Kevin Carroll, HMS Bounty

Commander Kevin Carroll, USCG (AP Photo)

The witness, Todd Kosakowski, looked at Coast Guard’s evidence # CG-41:  a series of 29 photographs he had taken of Bounty during its most recent yard period. Mr. Kosakowski – the lead shipwright and project manager for Boothbay Harbor Shipyards – was in charge of the last maintenance project ever to be done on Bounty.

The pictures were of rotted frames and fasteners (trunnels) he found under the planking during repairs. Kosakowski told NTSB investigator Captain Rob Jones that he believes 75% of the framing above the waterline on Bounty may have been rotten, but that the ship’s representative in the yard, Captain Robin Walbridge, declined any further search for rotted wood. He convinced Kosakowski that they would make the repairs before their next Coast Guard hull inspection.  The final witness of the day and the discussion of the evidence was stunning those of us in the crowd.

He had given the photos to the USCG Investigator back in December.  That same Coast Guard investigator – Commander Kevin Carroll –  was on the other side of the table today, asking questions.

Carroll: “And you had a conversation…did you tell Captain Walbridge?”

Kosakowski: “Yes.”

Carrol: “What did he say?”

Kosakowski: “He was also concerned.  I told him I thought that  he had to pick and choose his weather… he said that he was terrified of what we had found.”

Kosakowski said that he didn’t voice his concerns to anyone other than Captain Walbridge of Bounty and his own boss, Eric Graves, telling Carroll, “I believe that the owner’s rep is the extent of my debt to notify.”

Looking around to see if anyone else looked as dismayed as I felt, I didn’t have to look hard.  What we were hearing from Kosakowski came at the end of a long day of testimony that painted a picture of maintenance and management of Bounty that was suspect at best.

Todd Kosakowski with Chief Mate John Svendsen after the second day of testimony into the sinking of Bounty. (Photo M. Vittone)

Todd Kosakowski with Chief Mate John Svendsen after the second day of testimony into the sinking of Bounty. (Photo M. Vittone)

Morning testimony by  Miss Tracey Simonin – the HMS Bounty Organization’s “Director of Shoreside Operations” revealed confusion about the ship’s status as it related to tonnage certificates and maintenance management, ABS and USCG notification of repairs, and who may or may not be in charge of repair work aboard Bounty.

In July of 2011, at the urging of USCG Activities Europe and MCA, Simonin walked through a new Tonnage Certificate issued by ABS that set Bounty’s gross tonnage at 409.  During a visit, inspectors noticed a change to the ship’s construction – specifically the removal of a tonnage opening – that was not reported to ABS.  The new assessment made the Bounty subject to SOLAS, and the HMS Bounty Organization appealed.  A year later they changed the vessel back to its previous configuration and received a new tonnage certificate that brought them back down to 266 regulatory tons, but it would seem that for a year Bounty operated in violation of IMO regulations. Like so much of what I’ve seen so far in these hearings, there are more questions than answers; Simonin answered “I don’t know,” and “I don’t remember,” frequently.

In Simonin’s defense, there was someone in the room better suited to answer the Commander’s questions today, but Mr. Robert Hansen (Bounty’s owner) is asserting his fifth amendment rights and will not be testifying. Simonin did clear up a couple of things.  We learned that the person who posted on Bounty’s Facebook page was Jim Salapatek.  He – not the captain – was the one who posted that the voyage into the hurricane was a safe decision, that the Coast Guard had issued a UMIB (Urgent Marine Information Broadcast) for Bounty on October 28th but had rescinded it (they hadn’t), and he did all of that from his home in Illinois.   His connection to Bounty?  His son, Drew (29) was crew aboard Bounty. How did he get his information? “I don’t know,” said Simonin.

There was a break from strained testimony and nervous answers when Mr. Bert Rogers, the executive director of Tall Ships America,  was called as a witness. “Bounty was the star of the show at our events because of her star appeal and we featured her as a headliner vessel at our events,” Rogers said. When asked about Walbridge’s  competence, Rogers spoke well of the captain and his efforts over the past 17 years to “turn Bounty around.” He said complimentary things about Bounty’s crew and the ship’s relationship and value to his organization.

It was 20 minutes of good news about the ship and her performance from a respected and experienced leader in the tall ship community. And then Rogers – the first experienced tall-ship captain  to take the stand – was asked by Carroll, “Would you have taken her out into that storm?”  “No, I would have sought safer berth upriver.”  No one was surprised.

Carroll: “Do you think the ship was safer at sea?”

Rogers: “I don’t believe that a ship is safer at sea.  It is circumstantial.  There are cases where that is the example and cases where it is not.”

Carroll: “Is the crew safer at sea?”

Rogers: “That is absurd; they are of course safer in bed than at sea. But if you have to decide between crew safety and ship safety you would have to go to the crew.”

Rogers left before he could hear Kosakowski recount the condition of Bounty and the rotted frames.  He didn’t hear about Walbridge’s decision to wait until the next yard period to get into extensive repairs.  He didn’t hear about the shipwright’s warning to keep the boat out of heavy weather. If he had, I wonder what he would have thought about those “circumstances?”

The last to question Rogers was the attorney for the Christian family, Mr. Jacob Shisha. The Christian’s daughter, Claudine (42), was recovered by the Coast Guard on October 29th.

Shisha: “In late October – how many member vessels did you have on the Atlantic Coast?”

Rogers: “About fifty.”

Shisha: “How many made a decision to leave port in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy?”

Rogers: “None that I know of…besides Bounty.”

Next: Day 3 – Testimony Highlights Complexity in Bounty Case

Continued Bounty Coverage:

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    • Capt. Fred Newhart

      I will not entirely disagree with the first line of your statement, but the later part is pretty broad. We run a commercial schooner and will always sacrifice profit for proper repair.

      • C. Wallace

        25 years! She’s changed quite a bit since those days. Hope you’ll have a chance to get aboard and see her again someday! I think you’d be pleasantly surprised.

    • http://crosssawmill.com Steve Cross

      Does anyone think this qualifies as “Applying Good Marine Practice” per NVIC-7-95?

  • PAUL

    IT’S A SHAME…ALL THAT NAUTICAL EXPERIENCE AND NOT A LICK OF COMMON SENSE OR STREET SMARTS. A LOT OF BASICALLY IGNORANT FOLKS…

    • https://www.facebook.com/watersafety Mario Vittone

      I’m not sure they could make way to the East. She’s was a slow boat without a headwind and way under-powered.

      • Rick Owens

        Did you mean “… a slow boat WITHOUT a head wind.”?
        Headwinds, on a sailboat, are the slowest point of sail.
        The further east they went, the more headwinds they would encounter.

        • https://www.facebook.com/watersafety Mario Vittone

          I meant she is slow even without a headwind…with a strong headwind, she could barely make way with with sails and her engines.

          • Rick Owens

            Thanks for the reply,
            It was my misinterpretation,sorry.

      • https://www.facebook.com/watersafety Mario Vittone

        The Bounty didn’t have a COI for passengers anywhere but at the docks – so she couldn’t have been more limited by her COI. The 75% number was given by the Boothbay Shipyard foreman – who had no authority to limit the vessels movements, and did not make those concerns known to anyone other than Captain Walbrige and his boss.

  • Ron Palmer

    With rotting frames and corroded fastenings etc it becomes obvious that Captain Wallbridge had lost it. Earlier reports revealed that inexperienced crew carried out caulking of the hull sheathing. That would likely open up the soft planking further. The Mate should have exerted more influence to prevent Captain Wallbridge from leaving the port with a very unsafe ship.

    • A tall ship sailor

      Bounty was not an unsafe vessel, nor was her crew inexperienced. More then half of the deckhands aboard had worked on other boats, wooden and steel hulled. All had been caulking seams for several months, and, as a point of fact, Bounty’s hull was not sheathed, but painted.
      I understand that everyone has a right to thier own opinion but the amount of blame that’s being thrown around over this is amazing.
      Even more stunning is that no one with an opinion was even there. So all they have is rumor and conjecture

      • also a “tall ship” sailor

        Tall ship sailor, BOUNTY had a reputation in the community as unsafe for years. I was warned by many captains whose opinions and experience I greatly respect to never set foot on that vessel. As to caulking, I’ve done it myself, and would never say someone who had done it for “months” was experienced. It is a skill that requires supervision and lots of practice, and when rhe safety of.a ship and crew is at stake, you don’t leave that important job to people.who’ve done it a.couple times in yard. I’d just like to add that whild everyone is saddened bybthe loss od.the ship.and.grieves.the loss of Claudene and Robin, most of us can see clearly the mistakes that were made. BOUNTU’s status as an uninspected vessel allowed her to operate in a manner no inspected vessel would dream of.

        • also a “tall ship” sailor

          Apologies for the typos–I’m mobile.

        • Rick Owens

          Well, of all the ingredients that went into the sinking of the Bounty, … and I don’t think we have heard all of the story, yet… the caulking done by the Bounty crew seems, to me at least, a small, even insignificant, contribution. In regards to caulking, what was NOT done is of more importance.
          I’ll wait for this hearing (which from what I’ve seen so far, leaves too many questions still not asked and unanswered) to conclude, before I decide where the mistakes may lie.

          • https://www.facebook.com/watersafety Mario Vittone

            Very true rick. So much is being said at these hearings that my articles can only speak to a certain aspect of what was said. Far more questions still than answers. For instance, according to testimony so far, the bilge systems were not checked or tested prior to departure. The hydraulic pumps installed as backups had corroded fittings when they were first used and had to be cleaned first (during the storm) and the trash pump – a gasoline powered portable – had been sealed in it’s container for well over a year. Of course it didn’t work when they broke it out during the storm.

      • also a “tall ship” sailor

        They do not have “rumor and conjecture.” They have sworn testimony from people who worked on the ship in the yard and observed her condition and from people who were aboard the vessel at the time of the tragedy.

    • Rick Owens

      I believe the owners’, Robert Hansen, reason for not testifying, is that he has the “deep pockets” in this incident, and is most at risk for lawsuits. Very tempting bait for the lawyers.
      I think he is being prudent, if a bit callous toward the families involved.
      He did, after all, rely on the opinion and experience of Capt. Walbridge in the past.
      And I tend to give him at least SOME points (whatever that may account for) for keeping the Bounty alive for these many many years.
      I do admit, this benefit of the doubt may well be misplaced, but until evidence to the contrary comes up,I’ll try to be not so cynical.

  • Kevin Kerwin

    I just missed a similar trip on the Alexandia before she sank. I was offered a trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Alexandria, VA on her, and after seeing so many rotted plank butts I decided not to go. She made it back to Virginia that trip while leaking like a sieve, then sank on the next voyage south. Too many of these wooden vessels are maintained by amateurs with shoestring budgets

    • David Hastie

      I think that if the NTSB & USCG had a stand down on all ‘tall ships’ with US flag, they would immediately find that most are not sea worthy and/or had inexperienced crew for emergency conditions. The wooden hull & rigging, lack of funds, amature status of most of the crew, and need to keep a schedule do not lend themselves to modern ocean going standards.

  • http://www.kirklarsenfineart,com Kirk Larsen

    Even well tended completely seaworthy vessels, in top condition, with proper sails, equipment, and stalwart crew can fall victim to a large powerful storm. I was in Virginia beach the 27th, October, 2013: What I saw of the ocean that day were the most forbidding conditions and violent,conflicting wave patterns of my life. I was grateful to “not be at sea” yet knew what awaited the New York and Long Island waters I was returning to (by land) were in for something fierce. I was taken aback when I heard the Bounty was sailing. To learn of the vessel condition, knowing the seas were pounding, appears at this point to be a poor sense of reality check-in.

  • http://crosssawmill.com Steve Cross

    Frames Hold Hull Planking!! Hull Planking Provides Buoyancy!!! Buoyancy Is What Makes A Boat/Ship Float!!! Am I Missing Something Here??????

  • Capt.Lawrence B.D’Souza

    Well said Suzi, Where’s the Captain & where is the evidence? At the bottom of the sea Ocean.

  • http://www.bryanleyland.co.nz Bryan Leyland

    I joined the Bounty as an extra while she was filming in Tahiti and then signed on to the crew for the voyage back to Los Angeles. While she was in Tahiti she was quite badly damaged with shipworm. Some repairs were carried out in Honolulu on the way back.

    She was built in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia for the movie itself and there was no expectation that she would last more than a few years.

    About 10 – 15 years ago I met someone who was given the job of fixing her up and getting him back into the water. He said she was very poor condition as far as the hull was concerned.

    When I heard that she had sunk, I was amazed that she was still on the water. I had assumed that she would have rotted away long before then.

    She was not an easy ship to handle and required good officers and competent crew. Our captain – a very cautious man – was trained on Nova Scotia schooners, the second mate had some experience from Poland and the third mate had been at sea all his life. The Bosun, who was 73, was enormously experienced. We had two engineers and a total crew of 23.

    The ship built for the third version of “Mutiny on the Bounty” was built in New Zealand of steel with timber cladding. A much stronger and better ship.

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