Pitcairn Sea Tales -- 6
"Can't be the fool is going to run it ashore?"
--from Pitcairn - Port of Call, by Herbert Ford
The yawl Trondhjem arrives at Pitcairn Island in fair weather
from Mangareva, with a man, his wife and their young son aboard.
The wife, who is ill, is brought ashore with her son. The weather
turns from fair to strong winds and heavy seas. Roy Clark, Pitcairns
Postmaster, tells the story of the next several hours:
It was difficult to conceive how quickly the weather changed.
. . . From the south the wind changed to the east and began to blow
a half gale making the sea rough and choppy. To make matters worse,
heavy swells rolled in from the west with the sound of thunder.
At The Landing at Bounty Bay surf and seas in the passage seethed
and foamed over the rocks into the harbour in a most threatening
All through the night the Trondhjem was straining
and tugging at her anchor chain and we learnt later that the captain
was fearful that at any time his boat would be dashed to pieces
on the rocks. In the grey morning light the captain was frantically
waving for help. For a time no one ashore noticed his signals of
distress until they saw a flag flying at half mast. Then it was
that the knew something was amiss. . . .
During the night the Trondhjem had rolled and pitched
so heavily that two planks were torn off the bow at the anchor chain.
Two deck planks were also loosened near the winch which was partly
torn from the deck.
Sails were hoisted and the Trondhjem was sailed to
the lee of the Island with two Pitcairn boats following. The seas
and surf in the lee of land was even worse than at Bounty Bay. Three
islanders were aboard the vessel. They with the captain, nearly
met disaster before the two boats caught up with them. Foolishly
the Trondhjems sails were lowered, and the current
must have been setting in hard towards land, for the vessel was
drifting shoreward in great troughs of swells that were frighteningly
large. Once again the ships sails were set, but being now
dead to lee there was not a puff of wind or a squall to fill the
sails and gain headway, even with the help of the engine. When the
two Pitcairn longboats came around a point of land and saw the danger
the Trondhjem was in the crews pulled to the vessels
side and just in time too. A line was cast to the boats and
the crews pulled with all their might and managed to tow the ship
into deeper water and free from the heavier swells. The sails filled
with wind and all danger was over.
Fearing some impending disaster, or having some foreboding
of evil, I cannot tell, but the captain intimated to the (Pitcairn)
Magistrate that his boat be run ashore at Bounty Bay. Parkin Christian
(Magistrate) remonstrated with him and explained just what would
happen to his ship when once it came through the passage and into
the small harbour, that it would piled onto the rocks a total wreck.
Mr. Markwalder (the captain) would not listen to the Magistrates
advice. The two men reasoned pros and cons and finally Markwalder
had his way, and it was decided to run the vessel ashore.
Parkin said to the captain, Alright Captain, you say
run your boat ashore. I run it ashore for you. The Magistrate
suggested that two boats be called alongside and transfer all his
valuables and belongings into them, but the captain replied, No,
plenty of time to do this when we get into the harbour. This
time never came, and because the captain refused to take Parkins
advice, only a few things were saved out of the boat nearly
all the familys possessions were lost.
The wind increased, the sea swells grew larger. . . . That
night brought many comments and conjectures as to whether the coming
day would witness a shipwreck, or the captain had changed his mind.
. . . At daybreak the Trondhjem was sighted about five miles
off land and headed directly for Bounty Bay. . . . Some thought
that in time the vessel would be brought up to the wind in preparation
for a tack off land, and at the last the ship would be brought to
head in the wind and await the boats from land.
Nearer and nearer the ship came. Two miles, one mile, a
half mile off shore. Now we were for certain that Parkin was at
the helm. At the last minute would he swing the ship off on the
wind and save it? No, onward it came. Now we knew beyond all doubt
that the Trondhjem was sailing to its doom. As one man, those
of the community who could rushed for the Landing place. I heard
one man remark as we sped down to the harbor, Cant be
the fool is going to run it ashore?
Onward came the little craft into the swells. It lurched
from side to side as if in agonizing pain. The Trondhjem seemed
to resent going to its destruction. It called for help, for rescue,
but no wave after wave caught at the stern and propelled
it on. In a few minutes it was all over. The ship was on the rocks
in the passage. It rose and fell with a sickening thud. The swells,
as they broke, washed over the stern. Masts and spars and booms
and blocks squealed and groaned each time the Trondhjem rose and
fell, and the waves, foot by foot, floated the vessel further and
further onto the rocks.
Sails hung useless and flapped in the wind. Ropes dangled
here and there and swung flying in the air to again come back to
the ships deck, only to swing out on the other side. One could
plainly hear the crunching of planks and timbers. Slowly now the
boat was settling down to its final resting place. It lay broadside
to the sea and breakers. One tremendous wave lifted it high and
forced the ship between two large rocks, wedging it firmly, at the
same time breaking a large gap in the hull.
Those on board were tense with excitement and fear, and
their faces looked wan and frightened. The ship now lay on its side
at an angle of about 40 degrees. The crew hung onto ropes and wires
anything that could afford a hold, and slowly, painfully
crawled to the bowsprit which faced the harbor. One of the crew
reached the bot. It happened all in a minute. The lad poised on
the gunwale for a second, lifted his arms in the air for a dive
and plunged into the frothing harbour. A good swimmer he proved
to be. We could see his arms in an overarm stroke, swimming for
a rock above the water, his head bobbing up and down in the white
swirling waves as they broke over him. He reached the rock and climbed
on the top, but only for an instant. He looked behind and saw a
huge wave rushing and breaking into foam and flying spray. For the
second time he raised his arms for a dive but had no time to do
so. The wave washed him off the rock and into the angry waters and
he was washed and rolled ashore.
I did not see how the second man made his escape from the
vessel. The third man (Parkin) was climbing onto the bowsprit chains,
getting ready to push himself into the harbour. He never did, for
at this moment a comber caught the vessel with such force that Parkin
lost his hold of the bowsprit chains and was thrown, twisting and
turning, into the air. Parkin was a poor swimmer and I thought he
would drown and be washed out through the passage by the strong
undertow and current. However, the incoming seas were more powerful
and he was literally washed ashore rolling and turning over at the
mercy of the waves.
The captain alone now remained aboard his ship. Voices from
the beach told him to jump. He waved his arms as a signal that he
understood and followed like the rest. He fortunately reached safety
better than the others. None of the men received any serious injury.
Parkin had a cut over his eye. . . .
All this time the islanders were not inactive. They gathered
opposite the wreck only a few yards from high water mark and some
of the more fearless men managed to get onto the hull and take from
the ship what they could. It was surprising what they did save.
The next morning the sea had somewhat subsided. The harbour and
along the rocks at water line was a scene never to be forgotten.
There was wreckage everywhere. Spars, sails, ropes, wires, broken
timbers and planks were strewn along the beach and rocks. There
were boxes, canned goods, cooking utensils, tins, clothing, souvenirs
and a hundred and one other shps paraphernalia.
The Island Government claimed everything salvaged from the
wreck except the personal belongings of the captain and his family.
. . . The captain and his family bemoaned the loss of their sea
home. They have no other this side of Switzerland. . . . The islanders
and the Government have bought many articles salvaged from the wreck.
The Church is also taking up a collection for the Makwalders. .