Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday on my mind

Well some stories just have to be told as it happened and as it is.

We arrived in the early dark to the mystical dark shape that loomed out of the ocean called Pitcairn Island.

I have read and dreamt about this place since I was a child and was shocked by the news stories in early 2000's about the family crisis and crime that happened in this fabled and historic island.

Inhabited but the mutineers of the Bounty in 1790, Fletcher Christian and his followers certainly found an amazing remote Pacific island, that originally was charted as being in a different location, hence why they knew that they wouldn't be found for quite some time.

We chatted with the locals on the radio (Brian with a warm welcome and the offer for the next day of a good cup of tea on shore) and to get inside advice for last nights anchorage, we needed a place ideally close to Bounty bay, but with light to some time moderate winds from the North East we knew it would be a rocky rolly night. But to anchor on the other side of the island would dearly eat into shore time today, and we had only calculated a day or two here at best and the weather is still changeable, so we cant muck around.

Shortly after anchoring the heavens opened up once again and a deluge of rain coated Xplore with thousands of gallons of water (something that we are getting used to again here in the tropics)We had agreed to call the island some time between 7 and 8am to arrange for our visit and there wasn't anyone on board how wasn't champing at the bit to get to meet what these amazingly friendly people in the very special spot.

Dawn broke and I quietly sat on a damp deck marveling at the eastern side of the island as dawn broke through the distant skies, looks like not a bad day of weather for us, even if the wind was meant to pick up a tad during the day.

7.30am seemed like a good compromise to see if the island was awake, and what unfolded after that was an act of god.

Now god does move in mysterious ways, ways that I cant begin to understand, but Friday the 20th of May 2011 was meant to happen, to us on Xplore and there at Pitcairn.

With the volume not turned up too high as most of the crew were still sleeping after doing anchor watch, I called up the island and was greeted promptly by another voice on the radio, and this was Simon one of the island officials and welcoming committee, boy what I welcome we had walked into !

Simon asked when we would like to come ashore and for how long we would be there, just the day I replied as we are heading through to Tasmania. Simon then asked me to stand by as one of the other islanders had a question which we may be able to help with, to which I of course said that we would be delighted to if we can.

We changed channels to VHF 14 after there was a mix up with Peter who was trying to contact us but was calling for a yacht called Discovery, we though there must be another yacht around, but found it very strange that there would be 2 yachts called Xplore and Discovery at Pitcairn island both at the same time and day ? it wasn't, though he just had his metaphors all a bit screwed up, we laughed a lot.

Peter turns out to be the resident doctor on the island with a practice that is responsible for the 52 people who live there, not too taxing one would say, especially as the Pitcairnese have a great reputation of being very healthy. Hmm today wasn't one of those days though, Peter was calling me for something a tad more serious.

I agreed that we could talk as soon as we were on shore, and that if we could help them we would, but a sneaky part of me knew that something more serious was brewing.

The locals here don't muck around, because at 8.20am they had their fishing work boat / dories out through the surf and alongside Xplore which was rolling a bit like a fat pig on roller skates.

Myself and three others were the first in, and whisked onto shore where I had all the ships papers and passports to do the usual and necessary clearance in, what a fantastic ride in to their tiny protected boat ramp entrance, sitting on the back of a booming wave we surfed in with Brenda one of the boat drivers going for it like Juan Fangio. Hard to port we swerved at the last minute behind the break water and full astern she rammed the out board motor, whew, we were there, great ride, dont need coffee this morning.

There at the break water dock were quite a few people and they quickly asked who was Stephen the Skipper ? I raised a happy hand and on this I was asked to jump on the back of a quad bike with a stocky strong bloke, and told that we would sort out customs and immigrations later (all very casual I thought) but they did say that I was to be taken straight to the health center as Doc Peter needed to talk ASAP. hmmmm, me think something's cooking here !

Everyone was so nice and so welcoming to all of us, you couldn't help but smile and to be glad that we had come to Pitcairn, we zoomed up the steep road up the mountain to where the main village center lies, just like Brenda, Brian made some cool sweeping rally driving turns around the muddy potted lanes and boomp there we were at the health center, boy, lots of quad bikes here today, maybe its morning tea time that Brian had mentioned.

I was shown into the center and then passed over to Doctor Peter where we slipped into his hygienic office, a warm smiling face, but you could see that something was troubling him and I already knew that they had a bit of a medical situation that they may need some help on. Peter started talking and within moments I knew that we had been chosen to be here today.

Their problem was that they had one of the locals (Terry) who had 30 hours ago come down with some bad pains in his torso, what started out looking like a stomach ulcer , was actually appendicitis, and to make matters worse, it had ruptured !

We have all heard of horror stories of this happening, but generally years ago, but to be on a remote island in the Pacific is not the place to have this happen. Doc informed me that they had taken additional advice from medical staff in New Zealand, and had tried to contact 2 ships which were in the general area, one ship handout responded and the other was 4 or 5 days away and on route to Panama.

Their medical supplies to be able to keep Terry alive were forecast to last for about 3 days, maybe a smidgen more. I knew what they needed and I didn't hesitate to butt in (yes typical of Stephen) to straight up ask where they needed us to take Terry ?

The closest island with an air strip is Gambier Island and that lies 288 nautical mile West North West of Pitcairn, I had looked at it one the charts and knew that we could do this is 1 1/2 to 2 days max.

What happened during the rest of this Friday of Fridays is legendary, of adventure, hard work, community spirit that I haven't seen anywhere before, coupled with unhesitating warm and open friendship to everyone of us here on Xplore, which will live as a life memory and lesson about humanity and care of each other.

Tonight as I write this we have left Pitcairn 4 hours ago, we have on board two new crew members, one who is very sick and the other is a great paramedic nurse, we have 252nm to get to Gambier where the Tahiti / French medical evacuation team are expecting us, so that they can fly Terry out for emergency surgery.

Xplore sails a little lower in the water, not just because of our two new crew, but because of the incredibly generous offering that were gathered from all of the Pitcairn community during today, fruits and vegetables and local items that could mean that we can open our own grocery store, any where ! I have never seen so many bananas in my life !

We all hope and pray that we can get Terry safely there in time for surgery, he's a big tough looking chap but he's not so great at the moment, we need those smooth trade winds to behave for us and sail us sweetly and comfortably there to Gambier.


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