Bountiful Shopping from Pitcairn Island

Day 47, Grand World Voyage 2020

Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020; Adamstown, Pitcairn Island

“They came out to visit us. We welcomed them with open wallets!”

I love the way fellow cruiser and blogger Jane Barbeau summarized our morning at Pitcairn Island. It was a combination of Black Friday frenzy and a fascination with the locals who live in the world’s least populated national jurisdiction.

Pitcairn Island also is one of the most isolated. Only about 60 people live on the island, which has no air facilities and is only accessible by ship. An infrequent supply and passenger ship and about two dozen cruise ships a year visit the island. Local longboats then ferry people and supplies from the ships into the tiny harbor. The rest of the shoreline consists of jagged rocks and cliffs.

It was into this harbor in 1789 that the mutineers on the HMS Bounty brought their ship after sending Captain Bligh and his loyalists adrift in an open boat. Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers and the native Tahitians traveling with them settled on the island. Many of today’s residents are their descendents.

Because Pitcairn Island has no facilities for tender docking, a few dozen residents come out to visiting cruise ships, laden with handmade crafts, honey, stamps and t-shirts. We watched from the outdoor promenade deck as they arrived, and despite pleas to give them time and space to display their wares on tables circling the Lido Deck, crowds hovered. Everyone wanted first choice.

Let me just say here that someone is missing a big marketing opportunity on cruise ships. All you have to do is look around and you’ll see that the standard array of small, medium and large t-shirts is not adequate. Whether it is the commemorative world cruise t-shirts in the ship’s shops or the rare Pitcairn Island shirts, any XL and 2XL sizes disappear immediately, and there is a market for even 3XL.

This morning was no different, and many people turned away disappointed while still clutching their US dollars.

Pitcairn Island honey is apparently a thing, and now I read that not only is it exceptional, but also that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles favor it. Each booth had a sign limiting sales to two small jars so that more people would have an opportunity to buy it. And so of course I had to buy two jars (when just a minute earlier I had no interest in honey).

Despite having been a stamp collector in my childhood days, I passed on buying Pitcairn stamps, but many passengers were quick to get them. For just US$2, you could get leave your postcard to be mailed at the first opportunity. In our case, that is in May when the next mail ship arrives!

It’s no surprise that much of the island’s economy is based on tourism. In addition to the ships that stop every few weeks, visitors come to the island for a few days or a couple of weeks. They stay in private homes, as there are no other guest quarters. But I did find that AirBNB offers home stays for $150 a night.

Pitcairn Island is not always on the world cruise itinerary, but the voyage stops here often enough that regular world cruisers get to know a few familiar faces among the locals. Many passengers filled the Mainstage to hear one resident describe life on the island and answer questions before the venders packed up what hadn’t sold and headed back.

While the Amsterdam passengers shopped away on the Lido deck, some of the ship’s senior officers enjoyed a special visit to Pitcairn Island. The story I hear is that Capt. Mercer had requested a map of the island as a souvenir of his last world voyage before retiring. Before we arrived all the residents had signed one, and they presented it to him on the island as a surprise. He was joined in going ashore by some of the senior officers and one of the ship’s photographers. They brought back pineapples, fish and other bounty from the island. The longboat returned home by noon with beer and other ship’s wares in exchange.