Arrival of Rescued Survivors from the Bounty

Joshua Scornavacchi upon arrival at the Coast Guard Air Station in Elizabeth City, after rescue from Bounty (USCG Image)

Tangled in rigging, he was dragged under the water again.  This time he wasn’t coming up. With no chance to get a breath and struggling to free himself, he started to inhale water. Joshua Scornavacchi, one of Bounty’s young deckhands, was drowning. “I started to lose muscle control…and I kept taking on water and then I got really upset because I had promised my mom and my little brother that I wouldn’t die,” Scornavacchi said. The twenty-five-year-old had come as close to dying as anyone ever has. He sounded like he was talking about the weather – almost bored.  “Something said that it wasn’t time yet and the [line] broke.” Alone and on the surface now, Scornavacchi wasn’t sure if anyone else had survived. It is absolutely incredible that anyone did.

After a two-day fight to save their beloved ship, the crew of Bounty were all in the water trying to escape it.  Half sunk, but buoyant enough to still be tossed in the heavy seas, Bounty’s three masts were rising and falling onto her crew. The spars, stays, and literally miles of line in her rig were trying to kill them. Adam Prokosh –  lucky enough to pick his spot and jump rather than be thrown from Bounty – had been injured during a fall aboard ship hours before. With compression fractures to his spine, three broken ribs, and a dislocated shoulder, Prokosh looked up to see the ship’s rig as it came down on his head.  “I got tagged by the main top yard – it came down like a dart,” Prokosh told investigators. Now he was underwater too and fighting to breathe – to live.

I’ve been listening to the crew of Bounty tell these stories for six full days now, and I have tried very hard to hold back my opinion. I’m a former Coast Guard vessel inspector and investigator, but I’m not an expert in wood hull construction and though I love the things, I don’t know much about tall ships. But this part? This part about abandoning ship and sea survival? This is what I know. This is what I’ve spent most of my adult life on. There may be people who know more about this than I do, but I haven’t met them. So here is my opinion:

Captain Walbridge called his crew to the weather deck to abandon his sinking ship at least twelve hours after he should have.  His first call to the Coast Guard was made at least thirty-five hours after it should have been made.

On Saturday (the 27th),  the weather started to turn and the bilges needed constant pumping.  On any other ship in the world, that’s called flooding. The code of federal regulations calls that a reportable marine casualty; it’s something that should be, you know, reported.  Daniel Cleveland testified that they were having problems with the ship’s generator as well – another reportable marine casualty. Throughout the hearings we have heard about failed generators, impaired bilge systems, and engines dropping off line.

According to 46 CFR 4.05-1, “An occurrence materially and adversely affecting the vessel’s seaworthiness or fitness for service or route, including but not limited to fire, flooding, or failure of or damage to fixed fire-extinguishing systems, lifesaving equipment, auxiliary power-generating equipment, or bilge-pumping systems”  shall be reported to the Coast Guard. There is a reason for that.  Who is supposed to remember the pesky details of federal regulations on communicating with the Coast Guard?  Well, licensed mariners of the Captain/Mate variety, for one.  These regulations are “designed to increase the likelihood of timely assistance to vessels in distress.” It will be argued, and should be, that part 4 doesn’t apply to recreational vessels. It’s a good argument. But common sense applies to everyone. The real reason to call someone on shore when you are having trouble is because you can. The original Bounty didn’t have that ability.

Too often sailors think of the Coast Guard as a last resort.  Calling “Mayday” means that you can’t handle things and you’re giving up. But “Mayday”  (and again, I’m an expert) is almost never the first call to make. The rarely used but vitally important “Pan-Pan” distress communication is meant to communicate to the Coast Guard that there is a problem aboard a vessel and assistance may be needed.


Jessica Hewitt testifies at Bounty hearings in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Not calling in as soon as Bounty experienced trouble denied the Coast Guard the advantage of giving the master critical advice.  Advice like, “You’re about to be in a situation where helicopter rescue is going to be difficult,” and, “If you wait you will be making our crews fly into hurricane-force winds; even we have limits and dropping you life rafts and pumps will be impossible.”  It also denied the Coast Guard valuable planning and preparation time. Sure, they are “Semper Paratus” – always ready – and more than willing to come help at any time, but sooner is always better.

According to Svendsen’s testimony on day one of the hearings, Walbridge told him that he planned to wait until the water reached the vessel’s tween deck to abandon the boat. Perhaps he had that ridiculous old sailor’s maxim stuck in his head, “You never step off until you have to step up.” It’s terrible advice and almost never true.

In the early morning on Sunday the 28th, the third mate reported to his captain that they were “not keeping up with the water.”  That’s called progressive flooding, otherwise known as sinking. Notifying the Coast Guard then would have given the crew what they didn’t have by the time Bounty was half full of water and unstable: options.  It would have given them time for an orderly abandon ship, one done on purpose – during daylight hours – and not at the mercy of ten miles of flailing line and tons of mast and debris.

The last to testify yesterday (and break my heart) was twenty-five-year-old Jessica Hewitt. Talking through tears she told the panel about her ordeal with the rigging and about the slamming rig dragging her underwater, then about the miraculous escape from the rig and swimming  with her friends away from the hulking wreck. She almost drowned, too. They all had the same story: they all came so close to dying, so much closer than they really needed to.

Invariably, what had to be the two hardest questions from the panel came near the end: “When was the last time you saw Robin Walbridge?” and, “When was the last time you saw Claudene Christian?” So far, no one remembers seeing either of them in the water; the cost of waiting, I guess. They all left the boat in such chaos, thrown from her decks as she suddenly rolled to starboard. Listening to Hewitt cry as she relived the ordeal, all I could think was that they all should have been long gone by then.

Next: Day 7 – The 17th Passenger

Continued Bounty Coverage:

Tagged with →  
Share →
    • Gerry Cork

      Say’s who?

  • Mario Vittone

    Not all of them.

  • Joe Rennie

    During yesterday’s testimony one of the crew {can’t remember his/her name } stated that he or she had while on watch looked at the ship’s AIS screen and noticed that there were no other ships around {normally there are are at least 15 or 20 other ships — most likely taking shelter from oncoming hurricane } when asked if he or she reported this finding to the captain or officers the crewmember answered that they did not think it was important, it could have saved their lives if Capt. Walbridge had any shadow of doubt and it is impossible to determine if he did or not this piece of information might have pushed them towards seeking shelter rather than continuing the voyage again this is speculation on my part but I would think that if one has important information it should be shared immediately

  • EAF

    Great shame that the saying “you only step up into a liferaft” is now being taken literally, rather than metaphorically. AIUI it came about after the 79 Fastnet Race disaster, when people abandoned boats that had been capsized/pitchpoled into liferafts. After the storm had blown through, many of these boats were found still afloat. So the saying came about, with the subtext being – if the boat is still viable, stay with the boat. Once you’ve lost the battle and the boat is going to sink, then is the time to abandon, and preferably sooner rather than later.

    • Mario Vittone


      • Cpt. Jay Boland

        Have sailed off and on, on Bounty for twenty years. Watched most of the hearing live on Another tall ship I had crewed on, the “Anne Kristine” was lost on Oct. 29, 1991 in the perfect storm. She was 250 miles offshore, All nine crew were rescued by the Elizabeth City CG rescuers. At!:00 am, in better than fifty foot seas. They were instructed to jump from the vessel one at a time, and wait for instructions before the next one jumped. The vessel had not yet heeled over but had certainly taken on too much water and had to be abandoned.There were two helicopters on site with bright search lights concentrating on one crew member at a time. Although still very hazardous, at least the crew did not have the dangers of being pounded by rigging and yards. Seems like a preferable way to leave the ship.

  • Alex

    It is generally accepted at sea, that the best lifeboat is the mother vessel. To agree with Mario, this is only true if the mother vessel has sufficient survivability remaining. Many Masters in the past have abandoned a vessel which was not in danger of progressive flooding, thus endangering the lives of their crew in survival craft and leaving nobody aboard the vessel to report it’s condition and act on advice given from a coast station. However, it seems very clear that this vessel was seriously impaired from an early stage of the voyage. Absolutely a PAN PAN prefixed message should have been sent. Two lives were lost due to what sounds like a foolish Ol’ Man

    • Mario Vittone

      A lot of the questions you are waiting for have been asked, it may just be hard to hear from outside the room (unless you are in?) – but they were asked about cleaning after the work. Not everyone uses the term “Strum Box” as Bounty had cylidrical strainers.

      Also – the USCG has evidence and has been asking questions since October 30th. Just because it wasn’t been asked at the public hearing doesn’t mean they haven’t been asked.

    • Stephen Olson

      In the merchant marine this is known as “bridge team management,” based on the idea that everyone from the Ordinary Seaman on lookout to the Master is part of a team that’s responsible for keeping the “shiny side up.” It appears that Captain Walbridge was more tuned in to the “Master after God” concept of his role on board.

    • Mario Vittone

      He seems to be defending it in questioning. There was discussion, there was no dissention. None at least that is being admitted to.

    • Stephen Olson

      The person you’re referring to as the “Chief Mate” was not what you normally think of when you use that term. On a ship the Chief Mate is a fully trained executive officer who makes it happen on deck, and is fully qualified to run the show if the Master suddenly disappears. The young man on the Bounty does not sound like that.

  • Capt. Donald Morgan

    Having been on, around and dealing with boats for over 40 years, and having walked away from jobs where i knew the situation was untennable, i say it is past time for the USCG to start requiring more inspections and standards on “recreational” vessels. There are to many loopholes which cost too many lives. Both of the operators and crew and the first responders. Once a vessel crosses over the normal rereational size, say 12 meters, futher requirements should be made mandatory.
    And this statement; “Who is supposed to remember the pesky details of federal regulations like that? Well, licensed mariners of the Captain/Mate variety, for one.” pretty much sums up the entire problem with this, and many other vessels plying the coast today.

    • Dan


      I agree w/ the first part of your comment but would like to flesh out the second a bit.

      As a 1600 ton master who has always worked on the private, yacht side of the business, I’d like to ask you at what point you learned/were taught the CFRs?

      While I’m not disputing the irrational decision to sail, or the irrational decision to issue a much needed, much earlier “Pan Pan”, I’m rather wondering how many professional captains run their vessels in practice with a backwards/forwards awareness of the CFRs?

      No where along the way to getting my master’s ticket has it ever been required to have a course in the CFRs. Yes, there was part of the licensing exam that required a familiarity w/ finding things in the CFRs, but that was it.

      While most of us practice these things, we do so out of prudence and experience, not b/c the CFRs say such and such.

      There are a lot of great mariners out there – licensed and unlicensed. There are also a bunch of licensed mariners who clearly don’t use the common sense they were born with – the CFRs aren’t going to help them one bit.

      • Capt. Donald Morgan

        You are correct on the lax requirements, especially on lower deck licenses. But as a professional, i educated myself on the CFR’s and would expect any other Captain worth the title to do the same. This is an oversight in training that should be addressed for all tickets above an OUPV. Knowledge of the CFR’s probably would not have prevented this tradgedy, and i do not know this Captains knowledge of them, but it is obvious from the testimony so far, very little regard for prudence, rules or common sense were prevelant on that Ship. The one who should have known, that is the Captain, set a poor standard for His crew.
        As to common sense, one cannot find a common sense enema. Wish we could.
        The Licensing process has holes. And this incident shows one.
        The Recreational/Yacht Captain area is one of those holes.

      • Stephen Olson

        The CFR’s codify a pretty simple base truth for the man driving a vessel: ‘you are responsible for the safety of the people entrusted to your care, custody, and control. Your job is to see the safely ashore. If the vessel also makes it to port, that’s good. But your crew is your job. There’s help available, but you have to ask for it in time.”

  • Deeana

    Once again, a succinct, well written article. You know? And thank you for clearly expressing your expert opinion based on the so accurately described “heartbreaking testimony” of these bright young crew members. As an aside, and proving the old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover, the laconic young man so full of “you know”s earned a four year degree in Biology.

    On another thread a commenter mentioned that the demise of the Bounty and her captain may be seen as a sort of “culling of the herd”. While perhaps true – and in my opinion the captain deserves the 2012 Darwin Award – that still does not explain the behavior (or non-behavior) of the other licensed crew members.

    The very last question of yesterday’s testimony, which came from the attorney for the late Ms. Christian is actually the only question left to ask at this point. WHY?? The question – which seemed to draw uncharacteristic ire from Cmdr. Carrol – was issued with a long preamble citing the obvious defects in decision making on the part of the captain of the vessel. The question then posed was “Why would you continue to sit here and defend this captain?” The witness was curtly instructed that she need not answer the question and the hearing adjourned for the day.

    The answer to that question is likely not one the Coast Guard wants to delve into. They are looking for behavior that took place or didn’t take place. Behaviors that violated maritime laws. And they have surely found them.

    In my opinion – and yes, everybody has one – this is an absolute case study into the abnormal psychology of cult-like behavior. It fits every criteria and then some. Listening to the testimony of these witnesses is like listening to little brain washed zombies. That’s a sign. Heavy peer pressure never to question a decision of the exalted master. That’s a sign. Acting against one’s own common sense. That’s a sign. Acting against the pleas of loved ones whose advice was formerly respected. That’s a sign. And it goes on and on, from the “we are special people” mindset of the members to the “I am invincible” mindset of the leader.

    Cults and cult-like behaviors are a known entity. Some start innocently and evolve. Others not so much. The behaviors and the “pay offs” for both the leader and the members are well documented in the psychological literature. But believe me, this case fits it and then some.

    To give the benefit of the doubt, I’d guess this one started innocently and evolved over time. But it was surely there by the time this voyage was begun.

    Cult survivors have a long road to recovery. The first step in recovery for any victim is to realize what they were involved in. And even that is difficult. These crew member victims deserve no less than an honest acknowledgement by both the marine community and the public that abberational behavior existed. It is scary stuff. But it is out there.

    Last but not least: WHERE exactly was the captain during those last hours? In all of the witness descriptions we hear very, very little of the captain being seen or involved in ANYTHING. “Orders were given” but the captain did not seem to be interacting much with the crew in those final hours. Yet we heard of him being in his cabin looking at a photo of his wife?

    Can anyone say “bunker mentality”?

    • Rusty356

      I’m sorry Deeana, but you seem to be addressing conditions on the wrong HMS Bounty, and even then it’s very difficult for me to agree with you. The reason Captains are granted so much unquestioned authority at sea is because there is nothing democratic about bringing a ship home safely. Even under the best sailing conditions, each member of the crew MUST take orders and act accordingly. In heavy weather, this could mean the difference between life or death for the ship and every member of the crew. Sailing can be likened to a high-stakes football game with survivors and non-survivors instead of winners and losers. Teamwork is the deciding factor. If nobody listens to the Coach and decides to play their own game in Force 11 conditions, then everybody could die. I think the reason all of the surviving crew members are defending the Captain of THIS HMS Bounty … was because he was nothing like the Captain of the other HMS Bounty, and they all owe their lives to him.

  • Deeana

    Just began watching today’s testimony. Yikes! Another nubile young blonde with no tall ship experience…..

    • JoeOvercoat

      Taken on board without any apparent concern for the risk she represented to herself, and the rest of the crew, by her lack of experience and capacity. One has to wonder if the combination of naivete and feminity was the principal selection criteria for at least part of the crew.

  • Capt.Mhack

    Thank you for the great analysis.

    What worries me is the clear attempt to hide something..
    I refuse to believe nobody knows where the captain was (Captain seems to be AWOL during the whole ordeal) when they were actually talking to him as testified by some of the crew. Also defensive answers to were they tracking the hurricane position and when and why the course change to SW was executed.

  • Rick Owens

    Everyone DOES have an opinion. Mine is that you have not been paying attention to the hearing and make it obvious by what you are saying about the whereabouts of the Capt. during”…the whole ordeal…”
    He was seen in the engine room,
    He was seen in the nav. shack,
    He was seer in the ‘tween deck,
    He was seen on the weather deck,
    He was seen in the galley,
    He was hurt on the tween deck while helping the engineer,
    He gave the orders to come on deck from the ‘tween deck,
    He made the decision to wait until the water was at the ‘tween deck to abandon ship,
    The cook helped him into his immersion suit.
    He was on deck directing the crew the make up lines with loops for going over the side just before the ship rolled for the last time…
    These are only the ones I can think of off the top.
    Your powers of observation are as suspect as your psychological assessments, it seems.
    I guess you will call me a cultist now!
    Capt. Walbridge as a LOT to account for.
    Cowardice and lack of effort aren’t on the list.IMHO.

    • Mario Vittone

      True – he was definitely all over the boat (and all over the testimony.)

  • Capt. Kevin Giffin

    There are a couple of idioms that come to mind; “Our schedule is more flexible then the ship” and “any port in a storm”. I remember as a young Coast Guard recruit the sea stories we were told, “you have to go out but you don’t have to come back”. I believe our company commanders were trying to empress upon us the serious nature of our work. I also remember storms in Alaska where it was to rough for even us, the Coast Guard to go out after “the yahoos” as we often called them. I always wondered why some recreational boaters would go out in such weather. The crabbers had a reason, “money” but still not a good reason to risk life and limb. I also sailed as a tall ship sailor in my career and I remember the bravado that was present. I also remember the “Pride of Baltimore”, lost a few friends and a beautiful ship. I sailed on the “Alexandria” which was also lost of a Cape Hatteras (many years after I sailed on her). I have been in storms off of Hatteras so bad that I swore if I arrived in port I would never go to sea again, well that wears off once you make it to that port. I guess I have been lucky going around Hatteras. When I sailed on the Bounty we did a Gulf Coast tour to promote CNN in the early days and I remember how well built she was. That was almost thirty years ago. Today when I receive a weather routing message I don’t hesitate to execute “Storm Evasion”. One thing I learned from all my experience and the reason I’m fortunate to still be here is, respect. Respect for what old Neptune can dish out. It’ sad that so many of the regulations we have today are, “written in blood.” Looks like we may have to pen up some more.
    Thank you Mario for such excellent coverage.

  • James Conner

    I suspect that the concluding paragraph of Admiral Nimitz’s 18 December 1944 letter to the fleet following a a typhoon will find its way into the final report:

    18. In conclusion, both seniors and juniors alike must realize that in bad weather, as in most other situations, safety and fatal hazard are not separated by any sharp boundary line, but shade gradually from one into the other. There is no little red light which is going to flash on and inform commanding officers or higher commanders that from then on there is extreme danger from the weather, and that measures for ships’ safety must now take precedence over further efforts to keep up with the formation or to execute the assigned task. This time will always be a matter of personal judgment. Naturally no commander is going to cut thin the margin between staying afloat and foundering, but he may nevertheless unwittingly pass the danger point even though no ship is yet in extremis. Ships that keep on going as long as the severity of wind and sea has not yet come close to capsizing them or breaking them in two, may nevertheless become helpless to avoid these catastrophes later if things get worse. By then they may be unable to steer any heading but in the trough of the sea, or may have their steering control, lighting , communications, and main propulsion disabled, or may be helpless to secure things on deck or to jettison topside weights. The time for taking all measures for a ship’s safety is while still able to do so. Nothing is more dangerous than for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to have been unnecessary. Safety at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy.

    • James Conner

      The typhoon occurred on 18 December 1944. Nimitz’s letter is dated 13 February 1945.

    • Stephen Olson

      Please don’t talk to me about the wonderful Admiral Halsey. My uncle was almost killed at Samar because task force 38 was off chasing glory, while the world wondered, and Taffy 3’s destroyer screen was left to fight it out against the Japanese. My father and the crew of the DE that he served on almost got rolled over by “Halsey’s Hurricane” while the grand admiral was livin’ large on the “New Jersey” Nimitz never could control Halsey. Shoulda stuck with Spruance.

  • Deeana

    Rick Owens, don’t exactly know what a “cultist” is nor do I know you enough to accuse you of anything whatsoever.

    Please re-read the post. I clearly wrote “in those last hours” and “in those final hours”. That’s the specific time period I was questioning, not during the entire trip or even earlier in that same day. Of the events you listed, the only one I missed was testimony that “he was on the deck directing the crew to make up lines…..”.

    I am sorry if my theory has offended you. I did not write it to be offensive. In re-reading my own post, I think I probably should have skipped the “bunker mentality” comment.

    If you can offer an alternative theory to answer the “Why?” question, I would sincerely be interested in reading it.

    • Mario Vittone

      I’ve got my own theory – I’ll be writing a little about it this morning. Thanks for all the comments. These discussions are necessary.

      • http://GreatEarthNavigation.Com Captain Robert Scott

        I am interested in your theory. I served as master on supply boats in the Gulf. On more than one occassion I notified the oil rig captain that I was leaving the area to run for shelter during calm weather after seeing forcasts for gale force winds. I can hear the owner of my company and the owner of the oil rigs calling me on the radio to turn back to the rigs. And I can hear me telling them I was the master and the decision to head was my decision alone. I suggested they have another captain at the dock to replace me if they wished.

        The 18 foot seas and 45 knot winds arrived as scheduled and I did not hear another word.

        Frankly, I don’t know what this has to do with this article except that sometimes you have to get the hell out of harm’s way and head in to shelter.


        Captain R. Scott

  • Capt Joe

    The decision of making the call of “NO” is one of the toughest decisions to make in this business.. Make the right call and only you and your crew are ok with it.
    Make the wrong call, then you are the idiot and could be out of a job because there will always be someone who will try to be a cowboy and maybe make it.
    I make it a point to never let a desk jockey make my decisions for me.

  • Charles Ipcar

    I’ve been following this evolving story since it first surfaced last October. I still fail to see why Captain Walbridge left New London and heading south, given the well publicized in-coming massive hurricane. I can understand leaving New London and heading North and seeking a better sheltered harbor than New London. I also understand that the Captain had major donors to meet and a special event in St. Petersburg on his schedule, but that is no justification for challenging a hurricane. The Captain’s original plan was to skirt the hurricane to the Southeast but then he made the fatal decision to reverse course across the advancing front of the storm. I can only surmise that he thought he could make it past before he was hit by the full force of the storm. In fact the speed of the hurricane redoubled at that point and trapped the Bounty between the shoals of Cape Hatteras and the storm front itself. The well-documented rotted conditions of framing and the poorly maintained back-up bilge pumps (and the lack of training in their use) also certainly contributed to this ship’s loss. But it seems to me that the Captain’s navigational decisions were the most crucial in explaining why the ship was lost.

  • Charles Ipcar

    This is the chorus of a new song I’ve been working on, based on the testimony and comments on this sad story:


    Never turn a blind eye to the storm, I say;
    The sea is unfor-giving and she’ll snatch your life a-way;
    Learn your trade, weigh the risks, and you’ll see better days,
    Never turn a blind eye to the storm,
    Never turn a blind eye to the storm!

    • Mario Vittone

      DAP 33 window glazing – there were pictures

  • Tom Hunter

    I’d like to comment on this quote from further up the thread:
    “In my opinion – and yes, everybody has one – this is an absolute case study into the abnormal psychology of cult-like behavior.”

    More than one post has said something like this, and I think it should be very clearly stated that research into organizational behavior says that this idea is wrong. In fact, this is a case study in normal human behavior. The respected expert (Capt. Walbridge, from the point of view of his crew) with years of experience says “this is ok” and his subordinates believe him.

    This dynamic appears over and over again in studies of disaster. You can see it here in NASA’s report on the shuttle disasters: and here in a report on a terrible air crash in 1977: and there are many other examples on land, in the air and at sea.

    Captain R. Scott’s post (above) is both a reminder of what we should do, and a description of the forces that work against us when the organization wants us to do something different. When the people that pay you (the owner) and the people who rely on you (Oil rig) say do something a certain way its human to agree, its normal, not bunker mentality. Posting his story gives us some useful perspective for the discussion.

    There is plenty of evidence that resisting the urge to conform takes knowledge, training and some courage. Our effort to explain what went wrong on the Bounty will be better informed if we acknowledge that the crew’s decision to stay on board before she left port was well within the bounds of normal human behavior, it does not take special cult like control to get people to follow you into danger that they do not understand.

    • Mario Vittone

      I concur – this was normal human behavior. It is the same behavior that allows a co-pilot to allow a senior pilot to fly a plane into the ground, or a nurse to watch a surgeon cut into the flesh of the wrong knee. They believe they know what the right thing to do is, but dismiss that feeling in deference to their wise and experienced team leader.

  • Jim

    To Mario and contributors of this discussion, I as a recreational boater and flyer bestow many thanks for your insights into this tragedy. It is by your comments and reporting that we the less knowledgeable may become more safe. Thank you all!

  • Rick Owens

    Well, I’m exhausted!
    I think all of the public information is in.

    So, what’s the verdict!?

    I think I’ll deliberate for awhile.

    Looking forward to what “Mario Vittone says”.

  • Brittany

    I crewed Bounty about two months before this incident. This article makes it seem like pumping bildges “constantly” was abnormal for Bounty…..It most certainly was not. We pumped them every single hour, every day, except when in docked. If we didn’t the water would be filling the bildges in a matter of hours.

    • Mario Vittone

      Sorry Brittany – I didn’t mean for it to sound like pumping the bilges constantly was abnormal for Bounty. But that is abnormal for ANY boat. That you had to pump bilges using electric pumps every hour on bounty meant that the ship was in terrible shape.

  • Brittany

    Well, regardless, CDR Carroll has been emailed about it. Still seems odd to me.

    • Stephen Olson

      Brittany: I’ve posted earlier about laying alongside the Bounty in Liverpool in 2008, when her pumps were running a lot. And then in 2012, when she was in Belfast, Maine, pumping all the time.

  • Rick Ansell

    I am reminded on the loss of the Union Star in the UK in 1981. The Mayday was only sent when she was almost on the rocks. The result was the loss of the entire crew of 5, the Masters family of three and the eight man crew of the RNLI Lifeboat ‘Solomon Browne’.

    This could have so easily been a similar tale.

  • Shay

    Many of the people commenting here are obviously not tall ship sailors. I wonder if you have ever even been on a tall ship. It would be so refreshing if those who haven’t, would keep their speculation to themselves.
    Anyone who has worked on a ship knows, there is a chain of command. No, Deanna, it was not a cult. What an incredibly stupid comment. Crew are hired for their willingness and ability to do the demanding physical work required to sail a tall ship. As a topman myself I take umbrage at the insinuation that we are hired because we are naive. Robin did not choose the safety of the ship over the safety of the crew and anyone who knew him knows that. Obviously, he made what he thought were sound decisions as he was putting his own life on the line as well. It’s easy to sit in your chair at home and second guess him after the fact. Unless you have been on a tall ship in a hurricane, you have no business criticizing anyone who was. It’s not a cruise ship. It’s not a yacht. There is constant work to be done, hard physical work in an environment where you can barely keep your footing. And that is what tall ship sailors sign up for. The tall ship community is not whining about the loss of life, although we grieve for that and the loss of a beautiful tall ship. We understand the risk of serious injury and death. We accept it. Everyone signs the waiver. Tall ships are inherently dangerous and always will be. That is the nature of a tall ship. No one crews a tall ship because they have to. We do it because we want to. If you want to stay safe, you stay home. If you want the adventure of crewing an active tall ship, you make your peace with the fact that things go wrong, people get hurt, people die, sometimes ships are lost. Why is everyone acting like a ship should never be lost, like no one should ever die at sea? Throughout history it has happened. There is no way to keep every single thing on a ship perfect at all times. Rust and rot are continuous factors. Things break down. Things wear out. The constant battering of the wind and salt water take their toll. You deal with it as best you can and make do. It’s not a Disneyland ride, people. It’s a working tall ship. My greatest fear is that people who know nothing about the world of tall ships will impose rules and regulations that will cripple the tall ship organizations who are already struggling financially to keep their ships operational. Perhaps in your innocence you think the privilege of being able to tour a tall ship will always be there. It is ridiculously expensive to maintain them, even just sitting at dock they cost a fortune and take a host of crew to maintain. The only way any tall ship organization survives is by the dedicated service of unpaid volunteers which far outnumber the paid workers. Even so, there is never enough money to keep everything in perfect condition all the time. The ship was caught in a hurricane and it sank. It is terribly sad all the way around. If Robin had outrun the hurricane, no one would be criticizing his choices. No one knew what Sandy would turn out to be. It’s very sad that Claudene was lost. But she signed the waiver like everyone else and took responsibility for the risk.

    • Ed Wiser

      You are an example of the problem. This is exactly the kind of attitude that lost Bounty. It is about the absence of intelligent risk management, weighing the pros and cons for a given action, and understanding the limits of the ship and crew. There was no compelling reason for Bounty to go to sea and many reasons for staying in port.

      You can try to cover the truth with mindless machismo but it does not alter the fact that Walbridge made repeated serious errors of judgement in both maintenance and operations. His approach finally killed him.

      You have said some harsh, indeed insulting things about Deena and others about their opinions and/or tall ship experience. Let me add that you are clearly not a combat vet. John Wayne types like you draw fire and I don’t want to be near you when the rounds start coming in.

    • JAK

      Well, Shay, I have sailed tall ships and crawled all over the Bounty, and the only thing I’d completely agree with you on is that I don’t want more regulations either. However, your attitude is exactly why there will be more made. I’ll add to the old saying “you can’t fix stupid” by saying “but you certainly can regulate it.” If you don’t want more regulations, then the best thing to do is have the attitude that this is an isolated mentality in the tall ship world. This should not be perceived as the “norm”. If so, there will be plenty regulations. You’re missing quite a few things in your logic, but I’ll mention the one of more important, as that’s all I have time for. The Bounty was not a traditional sailboat. There are few tall ships that are such, but many can act as such. Bounty could not. She was completely reliant on her machinery. Without it, she would sink at the dock. Her machinery was much more important than her sticks. You can glamorize going aloft all you want, but the actual equipment that got that boat from port to port was her engines, generators, and pumps. Without these in perfect working order and somebody aboard who was knew them intimately, with the ability to keep them that way, to head out to sea into the face of a hurricane while rounding Hatteras was asinine to say the least. There was no way for Bounty with her speed to “outrun” the storm. Nobody who has a basic understanding of boats, weather, and the sea could believe that. I suggest you not share your thoughts as you are inviting what you fear the most. There are many more issues here, not the least that the Coast Guard risked their lives to save the lives aboard the ship. Perhaps tall ships should sign a waiver with them, stating they would not like to be rescued…?

      • Kim Carver

        Very well put, JAK. Thank you.

      • andrew

        As someone who has worked on more than a dozen ships–from coastal schnoors to the big 4-masted square riggers–including unfortunately going through 2 hurricanes/typhons at sea, let me join the chorus in saying your bravado needs a serious re-examination. Being safe and smart doesnt mean you cant still sail the ships as they are designed. I am forever grateful that the masters of one of my overseas ships, which had lost several crew members in various accidents in the years before i joined, made significant safety changes and didnt just chalk it up to “well, its dangerous out here”. I’m happy to report that its been a very long time now since their last fatality due to those improvements–in both proceedures and most importantly attitude about safety. Which one would you rather work on–the death trap that saw half a dozen kids fall from the rigging over a decade or so, or a ship with greatly improved safety where you might actually get to enjoy your time onboard? And yes, one of those improvements was keeping unexperienced yahoos out of the rigging, especially in heavy weather, even if they were part of the deck crew.

  • Steve

    We understand the risk of serious injury and death. We accept it. Everyone signs the waiver. Tall ships are inherently dangerous and always will be. That is the nature of a tall ship…

    If you want the adventure of crewing an active tall ship, you make your peace with the fact that things go wrong, people get hurt, people die, sometimes ships are lost…

    Shay, as a tall ship deckhand, I agree that tall ships are more dangerous than a regular ship. But an attitude of complacency, unquestioning acceptance of risk, and an aversion to taking a hard look at existing equipment, training, and procedures endangers the entire industry. Ignoring backup equipment, delaying distress calls, using improper materials for maintenance, etc only serves to kill our fellow deckhands and diminish our reputation among other professional deckhands.

    If we can learn from this tragedy, why shouldn’t we? Take a look at “Tall Ships Down” by Parrott – I hated reading about the losses of the crews and tall ships, but avoiding digesting it just means we’ll repeat the same mistakes, with the same results.

    I don’t want to be responsible for the loss of a crewmember, or the loss of the ship I love…

  • Ed Wiser

    I neglected to add that even if Bounty had made port the wear and tear of the ordeal would have cost many thousands to repair and unquestionably shortened the life of an already poorly maintained vessel. Walbridge elected to ignore the rot and cover it with paint – surely an egregious act in anyone’s mind.

  • Ed Wiser

    Thanks for mentioning the USCG personnel involved. All too often when someone does something stupid like this, someone else has to risk his/her life to bail them out.

    This whole episode has brought me closer to my daughter as I consider the kids aboard this tub and the youthful men who saved them. She and I will be talking about it for a long time. I have taught her much about ships, the sea, boats, naval history. She is already an insightful problem solver and rational thinker. Now I am going to teach her to question authority.

  • Ed

    I’ve got to add one bit of inside information.

    As this story has unfolded I have always thought Walbridge looked familiar. I did not put it all together until another captain testified he met him via a referral by Joe Maggio. Then the light went on.

    I skippered Maggio’s boat Heritage of Miami for a while when it was on charter to the Boy Scouts in the Keys back in the early 1990s. Turnover of captains was a running joke in the community as Maggio was a notorious cheapskate and paid abysmally, even by “tall ship” standards.

    We could get away with a lot on maintenance because the boat was very simple, had been built strongly and for safety first. We were very, very safety conscious and never pressed or stressed the boat or crew.

    Being in his good graces did not mean that you were a competent mariner who exercised good judgement. It really meant that you either shared his standards or were willing to accept them without remark or complaint. Needless to say, I was not a favorite and soon moved on through the revolving door.

    I was walking the dock at Miamimarina back in October and had a conversation with someone doing maintenance aboard Heritage. I hold him I had once been captain and he broke into laughter. He said there had been so many captains passing through this boat you could not keep track of them with a calculator.

  • Stephen Olson

    Shay makes a remarkable comment: “No one knew what Sandy would turn out to be.”
    Yeah, in fact they did. The forecast was quite explicit, and it called for the storm to follow a track that wasn’t common for hurricanes.
    As for all this “tall ship” blather, you make an assumption that anybody who doesn’t agree with you must necessarily have never working on a sailing vessel. I have. I’ve sailed as master on a square topsail schooner in a gale in the middle of the Bay of Biscay in October. Not a hurricane, but not a joke, either. Compared to running a hawser tug in midwinter, it was a lark. I’ve had first hand experience with both.
    But the thing I find most objectionable about your comments is that you don’t recognize that Walbridge’s foolhardiness not only sank a vessel, and killed a couple of people. It also blackened the reputation of sail training vessels, by making it seem that all those “tall ships” must be captained by cowboys like Walbridge, and crewed by sanctimonious loudmouths like you. Walbridge also put a lot of Coast Guard crew in serious peril. His stunt also cost the American taxpayer a lot of money. I can respect a man who decides to take the big risk, whether its climbing Annapurna by himself, or going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, or sailing into a hurricane in a rotten boat. But to take a crew along, and then to cry for the Coast Guard to come save his bacon, is not exactly noble.

  • Deeana

    Shay, please re-read the original post. I used the term “cult-like behaviors” to describe certain observed behaviors. You have obviously attached a pejorative connotation to the word “cult”. (I know, so do many.) If I wrote “cult of personality” would that be less threatening to you? How about “charismatic domination”? Ever heard of that?

    Sociologists and psychologists are trained in the observation of human behaviors. They use terms to describe behaviors, not to malign the participants in the behavior. It would likely be of benefit to you to do some reading about “cult-like behaviors” within groups. While often found within religious organizations, it is often found within the secular world also. (Not to offend, but the Amway organization has long been noted in this area.)

    Again, the Coast Guard investigation will determine the errors and the violations. But it is highly doubtful they will ever answer the “Why?” questions. Why did the captain choose to sail into a hurricane? Why do the crew members continue to defend the man? We saw how quickly that line of questioning was stopped. I would think because it is not the mission of a Coast Guard investigation to determine motivation?

    But motivation is the big (perhaps only) question that is left here. Since the captain never explicitly stated his motivation for this voyage – at least that we know of, so far – we are left to speculate.

    To make statements like “he would never put the boat or his crew into harms way” is just just not true. That is exactly what he did. Why?

    In other matters: The attorney for the Christian family, Ralph Melucci, has quite an impressive background:

    Tall ships I have been aboard as a paying passenger: Windjammer Cruises, “Fantome” once and “Polynesia” twice, in the 1970’s

  • ArtK

    I understand the thrill of sailing tall ships. Pitting yourself and your boat against the elements is enormously satisfying. You’re right that sailing tall ships is inherently risky. There’s a far cry, though, from doing something risky while doing your best to mitigate that risk, and doing something risky while actively increasing that risk. The first is wise risk-taking; the second is bone-headed stupidity. By taking an aging boat, leaking like a sieve with poorly maintained equipment and an inexperienced crew into a major storm (much less a hurricane) is increasing the inherent risks a thousand-fold.

    Someone who bungee jumps with properly maintained equipment and safety procedures in place is a thrill seeker. Someone who bungee jumps with a bunch of rubber bands and duct tape is a candidate for a Darwin Award.

    Taking steps to reduce risk doesn’t diminish the “nobility” of the activity at all. Sadly, there are enough people who won’t take those steps on their own, so we end up with regulation. If we don’t want crippling regulations then we need to be better at policing ourselves. Proper maintenance and training are what they are, whether mandated by regulation or simply by good practice. They cost the same no matter what the motivation. If the cost of maintaining equipment is too much for a ship to bear, then she shouldn’t be sailing. Blaming that on “crippling regulation” misses the point entirely. Regulation just forces someone to face facts; it doesn’t create those facts. If being forced to maintain their ship to a reasonable level makes the owners go out of business, the problem is with their business model not with the regulation.

    The idea that anybody here thinks that sailing a tall ship should be as safe as a ride at Disneyland is nothing but a straw man. (Disney’s had enough trouble with safety and maintenance to belie that thought in any case.) We recognize that it’s dangerous. It just doesn’t have to be as dangerous as the Bounty was.

    If I go out on a yard, I wear a harness and clip on. I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought the less of me for that. I do it because there are plenty of reasons to do it and very few ones to not do it. There were plenty of good reasons for Bounty to seek shelter before the storm, but no one has been able to discern a good one for what she actually did.

    Captain Walbridge may have made the best decision possible given the information that he had and his skill and experience. History proved that he wasn’t infallible and that may be the one thing that didn’t figure into his decision making.

Sign up for the gCaptain Newsletter!

Over 32,000 people receive the gCaptain email newsletter every single day. Get the maritime and offshore industry headlines that matter sent straight to your inbox. Or LIKE us on Facebook!

We will not share your email address with anybody for any reason