In the dark, in the wet, whirling roar of Hurricane Sandy, on a ship tipping so badly the deck felt like a steep, slick roof, the desperate, damaged sailor searched for a spot from which to jump. Close to the stern, he gripped the helm, now all but touching the water's high black churn. He let go and paddled and kicked in the buoyant but clumsy blood-orange suit he had wiggled into not long before. The ship spat up a heavy wooden grating, and it landed on his head. Crack. His adrenaline surged. He thrashed, straining to get away from the heaving ship, her three masts of tree trunk heft rearing up and slamming down like lethal mallets, her thinner, sharper spars piercing the surface like darts, the ropes of the rigging like tentacles, grabbing, yanking. Pfffffft. The tip of a spar sliced down, catching the sailor, pushing him below. He gasped, choking on water, struggling back to where there was air.
His focus narrowed.
He kept swimming away, and finally Adam Prokosch was clear of the ship, away from his home of the last eight months, away from his 15 fellow crew members who felt like family, no longer together, now all alone, in the middle of the deafening noise, the needles of rain, the frothing, cresting waves.
He couldn’t see the captain who had decided to sail toward the storm. He couldn't see the first mate get bashed by a spar. He couldn't see his good friend get tangled and wrenched so far under he started saying sorry to his mother. He couldn't hear the voice of the woman shrieking she was stuck.
Up in the sky, 500 feet high and 90 miles from shore, under the menace of the thick swirl of clouds in the early morning of Oct. 29, 2012, the men in a Coast Guard C-130 airplane made radio calls, repeating the name of the ship, hoping her crew could hear.
… Bounty …
… Bounty …
… Bounty …
More than a month before, down one of the winding roads of hilly Boothbay Harbor, Maine, the masts of the 169-foot replica of one of the most famous ships in the world stretched toward the sun. Winched out of the water, wedged into a dry-dock railway, the Bounty's bottom was exposed, her wooden hull ready for routine repairs.
She was one of the last of her kind. It was amazing she was still around. And she was sailing more than she had since the earliest stages of her 52 years of life.
The main reason was one man, St. Petersburg resident Robin Walbridge, who had been the captain for 17 years.
For most of his early adulthood, Walbridge had been curious and itinerant, flitting from job to job, but gradually gravitating from land to sea — truck driver, marina mechanic, operator of paddle boats, master of smaller, wooden schooners around Florida. His whole life, even as a boy in Vermont, he read and re-read John Masefield's poem Sea Fever — I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by — and in the Bounty he had found his ship.
He had, he thought, the best possible job. Officially, the owner of the Bounty was Robert Hansen, the head of an air conditioning company on Long Island, but really the ship belonged to Walbridge, who had been with her longer than Hansen, and longer than anybody on board. With that longevity came credibility, and confidence — confidence others had in him, and that he had in himself. Typically dressed in jeans, Teva sandals and a green baggy Bounty hoodie, and with a bald spot ringed with wispy hair he kept in a stubby ponytail, glasses with strings on the stems and hearing aids on which he sometimes turned down the volume, Walbridge spoke softly and sparingly.
"I truly believe …," he often said.
He truly believed wooden, square-rigged ships had changed the world, the tractor-trailers and space shuttles of their time.
He truly believed that sailing this kind of ship, not just getting on a boat and flipping a switch, was a dying art that needed to be preserved.
He truly believed that a ship like the Bounty was a uniquely fertile learning environment and that the sailing was but a portion of the education.
"It's one thing to stand on shore and look at the mast and the sails," Walbridge once said. "It's quite another thing to be 115 feet in the air in a violent storm and you're dependent on other crew members and other crew members are dependent on you."
"What you are learning," he liked to say, "is how to live with yourself."
Walbridge, 63, had started talking about retirement. He was introducing his possible successor. You’d be crazy to take the job, he would tell the first mate, and you’d be crazy not to. He wanted to see more of his wife of a decade and a half, Claudia McCann, who spent months by herself in their bungalow in St. Pete. He called her every day he had a cell phone signal. He hid notes at home, saying he missed her, loved her.
But it was his devotion to the Bounty that friends and colleagues considered "extreme." They thought of the captain and the ship as almost one and the same, inseparable, him and her, their identities inextricably linked.
And there was so much Walbridge wanted to do still. He wanted to take the Bounty up the Arkansas and down the Mississippi. He wanted to guide her through the Northwest Passage, the treacherous Arctic route, because he wanted to do with her what was supposed to be impossible.
It would be, he thought, a great way to cap his career as the captain of the Bounty, a fitting last chapter.
Click "VIEW" to see an interactive diagram of the Bounty which explains key features of the ship. The glossary gives definitions of nautical terms used throughout the story.view
Walbridge had been at the shipyard in Boothbay before. The first time, in the summer of 2001, the Bounty showed up in deplorable condition, not dead but close, taking in through leaky seams 30,000 gallons of water an hour. Hansen, the owner, who had just purchased her, paid $1.5 million to replace every plank of wood below the waterline. The next time, to replace every plank above it, cost even more. These latest repairs, Walbridge said, were just "a shave and a haircut."
Time spent in yard was different from time spent at sea. Often crews thinned out because summer was over and winter was on the way and because the work felt more like drudgery when it wasn't broken up by the fresh sights of travel.
For Walbridge, though, it was nonetheless a chance to teach. A middle child, the only son of two teachers, his style of instruction reflected the way he liked to learn. During high school in Montpelier, Vt., he focused more on his job at the local Howard Johnson, working to learn how to do everything — how to open and how to close, how to order food and how to cook it, how to clean the equipment and how to keep the books. He took a couple of classes at a community college in Connecticut, algebra and art, and decided that was sufficient. He taught himself how to build furniture, kayaks, jewelry boxes for his wife, his wife’s daughter, her daughter. He was a devotee of antique tools, antique trades and the increasingly antique practice of apprenticeship, a more organic and intimate exchange of knowledge, he thought, than contemporary methods stamped with certificates. Where else but a ship like this could he use all these disparate interests, hobbies and skills?
Reprimands started with questions. "Now, Lee, why did you think that was a good idea?" He didn’t give lectures. He told stories.
He knew where the best used book stores were in all the ports, immersing himself in tales from the golden age of sail, when ships like the original HMS Bounty ventured into the unknown, with no idea how long they’d be gone, or if they’d return.
His only requirement for crew members was that they wanted to be there. Those with more experience taught those with less until they, too, became those with more. He encouraged deckhands to become able seamen, able seamen to become mates and mates to become captains.
He asked them to do things they hadn't done.
He asked them to be things they hadn't been.
They were loyal because of it.
So in Boothbay during this yard period, he asked them to scrape algae and barnacles off the hull, to make some new spars called yards, to caulk the leakiest seams between planks, and they did. They installed new fuel and water tanks. They did touch-up painting. They worked 12 hours a day, six days a week.
They also found patches of rotted wood above the waterline — in the planks, in essence the ship's skin, and in the frames, her ribs. They found the rot spots, ranging from golf ball-size to softball-size, on both sides of the ship. It was confounding, thought Todd Kosakowski, the shipyard's project manager, because this had been new wood only five years before. Such rapid deterioration was abnormal, and alarming, he thought, because of how it looked — dried out, brittle, "almost charred-looking."
Kosakowski estimated 75 percent of the frames above the waterline could have rot. That would undermine the ship's dependability. But there was no way to know without removing more planks. He recommended Walbridge extend the Bounty's stay. Walbridge agreed with Kosakowski, but staying, he said, would mean more of two things the Bounty didn't have: money and time. The chill of winter was in the air. The Bounty needed to be in New London, Conn., Oct. 24 and 25, for a day sail with the crew of a Navy submarine. The ship was due in St. Pete for tours Nov. 10 and 11 at the Pier in the city where the Bounty had significant history, where the captain lived and his wife was waiting.
Stay or go?
Walbridge made the decision he almost always did.
He had the crew pull out the visible pieces of rot and replace them with healthier wood. He had them paint over the planks with oil-based primer even though yard workers said that would do next to nothing. He told Kosakowski they'd do a thorough inspection next year. Kosakowski couldn't make them stay. He advised Walbridge, however, to pick his weather wisely. Before they left he took pictures of the rot. He also kept a few chunks of the strange, blighted wood, putting them in a box he slid under his desk.
And as the Bounty traveled south from Boothbay to New London, Prokosch and other crew noticed something else that was worrisome: In the engine room, the bilge pumps didn't seem to be working as well as they usually did. All wooden boats leak. Water works its way through the tiniest slits. That's what pumps are for, and the Bounty had five: two electric pumps, two backup hydraulic pumps that still needed power to run and a portable gas pump. Prokosch had worked on almost a dozen ships. "Sailors don't wear gloves," the 27-year-old with a sturdy build once said. "We grow them." An able seaman and an aspiring captain — he already had a captain's license for smaller boats — he had joined this crew in March. Now his experience told him something wasn't right.
He mentioned it to the second mate. He told the captain. They were looking into it.
Click "VIEW" to see an interactive timeline covers the life of the famous 18th century British ship and much longer life of the replica built for the 1962 movie. view
She was built in 1960 in the coastal village of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, to be in MGM's 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Trevor Howard as Capt. William Bligh and Marlon Brando as lead mutineer Fletcher Christian. She was built because of a story, a true tale of adventure and human nature. This Bounty, though, had a story of her own. She was a third bigger than the original, but faithfully rendered, using the British Navy's original plans. She was not a prop. The craftsmen gave her modern amenities: diesel engines, running water, even air conditioning. They built spacious 8-foot ceilings on the tween deck — the middle of the three levels — to leave room for bulky cameras, assuring the ship would straddle the line between authenticity and practicality.
Once eased into the water down rails greased with cow fat and fish oil, the first thing she did was sail 7,327 miles to Tahiti in the South Pacific. She looked like a copperplate etched from an earlier epoch, National Geographic wrote, her 60-foot bowsprit leading the way, the windows of her signature stern cabin glowing in the dark.
After a publicity tour on both sides of the Atlantic, she settled in the late '60s into a mostly sedentary life in St. Pete's Vinoy Basin, subsisting as a "marine-historical attraction," a tourist site with a gift shop. The ship was a downtown draw at a time when there weren't that many. People in the city came to think of the Bounty as their own.
Media tycoon Ted Turner bought her by accident in 1986 when he acquired the MGM film library.
Seven years later, he gave her for a tax break to Fall River, Mass., where a group of enthusiastic businessmen wanted her to sail from port to port with the name Fall River painted on her stern, an attempt to alter the image of their small, run-down city. They hired Walbridge, a mate on the Rose, a similar ship. Expenses, though, proved too much for local coffers. By 1999 she was sinking at her dock.
That's when Hansen bought her.
He had her hole-riddled hull swaddled in a diaper of sorts, and she was towed by a tug to Boothbay, starting the high-priced repairs. Hansen was like Walbridge. He wanted her to sail.
With Hansen's millions in improvements, the Bounty visited American and Canadian ports, still spending some winters in St. Pete. The Bounty got better, and so did her crews.
And everywhere she went, no matter which other ships were present, she was the star. After her initial '62 title role, she played herself, or some facsimile, in movies from Yellowbeard to Treasure Island to Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. Older people wanted to touch the helm Brando touched. Younger people wanted to do it because of Johnny Depp. The wind ship of antiquity had the modern credibility of celebrity.
The Coast Guard, though, called the Bounty something else. At a dock, she was a "moored attraction vessel." On the water? She was essentially a private yacht. The classification meant minor oversight. It meant she couldn't charge for sailing tutorials or take paying passengers. To make money she had to go, go, go, in search of new batches of gawkers at 10 bucks a head. The artifice paid for the art.
The eclectic collection of people who chose to go with the Bounty included commercial mariners who saw value in learning traditional seamanship, retirees who sought something greater than golf or gated ennui, twentysomething adventurers for whom a cubicle equated to something close to death, or slightly older meanderers hoping for what the author of the 1840 book Two Years Before the Mast termed a change of life.
They had one thing in common: They sought something on this ship that they hadn't found on shore.
They lived for the holy moments of leaving a port under sail, engines off, nothing but wind and water carrying them, one knot, two knots, three knots, all but soundlessly back to where they felt they belonged. They navigated through the Erie Canal, the Cape Cod Canal, the Panama Canal. They traveled through the Chesapeake Bay and Long Island Sound and up the Hudson River and down the St. Lawrence. They went to the Canary Islands and the Galapagos. They saw dolphins frolic. They saw plankton-gorging basking sharks and right whales and pilot whales and minke whales. Here, whaley, whaley, whaley, Walbridge would say, trying to take their picture. They hung hooks and pulled up mahi-mahi for the freshest-ever sushi. In squalls, they clambered up the rigging to furl sails, knowing by instinct where to put their hands and feet. In the dark, they watched the water around the ship radiate with bioluminescence, sparkling streaks of yellow, green and blue.
Through the night, crew members woke up their counterparts for the next watch, not with alarm clocks' blare but with whispers about stars and which sails were set. The coffee in the pot sloshed the way the ship sat.
They stood watch, four hours twice in every 24-hour cycle. They watched the way wind filled sails. They watched the water level in the bilge at the bottom of the boat. They watched for what was ahead. They watched after each other. Divorced from land's more distracted existence, these watches ordered their days, fostering a marriage of surroundings and self.
Sometimes they stopped smack in the middle of the Atlantic and jumped in. Because who gets to do that?
On longer transits, out in the open ocean, Walbridge liked to tape over the screens of the ship's 21st-century positional aids and announce with a wink that they had experienced "major electronic failure." Then they used old-fashioned sextants for celestial navigation, determining the angle between the sun and the horizon, doing math to calculate their latitude and longitude.
They learned from the Bounty, and her captain, the self-affirming ability to determine where they were, their place in space, their moment in time.
They arrived in New London the evening of Oct. 23. The next afternoon, a bunch of them ended up at Hanafin's, a pub blocks from the dock. From behind the bar, nearing the end of her shift, 26-year-old Amanda Sherer found the crew's camaraderie so intoxicating that when she got off she joined them. They drank beer and bourbon and shots from the owner's private bottle of Green Spot whiskey. So boisterous and spontaneous, Sherer thought — but one of them stuck out.
She was different from the start, since she got on in Wilmington, N.C., in the middle of May, when her parents dropped her off. She was a 5-foot-1 41-year-old with blond hair, blue eyes, pressed-on, white-tipped nails and pink luggage, marching up the gangplank into a setting more accustomed to dreadlocks and duffel bags.
She came on strong, all ardor and words — according to Prokosch, "a faceful of Claudene."
It felt like she wanted to say everything to everybody. She had the confidence of an only child of doting parents, who from the time she was little said she could do whatever she wanted. She used to be Miss Alaska National Teenager! She used to be a Song Girl cheerleader at the University of Southern California! She used to own a doll company! She used to own a house near the beach!
And she was the great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of the mutineer! Of Fletcher Christian!
True? Who knew? But everybody could see it was true to her.
I live, work & Travel the Sea aboard the HMS Tall Ship Bounty, she announced on Facebook. I'm sure my ancestor would be proud.
Before boarding, she sang in bands, played video games on a vintage Atari and roller skated on the hardwood floors in her house in California. She drank, mostly wine, sometimes too much. She dated a lot. She was a nocturnal journal keeper. She was diagnosed as bipolar but sometimes she didn't take her medication because she didn't like the way it made her feel. She lost her house. She moved in with her parents in Alaska. She moved with them when they moved to rural Oklahoma, where she volunteered at the sheriff's office, cheerfully filing papers and sending faxes. She was a sister to her mother and a mother to her father, who had diabetes. She started writing them a song about how much she loved them but didn't finish it. She felt landlocked. She had her parents take her to the Bounty.
Tell me anything! she told her fellow female deckhands, most of them half her age. Think of me as your hip mom!
They didn't expect her to last. Christian was a volunteer, not even making the regular deckhands' paltry weekly rate of $100. She could've gotten off wherever, whenever.
Tarring the shrouds left black gunk in her blond hair. The fake nails peeled away. She sent her mother pictures.
I am on a TALL SHIP AT SEA, she tweeted on June 6.
I am in LOVE with my ship, she tweeted on June 23.
She texted a friend in California: It is seriously SOO much work, I've done a lot of questioning what I'm doing … But the one thing I do know for sure, is that … my head, my heart, my body and soul are aligned … And I've really found peace …
She loved how beautiful the sky was at night, surrounded by so much sea, under the moon and the stars and no other light.
In Nova Scotia, she helped organize a private tour for some of the Bounty's builders and earliest sailors, her eyes glistening with tears because of how much it meant to them.
By the time the Bounty arrived in Boothbay, her parents told her they would come pick her up — they were always willing to come pick her up — and she almost let them. Her grandmother was ill. But Christian said no. She still had her blow dryer, an appliance that earned eye rolls, but now she used it to warm her clothes in the nippy Maine mornings. Working in Boothbay, she had bounced from one menial task to the next, striking Kosakowski, the project manager, as the happiest deckhand he had ever seen. She told a fellow crew member who had started the season as a volunteer, too, that she was proud of them for sticking it out.
I want to see this through, she said.
She told some other crew she didn't know how she would handle it if she got off. Would she be okay?
Some fuzzy notion of the romance of the sea might get you on a ship. Something else keeps you there. And just before they left Boothbay, after months of fiddling with her phone when checks were distributed, she had been told she'd be paid. She beamed. The money didn't matter as much as the validation. Good news, she wrote in a text message to her mother. Oct. 18 was her birthday, 42 now, and Christian was moving in a direction she liked.
In New London at Hanafin's, the night before they were slated to leave, she clicked with the bartender and so did the crew. They asked her to join them. She would fit in, they said, and that meant a lot to her. Born here, raised here, lived here — Sherer looked at the crew of the Bounty and saw "freedom." She said she'd think about it and see them the next day. That night, though, Christian and Sherer drank at the bar and stepped outside in the unseasonable warmth to stand on the sidewalk and smoke American Spirits. They sang Me & Bobby McGee, belting out that freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.
The next afternoon, toward the end of the day sail with the crew from the Navy sub, some civilian passengers asked Walbridge about the storm developing in the Caribbean. Sandy, expected to cause catastrophic damage along the East Coast, was a hurricane now. They knew the captain was leaving that evening, headed in that direction.
Walbridge held up his hands to explain his strategy. Depending on where the storm went, he said, its strong winds could help propel the Bounty to Florida. That, he believed, was better than waiting, tied to a dock, where the ship might get damaged. He didn't sound cocky. He sounded, they thought, like he knew what he was talking about.
And who were they to say any different?
He was the captain.
A little later, his wife called from her hotel in Rome, where she was finishing a vacation in Italy. It was Oct. 25. She wished him happy birthday. She could tell he was excited about the day sail and a visit to the sub — she could hear the joy in his voice — but she mentioned the threat of the storm. If it got too bad, he told her, he could turn and head north.
On the dock, away from the others, the first mate wanted to talk to the captain. John Svendsen was concerned. This, he said, was a potentially historic hurricane. Svendsen, serious but easy-going, and nonconfrontational — not unlike Walbridge — suggested some options. Up the Thames River. Nearby ports that offered more protection. Or they could stay.
Walbridge said no. Waves weren't supposed to be higher than 30 feet, he explained, and he and the Bounty had seen that. Ships, he said, are safer at sea.
Svendsen relented. At least, he said, the crew should know the situation. Walbridge agreed.
The captain gathered them around the capstan, a large, spool-shaped gearbox by the helm, their meeting spot near the stern.
I know many of you are hearing from your families about the weather out there, Walbridge said.
He outlined his experience with rough weather. He said he used to go out in the Gulf of Mexico to pull crews off oil rigs before and even during hurricanes, and he had been in hurricanes on the Bounty, too. He often played chess against crew members, three or four at a time, almost always beating them all — and he was approaching this, he told them, like another game, success a question of making the right moves at the right times. His plan, he said, was to head south and east until Sandy either targeted land or veered to sea. They would go the opposite way, keeping sufficient distance from the storm. He reiterated what he had told the day sail civilians and Svendsen: Ships are safer at sea.
Usually, at capstan meetings, Walbridge told a story or two and asked questions — What would you do if? — but now there was no time for that.
We need to leave immediately, he said.
He added something none of the crew could remember him ever saying. He gave them the opportunity to get off. I won't hold it against you, he promised.
The New London train station was visible from where they stood. Amtrak to anywhere.
The crew looked at each other.
The second mate, Maine Maritime Academy graduate Matt Sanders, had started dating Christian. The third mate, Dan Cleveland, was dating the boatswain, Laura Groves. Deckhands Jessica Hewitt and Drew Salapatek also were dating. The engineer, Chris Barksdale, had been on the ship for only a month, and the cook, Jessica Black, had gotten on just that day. She'd been working on yachts in the Caribbean. The Bounty sounded "more interesting." Able seaman Doug Faunt, the oldest member of the crew, wondered if he had enough time to gather his belongings even if he did want to get off. Mark Warner, Anna Sprague, Josh Scornavacchi, John Daniel Jones, and Christian, too — all first-season deckhands, the crew with the least experience — looked at the crew with more. This was sure to be an uncomfortable voyage, miserable and wet, but was there reason for greater alarm?
Prokosch had gotten on the Bounty specifically to learn from the captain. Walbridge's 17 years of experience — for Prokosch, that was a powerful pull. He was confident, too, they were ready to solve any problem that might come up. He also was interested in decisions. How they're made. Why they work or why they don't. He wanted to see how this one turned out.
Svendsen said nothing. Rigid hierarchy has eased drastically since earlier eras of sailing, when the captain was king, but chain of command still matters. The ship's potential next captain chose to respect it.
Walbridge seldom seemed concerned. He didn't seem that way now.
The crew felt like family — some of them considered the bonds closer than that — and they didn't want to let each other down. They trusted each other. They trusted Svendsen. They trusted Walbridge.
The choice they were being asked to make was one they had already made. Sailors who make a habit of walking off ships aren't sailors for long. These sailors preferred the uncertainty at sea to the uncertainty on land.
Nobody got off.
The meeting had taken roughly 20 minutes. It was just before dusk. The crew secured the gangplanks and turned on both engines close to full power. They left in a hurry.
Standing at the bottom of State Street, holding a cup of coffee, was Sherer, the bartender from Hanafin's. The previous evening had been magic, but now something felt off. The sun started to set, and she watched the Bounty disappear.
Click "VIEW" to see an interactive roster and learn more about the 16 crew who sailed on the Bounty.view
To learn more about each crew member, mouse over their photo. To understand the makeup of the Bounty's crew, select from the groupings.
The ship maneuvered around the tip of Long Island, using engines and sails and heading fast, more than seven knots instead of the standard five, on a south-southeast course. The crew of 16 was a tad short-handed, and tired, Faunt thought, from Boothbay plus the day sail. The air was calm and getting cooler. Chili simmered on the galley stove.
A deckhand texted the Bounty's plan to Jim Salapatek, Drew Salapatek's father, who from his home near Chicago posted updates on the Bounty's Facebook page.
Bounty has departed New London CT … Next Port of Call … St. Petersburg, Florida, the update read. Bounty will be sailing due East out to sea before heading south to avoid the brunt of Hurricane Sandy.
Hewitt called some people to say bye. They said they would pray for her. She thought that was a bit much.
Christian called her mother. She had just gotten out of a doctor's appointment with Christian's grandmother.
Can I call you back? her mother said.
No, no, Christian said. I want to tell you how much I love you.
Why are you saying it like that?
Just in case something happens. We're already on the water. I'm afraid I'll lose service.
On the phone, she sounded agitated, her mother thought, but she sent her a series of text messages.
Really we’re not too worried about the hurricane, Christian wrote. The Capt loves hurricanes and we’re going to make sure to go outside on the East side.
I love you mom & dad, don’t worry, we’ll be fine! she added. Our capt has 30 yes experience and our ship is strong. They say Bounty loves hurricanes.
Christian’s mother wrote back: We love you sooo much!!!! Please be careful!!!
Christian responded: And just be sure that I am ok and HAPPY TO BE HERE on Bounty doing what I love … And if I do go down with the ship & the worst happens … Just know that I AM TRULY GENUINELY HAPPY!! And I am doing what I love! I love you.
She updated her Facebook: HEADED STRAIGHT THROUGH THE PATH OF HURRICANE SANDY!!
As they continued south — much more south than east — they lashed down what might move in rougher weather. They used extra lengths of rope to secure sea-stowed sails. One deckhand even reinforced the jar that housed his fighting fish. Prokosch loved the energy of the crew. They were buzzing. Some were excited by the prospect of sailing into a hurricane. They had enjoyed pleasant weather all year, and the storm would be a chance to test their training, Prokosch viewing this almost like a big game against a tough opponent. In good weather, he thought, ships and sailors could get lax — not in bad weather.
On both sides of the ship they ran jacklines, on the top deck and also in the tween deck, or the tweens, making something for crew members to hold onto. Losing somebody overboard, Walbridge often told them, was his biggest worry. It was why they did man-overboard drills more than they did abandon-ship drills.
Christian had a question for Prokosch.
What do you mean by storm-tight?
Prokosch tugged on rope. No slack. Storm-tight, he said.
As a girl, Christian twirled her hair in the dark to soothe her nerves, and as an adult, living with roommates, she often climbed into bed with a girlfriend when a boyfriend wasn't spending the night. Even on the Bounty, she strung lights around her bunk, so her space was never pitch-black.
And yet over the course of the summer she had taken to an onerous task called flaking the chain. It required her to squeeze into a dark compartment at the front of the ship to organize the anchor chain as they pulled it back in. She would emerge wet with mud, seaweed and sweat, her face streaked with makeup, her blond hair a frizzy mess. She did it so much some of the crew asked her why. She wasn't the most experienced sailor, but she could be a good shipmate, she said. She could help the cook. She could flake the chain.
Now she bounced around the ship, checking on what she stowed. She called to Prokosch.
Is it hurricane-ready? Prokosch hollered.
Hurricane-ready! Christian yelled back.
Late that night, though, she checked the report from the Bounty's weather fax and looked at the picture of Sandy, the storm's building bands now covering most of the Atlantic. She showed it to Hewitt. This thing's huge, Hewitt said. One of the key parts of the captain's plan — watch where the storm went, go where it didn't — seemed impossible. The storm was going to be practically everywhere.
Where they were, south of Long Island about 100 miles off shore, Walbridge wrote Friday morning in an email to his wife, one would never know there was a raging storm out there. It is a beautiful morning. Sun shining. Not a cloud in the sky.
The storm, meanwhile, had grown to almost 2,000 miles wide and moved north at about 10 miles an hour. The ship moved south at about the same pace.
Near Chicago, Jim Salapatek tracked the paths on his computer. This will be a tough voyage, he posted.
On Facebook, and on related message boards, people wondered what the captain was doing out there.
Sandy looks like a mean one, Walbridge wrote in an email to Hansen, the owner, and Tracie Simonin, his assistant. Right now we are on a converging course. I am actually headed to the dangerous side of it. … We are running trying to stay on the east side of it. Bad side of it until we get some sea room. If we guess wrong we can run towards Newfoundland. If it turns and wants to tangle with us that means it is pretty far off shore and we can turn and go down the west side of it. I need to be sure it is well off shore before we can take advantage of the good weather for us. Right now I do not want to get between a hurricane and a hard spot. If you can send us updated track info (where it is projected to go) that would be great. We know where it is, I have to guess (along with the weather man) where it is going.
Simonin responded that she would send him updates. She asked him to do the same, so I don't have to worry about you all weekend.
Good morning, Miss Claudia, Walbridge wrote to his wife.
Saturday now. Oct. 27.
The Bounty was 250 miles east of the Chesapeake Bay. Sandy was no longer a discussion around the capstan or a picture on a printout. The ship entered the storm's ragged edge. Waves climbed to 15 to 20 feet. Winds surged to 40 miles an hour.
I am still waiting to see what the storm wants to do before we try and sneak around it. I do not want to get caught between it and the rocks if it did an unexpected turn to the west. We were able to set squares this morning — the biggest, lowest sails — so we will have a good ride. I think we will pass each other Sunday night or Monday morning.
If all goes well with the storm, he added, before signing off by telling her he loved her, we should be in St. Pete a day or two early.
Walbridge, thinking the Bounty still had satisfactory space from the storm's center, decided early in the afternoon to change course. Sufficient sea room, or distance from shore — the rocks, as he called it in the email to his wife — is important. Too much, though, can be a problem, especially in hazardous weather. A ship that founders hundreds of miles from land is a ship on her own. Maybe that was part of his thinking. If it was, he didn't tell the crew. So now, instead of mostly south and a little east, the Bounty shifted to mostly west and a little south. They were heading toward Hatteras Canyon, off the coast of North Carolina, where the crashing currents of the northbound Gulf Stream create notoriously dangerous conditions even without the water-whipping forces of a hurricane.
The message board second-guessing spiked:
… that they'd choose to take this risk is criminal.
Rogue wave machine right there.
He needs to be removed from his duties if they make it through tonight in one piece. The buoy off of Hatteras is reporting 24-foot seas right now with the center of the storm still south.
I worry that he has young people on there.
Jim Salapatek on Facebook tried to counter: Rest assured that the Bounty is safe and in very capable hands. Bounty's current voyage is a calculated decision … NOT AT ALL … irresponsible or with a lack of foresight as some have suggested. The fact of the matter is … A SHIP IS SAFER AT SEA THAN IN PORT!
The crew took down all sails except one, the lowest sail on the mast closest to the front of the ship, the fore course. It's the sail that tends to lift the bow — the most necessary sail to keep a ship stable in a storm.
In the engine room, members of the crew worked the bilge pumps hard. Usually they used one of two electric pumps. Now they were using both. The water level in the bilge wasn't critically high, but it wasn't going down, either. The pumps sucked, then stopped, sucked, then stopped. Walbridge came down to help, an indication to the boatswain that this was getting serious.
Barksdale, the engineer, hadn't been on the Bounty long enough to know if this was normal. He found it increasingly difficult, though, to remain in the engine room for longer than 15 minutes. He was seasick, as he had been on the journey from Boothbay to New London, but now much worse. The ship's lurching and rolling had dislodged one of the generators. Barksdale used a wrench to tighten its bolts. He also checked on the fuel filters for the generators. He had pledged to be vigilant because Simonin in New London had dropped off the wrong ones. They needed 20-micron filters. The filters they had gotten were 2-micron. This meant they might clog quicker.
Barksdale felt nauseated when he finished and went to the top deck to get some air. A big wave made the ship shudder, and Barksdale grabbed for something, jamming his right hand, rendering mostly useless two of his fingers. Still queasy, now injured, the engineer sat on the steps leading down to the ship's navigational cabin, or nav shack.
As evening approached, the equation was becoming clear: Even with both electric pumps working constantly, water was coming in faster than it was going out. It wasn't yet above the sole boards, the surface on which they stood to work, and it was hard to say exactly how high it was because the ship kept pitching back and forth, sending the water sloshing up the walls.
Walbridge asked the crew to start the backup hydraulic pumps. They hadn't used them all year long. It showed. The fittings were corroded.
Good evening Miss Tracie, he wrote in an email to the owner's assistant.
I think we are going to be in this for several days, the weather looks like even after the eye goes by it will linger for a couple days. We are just going to keep trying to go fast and squeeze by the storm and land as fast as we can.
All else is well, the captain concluded.
In the nav shack, Prokosch looked at the automatic indicator system, which shows ships in the area. Usually, there were as many as 15 on the screen, but now it was blank. The Bounty was out there alone.
This story is based on the testimonies of survivors in the Coast Guard hearings about the sinking of the Bounty and interviews with survivors, former crew members, family and friends of crew members, Coast Guard rescuers and tall ship captains and experts. Additional information comes from emails and Facebook messages, Coast Guard video, the National Hurricane Center, books about sailing and the age of sail, and hundreds of stories written about the Bounty over the last 50 years. In the text, quotes with no quote marks are recalled dialogue. Quote marks indicate words that were spoken to or heard by the reporter or previously published. Italics signify excerpts from written documents.
Click "VIEW" to read about sources for the story.view
In the dark, in the wet This scene is based on the testimony of the crew members during the Coast Guard’s Bounty hearings in February in Portsmouth, Va., plus additional interviews with six of them — in particular able seaman Adam Prokosch.
Hurricane Sandy Descriptions of the storm come from the National Hurricane Center, NASA.gov and the crew’s recollections.
first mate get bashed Deckhands Jessica Hewitt and Anna Sprague saw this.
sorry to his mother “I was upset I wouldn’t be able to go home to my mom and my little brother,” deckhand Josh Scornavacchi told me on the phone.
voice of the woman shrieking “I remember screaming, ‘Someone go help her!’ ” Sprague told me on the phone.
up in the sky, 500 feet high Interviews with the Coast Guard crew, including pilot Wes McIntosh, co-pilot Mike Myers and Hector Rios, Jesse Embert, Eric Laster and Joshua Adams.
169 Former Bounty shipwright Paul Garnett.
one of the most famous ships in the world “With all the ships through history that are famous, all the things they’ve done because of novels and because of movies, Bounty — other than Titanic — is the most recognizable name of a ship worldwide,” Garnett told me in Marlborough, Mass.
winched Boothbay Register and tallshipbounty.org.
one of the last “It was the last wooden, square-rigged ship in the U.S. that still sailed, really sailed,” former crew member Rebecca Twombly told me.
John Masefield’s poem “We heard it a thousand times,” captain Robin Walbridge’s sister, Lucille Walbridge Jensen, told me in Quincy, Mass.
best possible job “There is nothing better than being a captain of an 18th century square rigger in the 21st century,” Walbridge told former crew member Joey Orchulli in an interview Orchulli shared.
“There are a lot of times you sit there and you say, ‘I wonder why I do this,’ ” Walbridge said in 2010 on public radio in Duluth, Minn. “And then you’ll have a night, you’ll have that perfect sunset, you’ll have the perfect wind, you’ll have everything going just absolutely perfectly, and you’ll say, ‘I know why I do this.’ ”
the owner Robert Hansen, who founded the Islandaire air conditioning company in 1992, bought the Bounty in February of 2001, according to tallshipbounty.org.
belonged to Walbridge “Robin was the general contractor for rebuilding the Bounty,” former crew member Kenn Anderson Sr. told me. “Bob Hansen was the money.”
“It was clear it was Robin’s boat,” former crew member Peter Berkhout said.
hearing aids Able seaman Doug Faunt.
“truly believe” At or near the top of the list of Walbridge’s signature phrases. The first person who told me about it was former crew member Brooke Mitchell.
changed the world “This is the kind of ship that discovered America,” Walbridge said in 2010 on public radio in Upstate New York. “This is the kind of ship that Magellan went around the world in. This is what made the world, shaped the world ...”
tractor-trailers and space shuttles “This was the tractor-trailer of 200 years ago,” Walbridge said in August 2012 in an interview with the public television station in Belfast, Maine. “This was the space shuttle of 200 years ago.”
“learning …” Orchulli interview.
retirement Many sources, including crew members, his wife, his wife’s daughter, his sister.
“I think he was starting to think about it,” former Rose captain Richard Bailey told me in Newport, R.I.
“I don’t think he was ready to leave the Bounty quite yet,” St. Pete friend Joe Piacenza told me on the phone.
a possible successor “He was pretty much training John,” former crew member Morgan Diederichs told me in Boothbay Harbor.
“I think John would’ve ended up with the boat in two years,” Faunt told me in Oakland.
“And John was looking forward to it,” said Claudia McCann, Walbridge’s wife.
crazy Svendsen in the hearings.
notes They were written on his Bounty stationery, Claudia McCann told me. “It was his way of letting her know even though he was gone that he was there,” his stepdaughter, Shelly McCann, told me.
“extreme” Tall Ships America executive director Bert Rogers used that word when we talked in Newport.
inextricably linked “He was as much Bounty as Bounty was Bounty,” Pride of Baltimore II captain Jan Miles told me.
“Truly, Robin and Bounty were one,” former Bounty executive director Margaret Ramsey told me on the phone.
“It would be hard to imagine one without the other,” former crew member Jonny Slanga told me in Mystic, Conn.
wanted to do still “He was probably more than a bit obsessive about the whole thing,” Faunt told me. “He wanted the Bounty to be the first square-rigger ... to go through the Northwest Passage.”
“Simple as that,” former crew member Cory Crowner told me. “It hadn’t been done.”
“That frightened me,” Claudia McCann said. “I’m sure he was thinking what a great way to end his career.”
30,000 gallons Teredo worms had left the hull filled with holes. “I was kind of flabbergasted,” retired Boothbay Harbor Shipyard foreman Joe Jackimovicz said in the hearings.
$1.5 million Owner Robert Hansen said that was the number in 2002 in the New York Times.
even more In 2005, heading into the renovations, former Bounty executive director Margaret Ramsey told the Tampa Bay Times it was going to cost from $1.5 million to $2 million. Soundings magazine said the final tally was approximately $2 million.
taught himself “Self-taught pretty much everything,” former crew member Cliff Bredeson told me in Palm Harbor.
photography Many crew members and his family.
furniture, kayaks, jewelry boxes for his wife, his wife’s daughter, her daughter Claudia McCann, Shelly McCann, Tara McCann.
antique tools and trades Many former crew members.
apprenticeship “He did it the old-fashioned way — by passing on the skills in apprentice-type relationships,” Tall Ships America’s Bert Rogers told me. “In a way, seafaring is probably one of the last major areas of human enterprise that still requires apprenticeship.”
disparate interests The ship had a way of unscattering his scattered interests. “You can’t run a ship by computer,” TSA’s Rogers said. “You’ve got to run it with your hands. You’ve got to run it with your mind. … It challenges you in a whole-person kind of way.” For Walbridge, thought former crew member Matt Glenn, it was the crux of the ship’s appeal. “I think it was something to do with the way it combined so many disciplines,” he told me in Portsmouth, N.H.
started with questions Many sources — first, though, former crew members Jonny Slanga and Lee Phelps.
“Now, Lee …” Phelps. He told me a story in Mystic, Conn., about how once when the Bounty was going through the Panama Canal he got up in the rigging and did some stunts. Walbridge clearly was displeased but didn’t yell.
book stores Many crew members and former crew members.
wanted to be there “For Robin, that was the litmus test,” former crew member Kenn Anderson Sr. told me.
taught those with less “I learned it by doing it from the people who’d been there longer than me,” former crew member Rebecca Twombly said. “I learned from everybody who knew more than me. It wasn’t long before there were people on board who knew less than me. And I was able to teach them.” Said deckhand Jessica Hewitt in the hearings: “It’s one of the reasons that brought me to the Bounty.”
deckhands to become able seamen “He would call us all the future captains of America,” third mate Dan Cleveland said in the hearings. It was one of his favorite phrases. It’s hard to talk to a former Bounty crew member without hearing it.
things they hadn’t been In 2008, for instance, former crew member Cory Crowner worked as a graphic designer and played in a band. The lifestyle wasn’t headed in a great direction, he thought, so he joined the Bounty as a deckhand. “When I came on the boat, I was troubled,” he told me. By 2010, he was a mate, working closely with the captain, whom he considered a mentor. “Bounty was the tool,” he said, “that Robin used to elevate kids into adults and sailors into captains.”
in Boothbay Crew members in the hearings.
rotted wood The rot was found within planks and frames on both sides of the ship. “I remember Robin being upset because of how new the frames were,” Cleveland said.
how it looked “Dry, almost charred-looking,” Todd Kosakowski from the shipyard said in the hearings.
tours Nov. 10 and 11 Bounty, said a flyer, called St. Petersburg her home for many years. Come out and see us as she returns for ONE weekend only!!!
decision “Robin would always say, ‘Ships and crews rot in port,’ ” Slanga said.
Prokosch and other crew Cleveland, able seaman Doug Faunt, deckhands Drew Salapatek and Mark Warner.
“don’t wear gloves” Able seaman Adam Prokosch was working on the Lady Washington in 2007, and the quote was in The Western Front, the newspaper of Western Washington University.
looking into it Prokosch told me he brought it up with the engineer, the second mate and the captain. The second mate told him Walbridge was thinking about it. Walbridge “told me he felt it was operating fully functionally,” first mate John Svendsen said.
built in 1960 Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and Lunenburg, Then and Now, by Brian Cuthbertson.
because of a story “It is a powerful story,” Maine Maritime Academy professor and Tall Ships Down author Dan Parrott told me in Blue Hill, Maine. “I mean, here we are 200 years after the mutiny on the Bounty, and everybody knows that story. I mean, how many other things happened 200 years ago that are so widely recognized by the public?”
story of her own “We were on the Bounty in St. Petersburg — Beach Drive was at the other end of the marina,” former Bounty shipwright Paul Garnett told me in Marlborough, Mass. “And we would see people driving every day that had no idea the Bounty was there, and they were driving down the street, and all of the sudden the brakes would go on. And we would see people parking their cars against the sidewalk and getting out and taking pictures. She attracted and captivated everybody that ever stepped aboard her. There was a magic about her.”
British Navy’s original plans MGM got the plans from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, according to Ralph Getson at the museum in Lunenburg.
not a prop “This is not a movie prop,” Garnett said. “She was never built as a movie stage, as some sort of a fake ship that they would take 300 feet out into the harbor and film some scenes and then get her back into the dock before she sunk.”
craftsmen The first three-masted, full-rigged ship built in Lunenburg since the 1880s, she was handcrafted at the Smith and Rhuland Shipyard.
eased into the water down rails Approximately 400 tons of ship had to be lifted by the wedges driven every four inches for some 90 feet, according to an account from the museum in Lunenburg.
cow fat and fish oil Tallow and raw cod oil, according to the account from the museum.
7,327 miles Hugh Boyd, former boss of the Bounty exhibit in St. Pete, provided an array of materials that were helpful, including the ship’s handwritten log from that first, 33-day transit.
a copperplate … looked like a copperplate out of Cook’s Voyages, Luis Marden of National Geographic wrote in the April 1962 issue.
publicity tour The Bounty sailed to Hawaii, California, Vancouver and Europe, and then back to North America, where in 1964 and ‘65 she was stationed at the World’s Fair in New York.
sedentary life in St. Pete The city was the Bounty’s permanent home from 1965 to 1986. From the Tampa Bay Times in 2003: Its stay was fairly quiet. Moored in Vinoy Basin on the Pier approach, it occasionally went to sea ...
“marine-historical attraction” Promotional materials and postcards for MGM’s “Bounty Exhibit” pitched the ship as such.
downtown draw About 200,000 tourists visited the ship every year, according to the Tampa Bay Times in 1972.
came to think of the Bounty as their own Tampa Bay Times in 2002: considered by many to be St. Petersburg’s own tall ship.
Ted Turner Acquired the Bounty in March 1986 by buying MGM.
gave her for a tax break to Fall River Tom Murray, one of the leaders of the chamber of commerce group that brought the Bounty to Fall River, Mass., and local news reports.
wanted her to sail “We will make the Bounty not only a top-notch tourist attraction but also an educational tool and a ship that can carry the message about what Fall River can accomplish and hopefully attract new business and industry to our area when the Bounty visits other ports of call,” Murray told Fall River’s Herald News in 1993.
“The more we sailed her, the more we got to know her,” said Phil Roderick, another of the leaders of the Fall River chamber of commerce group.
alter the image The plan, according to Murray: “Put the name on its stern and be our Goodyear Blimp and promote the city.”
““It helped people dream,” the Rev. Robert Lawrence told me when we met at the city’s marine museum. “We need our dreams.”
hired Walbridge “He had good credentials,” Murray said, “and he agreed to work for what we could afford.” Murray said at that time it was something like $35,000 a year.
too much A local bank put up a $250,000 initial line of credit before the ship sailed from Miami to Fall River. “We’d gone through half of that,” Murray said, “and the ship wasn’t even here yet.”
“A tall ship requires a lot of working capital, which we were really never able to do,” Fall River banker Jim Carey said.
“We could not raise serious dollars,” Murray said.
sinking at her dock A fire truck from the city’s fire department had to show up with its pumps, according to local news reports, tallshipbounty.org, Murray and others in Fall River.
Hansen bought In a story in Newsday in March 2001, owner Robert Hansen wouldn’t say what he paid, only that it was less than the asking price of $1,533,000.
hull swaddled A plastic “diaper” had to be used, according to the Tampa Bay Times in 2003.
towed by a tug to Boothbay According to tallshipbounty.org.
Hansen’s millions He wasn’t averse to recoup some of his investment. The Bounty was pretty much always for sale. An ad on SuperYachts.com in 2010 asked for $4.9 million.
got better “It’s in the best shape it’s been since the 1970s,” Walbridge told the Tampa Bay Times in 2003. That was before the second set of major repairs. Dan Moreland, the captain of the Picton Castle, saw the Bounty in 2012. “The ship looked better than I’d ever seen her,” he said in the hearings. Richard Bailey, the former captain of the Rose, thought the crew was getting better as well. “I thought the professionalism was up,” he said.
she was the star “She’s the star of the show, pretty much,” former crew member Morgan Diederichs told me in Boothbay Harbor.
in movies In addition to her role in Mutiny on the Bounty, the ship appeared in Yellowbeard in 1983, Treasure Island in 1990, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie in 2004, a porn called Pirates in 2005 and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest in 2006.
“moored attraction vessel” It’s the Coast Guard’s term for a ship that takes on passengers for pay only when it’s secured at a dock. It means a ship is essentially a floating exhibit or museum.
minor oversight “Most in our fleet are inspected,” Tall Ship America’s Bert Rogers said. “Most of our vessels undergo a lot more scrutiny than Bounty ever had to. Bounty really only had to satisfy herself, her captain and her owner. Nobody else was really looking.”
go, go, go “The Bounty was traveling to keep itself going,” former crew member Megan Glenn told me in Portsmouth, N.H.
eclectic A third of a typical crew is trying to get into the maritime business, a third is doing it as a summer job, and a third is trying to figure out what to do, Walbridge said on the Destination Maine radio show. “A little petri dish floating on the ocean,” former crew member Brooke Mitchell said.
sought something Whatever ostensible purpose they served in the past, sailing ships are vehicles of human experience and dreams, Parrott wrote in Tall Ships Down.
“Here’s a machine that has to capture the superhuman powers of the wind and use the seas and the currents rather than just calling down to the engine room,” former Eagle captain Ernie Cummings told me in Fall River. “You have to use nature to get from Point A to Point B.”
“Life is really pretty dull,” former crew member Steve Schonwald told me on the phone. “It’s all homogenized today, very vanilla, Disney-sanitized ‘adventure.’ ”
Sailing a ship, meanwhile, TSA’s Rogers told me, is “not routine and it’s not boring and it’s not casual; it’s serious. Frankly, it’s a more satisfying way to live than the humdrum routine of life ashore.”
I had lost my job and my marriage when I saw Bounty for the first time, former crew member Robin Beth Schaer wrote in an essay for Paris Review. I wanted to stowaway, cast off, and leave the ruins of my life behind — and Bounty let me.
holy moments Motoring into or out of a port for a festival? No. “Robin hated that,” former crew member Jonny Slanga said. He told me about a time the ship left Gloucester, Mass., “light-wind day, we set all of our sail and crept out, completely silent.” Many former crew members told me Walbridge loved reading about age-of-sail maneuvers, like warping or boxhauling, and then using the Bounty to try them. “Robin was fascinated with recovering that knowledge,” Kenn Anderson Sr. said. “If we got somewhere with some time to spare, he would say, ‘We’re going to play with the ship.’ ”
whaley “The whale had been following us for a few days,” former crew member Rebecca Twombly said.
bioluminescence “Gorgeous, glowing water,” former crew member Brooke Mitchell said.
woke up their counterparts “Just whisper,” deckhand Anna Sprague told me.
coffee in the pot The image comes from a video Slanga made.
middle of the Atlantic Former crew members.
“major electronic failure” “Robin was the one who taught most people on board celestial navigation,” former crew member Katie DePrato told me. “He would say we had a malfunction with our GPS and things like that. He would just shut them down.”
self-affirming “We used the sun and the stars to determine where we were,” former crew member Sam Imes told me.
“The more of the world I saw, the bigger it became,” Crowner said. “The more you see, the more you realize you haven’t seen anything.”
evening of Oct. 23 Harbor master Barbara Neff.
Hanafin’s Owner Dio Hanafin, bartender Amanda Sherer, regular Karl Kohler.
camaraderie “Incredibly cool people,” Sherer told me.
Green Spot Sherer.
stuck out “A ball of happy energy,” Sherer said. “She was the light,” Hanafin said. “The life and the soul of the party.”
It’s something people in Boothbay Harbor noticed as well. “She was a piece of work, a beautiful, small blonde,” said Paul Johnson, the co-owner of Red Cup coffee. “I was completely entranced by her,” resident Drew Hastings said. “For one thing she looked you right in your eyes. She just, she almost just — she enforced her will, her personality. When she was talking to you, you felt like you were the only person in the whole entire room. She was just, like, a ray of light. … And those blue eyes of hers — she just changed everything about your day. She was that powerful.”
“A magnetic personality,” her friend Michelle Rea Wilton told me.
“Very strong, incredibly bright, fun, open, happy — young and vivacious and ready to face the world,” said Kimberly Wilkins, who lived with her in California when they were in their 20s.
Wilmington May 15 tweet: My new home 4 a few yrs!
dropped her off Her mother Dina Christian.
nails Former crew member Halee Grimes.
only child “I could only have her,” Dina Christian told me.
“She was definitely an only child,” Wilton said. “She had such confidence, the way her parents held her up and pushed her.”
“Their only daughter,” Wilkins said. “Their only baby.”
doll company Cheerleader Doll Company. “We helped her with the dolls in our apartment,” Wilkins said. “Her mom made the outfits. We put the dresses on.” It enjoyed early success — so much that Mattel sued Christian for copyright infringement, sparking seven years of back-and-forth suits at the end of which her company was all but dormant but she had won close to $1 million in a judgment against her own attorney.
near the beach “You could see the beach from her bedroom,” said childhood friend Wendy Sellens, who lived with her in Hermosa Beach.
Fletcher Christian “Well,” she said in an interview with piratesofhalifax.com, “my great-great grandfather came over from the Isle of Man, which is where the Christians are from, England, in 1870, and so two times removed from him, great-great grandfather, was one of Fletcher’s two children, which one we don’t know for sure — but, yeah, it’s been a story all my life, and it’s been a wonderful thing to grow up with.”
sang Joe’s Band and Mad Tea Party, according to friends and stories from the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, CNN.com and easyreadernews.com.
Karaoke, too: “She won a karaoke machine in Palm Springs in a contest in college,” Wilton said, “and she brought it back to our apartment and used it a lot.”
“Great little set of pipes,” Wilkins said.
Atari “She played a lot of Asteroids,” Sellens said.
roller skated on the hardwood floors Sellens.
drank “She would sit around our apartment and drink wine,” Wilkins said.
mostly wine “Red,” Wilton said.
sometimes too much “She loved to party,” Wilton said.
dated a lot “Claudene dated a lot of guys,” ex-boyfriend Brad Leggett told me.
“Definitely,” Wilton said.
nocturnal journal keeper Friends. Dina Christian.
medication “She’d go on and off,” Wilton said. It “made her feel … boring.”
lost her house A story on Christian in 2011 in the Sequoya County Times in Oklahoma called her one of the nation’s first victims of the sub-prime housing collapse.
moved in with her parents “I was humiliated and ashamed,” she told Sequoya County Times reporter Mark Evans. “I went back to Alaska after 19 years and felt like I had failed.”
rural Oklahoma “People are really nice here,” Christian told Evans. “I don’t have to fake anything.”
volunteered “Cheerful, energetic, just a pleasant person to be around,” sheriff Ron Lockhart told me. Said Sherrel Henry, the sheriff’s secretary: “I don’t think I ever heard anything negative out of her at all.”
sister to her mother “Like sisters,” Wilton said.
mother to her father “She mothered him,” Wilton said. These last few years I had retired from the business to take care of my ill father, she wrote in 2009 on tradinglot.net.
song She started writing her parents a song saying she knew they would always love her. She didn’t finish it. She emailed the song to Evans as a sound file. Evans forwarded it to me.
felt landlocked Dina Christian.
anything Deckhand Anna Sprague.
your hip mom Ibid.
didn’t expect her to last “I thought maybe she wasn’t going to stick with it,” able seaman Adam Prokosch said.
fake nails “The ship got them off,” Grimes said.
texted a friend Wilton.
beautiful the sky She told ship visitors Dave Sugrue Jr. and Sr.
tour “I sailed on the original trip to Tahiti,” Roy Boutilier of New Brunswick told me. “Claudene absolutely loved the Bounty. She was in love with the Bounty more than anybody I knew. So proud to be on board. So proud.”
“It’s so good to see them, and I just really hope the rest of our crew understand it, because it’s so important to me,” Christian told the Chronicle Herald of Halifax. “And maybe it is because I’m so, so attached to the Bounty, because I’m Claudene Christian.”
“That was a big deal to her,” Dina Christian said. “That connection.”
pick her up “We really, really missed her,” Dina Christian said. “We wanted to go get her so many times.”
almost let them “She was thinking about getting off and going home,” Sprague said. Said former crew member Morgan Diederichs: “She had told me that she had some family stuff going on and she might have to go home, but then she’s like, ‘It’ll be okay.’ ”
sticking it out Said Sprague: “She said, ‘Anna, we made it, we made it to the end. Isn’t that awesome?’ ”
handle it “She didn’t know how she was going to do when she went home,” Diederichs said. “Her self-esteem, her self issues, she didn’t know if she’d be comfortable going home. She wouldn’t feel, or have a purpose — you know, the boat was kind of her purpose.” This, thought Diederichs and Prokosch, was what she found so comforting on the Bounty. She had a routine. And she was never alone.
“That was her personality,” Leggett said. “She needed to be around people.”
fiddling with her phone Deckhand Jessica Hewitt.
validation “I think it was kind of like an acceptance,” Diederichs said. “Almost like it was validating her hard work,” Prokosch said.
message to her mother The text: Good news. I’m definitely going to be getting paid! :) only $100 a week just like most the other crew, but hey, it’s something & it will definitely cover my personal incidentals. So that’s good huh?! I’m Filling out the paperwork now :) so by the time I get down south, I should have a couple weeks worth. I hope :)
passengers Barbara Neff, the New London harbor master; Susan Tamulevich, the director of the local maritime museum; and Dave Sugrue Sr. and Jr.
“They all seemed really happy and proud to be on that particular ship,” Tamulevich said in New London. “You got the feeling that they were doing exactly what they wanted to do. … Particularly Claudene.”
“Claudene was, oh God, she was bigger than life,” Sugrue Sr. said.
hands to explain Ibid.
propel the Bounty “He said he could get the wind and go around it instead of fighting it,” Neff said.
knew what he was talking about “It was very clear that you’re talking to the captain of the ship,” Sugrue Sr. said.
wife called Claudia McCann had heard about Sandy “even in Italy,” and was worried, she told me. “He told me about Newfoundland. I thought that was perfect.”
Walbridge “His response,” first mate John Svendsen said in the hearings, “was he wanted to focus on making the ship ready for the storm and letting the crew get as much rest as possible. … His feeling was it was time to get underway.”
hearing “Robin said, ‘I know there’s many of you getting text and phone messages from your family about the weather out there,’ ” able seaman Doug Faunt told me in Oakland. “I definitely remember clearly that Robin said that people may have been getting calls from their families,” cook Jessica Black said in the hearings.
experience “He told us about his experiences in hurricanes,” engineer Chris Barksdale said.
“He talked about weather patterns and his experience in heavy weather,” boatswain Laura Groves said.
“He said he used to do hurricane relief in the Gulf of Mexico,” deckhand John Daniel Jones said.
chess Comes up lots with crew members. “He’d play half the crew, three or four of us at a time, in chess, and he’d look at all the chess boards and he’d always win, able seaman Adam Prokosch told me. “He would checkmate you if you didn’t think 10 moves ahead.”
About the meeting, Prokosch said, “He said, ‘I’m not a gambling man, I’m not a risk-taker, I’m thinking this through like a game of chess.’ I’m moving the boat like this, like I’m moving pieces, and here’s how I see us getting through this.”
south and east Different members of the crew heard different things here. They were going to head south and east — they all heard that — but were they going to head more south or more east?
opposite way Crew members in the hearings. What deckhand Anna Sprague remembered him saying: “We’re going to try to avoid it.”
safer at sea Deckhand Josh Scornavacchi on what Walbridge said: “It’s safer at sea than in port.”
“What Robin said,” deckhand Mark Warner said, “was if you just leave the vessel moored to the pier, and you’re taking a chance whether the hurricane’s going to come basically destroy your vessel, you’re taking risks as far as people manning the vessel even shoreside as well.”
capstan meetings “That’s one of the few times you’d hear him talk a lot,” former crew member Halee Grimes said.
no time “It was just, ‘Here’s the plan ...’ ” deckhand Jessica Hewitt said.
won’t hold it against you Barksdale on what he said: “I won’t hold it against you.” What Sprague remembers: “No hard feelings.”
enough time One of the things that went through Faunt’s mind: “If people want to get off, this is pretty sudden ...”
looked at the crew with more “I know I looked around, definitely, to see what other people’s expressions were,” Jones said. “Nobody looked frightened.”
uncomfortable What was going through Cleveland’s mind: “I guess we’re going to be wet, cold and miserable for three days.”
learn “As a captain learning from the people around me,” Prokosch said, “I wanted to see how Robin planned the storm out. It was going to be part of my education experience.”
chain of command Svendsen said he didn’t say anything in front of the crew “because of the respect for chain of command.”
trusted Crew members in the hearings, including second mate Matt Sanders, Barksdale, Hewitt and Prokosch, and former crew members who told me they would’ve sailed with him, too. “I would sail with him again,” former crew member Sam Imes said.
the choice Dan Parrott, professor at Maine Maritime Academy, author of Tall Ships Down, in Blue Hill, Maine: “This is where it’s actually very interesting. We’ve got people, educated people, smart people, some experienced, some not. We’re looking at human nature here. I — and it’s not like years ago where if you didn’t do your duty there’d be serious ramifications — I mean, they could walk off without any real ramification, legal or any of that nature. They weren’t going to be flogged or anything like that. So I’m speculating here, one, they had immense respect for Robin and Captain Walbridge would not take us out here if it were unsafe. And so that would explain a great deal of it, I think — he wouldn’t do this if it were unsafe — so tremendous faith and of course we want to have faith in our leaders. And there are few leaders like a ship captain. I think also you could have a certain amount of groupthink going on — ‘Well I don’t want to be the one to walk off. I don’t want to be the one to leave and these are my friends.’ And by all reports it was a happy ship. It was a happy community on board. So that exerts a powerful pull. You belong someplace, you have an important role even as the lowest deckhand. You’re in a community, your shipmates are also friends, they need you and that feeling of, that we’re going to go through this together, I think would be potent. I think professionally speaking if one of the officers had really deep reservations about Robin’s decision, so maybe there wasn’t complete confidence in the wisdom of this decision, it’s just very hard to leave your post, professionally speaking. And I would say for all of them I’m going to guess that none of them had ever done that before. What we usually do is stay with the vessel and move forward so to walk off would have been really an exceptional thing to do even if you had reservations. None of us have a long track record of walking off of ships because if you do you end up doing something else for a living. But this case does highlight that there could be one time in your career where that is actually the right thing to do.”
nobody got off “I didn’t question his plan at the dock,” Cleveland said in the hearings.
“I didn’t consider leaving the vessel,” Warner said.
“I kind of felt there was an obligation on my part to my shipmates,” Barksdale said.
“I just figured it would be something I would remember because it wouldn’t be a normal ride,” Jones said.
hurry “Shortly after the meeting,” deckhand Drew Salapatek said.
State Street “I went down to at least say goodbye,” Sherer said. “The ship was passing the lighthouse, within eye shot, but not within shouting shot.” Why didn’t she get on? “Depends on the energy of the day. You know what I mean?”
Long Island The track of the ship here and elsewhere comes from the Bounty’s Facebook page and sailwx.info.
chili Former cook Morgan Diederichs had left from New London — previously planned — but she made chili before, leaving the new cook, Jessica Black, with one less thing to do. Black said in the hearings it was simmering on the stove.
deckhand texted Jessica Hewitt.
Jim Salapatek posted updates Tracie Simonin said so in the hearings. Jim Salapatek confirmed it to me. The Bounty’s Facebook no longer exists. Salapatek gave me the text and images of his updates.
Hewitt called “I usually don’t say goodbyes,” she said. “This time I wanted to say some things to people.”
agitated Dina Christian.
Facebook Messages collected by easyreadernews.com.
jacklines Crew members in the hearings.
twirled her hair That detail appeared in Matt White’s Los Angeles magazine story on Christian. Dina Christian confirmed it.
climbed into bed “She would crawl in bed with me at night if her boyfriend wasn’t sleeping over,” Wendy Sellens told me. “She did not like being alone.”
flaking the chain I heard about Christian flaking the chain from a variety of former crew members, including Jonny Slanga, Lee Phelps and Halee Grimes. “I know at some point it made her feel really strong,” Grimes said.
weather fax Hewitt.
email to his wife Claudia McCann gave me his emails.
Sandy National Hurricane Center. NASA.gov.
Walbridge wrote His emails to Hansen and Simonin are in the Christians’ lawsuit.
Simonin responded Ibid.
change course “Robin made that decision,” first mate John Svendsen said in the hearings. Added third mate Dan Cleveland: “The idea behind it was we were still far enough away from the center of the storm.” There’s no consensus on the exact time the decision was made. Estimates range from late morning to the middle of the afternoon.
ship on her own There’s no “mile marker,” according to the Coast Guard, where a rescue becomes impossible, but limits exist due to the range and fuel capabilities of helicopters and ships.
Gulf Stream Kathryn Miles in her piece for Outside: … even on a good day, the Gulf Stream wreaks havoc on conditions there, changing already formidable swells into crashing surf.
all sails except one We’d reefed the main topsail, able seaman Doug Faunt wrote in an email. “Saturday,” deckhand Mark Warner said in the hearings, “we sent down the royal yard.”
wasn’t going down Deckhand Drew Salapatek.
pumps sucked, then stopped Deckhand John Daniel Jones.
Walbridge came down Boatswain Laura Groves.
dislodged one of the generators Engineer Chris Barksdale.
clear Saturday night, Cleveland said, is when it “became very apparent. We were not staying ahead of the water.”
water “If the water’s coming in faster than you’re getting it out,” said Dan Moreland, the captain of the Picton Castle, “you’re sinking.”
hadn’t used Most of the crew had never seen them used. “I was told they were of lower capacity,” Faunt said. “I had seen the hydraulic pumps used only twice in five years.”
corroded Seized up, according to Jones and others: “The fittings were corroded and they had to be cleaned before they could work,” said Groves, who saw Walbridge and Salapatek trying to clean them.
Good evening Jim Salapatek posted that email.
as many as 15 Prokosch.