the boat…

A Paradise On Earth?

After a week of calm weather, the easterly wind picks up again. While a cruise ship arrives and the Pitcairners are getting ready for an overwhelming influx of tourists, we lift the anchor, hoist the gennaker and set sail for Gambier. Behind us the waving residents get smaller and smaller. We realize that their self-reliant way of life offers important sustainability benefits in terms of nutrition and the reuse of materials. The close-knit community takes care of each other, but is also open to newcomers, for example by providing free land. Although for some the mere thought of living on a remote island where everyone knows each other makes them feel uncomfortable, for Pitcairn’s inhabitants their island is a true paradise. And although there are no picture-perfect, white sandy beaches here, this is truly the only real Bounty island.

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