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In November of a year-long voyage through the South Pacific, Author Gilbert Wheat and five others—Co-captain Hank Taft, Crewmen Dick Sargent, Juanito Bugue�o, Jack Smith and Eduard Ingris—left Tahiti aboard the ketch "Blue Sea" Their destination, 1,200 miles to the southeast, was Pitcairn Island, a forbidding mound of rock inhabited by 150 persons, most of them descended from the men who seized and destroyed history's most famous ship, H.M.S. "Bounty." There is no harbor on Pit cairn, no dock, no hotel, not even a store; yet for 170 years this tiny island has supported an independent and—surprisingly—puritanical community. On page 45 Wheat begins the story of his visit with these fascinating people, the true inheritors of the mutiny on the "Bounty."
SECRETS OF PITCAIRN
It was early in December when we sighted Pitcairn Island. An east wind was blowing, a heavy sea was running, but the weather was warm and clear. On the horizon a dark mound of volcanic rock and vegetation jutted from the sea—a lonely landfall, as if nature had deliberately chosen the most deserted part of the South Pacific and dropped an island on it. We sailed in close to the northeast tip of the island and heaved to off a dent in the rock called Bounty Bay—300 yards from the spot where His Majesty's armed vessel Bounty was burned and abandoned in 1790 by Fletcher Christian and his mutineers.
A wisp of smoke rose from the cliffs—a signal that we had been seen. Through binoculars we watched eight or nine men wrestle a longboat down a log ramp and into the shallows of Bounty Bay. A diesel engine began popping, and the boat bucked its way through the surf. A man at the tiller brought it smartly alongside Blue Sea. The Pitcairn men hailed our yacht by the name on the stern: "Ahoy Blue Sea! Welcome to PEETkern!"
The men in the boat appeared to range in age from 16 to 60. Their faces were swarthy and tanned from the sun. They leaped aboard with agility and shook hands as if we were old friends. One of them stationed himself behind our steering wheel. He pointed toward the wild stretch of ocean separating us from Bounty Bay. "Start the engine and we'll put you right over there.... Seven fathoms, sand bottom."
The longboat led us to the anchorage, the man at the tiller turning suddenly to wave at us and yell, "Now, mates!" Our pilot swung Blue Sea into the wind, the anchor rattled down, and for better or worse we were rooted to the ocean floor off Pitcairn, ready to go ashore.
Hank and I decided that at least three of us would have to remain aboard at all times. Hank took Dick Sargent and Juanito Bugue�o in his group, and I took Jack Smith and Eduard Ingris in mine. It was agreed each group could spend 24 hours ashore. My group won the toss to go first, and a moment later the longboat carried us plunging through the waves toward the island.
The longboat captain stood in the stern with the tiller wrapped under his arm. I called to him above the roar of the engine: "What happens when we get past the breaker line?"
"Safe enough then, Mate!" he shouted back. "That's the bay inside. We jump overboard where it's shallow and get everything out of the boat. Then we pull the rudder off and haul her up those wooden rollers."
We were close enough now to see the wooden rollers and beyond them a series of wooden boathouses with the white hulls of other longboats inside. The helmsman grasped the tiller with both hands. He squinted at each breaker with a practiced eye. Long oars were fitted to thole pins; the man on the diesel stood ready to push the throttle forward. The Pitcairn crew faced aft, oars poised, eyes fixed on the helmsman's face. For a moment we hung motionless, then a breaker curled in from astern. The skipper shouted "Gang na!...pull left da! pull ri!" The diesel raced at full, the left oars pulled, the right oars pulled, and we planed and skidded through the foam.