How it all works
Heather has pretty much written most of the text for our website, and as newbie I must say she’s done an outstanding job. I don’t consider myself too good when it comes the written word but I’ve chosen to write about the cruise ships that visit Pitcairn. Why? It’s one of the most outstanding experiences one could have, which words can’t really describe, so I’m safe.
The fact is that most Pitcairners can boast setting foot on some of the most grand cruise ships in the world. In more recent years: the classics like ‘Queen Elizabeth 2’ on her final world voyage, through to the modern 5 star supremes like the ‘The World’ where “apartments” are privately owned.
Visited Pitcairn Island before retiring from service in 2008
Our cruise ship season typically starts in October and finishes around April – approximately 6 months. On average we get 10 ships per season. These are a mix of smaller adventure expedition ships through to mega floating cities.
The expedition ships will always endeavour to get their 100 odd passengers ashore. If conditions are right they’ll use their own tenders or ‘zodiacs’ ferrying from vessel to shore and back. Alternatively if the seas at the harbour entrance are unfavourable we’ll use our longboats. I must say, for the passenger, there’s something to be said about coming ashore and leaving the island in “Moss” or “O’Leary” – it really does complete the Pitcairn Island tourist experience!
Typically the smaller ships will make the most of the visit by starting at day break and staying until late afternoon. I assure you – everyone’s both exhausted yet exhilarated by the day’s end.
For the bigger cruise ships, 300, 600, 1000, 2000 + passengers, it’s a different story. Trying to keep to tight schedules set by their next major destination, most stop for just 4 hours or so before they have to continue on. With such limited time, we go out to the ship and entertain the passengers and crew onboard. There’s time for the ship to circumnavigate the island a couple of times often with an islander providing commentary across the PA system as we pass the island hotspots.
Having said this, I do recall sometime around 2007-2009, ‘800’ passengers did make it ashore. The seas were brilliant so the ship used its tenders which were able to carry 60-80 passengers per run. Although, most of us Pitcairners spent the day ferrying the less fit up and down the Hill of Difficulty, it was another magic cruise ship visit, enjoyed by all.
How does a big cruise ship manage passenger expectations when coming to Pitcairn?
Remembering we often hear, “I’ve always wanted to come to Pitcairn Island…”
This is how NOT to do it…
We all went out and boarded a bigger ship with 700+ passengers. Most of the Pitcairners had gone up to the top deck to trade their curios. I remained at the small hatch, just above sea level where we had entered, waiting for our longboat to pull out to a safe waiting distance. Meanwhile, passengers had started gathering thinking this might be an opportunity to board the longboat and get to touch Pitcairn soil. Before we knew it a huge crowd had gathered, adjoining corridors were filled – word had spread, all squeezing, pushing and pulling to get front place. Then the yelling and raised voices started – the passengers were now abusing the ship's officers for not letting them on our boat. In particular, one brave officer was a target for all that the passengers could throw at him. It turned out he was the Captain!!! Ha – It could only have been out of shear desperation that he then made a very, very silly mistake… he said, “I’ll let just 30 ‘MALE’ passengers go ashore”. Have you ever seen a group of 100+ irate, fuming, women with ‘WANNA KILL’ in their eyes… I have. PS. No passengers went ashore that day and we’ve never seen the Captain back here since.
Or what about the time we had 2 biggies arrive on the same day. As light broke that morning, we could make out two distinct black smoke trails on the horizon. They were racing to get here first! Seas were extremely good so Bounty Bay, and as close in as they could get, was the target. If there was ever a time you could step from the landing onto a foreign object nearly as big as the island itself, it was that day. The winning Captain had anchored in such a way it seemed as thought you could just about do this and without getting your feet wet. The loser – they had to patiently wait until well after midday for the first hand shake and greetings from the islanders. They say, “There are no prizes for second place”! But not on Pitcairn. In true island spirit we made sure that the second vessel left with everyone on board feeling that they had had a once in the lifetime, truly memorable experience.
I can’t help mentioning the visit of the ‘The World’ in 2007. She’s hugely magnificent. If I recall there were only 90 passengers aboard, which was odd given her size. Only a small group of islanders went out to her that day, as most of the passengers had come ashore. The ship had given us few, strict dress criteria… you must be wearing shoe’s! Heck – it took me several hours the night before to find my one and only pair, then a couple more to clean them. We boarded through a small service hatch a metre higher than the longboat gunnels. Only a couple of officers were there to greet us. They escorted us up to the main foyer where tables were set up to trade on. It was unbelievable, a huge open area, our biggest building could have fit inside, twice. Perhaps 3-4 stories high and pristine. One of the few remaining passengers on board approached me. To this day I try and recall her name, sadly it’s been misplaced. She went out of her way to ensure I had all that I required whilst on board. In addition she gave bags of gifts for the kids, books for the library and much, much more. It was she who explained, ‘The World’ was owned by the occupants. There weren’t any cabins, rather apartments. She and her husband owned a split level apartment adjoining a second which took up a whole rear level of the ship. Studios started at USD$600,000 through to USD$13,500,000 + monthly service fee of USD$20,000+. I could keep going, but this perhaps explains why just 90 passengers.
There’s a story to tell about every ship that has visited Pitcairn Island. It would run into pages, perhaps a book one day, who knows. Right now I’ll leave you with this,
- Cruise ships after calling for the first time at Pitcairn, do their upmost to return again.
- Some captains of cruise ships have ignored company instructions in order to get back here again.
- Smart cruise line companies are just latching onto the fact, in a competitive market Pitcairn Island is truly a point of difference.
- Importantly, I don’t know of a passenger nor crew member that didn’t have an incredible, once in a lifetime experience, whether they went ashore or not, when stopping at Pitcairn.
- Approximately 1 to 1.5 years before a cruise ship arrives, the company would have notified the PIO Office in New Zealand.
- PIO notifies the island and we enter it onto a cruise ship list which is pinned to the public notice board.
- Thereafter there is much community discussion on which ship will trade well and quantities of curios and souvenirs that we may need. Note: Despite at least 12 months notice we typically always leave it till the last few weeks before carving and the likes!
- 2 weeks from arrival, the ship will email the Mayor of Pitcairn announcing their visit and estimated time of arrival.
- The Mayor passes this over to both the Pitcairn Immigration Officer and Tourism Coordinator, who start communicating directly with appropriate parties onboard.
- The Immigration Officer ensures on the day as much government income is generated from passport stamping fees and/or landing fees. If passengers don’t come ashore the offer is made to stamp passports on board. It’s both income for the island and a unique souvenir/evidence for the passenger.
- The Tourism Coordinator will liaise with the ‘Cruise Director’ planning such things as number of trading tables needed or if the ship would like a presentation by an islander for its passengers.
- I’ve failed to mention a third islander involved at this point. The ‘Provisions Officer’. Most of the community consider this the most important role of them all. The provisions officer communicates with the ship's purser about what they would be prepared to sell or trade with the island. You name it, meat, flour, cheese, rice, tinned food, bottled food, beverages, and detergent, exotic fruits like nectarines, peaches and plums. Most ships simply print off their stock list and send this through to the island. So as you can imagine – it’s quite a list. This is also pinned on the community notice board with a deadline for ordering.
- Email communications continue through to the night before arrival.
Ships will try and arrive offshore at first light.
- We turn the electricity on around 5am.
- If we are going out to the ship, everyone gathers at the landing by 6:30am.
- First radio communication happens around 20 km off or 2 hours away. The captain will typically want to know what the sea conditions are like at Bounty Bay.
- If unsettled, Oct-April, the western side of the island, known as Tedside is typically in the lee.
- We are normally in the longboat and will follow the ship to an agreed boarding location. Either way the passengers get great photo opportunities with us between them and the island.
- Alongside, there’s much longboat manoeuvring as we tie bow and stern lines. This may even require the ship positioning itself to create a greater lee.
- Islanders board the ship. This typically requires climbing at least 6 to 8 steps up a Jacob’s ladder. Some of the more modern ships have and lower a large floating pontoon. It’s literally creates a wharf at sea which really makes it easy for us.
- The ‘deck’ of our longboat lifts off, under which all our bags of curio and souvenirs are stored. At least 6 men will stay behind to man handle these up to crew or other islanders hanging from the service hatch opening.
- Once aboard it’s up to the ‘trading deck’ which the ships ready for us.
- Most give us the opportunity to setup before letting passengers through. Some can’t manage the masses, so it’s everyone for themselves.
- Sales are generally in US dollars, which the ship has organised with passengers before arrival.
- By now we will have around 2 hours in which to do as much ‘trading’ or selling as possible.
- We always try to reserve the last 30 minutes to get to the ships buffet (ice cream) and/or the ships onboard shop (European chocolate).
- The onboard PA system will give us a 15-30 minute warning by which we have to be back down at the service hatch to load and re-board our longboat.
- Passengers gather back up top to take last minute snaps.
- We head off back to the landing feeling exhausted yet exhilarated.
- Provisions purchased from the ship are sorted.
- Back home by 1pm and feet up for the rest of the day.
- Until the next time