If there was ever a shipping line that deserves Pitcairn Islands thanks and respect, it would be the Blue Star Line. For generations it served Pitcairn, right up until the sad day in 2003 when the last ship disappeared over the horizon. For the 2013 induction we will induct that particular vessel, America Star.
Launched as the ACT 3 in 1971, the ACT 3 was a fine and elegant vessel, sporting fine lines and a simple but purposeful profile.
The first recorded visit to Pitcairn was on November 30th, 1983. The ship was on its way from Panama to Auckland, and on this occasion it evacuated Olive Christian, who was suffering from appendicitis. Unlike some other ACT ships, she initially does not seem to have stopped at Pitcairn regularly this early on, but things would soon change.
In 1987 the ACT 3’s steam turbines were replaced by diesel engine, like many ships at around this time. However, there were more changes looming ahead for the vessel.
November 1991 saw the ACT 3 transferred to the Blue Star Line, where her funnel received a new and different coat of paint while in Wellington on November 25 th. Gone was the blue and white ACT symbol, replaced by the blue star in the white circle, surrounded by red. The America Star was born.
The first visit to Pitcairn as America Star was just after, on December 4th, 1991, when Captain George Rawding visited “to show the funnel and new name.” It did not carry supplies this time, it was a goodwill visit.
Once, when the Pitcairners were on a visit to Oeno, America Star came in sight, and when the Pitcairners called on VHF, Captain Rawding was stunned...he thought Oeno was uninhabited.
America Star was a popular ship for trading, both with passengers and crew. It is remembered as a great ship for buying soft drinks in the slop chest. All the locals on Pitcairn got to know the crew and officers well, and remember them as very friendly. Following the departure of Captain Rawding from America Star there was Captain John Morecombe-Harness.
One particularly notable day around this time was in May 1997 when America Star arrived with supplies in extremely bad weather.
P&O Nedlloyd bought Blue Star on April 1st, 1998. However, nothing changed to the physical appearance of the America Star. She and the other three “Star Ships” (Queensland Star, Melbourne Star and Sydney Star) were the last remaining vessels to carry the Blue Star Line livery.
In August, 1998 the final captain of the America Star, Alan Brown took command. He shares many of his memories of his trips to Pitcairn on the America Star, some examples being Dennis “Sambo” Christian with his mail and ordering Quality Streets for his mother Irma. Irma also travelled on the America Star with Captain Brown and his wife Linda. He speaks of anchoring off Bounty Bay overnight where he “kept you all awake overnight with the beat of the ships generators.” He also mentions working in the containers with Meralda Warren and Dave Brown discharging supplies. On one occasion he remembers bringing Mike and Brenda Lupton-Christian as well as Andrew Christian with their belongings when they moved to Pitcairn. There were also the private orders for delivery from Auckland on the return trip north, and these orders were written on any old scrap of paper (he wishes now that he had kept some of them).
In 2001 she made eight visits, and in 2002 she made nine visits. In 2003 she made only one visit, on January 8th. This last one was to say goodbye. By many accounts, this visit was special. Captain Brown threw a Barbeque for the Pitcairners, and in his words, they had the farewell Barbeque “with the crew getting stuck into the fish and the islanders all the meat!” He also brought down on this trip the stamps for the first-day issue of the Blue Star Line and envelopes (which he informs me arrived late for the issued day by one day. The stamp in his passport proves it). Since the America Star was destined for the breakers in China, there was a lot of items that were donated to the locals and the island in general, be it foodstuffs or...furniture. The longboat was making runs ashore, and was nearly up to the gunnels due to the weight of the items aboard. At one point, when passing the wreck of the Cornwallis, the longboat almost joined her, coming close to capsizing.
America Star then departed Pitcairn Island forever, and on February 16th, 2003 she arrived in Shanghai, China. She was handed to the Chinese ship breakers on the 19th of that month.
By June 27th, 2003, America Star was no more (except for certain ground tackle sitting in the deep waters off Pitcairn, and various furniture sitting around Pitcairn). She was the last ship to carry the Blue Star Line funnel.
Though she was scrapped, much of her still remains, such as tons of furniture now on Pitcairn Island, as well as two of her anchors, in the waters off Pitcairn Island. She definitely left her mark.
Special thanks go to Mr. Fraser Darrah, and his website www.bluestarline.org. Without his help I would not have gotten a lot of the information, as well as most of the photographs in this article and webpage.
The cover photograph is courtesy of www.bluestarline.org and Copyright © Captain Peter Stacey.
Also a great thank you to Captain Peter Stacey and Frank Fox for giving their permission through Fraser Darrah to use their photos.
Herb Fords book “Pitcairn: Port of Call” was useful for information on some of the earlier Pitcairn visits by the ship.
While looking for information for this article, I was contacted by Alan Brown, who contributed a number of photographs and information, and he shared these words: “Over 10 years ago, still miss the calls there, the trading, carrying Sambo’s mail for the Post Office, picking up stores orders for the next call, it was a great hour or 3 stop over. Hope some of the regulars on Pitcairn still remember it all too, we had some fun on cargo days – being stuck with Meralda in a 20ft container doing the 45 gallon oil drums, Dave & Bren having to wear safety boots, could go on...I remember Terry too, usually last in the queue when the shop was open, but always knew what he wanted and it was normally tucked away in a corner for him. My wife Linda has also called there on the Island, we brought home Irma on one of the trips another person we often talk about, along with many more.”