Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

HMS Bounty captain Robin Walbridge remembered as quiet, humble

ST. PETERSBURG — On Thursday, the Coast Guard called off the search for Robin Walbridge, captain of the HMS Bounty, which sank during Hurricane Sandy.

Mr. Walbridge disappeared during a rescue mission early on Oct. 29 in which 14 of 16 on board the famous ship survived.

His death at age 63 has saddened a wide circle of friends, crew members and fellow sailors of tall ships everywhere.

As those closest to Mr. Walbridge began to comprehend going on without him, they also reflected on a life spent at sea.

By all accounts, the quiet man at the helm of the Bounty replica had nothing in common with Capt. William Bligh of the 1789 mutiny.

Though he knew nautical history and every inch of the 180-foot ship, Mr. Walbridge was more teacher than tyrant. Along with experienced crews of 15 to 25, he welcomed at-risk teens, paraplegics in wheelchairs and seniors battling serious health conditions to swab the decks and hoist 10,000 square feet of sails. Though the Bounty drew eager crowds in the United States, Canada and Europe, he did not want to greet them as its captain.

"The crew had orders not to point him out," said Claudia McCann, his wife. Sometimes she did anyway.

His shipping resume included spending time on the Governor Stone, a cargo schooner built in 1877 and restored; training crew members of the USS Constitution warship ("Old Ironsides" in the War of 1812); and serving aboard the HMS Rose, a square-rigged replica similar to the Bounty.

"He considered square-rigged sailing a truly dying art, and he was the one keeping the idea alive," said Grant Bredeson, 32, a former Bounty crew member. "He referred to the ships as the tractor-trailers or the space shuttles of the time period."

Mr. Walbridge was a native of Apalachicola, though he never spoke much about his childhood.

He took over the Bounty, a longtime staple of the Pier and a movie prop, in 1995 and guided it on goodwill missions over thousands of miles at sea.

McCann met him in 1996 in Fall River, Mass. He struck her as kind and intelligent. She had never met a man like him.

"He was a breath of fresh air," said McCann, 59.

In 1998, they had a small wedding, reciting vows they had written for each other. As her husband sailed to other countries, McCann took a silent vow as well.

"I allowed him to continue in his passion," she said. "He was the man he was because of what he did. I was not going to go and take that away from him."

On Oct. 25, the Bounty left New London, Conn., for St. Petersburg. The problem was, Sandy was headed the other way, kicking up 30-foot seas and high winds.

The ship sent a distress signal the following Sunday to the Coast Guard. Mr. Walbridge and another crew member had been knocked overboard by a wave. The body of Claudene Christian, 42, was later recovered.

The decision to set sail rather than remain at port is now being second-guessed.

But Bredeson, who wanted to sail on that trip but was told to join the crew in St. Petersburg instead, said Mr. Walbridge would have weighed the storm against the dangers of staying docked.

In port, a 412-ton ship or its spars could easily have been tossed into other ships or onto land, endangering other lives.

Besides, Bredeson said, "All of those conditions the Bounty has been through before."

His wife said she received an email from her husband during the storm. In the blur of events, she does not remember exactly when it arrived.

"He said they were taking on water and they might have to abandon ship," she said.

She said her husband probably died trying to help Christian, a distant granddaughter of original Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian and a new sailor.

That would be just like Mr. Walbridge, she believes — the most experienced sailor on board risking his life to save a rookie.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

Editorial: Modest improvements to unneeded tax cut package

Editorial: Modest improvements to unneeded tax cut package

The massive tax cut legislation Congress is poised to start voting on today remains terrible public policy. It raises the federal debt by more than $1.4 trillion over the next decade, and it primarily benefits businesses and the wealthy over the poor...
Updated: 9 minutes ago

St. Pete woman killed in Tampa crash trying to avoid dog on I-275

TAMPA — A dog that ran onto northbound Interstate 275 caused a chain-reaction crash that killed a 70-year-old St. Pete Beach woman on Monday afternoon, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash took place at about 10:45 a.m. on I-275, north o...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
Tampa International Airport hasn’t suffered an Atlanta-style loss of power, but it is prepared for one

Tampa International Airport hasn’t suffered an Atlanta-style loss of power, but it is prepared for one

TAMPA — Tampa International Airport sees about one-fifth as many passengers as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but a major power outage here could cause disruptions to air travel, too.That said, TIA has taken steps to create "redund...
Updated: 14 minutes ago

Updated: 17 minutes ago
Florida grand jury investigates FSU frat pledge’s death

Florida grand jury investigates FSU frat pledge’s death

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A grand jury is meeting to consider filing charges in the death of a Florida State University fraternity pledge.The Leon County grand jury on Monday interviewed Florida State administrators and those who were at a party with ...
Updated: 25 minutes ago

Land O’Lakes teacher faces felony child abuse charge

LAND O’LAKES — A special needs teacher at Oakstead Elementary School was arrested on a felony charge of child abuse, accused of striking and kicking a 15-year-old in her care over the weekend, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.The event ...
Updated: 29 minutes ago

Pasco sheriff: Boy, 10, shot while playing with gun

DADE CITY — A 10-year-old boy was shot Monday in what the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is calling an "accidental" shooting that took place when he was left home unattended with another child.Deputies were called at 2:57 p.m. When they arrived at the...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
First-Citizens Bank & Trust acquires Tampa-based HomeBancorp

First-Citizens Bank & Trust acquires Tampa-based HomeBancorp

TAMPA — North Carolina-based First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co. is acquiring Tampa-headquartered HomeBancorp, which operates HomeBanc. First Citizens Bank will pay $15.03 per share in cash, a Monday release said, and the deal is expected to close by mid...
Updated: 1 hour ago
American Social tries to draw a young Tampa crowd with New York prices

American Social tries to draw a young Tampa crowd with New York prices

TAMPA Paul Greenberg and Rick Mijares believe something. They believe that millennials are nostalgic for a time they didn’t live through. American Social, the long-anticipated waterside restaurant adjacent to Jackson’s on Harbour Island,...
Updated: 1 hour ago