Bounty Timeline

Click image for interactive timeline of Bounty’s last voyage (Mario Vittone)

Drivers always slow down and rubberneck at car accidents, don’t they?  Like me, you may have caught yourself complaining about the practice and wondering “Why are people so morbid that they have to slow down and look?”  That’s what we all say, at least until we get close enough to see, and though we might strain our eyes to avoid looking like we are looking, we drive just a little more slowly and look for ourselves.

We shouldn’t be ashamed.  It’s not morbid to want to look at the scene of an accident.  It’s human.  It’s primal, in fact. We look not to see what happened, but to learn.  Drivers slowing down to look at the scene of a crash are trying to figure out what happened so they can avoid it happening to them.

In all the discussions and rants and back-and-forth commentary concerning the sinking of Bounty, people seem to fully agree on only one thing: Bounty should have never left port and attempted to sail into the Atlantic.  It would have been better if she stayed in New London, or sought refuge from the storm in New Bedford.  She should have gone upriver or just stayed there at the dock and hoped for the best. Everyone I have talked to and every commentary I have read affirms that  anything would have been better than sailing into the Atlantic on October 25th, 2012.

It’s incredibly easy to reduce the accident to that decision; to spout that truth over and over again until all agree that it was the primary mistake that caused everything else.  Is there nothing else to be learned? Do those of us in maritime now simply speak of the importance of Bridge Resource Management (BRM) and leadership and call it a day? I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

Bounty should have never left New London.  No one disagrees.  But she did.  What happened next – at least what the surviving crew say happened next – should be studied.  There are lessons in the last voyage of Bounty for all of us.

Linked below is a timeline that was created using the testimony of the surviving crew along with all other publicly available information on the sinking. It covers (primarily) the time Bounty left New London on October 25th until she sank on the morning of October 29th.  Seeing it this way – hour by hour as the trip unfolded – provides a look into human nature and decision-making that we don’t get if we stay focused only on the mistake of making the trip at all.  It shows how people – even your people – might react in a crisis.  It looks head-on into the normalizing of hazards and acceptance of risk with no gain.  Watching the events unfold on Saturday, you can sense the crew’s tunnel vision and denial. And trying to figure out why it took so long to call for help may even infuriate some of you.  It did me.  Still, this is a wreck you want to look at.

Take a look at the events during that final sail. There may be lessons in there for you and your crew.  Bounty shouldn’t have sailed on the 25th, but she did.  It was a unique decision and not one that you would have made perhaps, but trouble at sea can come to all of us on any ship.   Slow down and see if you can learn something – and avoid it happening to you.

The Final Days of Bounty – Click HERE for Interactive Timeline

(use the “more” tab to walk through the events one at a time)


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  • Mario Vittone

    Yes, seriously, I believe that. I didn’t say it didn’t cause problems, but I wouldn’t think they are “trying to cause” another accident. Either way, you seriously missed the point of the timeline. Feel free to move on and speed right past.

  • George McNulty

    Hubris is not a replacement for maintenance nor a desirable quality in a ship’s master.

    Until I looked at your timeline I don’t believe I fully understood just how early on in the voyage the Captain was unwilling or unable to accept the fact that Bounty and her crew might be in need of help.

  • Rick Owens

    The time line is just wonderful. Thanks for taking what must have been a lot of time to assemble.

    Although it will take me awhile to digest completely, one crucial (to me at least) comment I remember from the televised hearings was that the Bounty was put on a different tack to facilitate pumping with the “portable” hydraulic pump.
    Why it struck me as so important, was it would indicate that course was dictated more by pumping concerns then storm avoidance at some point in the time-line. I could not find any reference, but as I say, I’m still digesting.

    • Mario Vittone

      Rick, you are correct – that is discussed on timeline #35 of 66.

      • Rick Owens

        Thanks Mario. Found it,

        I found this somewhere in all these discussions and found it interesting in trying to understand the Bountys’ course or intended course.
        Especially the difference between the forecast track of Sandy and the actual track and whether the westward change of course was a more advantageous one; intended or not!

  • Janice

    Fascinating and informative. I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable about the various systems and decks, but my personal take-away, likely shared by others, is that NO problem at sea, no matter how seemingly small, can or should be dismissed or minimized. That so many were — while sailing into a hurricane, no less — is mind-boggling. My own sea experience increasing humbles, rather than emboldens me. How tragic that such an experienced seaman demonstrated so much conviction in his own and his vessel’s invincibility, and such a great capacity for denial.

  • Janice

    I neglected to express my gratitude to the author of this exceptional and sobering analysis. Thank you, Mr. Vittone.

    • Mario Vittone

      Thank you, Janice

  • Stephen Olson

    I’ve sailed as licensed master on several “historic replica” schooners, and inspected over a dozen traditional wooden-hulled vessels well over 80 years old, and owned a 60 year old 64′ wooden vessel.
    There’s nothing about “old” or “wood” that equates with “unseaworthy.” There’s nothing about “relatively in experienced” with “stupid.”

    All that said, the “Bounty” was certainly not ready for bad weather at sea, and her captain surely was incapable of processing information, accepting advice, or making sound decisions.

    Three observations:

    1) I wonder if the Navy would have helped out in getting the Bounty a secure berth on the Thames River. I used to run a tug between Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Electric Boat in Groton, and even though we were a civilian boat and crew, they would let us tie up alongside in bad weather. I’d be surprised if the captain of the sub whose crew went out on the Bounty wouldn’t have helped out with that.

    2) There’s some comment about people switching jobs back and forth, with the captain in the ER working on the generators, etc. It’s worthwhile to keep in mind that on a vessel like “Bounty,” there’s no requirement for a qualified engineer, and ill-trained people with little experience shuffle through the “engineer” job. So that captain often is the person whose been on board longest, and knows the most about the machinery. If Walbridge was focusing on keeping the pumps running, that indicates that he had faith that the Chief Mate could manage the deck, and recognized that dewatering was the Big Deal.

    3) As an antidote to the depressing narrative of the timeline, I watched the USCG rescue video again. Just listening to the calm voices of the cockpit crew and watching the winch operator, and watching the rescue swimmer deal with that horrible situation, restored my faith in sailors.

    • Mario Vittone

      1: of course they would have
      2: Bounty sailed in 2011 with 23. On her last trip she had 16. She was sailing short and the crew was task saturated.
      3: They did a fine job, didn’t they?

  • eric bigelow

    former coastie just thinking unfreakin believable. the piling on of bad decisions, inexperience of the crew and lack of preparation is mind boggling.

  • Capt Mad

    Got as far as the Hurricane and Bounty position tracks. Could not continue. This fellow that called himself a “Captain” headed right for a Hurricane!! Obviously didn’t have the experience with heavy weather or track the “low”. He didn’t have to keep a schedule either. What was he thinking??
    Such a salty dawg didn’t need to consult “Bowditch”. Been there done that and this guy makes me sick! God rest those poor souls that trusted this person.

    • Binky

      “This person” WAS one of those pour souls. Who did have experience with heavy weather.

      • Paul G.

        Experience can easily be outmaneuvered by attitude-arrogance, a character flaw that leaves one unmercifully vulnerable at sea. The time line illustrates this explicitly.

        The Captain of the Titanic was experienced too, he was the White Star Lines senior captain on his last voyage before retirement.

        Wallbridge’s mind boggling interview with the Belfast Herald (Maine) in which he says that “…he chases hurricanes…” says it all.

    • Mario Vittone

      They had it tattooed on the inside of their eyelids after Challenger….then made the same mistakes on Columbia and had it re-tattooed. No one is immune and constant reminders are necessary for everyone.

  • Mike

    Taking out an unskilled crew with a boat in complete disrepair into a hurricane is unbelievable.

    He could have just kept sailing Southeast. Why didn’t he start working on the trash pump as soon as he saw a problem.

    Did he just run out of gas on the port side? No checklists no training and poor decisions. It’s amazing anyone lived out of this.

    I have respect for the first mate not calling out his skipper. They have to maintain a chain of command in a dire situation.

  • George McNulty

    An additional thought. Captain Walbridge’s apparent state of denial may have roots in a fear that the Coast Guard would discover that Bounty was not seaworthy.

  • Tom Hunter

    Mario this is excellent, I have read every MAIB report issued on private yachts/pleasure craft, and this work adds an element of explanation that beats the very high standard set by the MAIB. (the reports are posted here: for those who are not familiar with them.)

    You’ve helped me be a safer sailor by doing this, thank you.

    • Mario Vittone

      Thanks Tom – I always thought UK MAIB reports were well done.

  • Rainyjane

    Lots of mileage out of this one, Mario.
    How about doing some original investigation into the Bounty management? What was going on in the office? Who made final decisions? What was the real relationship between captain and owner? Someone must know how their discussions about the ship went. Did Walbridge sail because Hansen wouldn’t pay for further repair? He did want to sell that ship, right? How about some investigation of the organization’s finances? Someone needs to, preferably on a higher level than journalists — is this happening?

    • Mario Vittone

      I’m not sure how deep the investigation (USCG/NTSB) can go during the accident investigation. If they bring charges against the HMS Bounty Org, I would think finances would be part of that investigation. Your first four questions require the cooperation of Robert Hansen or people very close to him to answer. I’m not holding my breath.

  • Tony Bessinger

    Great job, as usual, Mario. As professional mariners, we realize (or should) that problems tend to cascade offshore, especially in bad weather.
    We’ll never know what inspired/pushed/convinced Wallbridge to sail that day, but we should all remember that hubris shouldn’t play a part in any decisions we make when working on the water.
    When is the final USCG report expected?

    • Mario Vittone

      Thanks, Tony. My guess on the report is 3-6 months, but wouldn’t be totally shocked if it came out next week. We’re in the “no way to know” period. I believe CDR Carroll submitted his report to CG HQ, but Captains and Admirals (and a lawyer or two) will have their say before it is released.

  • Dave Van Dyk

    Mario, your coverage if this investigation has been superb, thanks for keeping on top of it and providing expert insight. Its much appreciated

  • Dave Van Dyk

    One of the most absurd things I’ve read in this investigation of ignorance and incompetence. Email to Simonin: “We are taking on Water. We will prbably need assistance in the morning. SAT phone not working very good. We have activated the EPIRB. We are not in danger tonight, but if conditions don’t improve on the boat we will be in Danger tomorrow. We can only run generator for a short time. I just found out that filters you got were the wrong filters. Let me know when you have contacted the USCG so we can shut the EPIRB off. The boat is doing great, we can’t dewater. (sic)”

  • Dan Haywood

    This is a study of delusional madness. What possesed the Captain to take her out in the path of a giant hurricane with a short and inexperienced crew in such unseaworthy condition, with almost zero preparation, I will never understand, except maybe his mind was slipping. However, as a former paid deckhand aboard her, I can attest that normal on the Bounty was defined much differently and perhaps so many years of fudging everything affected Robins ability to see the obvious.  They had several excellent and sensible, obvious alternatives. Even on a seaworthy ship with a full and highly trained, experienced crew, this would’ve been a bad decision, especially when the excellent aternatives are considered. Maneuvering around the dangerous simi-circle with the Gulfstream also against them would’ve been impossible for this ship. That leaves only the choice of maneuvering through the navigable semi-circle while constricted by land to the west and the Gulfstream and storm to the east. Once they passed the Chesapeake Bay entrance they were committing to this regardless of what else might go wrong. I don’t understand setting off an EPIRB if you don’t intend to initiate an immediate rescue. Just causes confusion and limits your options later. They should’ve been in touch with the Coast Guard way earlier. They should’ve used the EPIRB to initiate rescue much sooner. It’s obvious that as a wooden ship takes on water she will lie lower and take on more, faster.  Before long the water shifting inside her will make her wallow dangerously and even with propulsion she would be uncontrollable.  Delaying abandoning ship was crazy for the very same reason and is almost surly the cause of the deaths. With limited communication he should’ve jumped at any opportunity to initiate rescue, avoid confusion and relay medical info. 

  • Harry

    Surely the 1st Mate has some responsibility in this. I appreciate how difficult it is to go against the captain’s word but when he appears to have lost his mind and people’s lives are in danger something must be done.

  • L. Jaye Bell

    The timeline is impressive. While I understand the timeline was a result of much work, as a journalist and photographer, I’m upset that photo permission for images was not credited or compensated. My image of Captain Walbridge was used without my permission in panel #52, “Walbridge Email: We are Not in Danger.” I shot that image 9/5/2012 while sailing aboard from Glochester, MA to Eastport, ME. I posted the image to the HMS Bounty Facebook website after we arrived in Eastport. Check the metadata of the original image and you will find that to be the case.

    As a professional courtesy and to continue using the image with limited web rights, I would appreciate credit and compensation for web use in the amount of $350.00.

    • Mario Vittone

      L. Jaye. I took the image off the timeline.

      • L. Jaye Bell

        That does not imply permission granted to use the image as you see fit. Again, the professional standard dictates credit and compensation in order to continue using this image.

        • Mario Vittone

          Let’s fight somewhere else, L. Jaye. I’m emailing you now. The image is down – though not at the Chronicle-Herald that doesn’t credit you either.

          • Binky

            “Professionals” realize that anything you put on facebook is immediately fair game and could end up anywhere. It’s annoying, but it is what it is — get used to it. Professional photographers also tend to watermark their images to guard against things like this. If you are posting something you think is professional and don’t want all your friends of friends of friends to “share” it, don’t put it on a public page, and on any page either watermark it or don’t post it. Most photo editing programs have simple options to create watermarks.
            It is a great photo, by the way, and should have been better protected.

        • Sandflea

          LOL. He already said he took it down; he’s not ‘continuing to use it’. Sad — in the wake of such a tragedy people are quibbling over stuff like this. There are already a ton of people trying to profit from the story. Your post may get you a little advertising but the public demand for compensation does you little credit as a ‘professional’.

  • Alex

    L. Jaye, I think you’ll find under the Facebook terms of use that whilst you retain your intellectual property for the image, by posting it on a public page there you granted an unlimited, royalty free license to people on- and off-facebook to access and use it.
    It’s under their terms of use, rights and responsibilities section 2 (sharing your content and information), parts 1 and 4.
    I think Mario has done his dues with regards to professional courtesy by taking the image down at your request.

  • Paul G.

    The time line gives an outstanding perspective to the whole sorry tale. I’ve read your reports on the hearings, the Outside Magazine article and the Belfast Herald interview and still learned more.

    It could be used as an outstanding teaching instrument because it goes beyond the initial stupidity of leaving port to how each of the increasingly cascading catastrophes were mishandled.

    I would have included the discussion between Wallbridge and the shipyard foreman to start, though; as it sets the scene for the total inappropriateness of going to sea in such an unsound vessel- even without the hurricane -at that time of year in the North Atlantic.

    Great job Mario.

    • Sandflea

      What also needs to be included and may now be lost, is the discussion, from the shipyard and prior, between Capt. Walbridge and the owner. There has to be more to this story. I hope someone finds it.

      • dave w

        I wonder if this comment on one of Mario’s earlier articles may be a clue to that:
        “They were pushing to keep to a schedule! Sooner or later, every mariner learns that’s a sure way to get into trouble.
        “We all know that the Bounty was in financial ruins. We also know they had identified a new benefactor who they hoped would salvage them. There was an inaugural sail planned in St Pete with the new benefactor and an entourage of VIPs to kick off the new program. There was just enough time to get to St Pete given their departure from New London, and none to spare. Had the Bounty sat out the storm, they would have missed the pageant, and possibly blown what was arguably their last chance to save the ship financially.”

        It seems as plausible as anything.

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