The ship groaned and heaved in the dark in Hurricane Sandy's rain and wind. Able seaman Adam Prokosch let go of the helm on the sinking ship, slipping into the white tops of towering waves. He kicked and paddled through the grinding pain of his separated shoulder and the broken bones in his back. He strained in his bulky blood-orange survival suit to get away from this rolling ship, fleeing the miles of rigging, dodging her heavy masts and sharp spars rising and slamming down. A heavy wooden grating fell from the ship and struck his head with a crack. He choked on ocean and gasped for breath.
Not four full days before, the well-known replica of the old HMS Bounty had been tied to a dock in New London, Conn., her schedule calling for a trip to St. Petersburg for tours at the Pier. Veteran captain Robin Walbridge, who lived in St. Petersburg, and whose wife was waiting, wanted to go despite the threat of the massive storm. He gave the 15 members of his crew the unusual option to get off. None did.
That was a Thursday evening, late last October, and Prokosch chose to go for the same reasons he had gotten on the ship in the first place. Because he was an aspiring captain. Because he wanted to learn from those he respected. Because he yearned for authentic experiences, lessons learned from decisions made. Now it was before dawn on Monday, Oct. 29, and they were 90 miles off the North Carolina coast, each of the tight-knit crew thrust into individual struggles, fighting for their lives.
Josh Scornavacchi, a deckhand and Prokosch's good friend, had called his mother leaving New London and attempted to ease her worries by promising her he wouldn't die. Now in the water he could feel the suction of the ship, pulling him closer, holding him under, until he had to breathe, and so he inhaled salt water laced with diesel fuel. He fought his way to the surface. His heart hammered. He had a rock-climbing harness over his suit, to which he had clipped a small, rubber bag with water, food and a flashlight. He felt something from the rigging wrap around the bag, and it wrenched him under until his body fell slack. He thought about his little brother. He thought about his mother. He was so, so sorry.
Drew Salapatek and Jessica Hewitt, boyfriend and girlfriend, with their harnesses roped together by a 3-foot lanyard – if the ship goes down, don't lose me, she had told him – had started swimming clear of the ship on their backs. Something crashed between them, and dragged them down. They were stuck underwater because they were stuck to each other. Hewitt broke a molar trying to bite off her harness. Salapatek wiggled out of his, pushing it from his waist to his feet, slipping loose and shooting up.
John Svendsen, the earnest first mate, who had convinced Prokosch to come aboard in March, who had questioned the captain's decision but not in front of the crew, who had just made a hasty radio call to the Coast Guard's plane – We're abandoning ship – scrambled off the slick, slanted deck, onto a mast lying almost horizontal on the turbulent water. He looked back at the ship, a spectral silhouette against the dark gray sky, and saw Walbridge, wearing a survival suit and a life jacket, walking toward the rear of the deck. Svendsen, who had been a deep sea diver in Hawaii, leapt from the mast and swam toward a raft. A spar from above slashed at the surface. He yelled and threw up his hands, trying to protect his face, and disappeared under. The Bounty reared up, the spar breaching the surface, Svendsen now straddling it, and then the ship rolled, pulling him back under, gone.
Prokosch was alone. He saw the man-overboard barrel, a plastic trash can filled with canned food, bottled water, flares and a beacon with a strobe. Fearing it might still be attached to the ship he let it slosh past. He floated on his back, away from the ship but surrounded by the storm, for all he knew the only one alive, focusing on his breathing. One wave at a time.
In Elizabeth City, N.C., the phone rang at the Coast Guard's airbase. They're in the water, Wes McIntosh, the pilot of the C-130 flying over the Bounty, said to Jane Peña, a helicopter co-pilot. The plan had been to wait for daylight. That's what Walbridge had wanted. It was better, too, for the Coast Guard. Darkness is dangerous, and the deteriorating weather conditions meant that sending a helicopter – stout, but less sturdy than a C-130 – would stretch the limits of what the agency considered acceptable risk. But life and death is the ultimate variable.
The plan now?
A second C-130, headed to relieve the first plane now low on fuel, raced down the runway.
Peña, pilot Steve Cerveny and two other crew members ran to their helicopter on the tarmac. A second helicopter crew hurried to the base.
Forging into Sandy's heavy bands of clouds and winds, Cerveny wore night vision goggles, or NVGs, turning what he saw into shades of green and black. He listened to the assault of the rain on his windshield. He saw blackness. Only the instruments told him where he was. He turned on the spotlight. It flashed back the thick haze of the inside of a cloud. When the screens in the helicopter told him they were "feet wet," meaning they were over open ocean, he started his descent. He asked the flight mechanic to tell him when he saw water. The mechanic slid open the side door. Cerveny lowered the helicopter, to 1,000 feet, to 700, out of the clouds, to 500, 400, 300 …
I see the water, the mechanic said.
The waves bounded big and fast, surging in all directions. Violent gusts of wind lopped off their tops, lending the scene on NVGs a ghostly green vapor. The helicopter flew toward the Bounty, pushed by a ferocious tail wind, but it was still 20 minutes away.
Survival suits, also known as immersion suits, are designed to protect people from losing body heat in cold water. Even in the relatively warm Gulf Stream, which has temperatures in the mid-70s in October where the Bounty sank, a person could still suffer hypothermia.
Scornavacchi burst above the surface, coughing up salt water. He was dead, and then he wasn't – a divine reprieve, he believed. His boots had been sucked off and knocked around loose and heavy in the bottom of his waterlogged suit. It made swimming even harder in the giant, relentless waves. He grabbed at pieces of debris, wood, scattered emergency supplies and extra survival suits, the current ripping them away. He swam toward a cluster of life jackets some of the crew had tied together. He saw the cook on the other side of the life jackets, but then the hefty mizzenmast smacked the water between them and Scornavacchi couldn't see the cook anymore. He looked for something to hold onto to keep his face above the waves. He grabbed the mast and breathed, but now it bucked up again, hauling him high into the air. He jumped.
Doug Faunt, the oldest member of the crew, found the canister of an unopened raft. He yanked on the cord to inflate it. Not enough strength. He became afraid it still was attached to the ship and let go. He found a life ring. Maybe this, too, he thought, was still attached. He let go. He found another raft. He had swallowed so much salt water he started to vomit. He looked up near the clouds and saw the lights of the Coast Guard's C-130. They'll find me, he thought, if I just hold on.
Six more crew members, somehow, found their way to the raft, orange and covered with a canopy. They tried to use the flimsy rope ladder to the zippered doorway but couldn't do it. Waves crashed over them. They teamed up to give each other boosts from the water and inside. In this raft equipped for 25, there were seven of them – Faunt; Matt Sanders, the second mate; Jessica Black, the cook; Scornavacchi and fellow deckhands Mark Warner, Anna Sprague and John Daniel Jones – and they spread out, attempting to distribute their weight, lying flat on their backs.
Jones unzipped his suit long enough to check his watch. It was 5 a.m.
Sanders had brought an emergency position indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB, which meant the Coast Guard would find them, eventually.
Do you think everybody made it? somebody asked.
Yes, Sanders said. Everybody's alive.
They knew there was no way he could know that and was trying to bolster their spirits. Waves jostled the raft, tossing them from side to side.
Scornavacchi started singing softly, a Gaelic sea shanty, the Mingulay Boat Song. Two others joined in. The next four followed. They sang about windy weather and heading home.
Sprague thought about the woman's voice she had heard near the ship as she swam away. Help! Help! I'm caught! Sprague couldn't have gone back. Nobody could have gone back. The waves. The spars and the rigging. The reaching and the yanking.
Was it Laura Groves, the boatswain?
Was it Jessica Hewitt, the deckhand with Salapatek?
Or was it deckhand Claudene Christian?
Sprague couldn't help but wonder.
Over by a second raft, not far from the first but obscured by so many waves, six more crew members held onto each other. They boosted and pushed, too, one by one, until five were in – all except Prokosch. His shoulder made it painful for him to reach above his head. His back throbbed. He clipped his harness to the rope ringing the raft. He rested like that for a bit. He watched the C-130. He also saw the waves ripping the rope off the raft, stitch by stitch. He decided he had to get inside no matter how badly it hurt. Hands pulled him up. The pain was close to unbearable, but now he was with the others. Dan Cleveland, the third mate. Chris Barksdale, the engineer. Salapatek, who had slid out of his harness.
And Hewitt. Still attached to her harness was the 3-foot lanyard with which she had tied herself to her boyfriend. Still attached to the lanyard was Salapatek's harness. She got free because he got free.
But Christian wasn't in the raft.
The six who had gotten in passed around the survival provisions. Water. Food. Flares. Waves splashed through the seams of the door, water pooling a foot deep. They couldn't find a bailer, so they drained Groves' water bottle. They all took sips, water from the Bounty, they said, a small way of saying goodbye. Cleveland held an EPIRB out the door when he could see the C-130. For a while, he could see another raft, too. He called to it, but the storm was too loud, and he watched the raft drift away.
Maybe the other 10 members of the crew were in that raft, Prokosch hoped, but he couldn't imagine how all 16 of them could have made it away from the Bounty alive. He kept the thought to himself.
The Coast Guard's second C-130 relieved the first, battling the same violent updrafts and downdrafts, the plane's automatic sensors sending out sing-song warnings – Altitude! Altitude! – even occasionally alerting them that it was time to engage their landing gear. Peyton Russell, the pilot, flew over the Bounty, looking down through his NVGs.
Telephone poles in the middle of the ocean, he thought, eyeing the masts.
The crew of the first plane had painted a picture of what else he would see. The two Coast Guard rafts had solid lights. The ship's two rafts had blinking lights. But there was a third blinking light, too, separated from the others. The crew of the first plane couldn't tell what it was. Now Russell saw it, already three-quarters of a mile away from the ship. He flew to it and radioed the pilot of the helicopter nearing the scene.
I think this is where you need to come first, Russell said.
Cerveny plugged the position into his helicopter's computer and flew straight there. Blink. Blink. Blink. The helicopter's altimeter read 80 feet, 60, 70, 50, evidence of the undulations of the water below. Cerveny, his helicopter's nose pointed into the wind, hovered lower. Sixty. Fifty. Mike Lufkin, the flight mechanic, slid open the door. He and Randy Haba, the rescue swimmer, looked down at the blinking. Cerveny turned on the spotlight. A survival suit. The person in it waved.
Haba, dressed in his orange full-body suit, strapped on his fins, gloves, helmet, snorkel and mask, and Lufkin quickly cabled him down. The spotlight created a bright, 10-foot circle on the surface, and Haba swam as hard as he could. He reached the person in the suit. A wave wrenched him away. He swam back and reached again. Another wave. Reaching for him a third time, he grabbed the man and held on.
Who had been bashed by the spar.
Who had found the man-overboard barrel that Prokosch had passed up. Who had taken its beacon with a strobe.
Are you alone? Haba asked him.
He was alone.
Are you hurt?
Svendsen said he felt sick from swallowing salt water. He said he might have broken his hand.
Haba side-stroked back to the cable, carrying Svendsen alongside. He used a large, padded sling to attach them chest to chest. Svendsen's face was pale except for reddening bruises and abrasions. Lufkin lugged them into the helicopter, Svendsen weighed down by the water that had seeped into his suit. Peña, the co-pilot, who was keeping the count of the survivors, noted the rescue of Svendsen.
Cerveny, still looking through his NVGs, saw the Bounty not far ahead, and flew to the ship. Waves swept over her deck, the whitecaps looking like green smudges, her three stout masts breaking the surface and now again standing up straight. Cerveny circled the ship, checking the rigging for anybody stuck. Nobody.
Around 6 a.m., slivers of light poked through the clouds, turning the air a murky mix of white and gray. Cerveny flipped up his NVGs. He could see the fan of debris, planks, boxes and bags, a small rubber boat flipping in the waves, empty survival suits and loose life jackets with reflective patches, all floating southeast, the violence of Sandy's counterclockwise winds overwhelming the Gulf Stream's northerly current. He flew to a raft dropped by the first C-130, already a few miles from the ship. Nobody. He flew to the second raft. Same.
Russell, the pilot of the C-130, monitoring the rescue from 700 feet, radioed a reminder to the helicopter. The massive tailwind that had sped rescuers to the scene would make the return flight twice as long. The helicopter had to hurry.
Cerveny followed the debris field until he got to the first raft from the ship. The Bounty crew heard him coming and unzipped the door and looked out. They saw the helicopter. They saw a man swimming toward them. They watched as Haba kicked his way into the raft, propping his mask on top of his helmet.
Anybody injured? he asked.
Nobody was, they said.
Haba radioed to the helicopter. Seven P-O-B, he said. People on board. He asked for basket hoists, thinking that would be the quickest method.
In the raft, Haba looked at Faunt, easily the oldest person in it. He had curled up in a corner, nauseated by the salt water he had swallowed, his bowels having fouled the inside of his suit.
You first, Haba said.
He guided Faunt into the water, chasing the moving metal basket, assisting him in. The helicopter's rotor wash – the noise, the spray – was enormous, but the winds blew most of it behind them. A wave rocked the basket, knocking Faunt out. That happened a second time. A third. Lufkin tweaked his timing and attempted another hoist, successfully winching Faunt out of the waves. Haba swam back to the raft. He did the same with three more crew members.
Russell radioed from the C-130. Bingo, the Coast Guard calls it, and Cerveny and Peña knew it, too. Their gas. They had to go now if they were going to make it back. Peña updated the survivor count.
Two, three, four, five.
In the raft, Jones, Sanders and Scornavacchi couldn't hear the thwuck thwuck thwuck anymore. They would have to be picked up later.
Rescue swimmer Dan Todd surfed down the face of a 30-foot wave, his fins above his head, practically somersaulting through the second raft's door. He sat with his back to the flap and his fins stretched out in front of him.
Hi, I'm Dan, he said. I heard you guys need a ride.
They shouted their approval. Dan, that was awesome! You rock!
Todd was surprised by the response, but heartened, too, because nobody in the raft was panicking.
Is everybody okay? he asked. Anybody injured?
Rescue swimmers ask this almost immediately because they have to know who needs the biggest share of their finite energy. Prokosch spoke up.
My back hurts a little, he told Todd. I have some shortness of breath.
Can you get out of the raft?
I got in, Prokosch said. I can get out. I'll do anything you ask me to do.
In the second helicopter, flying at nearly 60 miles an hour just to stay still, the crew watched a 30-foot wave build and finally crash on top of the raft. The raft folded in two before snapping back, catapulting Todd across the inside where he landed on several of the survivors. He pulled himself off them.
We need to go, he said, radioing to the helicopter. "Zero-six P-O-B."
The flight mechanic directed the pilot to move the helicopter depending on where the winds were taking the basket. "Left 10. Left 10. Hold. Hold. Basket's going in the water."
"Altitude! Altitude!" sang the warning system.
Prokosch crawled out the raft door, flopping limply into the water. Todd swam him through the whitecaps to the waiting basket. At the cabin door of the helicopter, Prokosch braced himself with his left palm on the floor, rolling out of the basket. He scooted on his butt toward the cockpit, wincing as the pain shot through his back. He felt a tap on the hood of his suit. Jenny Fields, the co-pilot, handed him a wintergreen breath mint. A Life Saver.
Prokosch watched them hoist Hewitt. The pilot saw another wave heading toward the raft. "That's easily a 30-footer right there," he said. "Oh, there's a roller – that's going to be a bad one …"
"Oh, yeah," the mechanic said. "Here we go."
"Ah," the pilot said. "The raft flipped over."
Down in the water, Todd sprinted back to the upended raft. The helicopter crew looked for the remaining four survivors to pop above the surface.
"Okay, we got one," the pilot said.
The flipped raft hastened the process. Now the crew were in the water. Prokosch, seated in the corner closest to the cockpit, watched them get hoisted in. Groves, the boatswain, had her hood off, her hair matted. She lifted the waterlogged legs of her suit out of the basket and exhaled deeply, then sat against the wall opposite the open door. Engineer Barksdale was next, squeezing in near Hewitt by the cockpit. Salapatek, without his contacts, lost in the frantic swirl after the ship tipped, was close to blind. He climbed out of the basket and leaned toward Hewitt and blinked. Finally, Cleveland, the leader in the raft due to his position as third mate, who had insisted on being the last to get hoisted, entered the cabin. With his wet hair and scraggly beard, he turned to Prokosch and the others and flashed "hang loose" signs, pinkies and thumbs extended, jubilant.
Fields, the co-pilot taking over the survivor count, logged the update.
Six. Seven. Eight, nine, 10, 11.
There were three still left in the first raft. The pilot asked Todd if he was too tired to go after them.
No, he said. I'll go.
"It's 2 1/2 hours to splash," Fields radioed the C-130, meaning when they would run out of gas and crash, "and we've got about half an hour on scene."
When Todd hit the waves for the second time, he could tell he was running out of gas, too. His strokes were lumbering, less race-pace. Be efficient, he thought. With the first six rescues, he had used the drag line that runs some 50 feet from the bottom of the raft to pull himself closer. Now he dove down, again looking for the rope, stroking toward it. Maybe he was tired, but he felt like he was floating. Down here he couldn't hear the helicopter. Down here there was no hurricane. The currents on the flip side of the monstrous waves rocked him gently. The warm water in the Gulf Stream was clear blue. He watched tiny fish dart about. An opaque, pink-purple jellyfish pulsed past.
He swam to the surface, back to the whitecaps, the rotor wash, the noise.
Three more people. Hoist, hoist, hoist.
Prokosch and the others in the helicopter watched as they arrived. Scornavacchi. Jones. Sanders. They squeezed into the cabin, forming the rough shape of a horseshoe, leaning against walls, against each other. Todd came up last. The flight mechanic slid shut the door.
"Exactly one hour on the scene," Fields radioed the C-130.
Fields updated the count.
Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen.
Second mate Matt Sanders, on the floor by the door, looked around the cabin. There were three people he couldn't account for. One of them was his first mate, who had been rescued first. The other two?
Robin Walbridge. His captain.
Claudene Christian. His girlfriend.
Claudia McCann, Walbridge's wife, had stayed up all night in St. Pete. At 5:32, she sent a Facebook message to Tracie Simonin, the assistant of the owner of the Bounty. Have they abandoned ship? I read the crew is safe but what does that mean? Off the boat or still on the boat?
On the ship's Facebook page and website, Simonin and Jim Salapatek, the father of deckhand Drew Salapatek, had posted updates that were incomplete, misleading or wrong. Maybe it was stress. Maybe it was wishful thinking.
The crew is safe and accounted for, Salapatek wrote at 6:26.
There are 17 crew on board and at this moment all crew are accounted for and are in life rafts, Simonin wrote at 7:11.
At 7:51, Salapatek acknowledged the previous post had been premature, saying that as of 10 minutes ago 14 of the 17 crew has been hoisted to safety!!!
Now, though, around 9:30, Simonin and the Coast Guard posted conflicting messages.
This is a sad day, Simonin posted on the Bounty's website. The storm hit the ship pretty bad. One of the generators failed and the ship was taking on more water than it wanted. Distress call was sent out and the Coast Guard rescued ALL 17 crew. We are very thankful for that. Bounty was left at sea to fend for herself with the prayers of many. May God protect the ship from sinking!
DON'T GIVE UP! KEEP THE PRAYERS COMING. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.
We will let you know how things are progressing with the ship. Thank you for your prayers.
To our wonderful Captain Robin: You did a great job and the very best that you could. Thank you for your efforts and keeping the crew safe. God bless you sir.
The Coast Guard issued its news release. The crew size: 16. The number rescued: 14. Those 14 were in helicopters headed for land. Two remained missing. The search continued.
Please bear with us, Salapatek posted at 9:39. There are so many conflicting stories going on now. We are waiting for some confirmation.
The crew got that confirmation in Elizabeth City. When the helicopters landed at the base, Svendsen and Prokosch were taken to the hospital. Svendsen was treated for trauma to his head, neck, chest and stomach, an inflamed esophagus due to ingestion of salt water, and a broken right hand, and Prokosch for his separated shoulder, the two fractured vertebrae in his lower back and the three broken ribs. The Coast Guard got the rest of them clothes, food, drinks and coffee, and gathered them in a conference room.
Now they all knew for sure who was still missing.
On the woodenboat.com message board, the posters who for days had tracked the ship and second-guessed the decision to sail exploded.
He was at the ultimate worst location under the worst set of circumstances.
I can hardly imagine a worse place to be than in the Gulf Stream off Hatteras in a hard northeast blow.
When the spot stopped moving before I went to bed I feared the worst.
The captain's wife, in St. Pete, learned two were still missing from a reporter. She knew one of them was her husband – just knew – even before the Coast Guard called to say so. More calls came. Good Morning America. The Today show. CNN. She said Walbridge had "been in many storms" and "lots of hairy situations" and always had made it through. "He was just trying to avoid it, skirt it. Skirt through it, skirt around it. I'm sure he's devastated. Absolutely devastated. But the crew comes first and you have to save the crew." She added: "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."
Robert Hansen, the owner, was in Denver, where he talked to a local TV reporter. "She's been through worse," he said, "and she's always come through unscathed."
And in Oklahoma, Dina Christian, Claudene Christian's mother, spoke on the phone to a reporter about the last time she talked to her daughter. "She says, 'We're heading out and I just want to tell you and dad that I love you,' " she said. "And I said, 'What are you saying that for?' And she said, 'Just in case something happens.' "
In Elizabeth City, before the Red Cross gave the survivors stipends for food, clothes and rooms at a hotel, the Coast Guard interviewed them individually.
The most pressing questions:
Where had they last seen Walbridge?
Where had they last seen Christian?
They last saw Walbridge in the water, on the deck, on the deck by the mizzenmast, on the deck by the nav shack, in the nav shack with his survival suit zipped to his waist, in the tweens trying to make sure everybody else was okay, walking on the deck after everybody else was in the water, and going into his cabin, looking tired, moving slowly, lying down on his bed and picking up a picture of his wife.
They last saw Christian in the tweens putting on her suit, walking through the nav shack up to the deck, on the deck by the rail around the mizzenmast, on the deck smiling with her blond hair tucked into her hood, on the deck running to Sanders, and then with him in the water, asking, What do I do? What do I do?
The C-130 settled into search patterns based on wind strength and water currents sent by the Coast Guard's state headquarters in Wilmington. The pilot opened the back of the plane, and the two drop masters, their belts secured to the metal rings on the floor, scanned from 500 feet the growing field of debris. The arms of empty survival suits flapped in the gusts.
The third helicopter returned to Elizabeth City.
A fourth helicopter left Elizabeth City. Came back.
Now a fifth helicopter launched and flew to the debris. It was Monday afternoon.
Sitting at the edge of the open door, flight mechanic Casey Hanchette and rescue swimmer Ryan Parker looked down, straining to detect signs of life. It was no longer raining. The wind was blowing, but not as hard. The low clouds on the backside of the storm gave the sky an overcast pall. The helicopter flew long straight legs of 5 miles. Nothing. The helicopter was a little more than 8 nautical miles from the site of the ship, which had started to sink for good. It was just after 4:30.
Parker saw a single orange suit coming up on the helicopter's right side, and he watched as the helicopter flew toward it, over it and past it, this suit, all alone, face down.
Sir, he said.
The helicopter circled around, hovering down to 50 feet, to 40 feet, to 30 feet. The rotor wash flipped open the hood.
Blond hair spilled into the blue water.
Months before on Chesapeake Bay, shortly after she boarded the Bounty, Claudene Christian had put on a life jacket to go up on deck, because she was afraid, until she saw others laughing. In Boothbay Harbor, not quite half a year later, she had told a fellow member of the crew: It's really important for me to finish this. Her fake nails were gone by then. A summer of sun had turned that hair a brighter, lighter blond. The ship's watches had offered hard, empowering work, set within an easy ordering of her days, the uncertainty of the future ceding to the plainer beauty of the present. She could have called her parents from Boothbay Harbor. Please come get me. She could have called her parents from New London. Please come pick me up. On the day sail, though, the afternoon before the evening they all decided to leave from New London, she talked about how much she loved being on the Bounty, and how beautiful the sky was at night, no light but natural light, surrounded by so much of the sea.
Parker quickly cabled Hanchette to within 10 feet of Christian. He swam to her. He rolled her over and touched her neck to check her pulse. Nothing. He called for the sling. Parker hoisted them up, face to face.
They laid her on her back, and Hanchette knifed open the sides of her suit, down to her feet, peeling it away from her body. Water rushed onto the floor as the helicopter raced for shore. She was wearing a T-shirt, green sweatpants and Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers. A small chunk of the tip of her nose was missing. Hanchette checked her pulse, her neck, her wrist, again. Nothing, still. They wrapped her in a blanket. She was cold, but not so cold, and her lips were blue, but not so blue, and so they pressed on her chest and breathed into her mouth, alternating when they grew weary, and they did that the entire flight to Elizabeth City, which took almost two hours, until they got to the hospital, where Claudene Christian, 42 years old, was pronounced dead.
As Sandy did what the storm was predicted to do and worse, splintering boardwalks on the New Jersey shore, flooding New York City's subways, shutting down airports and knocking out power from the mid-Atlantic to New England, the Coast Guard searched for the missing captain. They sent planes, helicopters and ships from Elizabeth City, Atlantic Beach, N.C., Charleston, S.C., Miami and Clearwater, 100 miles off the coast, 125 miles off the coast, 145 miles off the coast.
They searched the rest of Monday.
They searched all day Tuesday. That night, the last strobe lights of the survival suits stopped blinking.
They searched all day Wednesday.
And every day the Coast Guard called Walbridge's wife in St. Pete, usually late in the afternoon, telling her it was still a search, not yet a recovery, because of the warmth of the Gulf Stream water, because he was wearing his suit. They searched for more than 90 hours, covering 12,000 square miles.
Thursday's call was different. There would be no search Friday. McCann thanked them for looking for her husband for so long. She thanked them for saving so many members of his crew. She pictured him going back to his cabin at the end.
His obituary would say his love for the ocean started with his mother, who encouraged him to pick up shells, touch slippery seaweed and smell the salt in the air. It would say he believed the sea was a teacher, a place where those who searched for meaning would find it. It would say he was a gentle soul, a quiet man, who would have but one request: a tall ship, and a star to steer her by. It would say he charted his own course.
Wet snow fell in Fall River, Mass., the first day of December. Tom Murray, one of the leaders of the business group that had brought the Bounty to the city in the early '90s, and later hired Walbridge, organized a memorial for the ship at the local marine museum. He expected maybe 50 people. Three hundred showed up, including 13 of the 14 survivors. Prokosch remained bedridden at home in Washington state, drowsy from Vicodin.
A picture of a pigtailed Christian smiled from inside a frame on a table, next to a picture of Walbridge, the portraits surrounded by red roses.
A ship and her crew, said the Rev. Robert Lawrence, "have filled our lives with purpose and meaning."
L. Jaye Bell, a freelance writer from Maine who sailed on the Bounty for a story over the summer, told those gathered at the museum about Christian.
"Once," Bell said, "when I asked her how to do something on the ship, she winked and said, 'Fake it 'til you make it.' Claudene spent a lifetime putting that motto into practice. …"
She volunteered for the grubbiest jobs on the ship, Bell said. "She was most happy with streaks of tar on her face and a grin … sweating and flushed, covered in mud, blond hair flying."
Shelly McCann, Walbridge's stepdaughter, observed that he had "a certain quirky style of communication," which elicited knowing, affectionate laughter from the former crew members.
"Robinisms," she called them, because that's what they called them, too.
"Wakey wakey, little snakey." "Okay here's my plan …" "I truly believe …"
But her mother's favorite? Walbridge's wife?
"Think about what you want," he would say, "not what you don't want."
Walbridge's stepdaughter said, "Personally, I felt loved by Robin. … Robin did not have children of his own, but he called me his daughter, and he called my daughter his granddaughter. He wanted things for us, like we were his children."
What she didn't tell them was how, right before Mother's Day one year, Walbridge called to remind her to please call her mother, first thing, because that would mean a lot. She didn't tell them about the rough patch in her 30s when Walbridge called her and talked to her for two hours. Don't worry, he said. It gets better, he said. Keep going. She didn't tell them about the end tables and the jewelry boxes he built for her with wood from the Bounty. She didn't tell them about the notes he wrote to his wife and hid around their home, saying I love you, saying I miss you, and how maybe her mother hadn't found them all. She didn't tell them about the last time she was on the ship, the previous summer, in Newport, R.I., with her boyfriend and her daughter. Her boyfriend said to Walbridge, It must take a lot to take care of this old girl, to which Walbridge responded, It does, it does, but I want you to take care of these two girls.
n February, in a hotel on the water in Portsmouth, Va., the Coast Guard held eight days of hearings about the sinking of the Bounty.
The Coast Guard can't determine civil or criminal responsibilities or penalties. But it can call people to testify in an effort to determine the cause of a catastrophe. This was not a trial – though it could provide fodder for one. That's why Christian's parents' attorneys were present, along with the attorneys for the company that ran the Bounty, and it's why Svendsen, as the first mate, participated as a "party of interest," representing the rest of the crew. And it's why Hansen, the owner, declined to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right. But the 14 survivors testified. So did employees from the Boothbay Harbor shipyard. So did several of Walbridge's tall ship captain colleagues. Investigators had two key questions.
How did this happen?
Why did this happen?
Few of the 14 survivors saw the same things the same ways. Sometimes what they didn't say revealed as much as what they did. But all of it was enough.
The Bounty sank because of the wood on the outside and the machines on the inside. Because the pumps weren't pumping enough. Because the backup to the backups was a facade. The Bounty sank because her captain sailed into a hurricane. Because he didn't call for help as soon as he should have. Because water works toward weaknesses, in ships and in the people who make them move. In the end, the sea finds the flaws.
The Coast Guard called Todd Kosakowski from the shipyard. He had passed along to investigators the pieces of the rotted wood he had put in a box and slid under his desk. He said he told Walbridge he was "more than worried about what we found."
The Coast Guard called Walbridge's colleagues to discuss the decision to sail.
"I still can't believe the choice was made," said Dan Moreland, the captain of the Picton Castle, based in Nova Scotia. He was supposed to sail south last October, too, but he stayed in Canada until the storm passed. "I can't begin to imagine what he was thinking." And to sail without hardy pumps? "Unconscionable on a good day."
"I still search for an explanation," said Richard Bailey, the former captain of the Rose, who hired Walbridge as a mate before he became the captain of the Bounty, and who considered him a "mechanical genius."
Next was Jan Miles, the captain of the Pride of Baltimore II, who had written on Facebook on Dec. 1 an open letter to Walbridge.
Robin, he wrote, for all the experience you have, it was recklessly poor judgment to have done anything but find a heavy weather berth for your ship, rather than instead intentionally navigate directly toward Sandy with no thought given to deviate if the original plan of yours was not panning out. During the 17 years you were master of the Bounty you were the single reason she remained active. Under your command she went from being an aging wooden vessel with all the typical problems age brings to a reviving vessel as a result of several significant re-buildings over the last several years. You were a hero in everyone's eyes. Deservedly so I will freely add!!! I so respected your even, steady persistence to celebrate what the Bounty could be and as a result was becoming.
He continued. Reckless in the extreme!
So amateur as to be off the scale.
One of the Christians' attorneys, Ralph Mellusi from New York, asked Miles if he still believed what he'd written. Reckless. Incomprehensibly amateurish.
"Yes," Miles said.
Walbridge went when he shouldn't have gone. He went where he shouldn't have been. That was the how.
So why did he go? And why did the rest of his crew go with him?
The reasons were evident in the way they answered questions about their captain. Here there was consistency.
"He was never much of a yeller or screamer," Cleveland said. "I never saw him nervous or scared. It made you feel like you could handle things."
"He was someone I could learn from," Sanders said.
"He was highly involved," Groves said.
"I knew the captain had been on board for many years," Black said.
"He had a lot of experience," Scornavacchi said.
"I thought a great deal of him," Barksdale said.
"I thought it was pretty amazing I got to work with him," Prokosch said.
"My thoughts about Robin?" Salapatek said, slipping into the present tense. "He's a pretty quiet-spoken, kind of an introverted, thinking person."
"He thought rationally," Faunt said. "He had reasons for what he did.
"I loved that man," he said.
One of the investigators had a question for Svendsen. What if he, the first mate, whom the crew respected as much as they did Walbridge, had taken the captain's offer and opted to stay in New London?
"I believe he would have sailed," Svendsen said.
What if the second mate had stayed?
"I believe he would have sailed."
The third mate?
"I know I wouldn't leave," Svendsen said, "without any of my officers.
"For me," he explained, "the choice for Robin to sail into the hurricane was something based on his experience."
During a break, out in the hall, Mellusi, the Christians' attorney, shook his head. "There's no defense," he said.
Two months later, he filed the expected lawsuit against the company that ran the Bounty, accusing Walbridge of negligence and recklessness, asking for damages of $90 million.
In the golden age of sail, in the era of the original HMS Bounty, these stories almost always ended the same. All hands lost.
In the early 21st century, though, the men and women of the Coast Guard, and their modern machines, altered the script. This Bounty's survivors were left to adjust.
In Oakland, Calif., in March, Faunt sat in his chilly, cluttered house, unopened mail stacked by the door, dusty books of maritime history lining the wall-to-wall shelves, his blood-orange survival suit laid out on a tabletop, and paused. "Just accepting the fact that I was alive," he said, "was nearly as hard as accepting the fact that Claudene and Robin are dead."
In Nellysford, Va., in April, Barksdale sat in his house in the country drinking coffee, wishing he hadn't gotten seasick, wishing he hadn't gotten hurt, wishing he had been able to do more. "I have regrets," he said.
Hewitt said she wanted to talk. Then she said she didn't. Couldn't.
I am having a hard time, she wrote in a Facebook message. I'm just not ready to leave the house currently. But please don't give up on me.
Throughout the spring she posted what felt like pleas to herself as much as promises to others. She posted a piece of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The moistened eye, the trembling lip, Are not the signs of doubt or fear. Sail forth into the sea of life! She posted a quote from Joseph Conrad's Typhoon. Facing it – always facing it – that's the way to get through it. Face it.
She got back on a tall ship – like Svendsen did, and Faunt, and Cleveland and Groves, and Jones and Salapatek and Black. She had to put on a survival suit for safety orientation. She cried. But she did it. And all summer when she jumped into water, especially off the ship, the sensation triggered panicky memories of trying to breathe under the Bounty. Of biting her harness. Breaking her tooth. But she did it.
Prokosch, after months of stretching and yoga and physical therapy three times a week, returned to Boothbay Harbor. Pain lingers in his ribs. He lives with his girlfriend, a former cook on the Bounty, in a small cabin at Linekin Bay Resort, where they teach sailing. He's also building his own boat. A wooden dinghy. He works, too, at the shipyard, the same shipyard where he worked on the Bounty.
One Sunday evening six months after the disaster, he sat at the bar at Pier 1 Pizza, drank Shipyard IPAs and a shot of tequila and talked.
He misses Walbridge.
"Robin had a very accurate and really true way of people development," Prokosch said. "He would put you somewhere you're not comfortable and then watch you grow to the position."
He misses Christian.
"I loved Claudene a lot," Prokosch said.
Pier 1 is where she had her raucous 42nd birthday party, where she racked up points on the Big Buck Hunter arcade game, where she played Grateful Dead on the jukebox and danced.
"Claudene took me arm-in-arm to keep me on my feet," he said. "We were going to get through it, and I, uh – lost track of her."
He was desperate and afraid. He got hit in the head with the grating. Hit with the spar like a dart. "The boat, I swear," he said, "tried to drown me a couple times." He struggled and thrashed, and the adrenaline coursed more powerfully, is all he can figure, than the pain from his shoulder and the broken bones in his back. "I wasn't sure I was going to make it."
And then he was away from the ship, and then he was alone in the ocean, the young man from the Pacific Northwest who had taught kids at camps to sit and stick their fingers in the dirt, to become more alert to what was around them, and to the moment, and to their presence in it. Out in the water, he said now at the bar, his mentality shifted. "I was positive and happy." He loved to swim, and there he was, swimming. He tried to fill his lungs with air and not water. He couldn't always breathe when he wanted. When he could, though, they were his best breaths ever.
Click 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.
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
let go of the helm Able seaman Adam Prokosch talked to me about this moment when I met with him in Boothbay Harbor Harbor, Maine; here’s more in an email: The adrenaline and fear was up. When I let go of the boat and slipped into the water I really wasn’t thinking of my pain. I thought if I could keep myself from further injury and breathe whenever possible I could probably endure the storm by swimming. … I slipped/jumped into the water when it was timed right with the waves. The water came all the way up the deck almost to where I was hanging on. The the water was high enough I let go of the boat.
90 miles Coast Guard.
Josh Scornavacchi The deckhand in the Coast Guard hearings in February in Portsmouth, Va., and later in an additional interview.
Drew Salapatek and Jessica Hewitt The deckhands in the hearings and additional interviews with Hewitt. NOT LIKE THIS! NO! she later wrote in her diary. I cry as I write this. I had to fight for my life again and again.
broke a molar Hewitt told me she had her teeth clenched so hard for so long her jaws ached for days.
John Svendsen The first mate in the hearings.
“One of the yards caught John,” deckhand Anna Sprague told me. “He was straddling it basically.”
“I saw John get hit,” Hewitt told me. “He threw his arms up to protect himself, then disappeared under, then shot up in the air, tangled to the spar. I looked away, after he got dragged back under. I didn't want to see anymore. When John first got hit, he yelled, before getting pulled under. It was a man’s yell. I didn't know it was him until after. I remember thinking, ‘Remember that it was a man’s yell.’ I thought if I survive I could help identify how that person died.”
phone rang Wes McIntosh and Mike Myers, C-130 pilot and co-pilot, respectively, and helicopter co-pilot Jane Peña in interviews in Elizabeth City, N.C. “The game has changed,” Peña said.
life and death “Now all bets are off,” the Coast Guard’s James William Mitchell in the hearings. “Now we’ve got to go. We got folks in the water. We have to act. This changes our risk profile.” He added: “They were at the highest level of risk assessment.”
second C-130 Interviews in Elizabeth City with pilot Peyton Russell, co-pilot Aaron Cmiel and crew members Jonathan Sageser, Corey Lupton, Michael Canham.
helicopter Interviews in Elizabeth City with Peña, pilot Steve Cerveny, flight mechanic Michael Lufkin and rescue swimmer Randy Haba.
second helicopter Interviews in Elizabeth City with pilot Steve Bonn, co-pilot Jenny Fields, flight mechanic Neil Moulder and rescue swimmer Dan Todd.
thick haze “It looked like you were inside of a cloud,” Cerveny said. “Like a cotton ball.”
“feet wet” Cerveny, Peña, Lufkin, Haba.
waves “I was watching out the door to see when we broke out of the clouds, and it was a real slow descent so this way we didn’t just go into the water,” Lufkin said. “It was just whitecaps everywhere … and it was like the wind was blowing so hard that it was blowing the tops of the waves off.”
Scornavacchi The deckhand in the hearings and an additional interview.
Doug Faunt The able seaman in the hearings and an additional interview.
found their way to the raft Faunt, Scornavacchi, second mate Matt Sanders, cook Jessica Black and deckhands Mark Warner, Anna Sprague and John Daniel Jones in the hearings, and additional interviews with Faunt, Scornavacchi and Sprague. “Me and Anna had everybody hold hands,” Scornavacchi told me, “and we prayed.”
5 a.m. Jones in the hearings.
think everybody made it? Scornavacchi.
Mingulay Boat Song Ibid.
Help! Help! I’m caught! “I remember screaming,” Sprague told me. “It would have been suicide to go back there.”
second raft Third mate Dan Cleveland, boatswain Laura Groves, engineer Chris Barksdale, able seaman Adam Prokosch and deckhands Drew Salapatek and Jessica Hewitt in the hearings, and additional interviews with Barksdale, Prokosch and Hewitt.
Prokosch “I, for a little while, I decided I was being more in the way than helpful with my injury that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my separated shoulder putting my hand above my head and I tried for a bit but then I said, ‘You guys got to do it without me here,’ ” he told me in Boothbay Harbor Harbor, Maine. “I swam over to the side of the life raft and clipped onto it with my harness and so that was nice because I thought, ‘Now my situation’s better than it’s been for a while. No matter what’s going to happen, I’m going to be washed in the same space and direction as a life raft, and eventually something’s going to come find me.’ … But the problem that I was having was that when the wave would take the life raft it would take it more than I would and it was tearing the lifeline off the side of the life raft. And so every wave would take another few stitches until I was about a quarter of the way through the lifeline around the whole side and I realized that this is only going to last maybe a couple of hours more and then I’ll just be attached to a string and so that became — I reprioritized getting in the life raft.”
her harness “As soon as I got into the water, I unclipped that as quickly as possible,” Salapatek said in the hearings.
“I still had the lanyard and his attached to mine until i got in the raft,” Hewitt told me.
she got free because he got free “The only reason we are both alive today is because he pulled his off,” Hewitt said.
water from the Bounty Hewitt.
EPIRB out the door Groves.
could see another raft “I looked out, too, and you could see — for a little while — you could see there was another life raft,” Barksdale told me in Nellysford, Va.
Prokosch We didn’t talk about who wasn’t in our raft, he told me in an email. I think I remember somebody saying they could see another raft. That was when we first got into ours. So I know I was hoping it was full of our remaining crew. I secretly didn’t expect everyone would make it but I kept that to myself.
violent updrafts and downdrafts “The airplane,” pilot Peyton Russell told me, “has an altitude alert system, so if you go 200 feet above an altitude that you set, or 200 feet beneath it, it says the word ‘altitude’ to kind of alert you, like, ‘Hey, you’re doing something that you said that you weren’t going to do.’ Well, we had set the altitude alert at 500 feet, and I’ve never heard the word ‘altitude’ more in my life. I could not — hand-flying the plane and looking out the window and everything — I could not keep that plane right at 500 feet. So I’d be at 700 feet or I’d be at 300 feet — 700 feet, 300 feet — just this constant up-and-down thing.”
landing gear “The computer, it can’t see — it just thinks, ‘Okay, you’re low, you got your power almost all the way back, so you’re probably coming in for a landing,’ ” co-pilot Aaron Cmiel said. “So it reminds you: ‘Landing gear! Landing gear!’ ”
“The whole time,” technician Jonathan Sageser said, “it was screaming, ‘Altitude, altitude, landing gear!’ ”
Telephone poles in the middle of the ocean “With the night vision goggles on,” Russell said, “I just saw three poles sticking up and, you know, looked like wires sticking down from ‘em, and the other guy said, ‘I think that’s the boat.’ ”
painted a picture Russell and Wes McIntosh, the pilot of the first C-130, and Mike Myers, the co-pilot of the first C-130.
Coast Guard rafts had solid lights Second helicopter co-pilot Jenny Fields.
ship’s two rafts had blinking lights Ibid.
third blinking light Russell.
three-quarters of a mile away from the ship Russell, first helicopter pilot Steve Cerveny, first helicopter rescue swimmer Randy Haba.
where you need to come first Russell: “I said, ‘Steve, there’s something right beneath us. There’s a strobe light that’s not attached to a life raft or anything.’ ”
flew straight there Cerveny, Haba, first helicopter co-pilot Jane Peña, first helicopter flight mechanic Mike Lufkin.
helicopter’s altimeter “It was all over the place,” Peña said.
waved Haba and Lufkin.
reached Haba, Lufkin said, “got yanked back from the wave, the helicopter, the winds, the hoist — I mean, all of it played a part in the yanking.”
barrel that Prokosch had passed up Prokosch.
carrying Svendsen Ibid.
keeping the count Peña.
the ship The crews of the second C-130 and the first helicopter.
fan of debris Ibid.
few miles from the ship Russell and Cerveny.
unzipped the door “A couple of guys poked their heads out,” Haba said.
saw the helicopter Bounty crew members Doug Faunt, Josh Scornavacchi, Matt Sanders, Jessica Black, Mark Warner, Anna Sprague and John Daniel Jones in the hearings, and additional interviews with Faunt, Scornavacchi and Sprague.
Haba looked at Faunt Haba and Faunt.
guided Faunt Ibid.
same with three more crew members Haba, Black, Sprague, Warner.
would have to be picked up later “I realized they had left,” Jones said in the hearings. “We waited …”
surfed down the face “He turned into a little human surfboard down there,” helicopter pilot Steve Bonn said. “One second he’s, like, swimming up with his head nice and high above his feet, kicking his fins and upward swimming, then he crests the wave and now all of a sudden he’s got his feet over his head and he’s getting pushed down a wave …”
somersaulting “I somersaulted,” rescue swimmer Dan Todd said.
heard you guys need a ride Todd and the Bounty crew in the raft.
shouted their approval Ibid.
heartened Todd credited Cleveland on this front. “He had a confidence, I think, that everything was all right, like it wasn’t too big of a deal — even though it was,” Todd told me. “It was almost like he had that calmness so other people could have that calmness and confidence.”
everybody okay? Todd and Prokosch.
flying at nearly 60 miles an hour just to stay still Bonn.
30-foot wave Bonn, co-pilot Jenny Fields, flight mechanic Neil Moulder. I also watched video with audio taken from inside their helicopter.
catapulting Todd and the Bounty crew in the raft. “I clotheslined a couple people,” Todd said. “They were all in front of me and my back was to the wave and so the wave hit us and so what it did is it just lifted that raft up and so it kind of sprung me forward and I went into everybody.”
“It was one of the biggest ones I saw out there and it crested and broke and just came down square in the middle of that raft while Dan was inside talking to everybody,” Bonn said.
“zero-six P-O-B” These quote marks and the others in this scene are here because they’re not recalled dialogue. I heard on the Coast Guard video the chatter over the helicopter’s communication system.
flopping limply Coast Guard video.
wintergreen Life Saver Fields.
upended raft The Bounty crew members in the raft in the hearings and in additional interviews, the Coast Guard crew members in interviews in Elizabeth City, the helicopter video.
hastened the process “In hindsight,” Bonn said, “it was better that the raft flipped over …”
hoisted in Coast Guard video.
logged the update Fields.
Six. Seven. Eight, nine, 10, 11.
pilot asked Todd Bonn, Todd, Fields, Moulder.
“2½ hours to splash” Coast Guard video.
running out of gas “Physical exhaustion, just from the swimming and fighting the waves and whatnot,” rescue swimmer Dan Todd told me in Elizabeth City. “I noticed that when I got into the water and the few strokes that I had to do were definitely a little bit slower than how I was swimming for the first raft …”
felt like he was floating “I was just kind of swaying back and forth with the waves,” Todd said. “It was pretty peaceful down there.”
tiny fish “Nothing big, thank God.”
jellyfish “Like a purple-pink color.”
surface “I came up for a breath and it was all chaotic and frantic again.”
watched as they arrived Coast Guard video.
squeezed into the cabin “To say I was uncomfortable is an understatement,” able seaman Adam Prokosch told me. “It hurt so f—-ing bad to have people stacked on top of me.”
three people he couldn’t account for “He was worried,” flight mechanic Neil Moulder said in Elizabeth City. “I was like, ‘Hey, we’ve been doing this for years, we’re really good at it, just give us time.’ ”
up all night in St. Pete Claudia McCann.
crew is safe and accounted for “I had talked to Tracie,” Jim Salapatek told me.
at 7:11 Jim Salapatek told me Simonin wrote that post.
a sad day Simonin posted it on tallshipbounty.org.
news release Coast Guard.
Christian’s mother texted Dina Christian.
crew got that confirmation “Then we realized who wasn’t there,” able seaman Doug Faunt told me in Oakland, Calif.
“We were all very scared about where Claudene and Robin were,” able seaman Adam Prokosch told me in Boothbay Harbor Harbor, Maine.
“Somewhere during this process we learned that Claudene and the captain were both missing,” engineer Chris Barksdale told me in Nellysford, Va.
Svendsen was treated First mate John Svendsen in Portsmouth, Va., in the Coast Guard hearings.
and Prokosch for Prokosch in the hearings and in Boothbay Harbor Harbor.
gathered them in a conference room Bounty crew members in the hearings, additional interviews with Faunt, Barksdale and Prokosch.
learned two were still missing from a reporter Claudia McCann.
just knew “I knew immediately,” she said.
“many storms” “He’s been in many storms,” she told the Associated Press. “He’s been doing this a good portion of his life.”
“hairy situations” “He’s been in lots of hairy situations,” she told the AP, “and he’s very familiar with the boat.”
“skirt it” Canada’s CBC News.
“the image I have in my head” Reuters.
“been through worse” Owner Robert Hansen was in Denver and spoke to KDVR.
Dina Christian She said that to CBC News. “She was truly and genuinely happy,” she also said, “and loved the Bounty and loved what she was doing — and wanted us to know that just in case she went down with the ship.”
Coast Guard interviewed them Bounty crew members in the hearings.
in the water Second mate Matt Sanders and deckhands Anna Sprague and Mark Warner.
on the deck Boatswain Laura Groves and deckhand Jessica Hewitt.
on the deck by the nav shack Deckhand Drew Salapatek.
suit zipped to his waist Ibid.
in the tweens trying to make sure everybody else was okay Barksdale.
walking on the deck after everybody else was in the water Svendsen.
on his bed and picking up a picture of his wife Deckhand Josh Scornavacchi.
in the tweens putting on her suit Salapatek and deckhand John Daniel Jones.
walking through the nav shack Third mate Dan Cleveland.
by the rail around the mizzenmast Sprague.
smiling with her blond hair tucked into her hood Scornavacchi.
on the deck running to Sanders Ibid.
What do I do? Sanders.
search patterns Interviews with the members of the crew of the plane in Elizabeth City.
“As the sun came up, you’re, like, this should be a lot easier, but still no signs of life or anything, and now we see that the reflective stuff is Gumby suits,” C-130 pilot Peyton Russell said. “All these Gumby suits — are there people in those, am I seeing scattered folks, you know, that are turned over and stuff, you know? You can’t really tell right away …”
third helicopter Russell.
fourth helicopter Flight mechanic Ryan Parker and rescue swimmer Casey Hanchette in Elizabeth City.
fifth helicopter Ibid.
looked down “We knew we were searching for the two survivors that were remaining,” Hanchette said. “We’re looking for any signs of a person in the water. How can you tell what’s a suit and what’s a person in a suit? You really can’t.”
“It’s a gut feeling,” Parker said.
8 nautical miles James William Mitchell of the Coast Guard in the hearings in Portsmouth.
sink for good It took approximately 12 hours for the Bounty to actually sink, Michell said. “It’s like she didn’t want to go,” former shipwright Paul Garnett told me in Marlborough, Mass. Officially, though, the Coast Guard removed the ship from service at 2:09:53 p.m., Oct. 29, 2012, VIN 960956, call sign WDD9114, vessel name Bounty.
just after 4:30 She was found at 4:38, according to the Christians’ lawsuit.
blond hair spilled into the blue water “It’s just that feeling,” Parker said. “When you’re out searching … you always tell yourself, ‘What’d I miss, what’d I miss, what’d I miss?’ It’s almost impossible, you know, to try to — to try to feel confidence that you did your very best and you saw every aspect of that ocean, every inch of that ocean. I remember seeing out the front, because I sit on the side like this, and I remember seeing out the front and I was watching it, watching it, watching it, all the way till I couldn’t see it. And I just stopped. And I said, ‘Mark, mark, mark.’ I said, ‘Sir, let’s go back and look at that.’ And so we marked the position, did our big, you know, swoop around, and got set up to, to come down to a hover. And we came down in a hover, it was about 30 feet, 30, 40 feet, and your rotor wash’ll start hitting the water, the wind will start, you start getting that ground effect off the water, and at one point her hood flapped open, and we saw blond hair.”
life jacket to go up on deck Former crew member Jonny Slanga was the first person to tell me about it. Maine freelance writer L. Jaye Bell also talked about it at the memorial service in Fall River.
cabled Hanchette to within 10 feet of Christian “Nothing was around her,” Hanchette said. “She was by herself.”
touched her neck to check her pulse “Unresponsive,” Hanchette said.
on her back Parker and Hanchette.
T-shirt, green sweatpants and Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers Parker.
tip of her nose Ibid.
cold, but not so cold, and her lips were blue, but not so blue “It didn’t seem like all hope was gone,” Parker said.
did what the storm was predicted to do and worse Local news reports.
searched Coast Guard.
last strobe lights of the survival suits stopped blinking “During our search,” Coast Guard Capt. Mark S. Palmer told the Carteret County News-Times of Morehead City, N.C., “we found survival suits, storage chests, and we could see strobe lights blinking as late as Tuesday night.”
every day the Coast Guard called Walbridge’s wife Claudia McCann.
more than 90 hours Coast Guard.
12,000 square miles Ibid.
obituary From the start, Robin charted his own course and followed his own stars. … (He) believed that the sea was the true teacher-a place where those who searched could find meaning. His love for the sea had early childhood beginnings: a mother who encouraged him to smell the salt air, to touch the slippery seaweed and examine the seashells. … Wherever his next adventure may take him, we know that this gentle soul, this quiet, self-effacing man, will have only one request: "A tall ship, and a star to steer her by."
memorial for the ship Coverage in Fall River’s Herald News. I also watched a video of the service provided by Fall River Community Television.
three hundred showed up Tom Murray.
drowsy from Vicodin Able seaman Adam Prokosch.
portraits surrounded by red roses Video from Fall River TV.
Rev. Robert Lawrence Ibid.
L. Jaye Bell Ibid.
More from what Bell said in Fall River: “Born on October 18, 1970, Claudene learned to go after her goals early. When many little girls played ‘house,’ ‘nurse’ or ‘school teacher,’ Claudene set her sights on something else. Her playroom had an office. The phone never rang, and there were no real customers at Trott Tuttle Investments, but 4-year-old Claudene didn’t let that faze her pretending to be an entrepreneur.
Also: “Claudene was in her element aboard Bounty. She loved the water, the ocean, loved being a part of something so big. She enjoyed meeting new people in every port. She made it a point to get to know the new crew.”
Finally: “The girl who arrived with a rolling suitcase packed with shower gear and a hair dryer was the same one who loved immersing herself in the dirtiest jobs on the ship. She happily volunteered to do grubby tasks like crawling down to the anchor chain locker to flake the chain, or scrubbing out bilges or tarring the rigging. She was most happy with streaks of tar on her face and a grin.”
Shelly McCann Video from Fall River TV.
“what you want, not what you don’t want” “I think that was Robin’s philosophy,” Claudia McCann told me in St. Pete. “I believed he believed that if he thought he wanted something it would work.”
what she didn’t tell them I talked to Shelly McCann first on the phone, and later to her and also her daughter, Tara McCann, at their home in Fall River.
Here’s something else: Shelly McCann didn’t tell them about the last time she saw Walbridge. It was a Sunday morning in the middle of October, just before the Bounty left Boothbay Harbor Harbor, and he drove down in a borrowed pickup to visit her and her daughter in Fall River for coffee and breakfast. He said to her he was going to stop in at the condo her mother still owned in Fall River. He had stowed there some wood from the Bounty. He wanted to build something, he said. What are you going to build? she asked. She wanted a new table. She tried to drop some hints. He gave her a hug and a kiss at the door. I have a plan, he said. She got a text message from him as he drove away. The plan, he had written, was to build a cradle for Tara, for later, for whenever she became a mother herself.
“My mother, we’re of Portuguese descent, Portuguese heritage, and we tend to be a little emotional, and Robin was just the complete opposite and just very even keeled and calm and rational and any time that my mother would get upset about anything he always said the right things,” Shelly McCann told me in Fall River. “Like, ‘Now, Claudia, why don’t we think about it this way?’ And he was always, he could be the one to — he was her, I hate to use the word, her anchor.”
“He was very calm and he was very understanding,” Tara McCann said. “He was an all-around, just like, nice to be around — like my grandma says, ‘a breath of fresh air.’ ”
“Soft-spoken, humble, intelligent — but didn’t brag about it,” Shelly McCann said.
“He didn’t talk down to you,” Tara McCann said.
One more thing from Shelly McCann: “The thing that people should know is he was a loving husband. He was a stepfather, he was a grandfather, he was a wonderful man. And his legacy should be one of, you know, that he was a teacher, and he made a big difference in a lot of people’s lives. You know he touched lives in different ways. Obviously he touched our lives quite extensively and he’s touched so many lives over the years of the people that he’s taught and people that have come and gone off the ship and that people should remember him as a teacher and a friend and just a wonderful man.”
hearings They were held at the Renaissance hotel in Portsmouth, Va., and I was there.
effort to determine Commander Kevin Carroll of the Coast Guard started every day by reading out loud the same language: “The purpose of the investigation is to determine the cause of the casualty and the responsibility therefore for the fullest extent possible and to obtain information for the purpose of preventing or reducing the effects of similar casualties in the future. … This investigation is also intended to determine whether there is any evidence of any incompetence, misconduct or willful violation of the laws on the part of any licensed officer, pilot, seaman, employee, owner or agent of the owner …”
could provide fodder Matthew Schaer wrote in his Atavist piece on the sinking of the Bounty that it had the feeling of a practice trial.
few … survivors saw the same things the same ways “I’ll say that everyone has been through a very large trauma and a great loss,” first mate John Svendsen said in the hearings, “and as a result of that I’m sure it has affected people’s memories.”
enough “I don’t think we got anything close to the whole truth,” former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, vessel inspector and accident investigator Mario Vittone, who wrote about the hearings for gcaptain.com, told me. “There was enough truth in there.”
didn’t call for help as soon as he should have “As soon as they were pumping constantly,” Vittone said, “they should’ve called.”
the sea finds the flaws Dan Parrott, professor at Maine Maritime Academy, in Tall Ships Down, his book about the last voyages of five tall ships: If there is a common theme in these stories, it may be that for all that was done right — and in every case much was done right — the sea found the weak point. … The sea is as inherently dangerous now as it was in the days when square-riggers were an ordinary sight. The weather, the remoteness, and the unforgiving shore all figure in these five stories. But when a vessel succumbs to these perils, it is not always a reflection on the sea alone. Rather, if a vessel has a flaw, the sea is well capable of finding it out. Flaws may be found in the ship, the gear, the crew, the leadership, and of course, the organization behind it all.”
Oakland March 25 with able seaman Doug Faunt.
Nellysford April 19 with engineer Chris Barksdale.
Facebook message Deckhand Jessica Hewitt on April 30.
back on a tall ship It’s on these ships, Hewitt told me, that she gets a feeling of family. The others who got back on tall ships? It’s based on interviews with crew members, Facebook posts and a trip to Erie, Pa., in September.
stretching and yoga and physical therapy Able seaman Adam Prokosch.
his girlfriend Former Bounty cook Morgan Diederichs.
building his own boat Like most things in life, he wrote on his blog, boats are a game of give and take.
same shipyard where he worked on the Bounty I visited Prokosch at the shipyard.
Pier 1 Pizza May 5 in Boothbay Harbor Harbor.
raucous 42nd birthday party Prokosch and Diederichs.
Big Buck Hunter Hewitt.
Grateful Dead on the jukebox and danced Prokosch.
struggled and thrashed There was a hell of a lot going through my mind at that stage, Prokosch wrote to me in an email. Anything to get me away from the ship. I figured I had better chances in the water and I got off the ship as soon as I saw a safe window of opportunity that my broken body would allow me to take.
fingers in the dirt Prokosch told me this in an almost parenthetical way the first night I met him at Pier 1.
He later wrote me this email: I think it is very necessary to consider “place based” or “local awareness” to be at the core or environmental education. The example I gave you when we talked was part of a lesson I gave to students while camping in the North Cascades National Park. In this lesson we sat in the dirt next to the trail and stuck our fingers in the dirt and imagined the interconnectedness of all things. The forest to our bodies and our place on the Earth or even our place in the great universe.
I use the concept of place based or local awareness both as teaching tools to help get students to relax, meditate and hopefully become more aware of themselves and also to the details of the very moment they live in. This awareness helps students to suddenly hear bird calls that they never heard before, see individual plants in the forest, etc. This teaching tool is also very effective on boats as well. Students automatically live in a state of excitement but by slowing things down for them they will start to see how the sails catch wind, how the motion on the boat is affected by the passing of waves, how the sun moves across the sky …
his mentality shifted “I can drown and die. That’s the easy way out,” he told me in Boothbay Harbor Harbor. “Or I can take a breath for what it is. I can breathe and stretch my body and that’s how I can be a better part of the whole f—-ing world.”
best breaths ever Prokosch told me he’d go for what felt like 30 seconds without being able to breathe, taking in water, not air — then, though, for three seconds, he could breathe. He could fill his lungs with air.
But those three seconds?
“It was worth it,” he said. “It was worth everybody I’ve ever met. It was worth my mother and my younger sister. It made the whole situation worth it, totally worth it, to have another breath.”