If you've read the story of the whaling ship Essex, you may have heard of Henderson Island. Approximately 100 miles northeast of little Pitcairn Island (with its own dark history), Henderson was the island on which the Essex survivors landed their life boat – sort of miraculous considering the harsh environment – only to be forced to leave again in search of a more substantial supply of food and a fresh water source. Henderson is a 5 mile long brick shaped island surrounded by steep cliffs. As far as anyone knows, it has never been inhabited. Besides several bird colonies and a few thousand hermit crabs who grow so large they take up residence in empty coconut shells, we were the only land-dwelling animals around.
We approached Henderson after a 2700 mile passage from the Galapagos. Our plan was to sail close enough to fish and scope out an anchorage. We weren't too hopeful that we'd find a one as there are no protected coves and no barrier reef around the island. But just being so close to land after such a long passage is always a thrill and those days felt charged and full of anticipation.
Somehow things aligned and the wind shifted just enough for us to drop the anchor in the only safe haven the island offers. The blue of the open ocean had been deep and mesmerizing. But seeing straight to the bottom at a depth of 48 feet was almost more remarkable. Underwater, fish that seemed tiny from the surface revealed themselves to weigh 12-15 lbs as we dove deeper. Sharks looked like remoras, patches of coral like little cauliflowers, and our anchor chain, instead of fading into the depths like it normally did, led to a miniature anchor that sat like a toy dropped in a sandbox.
Landfall after an ocean crossing is never dull. At whichever place you arrive your first hours there seem magical. No matter if the place is a run down town, a sleepy village, or New York City. Everything has this buzz about it that you often don't notice while you're living amongst it all. But usually after the first few hours back on land that buzz starts to fade into the background and the magic subsides. You begin to notice the dumpy parts of town, the absence of variation, and the presence of loud, grating noises. It sometimes feels like almost as soon as you arrive you're already looking forward to the next place.
We only stayed at Henderson for two nights before we had to leave, but the magic never subsided. I guess when you know you're someplace you never expected to be, somewhere so far-flung that being there felt more like a dream than a memory, and when you know you'll never be back, that's how it goes.