Matthew Sanders, second mate of Bounty, looks at a binder of evidence as he is questioned about the bilge pump system ( Steve Earley / The Virginian-Pilot )

Sometimes bad things happen. We do something that we shouldn’t and that leads to tragedy. Do the right thing at the wrong time or the wrong thing anytime and you can get yourself into real trouble out there. Add masts and yards to the equation and the ways to screw up increase with every square foot of sail you put aloft.  No one can argue that there aren’t plenty of errors to make on a tall ship like Bounty. But after five days of testimony, I’m convinced that the sinking of that beautiful ship and the loss of two of her crew had as much to do with what they didn’t do as what they did.

To be clear, the primary thing they did wrong was to leave the relative safety of New London for the open ocean in the face of Hurricane Sandy.  I don’t care if Bounty was brand new and made of titanium, putting her to sea on a course to cross a hurricane was a bad idea. There is simply no logical argument for taking that risk and testimony thus far hasn’t even attempted to make one.   They weren’t leaving on a rescue mission, they weren’t carrying a load of urgent medical supplies, they weren’t even trying to avert financial burden or deliver a lucrative cargo. They were trying to get to their next port.  But even more perplexing than the act of leaving New London, was what they didn’t do before that.

Bounty had five pumps aboard for dewatering: two electrically driven pumps and one hydraulically driven pump attached to the bilge manifold, and two portable pumps, one hydraulic submersible, and a gasoline-powered trash pump.  Primarily, Bounty’s crew relied on the electrically driven pumps for their routine (once or twice every four hours) pump-outs of the bilge.  The hydraulic pumps were installed as backup, and the gasoline-powered portable was purchased on a trip to England in 2011 at the insistence of visiting inspectors.

Here is what Matt Sanders, Bounty’s second mate, testified to Commander Carroll of the Coast Guard concerning the bilge pumps today.

Carroll: “The hydraulic pumps –  when did you first use them?”

Sanders: “On the 28th” [October 28th – the day prior to sinking]

Carroll: “Was it used any other time before that in the season?”

Sanders: “Not that I know of.”

Sanders’ testimony on the backup bilge system aligns with the other five crew members who have testified so far.  None of them can recall ever seeing the hydraulic bilge pumps work in the 2012 season. Carroll wanted to know – if not physically run – were the backup pumps something  the Bounty crew at least trained on.

Carroll: “Were the crew taught how to use the hydraulic pumps?”

Sanders: “No, I don’t think so.”

Carroll: “Were they trained on the gasoline-powered pump?”

Sanders: “No, they weren’t.”


Douglass Faunt – Electrician/Radio Operator of Bounty (Steve Earley / The Virginian-Pilot )

According to Laura Groves’ testimony, when the portable hydraulic pump was first used on the 28th, there was a delay. “The fittings were corroded and they had to be cleaned before they would work. I saw the captain and Drew Salapatek cleaning the fittings,” she said to Carroll last Friday.

Apparently, the backup bilge pumps installed on Bounty weren’t used, or trained on, or even maintained.

The gasoline-powered pump was an even more mysterious piece of gear to the crew.  Only those who made the trip to England in 2011 had ever seen it. After it was purchased, it was bagged and returned to its container – gasoline and all – where it stayed until the evening prior to the sinking.  Though they fought with it through the night, Dan Cleveland and all else who tried couldn’t get the emergency back-up pump to run for more than a brief 30 seconds.

When asked why the portable gasoline pump was not routinely tested, maintained, and trained on, the answers ranged from absurd to worse. No one aboard seemed to have any idea that if you left gasoline in a can for 18 months, it would be a bad thing.

Faunt: “I’d seen it work once when we bought it and put it away and left it alone on Robin’s orders.”

Carroll: “Why?”

Faunt: “Because it wasn’t particularly good and we didn’t want to wear it out by using it.  And it was gasoline and we were worried about fire!”

NTSB Investigator Captain Rob Jones pressed Faunt to explain why they wouldn’t want to practice with the ship’s portable emergency bilge pump and use it periodically to ensure that it was in working order.  Faunt’s incredulous response, “But the pump was gasoline, why would we risk using it if we didn’t have to?” When he was asked why the hydraulic pumps weren’t ever used, he replied, “There was concern about wear, so they were held in reserve.”

This notion of not using something to make sure it would work when you needed it was common practice on Bounty.  The new engineer, Chris Barksdale, testified that Robin Walbridge told him that he wanted to use the port generator and to leave the starboard offline as much as possible.

The starboard was his backup generator and he didn’t want to “wear it out.”


Christopher Barksdale, engineer of the Bounty, pauses as he describes getting ready to abandon ship ( Steve Earley / The Virginian-Pilot )

Barksdale – like so many of the crew – was new to Bounty in 2012.  He had just arrived in Boothbay the month before at the request of John Svendsen. The ship needed an engineer and Barksdale needed the sea time for his credential. He had never worked on a ship the size of Bounty before and was eager to find the maintenance records to learn the status of the equipment. They couldn’t be found. Prior to getting underway on a ship he knew nothing about, Barksdale changed the Racor filters off the day tanks – nothing else.

On October 25th, Bounty was preparing to sail into the Atlantic and dodge a hurricane.  Three of the five pumps had not been tested or trained in anyone’s memory. The ship’s diesel engines and generators had no maintenance records and their status was unknown.  And on the way to New London from the shipyard, the 66 year-old Faunt, a five-season veteran aboard Bounty,  noticed that even the electric bilge pumps weren’t working as well as they had been. He had been running those pumps for years and knew how they operated.  He brought his concerns to Robin Walbridge.

Faunt: “Robin thought it might have to do with the impellers.”

Carroll: “Did he ever check them?”

Faunt: “Not that I know of.”

Less than four days later, Bounty was sinking. The bilge pumps couldn’t keep up with the water, one generator was gone and the other was about to go. Walbridge and Faunt – the ship’s default electrician and GMDSS Operator – were attempting distress calls on the HF Radio and the INMARSAT C.  They couldn’t get them to work.

Carroll: “Did you test them before you left New London?”

Faunt: “No, we didn’t.”

Next: Day 6 – The Cost of Waiting

Continued Bounty Coverage:


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    October 28.

    • Mario Vittone

      Thanks Linda – no more 2AM publishing.

  • Deeana

    Sorry to say, but as more and more crew members testify the phrase that begins to come to mind is “Ship of Fools”.

    The on-board “engineer” has given several interviews to several different publications since the event. He seems to be the only crew member to have given interviews to the press.

    His account shifts from story to story to his hearing testimony…. The truth of it is that he apparently was seasick most of the time (I know, I know, it can happen to anyone. But within a half hour of leaving the dock and he’s headed towards a hurricane?), was resting and “getting hydrated” while others were in the engine room up to their waists in water trying to repair all the broken down pumps, engines and generators.

    He did seem to be the most descriptive so far about the “water pouring into the engine room from at a corner from above” the engine room. Don’t know if it will make it into these hearings, but in an article written shortly after the incident, a former crew member stated that “in weather water poured into the engine room like a waterfall”. So it sounds like this was not a new problem.

    The more you learn, the more apalling this story becomes. A “captain” who has so lost sight of himself and his vessel – which is actually a broken down, rotting wooden tub, basically – who is leading mostly either volunteers or green crewmembers into a death trap.

    It is only by the skill of the Coast Guard that anyone lived to tell this tale. And I sure wish some of these witnesses would get over what a “great captain” the guy was and start to tell the damn truth of what went on. As in: early story = ship was to depart the next morning, then all of a sudden “ship is leaving now” Current testimony = “ship leaving today as soon as everyone is aboard”.

    To me, there are witnesses who are holding back and it is pretty obvious when they are doing so. Some more than others.

    Again, a well written article. I was wondering what the headline would be for today. Thought it might be “And the water just kept coming”.

  • Kim

    Before everyone gets carried away, commenting on the lack of professionalism or a higher protocols that should have been followed (which we all agree with!) please remember that BOUNTY was NOT an inspected vessel, and NOT the standard for sail training vessels in the United States.

    • Chuck Lantz

      Kim: It doesn’t matter what the Bounty was, or wasn’t. The skipper and owner of any vessel of any size has basic responsibilities, if not legal, then at least moral.

      Even someone sailing single-handed has moral obligations to those who may have to risk their lives saving them if things go wrong.

      So far, the testimony has shown that even the most basic common sense was missing here, from the captain on down. Bad planning, non-existent testing and preparation, inexperienced and untrained crew, … and all while planning to sail into a hurricane in a rotting vessel? It’s a miracle more lives weren’t lost.

      As far as getting carried away goes, we, as observers, including some with various levels of expertise, also have a moral obligation to do just that, and to demand that anyone whose poor judgement puts the lives of the USCG and others at risk must be held legally accountable for their actions.

      That’s what social contracts are all about. If you’re going to risk your life doing something, you’d better be sure that it’s only YOUR life at risk. And damned few things fall into that category. And the Bounty incident sure wasn’t one of them.

      • Mario Vittone

        Chuck, Kim is just concerned, as many in the tall ship community are, that they will all be paying for Bounty’s mistakes with a regulatory swing in the opposite direction.

        But you make good points.

    • chris waitkun

      Um……how about common sense? Inspected or not.cripes

  • Captain Larry Gusto

    The one takeaway from the testimony thus far should be to EXPECT everything on a boat to FAIL when needed if not maintained and tested regularly. Age old advice.

  • CAPT Steven P. Gardiner

    My first CO had a better adage: You get what you inspect, not what you expect.

    • Retired BMC

      Always expect the unexpected

  • Rick Owens

    A little off subject, but a side observation for me is the tone of this hearing.
    It is clear , to me at least, that the panel, and especially Cmd. Carrol, is quite civil in the questioning, and fiercely protective (no arguing!) when the lawyers are on deck.
    I understand that. The lawyers raise my blood pressure too. I tend to the ‘more light than heat’ school.
    But I can’t help but have nagging at the back of my brain, that this is a scouting party, no matter how it is couched, for the snipers possible(likely?) to come.
    The lawyers do represent the one person I, at this time, consider the most victimized: Claudene Christen, who is not, sadly, there to speak for herself.
    And like it or not, that is how our justice system is set up.
    What a lose,lose situation. A true tragedy to me.

  • http://NAUTICALLOG(reactivated) CAPT. D. Peter Boucher, MN (Ret.)

    One would like to congratualte Mario Vittone on such excellent articles on this sad maritime event. Tom Christian of Pitcairn Island and I were shipmates in 1959 and are still friends, I sent the “gCaptain” contact to him so he can read the articles.
    It is sad that Robin Walbridge whom I understand was a good person does not appear to have been an able Master. Recordkeeping and checklists are necessary to keep track of a vessel’s work and condition, any vessel regardless of use or size, for those who sail on board – not just the inspectors. A predeparture inspection of all gear followed by testing of all equipment, using a checklist, is a basic of professional seamanship. This does not seem to have been the practice in Bounty.

    Good Watch.

  • Val

    To clarify what Kim wrote, she meant to say that Bounty was anomalous in the tallship community, and her concern is that the sin of one ship will taint the others who run good and safe boats in the eyes of the USCG.

    That said, I agree that the witnesses, excluding Faunt and Barksdale, have been holding back and closing ranks. I too do not care lawyers, but they represent their crew mate, Claudene, who died, and who’s family deserves answers. The acrimonious testimony of Sanders speaks to the worst of this. Of course, I am still trying to decide if Sanders was being evasive or is just a self-centered fool incapable of any tactical awareness outside the 3 feet perimeter of himself.

    There’s plenty of institutional failure to go around, including, yes, the USCG. The ship yard, the organization, the surveyor/designer, and various inspectors, all contribute to Bounty getting away with her deficiencies for so long.

  • L. Jaye Bell

    This article brings up some good points for sure, but also leaves out some glaringly obvious information. Based on what I heard in the testimony, here are some key points:

    1. Matt Sanders, the Second Mate, was a hero in the Bounty’s engine room. The actions and initiative he took to keep things running deserves a medal.

    2. The duties of the engineer were posted on the wall in the engine room. They defined the scope of the engineer’s job. There was a different standard for the engineer than for a deck hand. It’s already apparent that the deck hands know more about the engine room than the engineer. The engineer should already be familiar with these kinds of systems. He should know how much fuel the tanks would hold.

    3. The culture aboard Bounty was to help new crew with routine tasks until they got comfortable with the routine. Every hour, during “Boat check”, a deck hand on watch went to the engine room to check the engines, the generators, and the fuel levels and pump the bilge. The engineer was seasick, not able to do his duties, and left that responsibility to the crew. Understandably, the engine room is the worst place to be when one is seasick, especially in rough waters. It looks like he was unable to be present in the engine room for most of the journey.

    4. So far, the majority of the crew did everything possible to help keep the ship afloat. Most were pitching in, taking up the slack where one could not get the job done. The ‘group effort’ was the way the ship worked, it’s part of the culture that the captain created. The second mate and others stepped up to the challenge, but could not get ahead of what was happening in the engine room. The fact that they did so is commendable.

    • Mario Vittone

      I’ll commend their action in due time. For now, I’m trying to point at that those heroics were completely avoidable by the very men and women who performed them.

    • Ryan

      Barring no windows and the smell of fuel oil, I like the engine room in weather. It’s usually close to the center of gravity of a vessel, particularly the longitudinal center of gravity, and as such, the motions are much lower.

  • Mark Krehbiel

    I was quite upset with the engineers testimony. Enginines and generators are all pretty similiar. Why did he ask to be engineer on the Bounty if he was unable or unwilling to hit the deck running? His duties were posted. He is the experienced engineer and should immediately know what to do. This position would be unlike a deck hands. He should be held to the same standards as Captain and First Mates. If he was unable to do his job on a ship because of seasickness why did he make the choice to be there? Engine rooms are tight and hot and smell. Yea it’s in the job description. If the Captain or First Mates were unable to do their jobs there would be problems. An engineers job is to keep the engines and pumps working and keep a ship from sinking. He appeared from his testimony to be not up to the task in several ways. In a crisis he should never be out of that engine room. Would you if you were qualified to that kind of a job and in his position? What kind of an engineer is he? And as a final note it is sounding like the running out of fuel sunk the ship. The delay in getting the engines reprimed and running again, after going dry, is critical. How did the guage break? Did it break because it ran out of fuel and sucked the glass in? Diesels can do this kind of thing. Wouldn’t it be the engineers job to make sure there was fuel in the tank in a hurricane?

    • Stephen Olson

      The engineer was an engineer in name only. He was not trained, or licensed, and didn’t have much experience. From the testimony seen so far, he seems to have been a pretty good dub mechanic who could do the old make’n’mend pretty well.
      But a guy in his sixties who hasn’t done it before is not likely to stand up to the thrashing of being down on the plate when the vessel is laying over and plunging, and the heat and oil and smoke are over powering.
      The question is, who was it who decided that this engineer would do for the voyage planned? Who planned the voyage? Who made the decision to get underway?
      That’s the captain’s job.
      As for criticism of the Coast Guard: I’ve had to deal with the inspections, the foolishness, the bureaucracy of the “Chairborne Division” of the USCG. But what you see in the video of the rescue is an aircrew that is doing its job at the highest level. Pilot, co-pilot, winch operator and swimmer; a team at work. Todd and Moulder: exceptional. Todd has a real high-torque motor, and ran it hard when it was needed. Moulder dropped the basket so close that it was scary, but it looked to me like the swimmer was wearing out, and getting him out of the water justified the risks. So let me say it clearly: when my vessel’s crew is staring into the eyes of death on the bleak ocean, then those guys are who I want to see in the air above.

  • Rick Owens

    “The acrimonious testimony of Sanders speaks to the worst of this. Of course, I am still trying to decide if Sanders was being evasive or is just a self-centered fool incapable of any tactical awareness outside the 3 feet perimeter of himself.”
    Yea, his testimony and demeanor sure are sure of a different type.
    I keep having to remind myself to put a little perspective to all of those who ‘survived’ the sinking of the Bounty.
    A public airing of a traumatic event that likely will have long term physiological effects and a likelihood of PTSD. Glad I didn’t have to do that with my bad judgments.

  • Todd Schaefer

    One bad apple always spoils the bunch. The tall ship community should prepare themselves for the new regulations to make sure this type of thing doesn’t happen again. We deal with this constantly in the tanker world.

  • Robert Lindsay

    Just a thought . What is the chance of a different wood hull ship less than 300′ without rotting wood making it through such a hurricane. I would think very slim.

    • Rick Owens

      I guess I’m dump enough to try to answer that question(maybe).
      Lots of variables to consider of course but for a well found ship, that is one designed for offshore use, I think you would EXPECT it to at least survive those conditions. Cat 2-3 Hurricane winds 85-95knts, seas 20-30ft.
      Loss of rig would not be out of the question but not inevitable.
      Injuries almost assured.
      Propulsion system in tact or repairable.
      Bilge pumping system operating as designed.
      Communications working.
      Able to maintain seaworthiness after the storm and wait for help…motor on with the engines… or, with luck, continue after necessary repairs.
      Given a capable crew, of course.
      Just my guess. 85-90% of survival.

      • Robert Lindsay

        Thanks Rick !!

  • Carer Kennedy

    From the moment I heard the news about this sinking it hasn’t made any sense. This testimony adds details, but it doesn’t clear it up for me. No vessel had any business going out in that weather if there was any way to avoid it. I wonder if there is going to be any testimony as to the captain’s state of mind. I can’t understand his decision to put to sea in any rational way. Had he shown signs of mental problems? Was he delusional? The captain’s decision to go out is perplexing, but the crewmembers’ decisions to go out on that ship at that time are also unfathomable. Were they so naive that they didn’t know what they were getting into? Were they under the impression that that captain could do no wrong? Were they suicidal? It boggles the mind.

  • Rich Rooney

    I am deeply saddend, not just by the loss of a treasure in the educational sense, but by the needless loss of life. I visited the Bounty several times as a child, and wanted to take my children to see it eventually. Sadly, it is now gone, and so are several lives that didn’t have to be.

    The most basic crew training that I have ever recieved taught to inspect, test and maintain equipment basic to survival. It is sad to see a “teaching ship” that so boldly disregarded those principles.

  • umberto stellari

    Mario, you’re providing a great service to the maritime community by reporting on the daily progress into the Bounty investigation. Thank you!. By reading the many comments on the testimonies of her sinking, one cannot but agree with them all. It is immediately obvious that behind the analysis of the various situations that lead to the sinking of the tallship, offered by most commentators in this page, as well as the previous ones,there is a solid and valuable sum of professionalism, experience and common sense, acquired, I presume, by these mariners over the course of their sea time. I,too, am one of them, an ocean-going engineer first and later superintendent,who is appalled by the Bounty incident as much all the others are. However, I would abstain from pointing fingers at all crewmembers other than the Master and,to some extent, the Chief Engineer. Ultimately, they are the senior most responsible people onboard any water-borne vessel, inspected or non-inspected, even though the physical conditions of the Bounty and competence of her crew raise a series of questions about the responsibilities that the owner(s),manager(s) and inspecting parties bear on her demise. By extension of logic, if Capt.Walbridge had not decided to take her vessel out to sea in a storm, nobody can argue that no lives would have been lost. And if the Chief Engineer had done his job by test-running all the pumps,and carried out necessary repairs prior to sailing,at least he would have honored his rank,if not perhaps saving the vessel from sinking. That is why I fully agree with your condemnation of Capt. Walbridge’s decision of taking the vessel out into the storm as the primary reason for her foundering.

  • Deeana

    Cmdr. Carrol is excellent at his job. He has an inquisitive and “nice guy” personna with plenty of gravitas and knowledge so that within a very short time one can actually observe the “relaxation” of the witness. Oh, but he is a relentless nice guy, is he not? He knows what information he wants to elicit. He is a master at bringing a witness “back on track” – easily summarizing several minutes of a wandering narrative of a witness into one or two crisp sentences.

    Of course the attorneys involved have a different approach to questioning a witness. They are used to questioning a witness in a courtroom situation – either civil or criminal. Both of which are adversarial proceedings. Totally different rules.

    This is a “fact finding” proceeding. No hearsay rules, allowed to ask leading questions, etc. etc. Basically, the more the questioner can get the witness to ramble on in their answer, the more that can be learned. Even the subtle “I understand” that Cmdr. Carrol utters at times in sympathetic reply to a witness statement would not be allowed in a court of law. Yet, in an information-gathering hearing such as this, just that simple phrase seems to encourage many of these witnesses to continue expanding on a previous answer.

    These hearings are excellent for studying witness behaviors and body language during testimony. Especially with the whole-body side camera angle. Notice the squirming in the seat. Notice the leaning forward and when it takes place. Notice the sitting back in the chair. Notice the scratching. Notice the hand at and around the mouth during testimony. Notice the hands clasped together and “wringing”.

    Yes, of course some of these folks are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Surely some more than others. Which is not always dependent on the actual experience, by the way. Pre-incident coping skills and post-incident support can have a lot to do with who gets it a little and who gets it really badly.

    They all should have had post-incident counseling. My understanding is their employer would not even pay for clothing or a hotel room on the night of their rescue. The Red Cross stepped in and paid for these things.

    Cmdr. Carrol knows all of these things. In my opinion he is doing a wonderful job of doing HIS job while remaining conscious of not exacerbating any psychological problems in these survivors. The denial that the Captain of the Bounty was a fool, and that each of these folks – for whatever personal reason – followed a fool into a situation in which they almost died, is a coping mechanism. Denial, while common, is quite often a damaging coping mechanism.

    Re: the streaming video They forgot to turn the mike off when they went to the lunch break today. So a live mike picked up lots of remarks at the investigator’s table, plus a phone call to a witness who was scheduled to testify telephonically. He was told that he would be called “next week” for his testimony.

    Fascinating case in so many ways. Oh, and I think the other tall ships should not fear “further regulation”. If it prevents something like this, it will all be worth it and they likely should have been doing it anyways.

  • C. Wallace

    I hesitate to weigh in here, as online comments can often be generalized quickly as to “which side you are on”…

    As for potential regulations- it is worth anticipating what further regulations will be coming down the pike for inspected tall ships and traditional SPV vessels.

    It is worth it because, (as has been stated here and elsewhere), the USCG is trained primarily in modern-designed, commercial vessels–Hulls made out of steel or fiberglass mostly. Classic vessels and ships that are traditionally rigged, are not what CG inspectors are trained to work with. It’s worrisome to those who make their living in this industry that restrictions and onerous regulations might be imposed without practical considerations.

    The likelihood of additional training in this specialized area for USCG inspectors is doubtful due to budget restrictions and personnel limitations.

    The hope would be that CG inspectors and officials will work closely with experienced, well-respected and credentialed mariners in the tall ship world to determine what is feasible and critical for safety’s sake.

    The other issue that is worth consideration for tall ship organizations, is the use of volunteer deck-hands (and the practice of “paying crew”)

    *Not all organizations utilize either of these demographics of crew, but those that do have to seriously look at how and when to use them. Upon hearing the testimony about pumps and the crew’s knowledge (or lack thereof)I find this interesting.

    It isn’t always possible (or prudent), when using a volunteer or partially-volunteer crew, to disseminate information about all of a ship’s critical systems. Too many mistakes are made from well-meaning but inexperienced “helpers”.

    By all means, the core crew-officers, (Mates, engineers) etc., should intimately know how to handle, test and check ship’s systems and back-up emergency systems, but the engine room is a sensitive place with many critical parts in a tight place… it’s a place that is worth limiting access to by non-vital hands. (*Before anybody jumps on this statement; I am not excusing the Captain’s decisions or the core-crew’s lack of knowledge about the trash pump etc…).

    Finally, my observation about the behavior and attitude of the crew that have been called to testify is that they are being held up on an international platform to defend their actions. The adversarial attitude of the attorney (for the Christian family), could put any sailor on the defensive. There are no legal parameters set up here…lots of second-hand and hear-say testimony being logged… The attorney is clearly mining for material to be used at a latter date in court.

    I shudder to think how things would sound in any maritime-related incident when lawyers are allowed to proceed with such loose reins.

    Lots to be learned here. I am compiling a list!

    • tr

      well said.

  • Tom Hunter

    Something that seems to be missing from the understanding of many (but not all) of those posting is that Bounty was regulated as a moored attraction:
    Under sail she was not required to have a licensed engineer,

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think she was required to have professionally licensed crew. Some people are posting as if the person called engineer is required to hold professional mariners credentials. My understanding is that he is not, there is no requirement for this on Bounty, just as there is no requirement of professional license when two guys hop in a bass boat to go fishing, or when a few friends go sailing on their private yacht.

    • Steve

      Whether it was a legal requirement or not is irrelevant. Putting to sea (into a hurricane) with an engineer who is not capable of carrying out his duties is incredibly irresponsible. The captain was gambling with peoples lives, and lost.

    • Kim

      My point exactly.

      How many deaths occur on uninspected vessels each year? How many of those get NTSB hearings with a live stream and this much publicity?

      Of course there’s a moral responsibility to uphold hundreds of years of tradition and strive to be a thorough, experienced and well respected captain or engineer. Unfortunately it doesn’t always happen. I’ll bet Claudene didn’t even know the difference between inspected and uninspected when she signed on, just like dozens of friends I’ve known who have unknowingly signed on to dangerous yachts with dangerously inexperienced captains, just for the sake of adventure.

      Continuing to argue whether or not Robin should have taken the boat to sea is ridiculous, IMO. But if we’re talking about how to prevent this in the future, the solution is not going to be just hoping that a captain and vessel with little or no oversight by the USCG is going to keep with the highest maintenance and safety standards.

      Unfortunately the CG spends more time than they should have to rescuing people from uninspected vessels. I’d love some stats on the rates of casualty when it comes to uninspected vs. inspected, if anyone has them. Personally, if I went out sailing solo across the ocean, I wouldn’t even take an epirb. I don’t want anyone risking their life to save me from my own stupidity. So I do agree with the person above who said Robin shouldn’t have put the CG rescuers at risk. Knowing the health of the vessel, the severity of the storm, and the inexperience of the crew, they shouldn’t have left port. Period. What else is there to argue?

      • tom

        “Personally, if I went out sailing solo across the ocean, I wouldn’t even take an epirb. I don’t want anyone risking their life to save me from my own stupidity.”

        a lot of what you say i agree with. but this? hmm … on one hand sailors are self-sufficient and selfless, so i understand. and going out in weather heavier than you or your boat can likely deal with is stupid. but is hitting a submerged ship container “stupidity”? would you rather die or float in your raft for 3 weeks than hear a chopper and be sheepish but grateful? or should certain remote frontiers (made more remote by smaller vessel size) be at your own risk?

      • Mario Vittone

        I pulled the data and analyzed it. A certificated vessel is 25 times less likely to call Mayday than a recreational vessel. Just data – not parsing out for licensed versus unlicensed…just vessel types.

        • Kim

          Thanks Mario. I was only finding recreational boating statistics and haven’t waded through the IMO pages yet. I don’t care as much about the licensing, because it’s hard to say if a better trained crew could have saved this boat or Claudene’s life (besides via an early mutiny).

    • former deckhand

      Just glancing at that link, even meeting those requirements must have been a stretch. Also, the Bounty has carried paying passengers on voyages in the past. Now, whether or not the Coast Guard knew that at the time is a different issue. Maybe someone can chime in here- when does inspection become mandatory?

      Going back to another posting, the Bounty *did* have a bad reputation in the tall ship community. I knew before going on board, hoped I was wrong, and left early. But many others went on board with either very little experience and/or no contact with the wider tall ship community.

      • Kim

        Annual inspections are mandatory if a smaller boat carries more than 6 paying passengers, and a boat Bounty’s size carries more than 12 paying passengers, but any of us can carry up to our stability letter’s or sometimes, if that’s not required, whatever common sense tells us – as long as they aren’t PAYING for any part of the trip. That means no kind of compensation, monetary or otherwise, toward the vessel or crew. UNLESS… the boat is over 300tons (someone correct me if I’m wrong on the tonnage). Boats that big require an inspection. I’m not sure if it’s annual, though. If it all sounds weird, I agree with you – it is.

  • frank

    I have to speak up about the “blame the engineer” thing as well. I had a “job” on a boat that was very similar; they took completely green crew and had no maintenance schedule to speak of. I had the highest aptitude so they made me engineer. All my job entailed was starting the engines, keeping them oiled, keeping the day tank filled, make sure nothing was on fire. I was told the captain took care of all the maintenance. Shortly thereafter we head into the north atlantic in december (i had never been to sea before, i had no clue what to expect) and i start to realize there was no maintenance done. There where no working bilge pumps to speak of, the 2 gasoline trash pumps hadn’t been run in years ( and wouldn’t start) the backup hydraulic motor had never been run. On top of that most of my dockside time before we left was spent painting (which, much like the caulking on bounty, was also done completely wrong) had i known to check to make sure everything worked i wasn’t given the time. If we sank would it have been my fault? It would have been on the captain. He knew i had no clue what i was doing, he put me there anyway. Was i naive? Yeah. Was i negligent? I don’t think so, i didn’t know any better. Was the captain?
    I guess i’m projecting, but i could see how someone completely unqualified could end up in a vital position on a boat like that, cast off thinking everything is ship shape (it’s the bounty, of course it’s in good shape) and have absolutely no clue what their responsibilities actually are.

  • Mario Vittone

    I am trying very hard in all of these posts to not blame anyone. But there were so many things said in testimony that didn’t make this article. Hearing today’s testimony (it’s 5:45pm Eastern, I’m still here) I believe Barksdale worked as hard as he could for as long as he could. The man was doing things.

    Mr. Hunter, you are correct. Bounty was not required to have a licensed engineer. But Barksdale knows less about engines than I do – and I don’t know anything. But for that, and for the fate of Bounty, I don’t blame Barksdale. He was woefully out of his depth.

  • Capt. Freddie

    Thank you for keeping us posted on these hearings!


    Yes, thanks for the great reporting Mario, looking forward to your take on todays proceedings.

    • Mario Vittone

      Today’s testimony was the hardest to hear yet. I’ll post my report by 0800. Thanks everyone.

      • tr

        it’s 0800. where that report? haha.

        • Mario Vittone

          C’Mon! I was only off by 5 minutes!

  • Pat

    Excellent coverage — thank you!

    I may have missed this, but what is the role of Chief Mate Svendsen in questioning the witnesses?

    • Rick Owens

      I wondered the same thing.
      I haven’t heard any reason stated, other then any “person of interest” approved by the Coast Guard (I presume) my ask questions of witnesses.
      Certainly the Chief Mate is that.
      Also, he will be the only member of the crew, or any other witness able to here all the witnesses while at the hearing.
      I don’t know if witnesses are allowed to watch the live stream or not!?
      Good question.

    • Rick Owens

      This link explains what a “Party IN Interest” is,

      • Pat


  • http://NAUTICALLOG(reactivated) CAPT. D. Peter Boucher, MN (Ret.)

    It has been quite an education to read all these comments. Except for the uncalled for remark about the “armchair coast guard”. Each division of USCG has its job to do. Having gone through USCG Inspections every three months in cruise ships for 25 years there are coasties who are excellent and those who are on a learning curve. All of us one believes from Mario down to myself are appalled that Walbridge took his ship to sea in such weather in the first place. One suspects that indeed his mind may have been tired and thus his thinking confused. Mario please continue your excellent articles.

    Good Watch.

  • TS Deckhand

    Can you explain why the First Mate is asking questions in the hearing? Is he in a position of needing to defend/represent himself?

  • Capt Fred Carino

    Appreciate the testimony, opinions, and remarks. Keep ‘em coming. I heartily concur in USCG investigating this tragic sinking. There seems to be too much concern about possible new regulations on other tall ships. I was always taught that every safety regulation is written in blood. In Bounty’s case, there seems to have been an absence of regulations which then places the responsibility for safe operation directly back on the owners and operators. So far, it appears to be a case of the optimistic leading the inexperienced into the worst the ocean can deal. May the loss of life result in illumination of what should be done by all owners-operators such vessels in the future and what should NOT be done.

  • Bob Leslie

    I am far from expert but, I have sailed for 69 years. Not in tall ships either. I am interested in why the owner is not forced to testify about the directives he gave the Skipper on maintenance. It is obvious the Skipper for some reason made a very poor decision to leave port. But why was the ship maintenance done so poorly? DAP is an extremely poor caulk never to be used underwater. If all other maintenance followed this level of incompetence then the sinking was inevitable.

  • Phyllis Morgan

    I find it hard to read anything thru to the end online but your writing is excellent and kept me hanging on each sentence! We sure appreciate your getting these reports out, for all that are interested, to read. We will be watching for your next report should there be more hearings.

  • James Boudreau

    Following gCaptain’s “Bounty” articles, in particular the responses, they should be required reading to those involved in this case. Almost without exception you guys are right on. My experience was in aviation long before going to sea. My point is as a young mechanic and pilot. I would go flying anytime with anyone. An example would be seeding thunder storms over the Sahara dessert to extract more rain. Penetrating the largest cell we could find at 20,000 feet was terrifying. We would pop out the other side in to bright sunshine, only to DO SEVERAL TIMES AGAIN!!! I’m certain this pilot/captain had issues. #1 being, why take a naive passenger along. A few years later I spent 6 days in a Hurricane on a well found 165′ tuna boat. All though I was frighten at times, I was never close to being terrified as I was flying into a that thunderstorm. My analogy of course being the crew getting on the Bounty. With this set up, months later a fellow needed another person to help sail his 40’ish Trihull several thousand miles from A. Samoa to Hawaii. I was ready to go and loved the idea. Being older and a little wiser I asked around and a guy I trusted advised against it. He also was asked but, declined because, did not find the boat seaworthy. The boat look great, however he believed the pontoon’s loose. With feelings of an adventure lost and letting the guy down,I watched him sail off. It turned out to be a very expensive air sea search involving C-130 aircraft. Pontoon broke off midway, but the guy was OK. Now I would like to know the frame of minds of the crew. Were they naively following the Pilot/Captain into a storm. Or did they get some advice and go anyway. And how many decided not to go on the someone’s advice.

    • Kim

      That’s a really good question! Did anyone with experience say to members of this crew “Hey, you shouldn’t go out into this storm because (insert any of a number of valid reasons).”

      If anyone reading this had the opportunity to say something like this, knew the weaknesses of the boat and recognized the inexperience of the crew, shame on you if you didn’t say something!

  • Capt.G Baker

    I will say this right or wrong the Captain is responsible for all actions taken aboard his ship by any and all of his crew be it right or wrong he is still the one to answer for it. What bothers me is. Was he ordered to go out to sea by the owner ?….He pled the fifth.

  • Marc Dacey

    Mr. Vittone: I’ve found your reporting on Bounty’s loss to be excellent, if unhappy, reading. Your comments so closely reflect my own that I amended a recent post on risk assessment to include references to your coverage and an attributed quote.

    Thanks for your good work. I suspect it will inspire many mariners to look more critically at their “gut instincts”, not to mention their dodgy maintenance and crewing practices.

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