A Settlement of Criminals


By Jess Cramp
If tomorrow I were to return to my life in San Diego and try to casually summarize what I’d been up to for the past week, I would be greeted by equal parts astonishment and disbelief. It’s how I would react upon hearing someone say, “We had night after night of brilliant sunset, swam in the open ocean, took a detour to an uninhabited World Heritage site, were followed by sharks while paddling surfboards, had some extra time so we decided to see if we could dive the Bounty… you know, the notorious sunken ship? And then, we hiked to the top of a mountain and had lunch with one of the great-great granddaughters of the lead mutineer himself.” Pretty standard week, right?! Hmph—liars!

Sea Dragon was making really good time, and we weren’t expected in Tahiti for nine more days so our skipper decided to make an overnight pit stop on Pitcairn Island—one of the most remote places on Earth, lying halfway between New Zealand and Peru. Until a dark spot in history emerged a few years ago, Pitcairn was known as the settlement of mutineers from the most infamous naval mutiny in history, when in 1790 first mate Fletcher Christian sent Captain William Bligh adrift at sea in an open longboat with minimal supplies and his most loyal crew. Not to worry, I’d never heard of Pitcairn either, but I had heard of Mutiny on the Bounty and this history coupled with the knowledge that 44 of the 55 inhabitants are direct descendants of the original mutineers who sought refuge there, I couldn’t wait to check it out and see how the folks survived in such an isolated place.

I’d like to say I expected a completely normal bunch but, in all honesty, I thought that anyone who would want to live in the middle of nowhere with only 54 other people, some of them family, must be weird. I was totally wrong—well, almost.

The Pitcairn Islanders were so welcoming that they sent 15 people out in the longboat to meet us in Bounty Bay, which luckily was calm today. Imagine our astonishment when we realized that there was a boat full of locals photographing us. We were the anomaly. Throughout the day, we casually made jokes about the photos, saying they were used to determine which of our crew would be captured to diversify the gene pool. All jokes aside, Pitcairners were an incredibly jovial bunch, and many had chosen to move back having studied off island.

Since there were no beaches, we clambered up to Christian’s Cave and explored the mutineers’ hiding spots with Bradley, our gregarious nine-year-old guide. We feasted on the porch of a Christian descendant who was working hard for economic progress of the island, dived the reef around one-palm island, and swam with a green sea turtle near the barely recognizable remnants of the Bounty.

Everyone on the island has a VHF radio and, when we boarded Sea Dragon feeling a little sad when it was time to leave, the villagers wished us well, including Bradley whose crackling voice was never to be forgotten. And, as we turned the bow westward, Pitcairn faded into a few lights in the distance. Bound for Tahiti, we disappeared from their lives into the big open blue.

Last modified: June 20, 2013

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