Mystery on the Bounty
From the Star Tribune:
The tall ship began to die early Monday morning in the hurricane-ravaged waters off the North Carolina coast. One of the HMS Bounty’s generators failed. Water flooded everywhere. The 180-foot-long, three-masted tall ship was losing power and propulsion.
By about 3 a.m., the Bounty’s once-optimistic Facebook page, which on Sunday had posted “So far so good!” in its daily updates, had issued a new message for its followers: “Your Prayers are needed.”
Ninety minutes later, the Bounty finally lost its battle with 40 mph winds and 18-foot seas. Its captain ordered all hands to abandon the sinking ship, a shocking demise for a celebrity vessel built for the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
The ship, which had been trying to make its way around Hurricane Sandy, carried a crew of 16. When the rescue operation ended about 10 a.m. Monday, 14 of the crew members had been saved by Coast Guard helicopters. Two people, Capt. Robin Walbridge, 63, and Claudene Christian, 42, were missing. Christian’s body was recovered Monday night, but Walbridge remains unaccounted for.
The latest word is that the search for Captain Walbridge has been suspended and that the Coast Guard will be conducting a formal inquiry into the circumstances of the sinking.
It’s too early for kibitzing, but I want to note a couple of things:
1) Moving a boat from the Atlantic Seaboard to the South is always a bit of a crap-shoot with regard to the weather. Head out too early and it’s still tropical storm season. Head out too late and your vunerable to winter gales (these unnamed storms are often as bad or worse than a tropical storm). Head out in “the window”, which is to say late October to mid-November and you could get either; a late tropical storm, and early winter gale, or both. In 2009 when we took our 38′ sloop INTEMPERANCE south we left on October 28 on a narrow forecast of reasonable weather, only to have the forecast explode in our face once we got offshore. 200 miles out we had winds into the upper 40kts range and seas 15-25 feet; with winds of 50-70 kts between us and home. The prudent choice was to press on to Bermuda, which lay another 400 miles ahead. It was awful. Which brings us to:
2) Whatever the motivations and wisdom of having Bounty offshore during Sandy, the conditions she encountered shouldn’t have put her down. Any boat that ventures offshore, whether a 20′ Flicka, a Catalina 38 like INTEMERANCE, a Tiki 38 like MON TIKI, or the 180′ Bounty has to be able to stand a gale or worse. A ship like the Bounty should thrive in 40 kts of wind, galloping along at 10 knots or better, her crew on deck admiring what a fine ship she is, or comfortably hunkered below, sipping coffee and playing cards.
3) The early word is that her engine and generator failed and she could not pump herself out and ultimately foundered. This one is scary/sickening to contemplate. A traditionally build boat like Bounty will take on water, even just sitting at the dock; at sea, with her planking working under the stress of wind, waves, and sail, that much more water comes aboard. This makes her pumps a vital part of her survival system (think of the crew of Jack Aurbrey’s SURPRISE laboring at the pumps when she’s been heavily damaged in combat). Even if Bounty had a manual system, her shorthanded crew of 16 would have a hard time keeping up, especially as the hours wore on. The loss of pumps on a ship like Bounty is a death blow.
My heart goes out to the family and friends of Walbridge and Christian. I hope the Coast Guard inquiry reveals only prudence and bravery.