Shortly after 8am, a quiet alarm went off. Beeeep. Beeeep. Beeeep.
It was alerting us of an approaching cargo ship!
Ironically, we had talked about the (un)likelihood of shipping traffic just yesterday.
“Down here? I doubt there are any shipping routes…” I imagined, incorrectly.
The Royal Klipper, 115 meter cargo ship, passed within 3 miles of us. We were glad for our AIS (automatic identification system) which alerts us of the presence of ships.
“Sailing vessel, sailing vessel, this is Royal Klipper, you have a copy?” The ship was hailing us! That’s a first for us.
“This is sailing vessel Aldebaran, good morning!” Spencer responded on the VHF.
They were the third ship we’ve seen during this passage. The fellow on board was wonderfully friendly.
“Good’ay, just thought I’d say hi. I always admired sailboats which are in far flung places, as I have a lake boat myself. Say, where are you from, and where you going?” Said the skipper of the ship.
“We’re from California, traveling via Galapagos enroute to Pitcairn,” responded Spencer.
“Ahh Pitcairn! Yes, we’ve unloaded some cargo there before. We just drift the ship as we unload, because we’ve lost anchors in the rocky bay there. Nice people though, only 40 some on the island, I believe?”
“49 people, if we’re not mistaken,” chimed in Michael. Since he’s British – and this is one of the most remote and bizarre relics of the Great British Empire – he’s fascinated by what Pitcairn symbolizes. To add to that intrigue is what Michael calls the “air of dark mystery” surrounding this most unique island; one of the few colonies established by mutineers in the world, with equal parts of isolation, corruption, and freedom-seeking as its founding principles.
The Royal Klipper ship was traveling from New Zealand, which is the closest Commonwealth nation to Pitcairn, and their foremost connection to the world. During this trip, however, the ship was bound for the Panama Canal with several tons of kiwi fruit from NZ, enroute to Belgium with planned arrival by May 16.
The ship’s skipper was so affable, he volunteered to take a photo of Aldebaran under sail and email it to us.
“Wait, we’ll get up on deck and wave at you!” Sabrina jumped with enthusiasm.
“Well,” he remarked, “Since you’re doing that I will go to my quarters and fetch my nice lens.”
It was the type of conversation one might expect on the patio of the yacht club as the boats go around the buoys; not mid Pacific, 2800nm from Chile, the closest continental mass.
As a token of thanks, we then volunteered that our own resident poet – Michael Payne – read his poem about our upcoming destination to the skipper.
“This poem is appropriately named, ‘Pitcairn’,” said Michael, as Spencer held the VHF radio near him. “Here it goes.”
“Pitcairn why do you beckon me so
It’s not as though I’ve got nowhere to go
“You’re oh so far away
At the bottom of the world
A dot in the ocean blue
What am I supposed to do?
Sail for weeks and weeks?
Boy do you have some cheek!
“You must be hiding something from me
That I just must be dying to see
“I’m on my way as you know I should
Pitcairn, Pitcairn it better be good!
– Michael Payne, Aldebaran, April 2017.
Followed by cheers and applause at the performance – which was our poet’s first ever public radiowave appearance -the skipper then bid his farewell and we went our merry ways.