Henderson Island - Latitude 24.22 S - Longitude 128.19 W

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First hand accounts of visits to Henderson Island

I found a reference to Larry McCabe on theOnLine Friends of the Bounty & Pitcairn listing of the Pitcairn Island Homepage. Larry mentioned here that he had been to Henderson Island. I e-mailed him immeadiately, and the following is his reply:

I visited the island (in 1978) as crew on the "Yankee Trader" sailing ship during a circumnavigation of the earth the year following my graduation from University of Texas in marine biology. Quite an experience - the cruise, not the degree.

I spent 3 very interesting nights on Henderson Island. Fought the coconut crabs, caught and cooked lobster (Pitcairn Islanders don't eat lobster) and struggled with the high surf to get the miro wood back to the boat.

I remember H-island to be very flat with little more than low brush, mangrove type trees growing everywhere. I remember the P-islanders were concerned that the supply of miro wood was dwindling and they weren't sure how much longer the H-island supply would last.

I do not recall any caves or natural water supplies, as I spent most of my time bundeling the wood and taking it back to the boat on small canoes - it was very difficult to maneuver the small boats through the one natural cut in the substantial coral reef that surrounds the island. It was also through this coral "cut" that the canoe had to be steered to make it to the beach. The surf was big, making it very tricky to steer the canoe...some did turn over going in but I don't recall anyone getting hurt. I was one who steered the canoes in and out of the reef so I relate the story first-hand.

I stayed with the family of Reynold Warren who was on of the wood-cutters on the island. As an aside, the chain-saw was the most popular tool on the island. Many of our trips to H-island included the chain saws and the gasoline to run them.

What I remember most vividly though was the spectacular surrounding reef at low tide. Low tide exposed a reef on which one can walk for hundred of yards from the beach. With the use of flashlights, we easily picked up over 100 lobsters in only 30 minutes. It was so easy I felt a bit guilty. The lobsters had no idea what was going on - they had not developed the instinct to hide. We had one of the great lobster boils of all time on H-island the first night. The irony was that the P-islanders only used lobster for fish-bait and thought us strange for our excitiment over the feast.

I've thought about the mysterious story your friend mentioned regarding H-island. In fact there was one strange occurance the second night on the island....We had spent the evening telling stories and eating fresh coconuts prior to falling asleep. We ate the fresh meat and threw the shells away at the outer rim of the campfire. Approximately 2-3 hours after falling asleep. my friends and I were awakened by quite a loud and rhythmic clicking sound. We awoke to find what seemed like hundreds of coconut crabs positioned around us in what seemed like a well-thought out formation. What was odd was the orderly, methodical, almost tactical behavior of the crabs. They seemed to be acting very much as a team, as if they were communicating to each other...like ants, not crabs. Having observed crab behavior around the world, the H-island crabs were definitely behaving in a most unusual and strange way. It was definitely a display of intelligence not normally seen in most animals, much less crabs. I don't want to make too much of this, but is was quite odd, eerie actually. I now realize I have never told anyone else about this behavior...not sure why. That night we left the camp site and made a different camp closer to the water and built a barrier against the crabs. We left the next day. I would love to know what other odd stories people have about the island, particularly if it has to do with animal behavior....

I simply do not recall the island rising to 30 meters. I remember it being quite flat, but my exposure was limited to only one specific area. As such, I saw no fresh water supply. It might have been there and I just did not see it. As said before, the most memorable feature of the island (to me) was the coral reef, not the island itself, though it was beautiful in a stark and desolute way.

I received the following comment to the above from Steve Waldren (Botanic Garden Curator/Administrator), Trinity College Botanic Garden, Dublin, who spent three months on Henderson Island:

.... the crabs mentioned (and they really don't have much social organisation..) were large hermit crabs- the true coconut crab is quite uncommon on Henderson. These hermit crabs squabble a great deal- over food, over suitable homes (usually turbo shells, but also small coconut shells and plastic flotsam- one used a hollow shoe heel for a home).

Larry McCabe replies to Steve Waldren's comments:

Appreciated the reply to my observation from Dublin. I should have pointed out that the label "coconut" crab was my name given by my friends and I because of their fondness for the coconuts...no other reason - a zoologist I am not. The behavior of the hermit crabs remains unusual, however, as I have visited quite a few tropical islands and observed their behavior. I am an avid SCUBA diver and have had the opportunity to visit many tropical islands. H-island hermit crab behavior was not the norm.

Eric Huffey wrote me and I asked him to send me me an account of his own visit to Hendersen Island:

I fulfilled a dream to visit Pitcairn, when I joined the square rigger Eye of the Wind in 1990. We started in Raratonga, stopped at Rapa, then Pitcairn for two weeks. As you know the Pitcairners like to utilise a larger ship to bring back the miro wood, so on March 12th, 1990, we sailed to Henderson, and some of the Pitcairners followed in one of the longboats. As Henderson is so low you don't see it until you are about 10 miles away, and it at first looks fairly barren. As we approached we were joined by many frigate birds, 'escorting' us to the island. We anchored and went ashore through the surf on an Avon inflatable. The shore line of Henderson is spectacular. 100 foot cliffs of coral, deeply underscored by the sea, which in some places had resulted in huge lumps braking off, a bit like an iceberg calving. The beach is a beautiful pink coral sand, and then you don't go to far before hitting basically impenetrable jungle, which covers a viscious base of razor sharp coral. The Pitcairners had brought chain saws and they proceeded to cut miro wood, mostly 4/5 foot lengths. They each have a little spray can, so that they can tell which wood is theirs when they get back home. The logs are all tied together and then dragged out to sea to the Eye of the Wind and hauled aboard for transport back to Pitcairn. We slept the night on the beach among coconut crabs (hermit crabs that had outgrown shells and progressed to a coconut shell.) We also fished that night from the deck of the Eye of the Wind. It was a fishermans dream, the moon was so bright we could see the fish literally lining up to take the bait, and hauled them in as fast as we could get a line out. The next day a couple of us attempted to reach a cave half way up the slope. Where we had landed the sheer cliffs had given way to a steep jungle covered slope. It was nearly impossible but we finally made it, badly scratched but happy. We did find a small bag of bones, probably from the Henderson chickens, a sign of previous habitation at some point.

I climbed a coconut palm and cut down ten coconuts which are delicious to drink, then we revelled in the surf, and marvelled at the color of the sand. It was tough to leave such a beautiful island, but all too soon we pulled up anchor and returned to Pitcairn.

A very very memorable experience

Contents of this website

Desert Island Banner

Henderson's History Henderson's Geography Henderson's Flora and Fauna
Why am I interested? First hand accounts. Links and Books.
Map of the Island. Pictures of the Island. The Monkey Story

New information about the skeletons found on Henderson Island in 1958!
Click Here

"Robert Tomarchin, a 27-year-old U.S. citizen and his pet ape Moko" - in 1957 .
Photo courtesy of Dr. Herbert Ford , of the Pitcairn Islands Study Center at Pacific Union College.

The Monkey Story: Read the true story of Robert Tomarchin and his chimpanzee left on Henderson Island by a Canadian yacht in 1957! New information has also come to light and is now presented here.

The Monkey Story

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