Thursday, August 26, 1999


No mutiny as
voyaging canoe reaches
storied Pitcairn island

By Susan Kreifels


Art Close to 200 years ago, nine British sailors and 19 Polynesians resettled a tiny Pacific island that was immortalized in the classic novel and film of the same name -- "Mutiny on the Bounty."

Last night, the Hokule'a crew shared dinner with the descendants of those well-known characters: 42 residents of Pitcairn, an isolated, 2-square-mile isle just south of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Their British ancestors took part in the 1789 mutiny on the naval ship Bounty, and settled in Pitcairn a year later, bringing with them six men, 12 women and a young girl, all Polynesians from other islands.

The Hokule'a made its first-ever stop there along its historic voyage to Rapa Nui.

Chad Baybayan, captain and navigator of Hawaii's first traditional voyaging canoe, said the Polynesian cousins were thrilled to see the Hokule'a. Not only because they rarely get visitors. They're also short on supplies. The cargo ship that visits every two months hasn't stopped for five months. The next one is due in October.

"We're looking at what we can spare from the canoe to share with the 14 families on the island -- little care packages," Baybayan said in a satellite phone interview from Pitcairn yesterday.

"It's just a big, green rock with high, sheer cliffs," he said about Pitcairn. "The people live on the slopes of the cliff."

The Hokule'a was towed about 1,000 miles before reaching Pitcairn because winds dropped off and the ocean was like "a big, flat lake," Baybayan said. But winds picked up toward the end and the crew set sail for the last two days before arriving in Pitcairn on Tuesday.

That short sail was a thriller.

"The final picture was really exciting," Baybayan said. "When we got sailing, it was just about when several fronts started to pass over.

"It was a dark, wintry, stormy condition -- kind of a reward for being towed so long."

The canoe was to leave for Mangareva last night about 8 p.m. Hawaii time.

The crew will attempt to sail but winds are light and variable, Baybayan said. Towing may be necessary again to cover the approximately 345 miles to Mangareva by Saturday, when the crew for the leg to Rapa Nui will meet them.

The tow to Pitcairn was the longest ever for Hokule'a, Baybayan said. He decided that course to get the canoe to Mangareva on time.

But the overriding factor was safety; keeping the canoe a safe distance from dangerous reefs in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

Baybayan stressed, however, that the crew navigated the course of the escort boat without the use of equipment.

"We all wanted to sail but we realized that (towing) couldn't be helped," he said.

Six or seven crew members also fought off stomach problems that started in the Marquesas Islands.

The Hokule'a left Hilo on June 15 for Rapa Nui, also called Easter Island. For the past 25 years the canoe has been retracing the migration routes of the ancient Polynesian voyagers who settled all the inhabited islands of the Pacific Ocean. The Hokule'a crew uses the stars, waves and other signs of nature to navigate instead of modern equipment, just like their ancestors.

On Pitcairn, a British dependency about 5,000 miles east of Australia, the main occupations are fishing and farming. Other than a yacht season in April and May, Baybayan said few boats stop at the island.

The government collects most money from selling collectors' stamps that bear the words "Pitcairn Islands."

Disputes over the women that arrived in Pitcairn with the mutineers led to fighting among the men, according to historic references. By 1808 when a U.S. ship discovered the mutineers' hideout, all the mutineers except one were dead. But they left 25 children.

The public can track the progress of the Hokule'a on the World Wide Web at

Photographs from the Hokule'a are available at

Hokule'a to Rapa Nui
Jun. 7, 1999
Rapa Nui, the Loneliest Island
Jun. 14, 1999

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