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Pitcairn Sea Tales -- 3

Pitcairn II: Battered, Buffeted for 30 Days

--from Pitcairn - Port of Call, by Herbert Ford

With a loan of $436 from the British Consul in Tahiti, the Pitcairners purchased a 15-ton cutter which they name Pitcairn II.  The ship was to be used for missionary and trading purposes. 

Griffiths F. Jones, a former seaman, along with five Pitcairners were selected to sail the vessel from Papeete to Pitcairn Island.  Of the ship and the voyage Jones writes:

"Our ship was an old wreck taken from the Papeete reef, a cutter (one-mast boat) thirty feet long, patched up, and offered as a tempting bait to the Pitcairners.  But who would navigate such an old craft 1,250 miles as the crow flies to Pitcairn Island?  Somehow I felt it was my duty to do so.  It was a fearful undertaking and an awful trip, as likewise were other trips that followed.

"We struck such a storm, with head wind and high seas, that it buffeted and battered us for thirty days.  The elements defied our ever getting to our destination.  When we were in the lee of the Tuamotu Islands, a tidal wave swept over them.  It was reported that thirty vessels were wrecked, and that ours was among them.Homes and trees, with people astride, were floated to sea and lost.

"The rain continued day and night, and we had not a stitch of dry clothes into which to change.  We wrung out our garments and put them on again; our teeth chattered.  Now and again we would drop the sails, and the crew would jump into the mountainous seas to get warm for the sea water was warmer than the air..  Then those painful boils came on our knee joints, and there was no rest. 

"Food and water ran short, and since the sun did not shine, we could not get our position. Our chronometer was an old secondhand one, bought at Papeete, which I found later to be in great error.  I dared not show the crew my fears, for the use of dead reckoning alone to navigate in a storm is not assuring.  The fact was that we could never find Pitcairn or any other place with a bad chronometer, and truly, under those unfortunate circumstances we were lost.  But we plodded on, and I said nothing and prayed much, depending also upon my nautical judgment.

"Thirty days of this kind of sailing was wearing us all out. . . . One evening on the thirtieth day, I noticed a flight of sea birds winging their way somewhere, and I took a compass bearing on their flight and decided they were making for Oeno reef for the night, and would soon be there for the night was coming on; so I judged that my distance off and set my course to Pitcairn.

"Immediately the wind changed to fair.  This was my last hope.  But what if the judgment of my position should be wrong?  What if Pitcairn was not in sight in the morning?  I slept little that night, and dropped the sails before daylight, lest we should overrun the island.

"It was a clear morning with a clear horizon.  I had exceptionally keen eyes, and my crew was as keen as myself.  I can never forget my hopeless and lost feeling as I slowly came down from aloft and gave orders to hoist the sails again.

"You may not believe in God's miracles and wonders as in olden days, but I do, for I have experienced a few.

"'They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. . . . They reel to and fro, . . . and are at their wit's end.  Then they cry unto the Lord in their distresses. . . . Then are they glad; . . . so He brings them unto their desired haven.  Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!'

"The cry of the soul reached heaven.  To our wonderful surprise Pitcairn Island loomed in sight only a few miles dead ahead at that instant.

"For the next twelve months Jones would sail the cutter between Pitcairn and Mangareva, trying without notable success to teach the Pitcairners navigation skills.  The vessel carried cargoes of bananas, coconuts, and poultry among other products.  At last Jones handed the boat over to George Warren, one of the Island's leaders."