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Hurricane Sandy sinks HMS 'Bounty'; longtime crew recall 'Mutiny' tall ship

ST. PETERSBURG — The old captain shook his head as the news anchor's words cut through the chatter of family and friends. He squinted and leaned forward, clutching his cane.

Hugh Boyd absorbed this news with his entire body: The HMS Bounty sank Monday and two crew members were missing off the North Carolina coast. (The Coast Guard later recovered the body of one crew member, but the captain was still missing.)

"I can't believe this," Boyd said. "She's gone. She's gone and she's taken two people with her."

The HMS Bounty, a replica built for the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando, was Boyd's second home for 28 years. Starting as a low-ranking seaman on the ship's first voyage, he worked his way up, eventually serving as the ship's captain.

One of the few remaining members of the ship's first crew, Boyd was planning to revisit the vessel next month, when the Bounty returned to its longtime home, the Pier at St. Petersburg.

Boyd, 77, was planning to say goodbye.

"It's a sad day," he said. "Such a sad, sad day."

• • •

In his 28 years aboard the Bounty, Boyd abandoned ship only once.

It was 1965. He hadn't seen his wife in a year.

As the 180-foot vessel pulled into the Massachusetts Bay, Boyd spotted her.

She stood on the deck of a pilot boat heading out to meet the Bounty. He dived overboard and swam to her.

On Saturday, the two celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

As with just about everything else in his life, the Bounty was there. Every step of the way.

"I was very fortunate to have had this ship as such a part of my life," Boyd said. "We had some good times together. (The Bounty) took care of me."

As he speaks, his eyes linger for an instant on the signatures around a poster of the ship. The poster is framed, hanging on a wall filled with images of the three-mast tall vessel: oil paintings, photographs, models, sailor's knots of rope.

In the next room are boxes full of Bounty memorabilia: ship stationery, maps, rigger bags, a bunk bed, lamps.

Roy Boutilier, 71, who sailed with Boyd on the vessel's first voyage to Tahiti during the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty, gestured to the wall.

"It becomes a huge part of you," Boutilier said. "I still meet people who will say, 'You're the guy who sailed on the Bounty.' It's kind of incredible; she's everyone's ship."

• • •

From the late '60s to the late '80s, the Bounty was St. Petersburg's ship, moored at the Pier. It was on its way back to St. Petersburg on Monday when something went wrong.

The U.S. Coast Guard received a call late Sunday from the owner of the Bounty, who had lost contact with the crew.

Then a distress signal.

Donning bright orange survival suits designed to keep crew members afloat and warm, 16 people climbed into two life rafts about 6:30 a.m. Monday as the ship began to take on water, Coast Guard officials said.

In the scramble, three were flung overboard, into the unrelenting surf of Hurricane Sandy. One swam to safety, two were swept out to sea.

Coast Guard rescuers plucked 14 people from the life rafts and flew them to an air station in Elizabeth City, N.C., where they received medical attention, officials said.

Later Monday, the Coast Guard said it had recovered the body of 42-year-old Claudene Christian, one of the two missing crew members. A search continued for the Bounty's captain, Robin Walbridge, 63.

Walbridge's wife, Claudia McCann — contacted at her home in St. Petersburg by Reuters — said she was confident he was the last to leave the ship.

"That's the image I have in my head. I'm sure he made sure his crew were all tucked in their lifeboats before he got off the ship,'' she told the news service.

Boyd questioned why the ship had been at sea in such terrible conditions, noting it may have been wiser to moor near a land barrier.

Earlier reports indicated the ship was heading east to avoid the storm.

An investigation was under way Monday.

Hurricane Sandy sinks HMS 'Bounty'; longtime crew recall 'Mutiny' tall ship 10/29/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 10:07am]
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