Bounty Hearings

John Svendsen testifies at the Bounty hearings in Portsmouth Virginia(AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, The’ N. Pham)

What happened to Bounty on the morning of October 29th, 2012? Finding out what went wrong and why, when things happened or didn’t, and who said what to whom – it’s almost impossible. Details have come to light and we’ve learned things, but most of them – all of them really – came from testimony. It’s been eight days of questions and answers, a high stakes game of he said, she said, and none of it really proves anything except that memory is unreliable. The crew has answered questions, but as I look back through my notes on over sixty-four hours of testimony, the three most common answers were “I don’t remember,” “I don’t recall,” and “I wasn’t there.” The Bounty herself – the only real solid evidence in the case – lays silent on the bottom of the ocean.

Throughout the proceedings, Commander Carroll (USCG) and Captain Rob Jones (NTSB) would remind the witnesses of their testimony from interviews they gave last year. Apparently, some stories have changed and memories have faded in the days and months following the accident. Being told that an answer is different from “the last time we spoke” must be unnerving. In one instance an investigator pointed out that a particular witness had said something completely different in their previous testimony; after some stammering, “I don’t remember saying that,” was all the witness could manage. The hearings were rife with contradiction and disconnect. It’s been exhausting.

As a party in interest in the investigation, John Svendsen could ask his own questions of each witness. He appeared to have only one goal: to make sure that witnesses got a chance to say how committed to safety the leadership of Bounty was, and how professional he and Captain Walbridge were. Everyone on the crew seemed to agree. Captain Walbridge and John Svendsen were professional and competent mariners who respected the crew’s opinions, saw everything as a collaborative teaching opportunity, and thought that nothing was more important than safety. Aside from this, agreement was hard to come by.

Some said the bilge system wasn’t working as well as it normally did when leaving Boothbay, others said it was. Some witnesses remembered drills when leaving New London, others didn’t. Walbridge liked to use the starboard generator most of the time, or was it the port? And trying to pin down a time for any significant event can only be done by combining testimony from several crew members, and that will only get you a range. But these disparities are not uncommon in investigations. These differences in their recollections weren’t bothering me, but something was. It was what they weren’t saying.

The crew were being asked to recall the most dramatic and traumatic event of their lives. There is just no way that they didn’t feel it, but none of them would admit to ever being scared. The whole thing, from the capstan meeting in New London where they were given the option to leave, to the donning of survival suits for abandoning ship, was recalled like it was just another day at sea.

No one was scared when the ship started taking on more water than it could pump out. No one was at all worried when the fore course sail blew out. When it took five people to pull Scornavacchi to the deck after a loose sail yanked him high in the 90 mile-per-hour winds, it was described as if they were cleaning up a small paint spill. Every witness spoke of the dangers they encountered in measured tones, like they weren’t even dangers at all.

As the ship heeled over to starboard with the railing in the sea – the crew perched high on anything they could cling to – the answer to, “Was anyone scared? Were you?” was always, “No.” That or, “I don’t remember.” Only one witness – Jessica Hewitt – could recall someone acting frightened, but it wasn’t her. The crew was minimizing everything as not really that big a deal; testimony only became emotional when describing the foundering and then, not consistently.

If you want to see what abnormally cool under enormous pressure looks like, watch Matt Sanders describe his efforts alone and in the dark of the flooding engine room as Bounty sank:

(Matt is tougher than I am. I’ve been on sinking boats – I was scared for my life and it showed.)


Minimizing is what some witnesses do when they experience guilt while answering questions. It’s the difference between a yes or no answer, and one that gives the respondent a way out. Those who were not minimizing their answers had one thing in common: they didn’t work for the HMS Bounty Organization. Kosakowski’s “He was terrified,” and Moreland’s “I can’t imagine,” are clear and definitive answers to questions. They came immediately, without hesitation or preamble. Contrast those answers to Svendsen’s constant, “I would say…,” and “I would answer that,” or Sanders’ “I would say honestly that..,” and, “truthfully, it wasn’t…” responses. Their answers were qualified, often cagey, sometimes non-answer answers:

Jones: “Did Miss Simonin know about the hurricane?”

Svendsen: “I wasn’t there for that meeting.”

Tracy Simonin was the shore side manager of Bounty, the owner’s representative, and hours before they were to cast off lines to head into Sandy, the first mate didn’t know if she knew about the hurricane? He may have, he may not have, but he managed not to answer the question.

Commander Kevin Carroll (USCG) and Captain Rob Jones (NTSB) prepare for the day's investigations.

Commander Kevin Carroll (USCG) and Captain Rob Jones (NTSB)

The investigators have access to original testimony that many witnesses “don’t remember saying,” and they have a lot of work yet to do. The public hearings are concluded, but the questions will continue to be asked and answered. There are still witnesses left to call and the attorneys will be there as well. Svendsen too may continue to ask his former crew about how good their training was on Bounty and how committed to safety and maintenance they all were. I wonder what they will say?

On the last day of testimony, the last chief mate of Bounty was recalled. The investigators had more questions for Svendsen. He told a slightly different story than he did on the first day. This time, he included details about how strongly he had disagreed with Robin Walbridge in New London:

Svendsen: “I knew the hurricane was there, and I had made my concerns to Robin known, privately, and I had expressed options of staying or looking for another port to seek shelter in. I talked about the option of sailing to Bermuda to use that as safe refuge and, uh, his feeling was that it was time to get underway. And, uh, I asked him how strongly he felt about that – he said, ‘Very strongly, it’s time for us to go.’ I said that I believe the crew should be informed and he held the capstan meeting.”

Jones: “The capstan meeting that was informative but not a discussion?”

Svendsen: “Robin’s capstans are always a discussion. (Svendsen’s next sentence contradicts the first) I believe he opened up with ‘Does anyone want to leave or does anyone have any questions?’ And then he paused and said , ‘OK – we’re going to get underway; cast off lines to get underway.’”

This description of the fateful meeting prior to leaving New London was sounding like less of an option from Walbridge and more like a quick ultimatum; a sort of “Come or go, but I am going.” Everyone – including Svendsen, whose idea the meeting was – stood silent. Though he may have believed the crew should be informed, he didn’t feel that way strongly enough to tell them himself. He wasn’t going to tell his crew that he disagreed with Walbridge, that he thought they should stay in port, that he didn’t believe they should go to sea.

Jones: “Was there any effort made on your part or any other officers to talk to Robin more forcefully, and would he have been receptive if you showed your concerns?”

Svendsen: “I was very assertive in my conversation and he was not receptive to any of the other options.”

Jones: “That seems to contradict a little bit of the testimony that… you received from the witnesses of your crew when you talked to them about all of the teaching that goes on, and all the open discussion, and all the suggestive ideas that [are discussed] on a daily basis. And here, the one time we are talking about a question, he’s not open to any other ideas?”

Svendsen: “My experience of Robin Walbridge is that he was very firm in his ideas.”

Jones then talked about the different testimonies from the crew and how some thought the plan was to go east and around the hurricane, and Svendsen’s testimony that they were headed south by east; that some said they were going to head closer to see what the hurricane would do while others thought they were giving the hurricane more room. Jones wasn’t asking a question, he was just pointing out that the crew’s testimony didn’t line up. Then he stared at Svendsen and waited. What Svendsen said next was the truth:

Svendsen: “I’ll say that everyone has been through a very large trauma and a great loss and as a result of that I’m sure it has affected people’s memories.”

Did we hear the whole truth? Of course we haven’t: Robin Walbridge and Claudene Christian can’t tell us their side of the story, and Mr. Robert Hansen – Bounty’s owner – won’t tell us his.

Full Bounty Hearings Coverage:

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  • Val

    How is being given 30 minutes to decide whether you will quit your job, leave your friends, and move out of your home to be potentially stranded in a place you do not know, anything less than emotional blackmail?

    How is this steadfast defense of Walbridge not disrespectful to their dead crew mate? How can this chief mate claim he asserted his opinion on leaving when walking off the boat was the only way to prove a point to a man he himself says never changes his mind?

    I have way more questions after this hearing than answers.

    • Rebecca

      Val, that’s a good point. I’d like to add something as a professional tall ship sailor.

      I’ve been in the industry for four years. The mantra that has been pounded into my head is that on his or her own ship, the captain is god. Walbridge had decades of experience. I would feel unqualified and too intimidated to step off the boat at that capstan meeting, and it would go against the way I’ve been trained. I’d also feel a responsibility to my friends and shipmates– what if something happened and I wasn’t there to help?

      I’ve been lucky in the captains I’ve served under. I have trusted them with my life, and never come to harm.

      • Rebecca

        And, I’d like to add, the industry is full of wonderful, qualified, trustworthy captains.

        • Darren of Australia

          It’s true that there is a mentality of the ‘captain is god’ in the industry. I too have been in this amazing industry for four years, but I have had some very responsible captains indeed – captains who, because of their experience, encourage the crew to speak up if something seems unsafe – say for example, sailing into a hurricane.

          It is my belief that as a good crew member who respects their captain, particularly as ‘god’, will ask the hard questions and challenge terrifying decisions in order to protect them.

          Even the gods get it wrong sometimes. Boats can be replaced – Bounty herself was a replica. Your crewmates cannot.

        • Rusty356

          All Captains are wonderful, qualified, trustworthy Captains …. until their ship goes down.

      • Chuck Lantz

        Rebecca: You wrote exactly what I was thinking as I read this installment; ” … I’d also feel a responsibility to my friends and shipmates– what if something happened and I wasn’t there to help?”

        That would be a tough decision if I shared what appears to be the mindset of the Bounty crew; balancing my own safety in the face of seeing the captain’s plan as dangerous, against leaving the ship short-handed.

        We’ve all heard similar rationale from soldiers who feel guilty leaving their units in war-zones , due to injury or rotation. But for the captain of what can only be called a recreational vessel to instill that same sort loyalty, without any real cause for it, does seem very odd and out of place. And, in this case, fatal.

        • Val

          But my question is: where is all that sense of responsibility now, towards Claudene? There’s been little attempt to really account for her skills, knowledge, or even presence in those final days. She didn’t just exist to be a casualty, so where is their sense of responsibility towards justice for her or her family?

          • Tom Hunter

            Val, I think your point is very sound. My guess is that its too early for most of the crew to think critically about Robin Walbridge and some of them may never do that.

            It’s easier for all of us to take a dispassionate view and ask questions than it is for the people that were there.

      • Tom Ward

        That is EXACTLY the kind of mindset that allowed this to happen. Thank you for explaining.

        • Tom Ward

          ^ That was for Rebecca up there.

      • Elan

        As a tallship sailor, I have to stand by Rebecca’s comment. Before an interview revealed that Walbridge had asked if anyone wished to leave, I had several hours-long conversations with fellow sailors about what I would and wouldn’t have done. I think it comes down to everything Rebecca said, adding into it that many of the crew’s first and only ship was Bounty, so they may not “know” any other way.

        That said, years ago I stepped off a boat I did not feel comfortable on (as far as I know, the boat was in decent shape), but I did not feel that the captain(and owner) was handling the boat, crew, and training well and that it put my safety in danger. I suppose something has to be said for gut feelings.

      • Anderson

        You misrepresent yourself Rebecca and you do Robin a great disservice by disowning him in your statements.

  • Kim

    Your comments about crew not being frightened are interesting. I’ve never had to abandon ship, but I hadn’t realized until now that I have almost never exhibited fear nor seen many others exhibit fear while in the midst of crisis aboard a sail training vessel. I have seen guests or completely green hands show fear during calm situations, maybe they are scared to go aloft, or scared that they can no longer see shore… but halfway through my first and only moment of pure fear while aloft as a green hand, I can’t remember a time when I was ever scared again. My mate just yelled at me to basically pull up my panties and get to work. (BTW, thanks, John Morrisson!)

    Isn’t this a healthy biological reaction that makes us able to survive these kinds of events?

    That said, upon reflection I get more scared than I ever was in any of those moments. I think of all that could have gone wrong, and worry about how to avoid them.

    I’m not sure where you were going with that line of thought, but I get the sense that you thought they were holding back about their real emotions. I don’t think they were. Reflecting on it after realizing all they lost during that time is of course an emotional process.

    • Annie

      Absolutely, Kim! There were a few times on board the LW where I felt truly scared… but I was able to set it aside (temporarily) because things had to happen and being overwhelmed would only make the situation worse. One of the calmest, most focused periods in my entire life was dealing with a terribly injured crewmate. Afterwards was a different story, but at the time I remember actually telling myself “now is not the time. You can be upset later, but not yet.” It’s amazing how that can work. Let’s not discount it.

  • Captain Farrel charpentier

    Everyone is missing one small point, everything is cost driven,if anyone is wondering why mr. hanson is not talking, look no further than getting the bounty down south for tourist season. its all about the money, Pressure, the capt. was feeling pressure to go to sea and go south.

    • Kim

      Nobody is missing that point…it’s been brought up numerous times by people who didn’t know the organization or Capt. Walbridge. Everyone on the inside knows that Robin always ran the show, so we rarely comment on this point when it’s brought up nowadays.

      I do understand where you are coming from, though. I and hundreds of passengers have been put at risk by shoreside managers who didn’t want to suffer the cost of refunds and missed ports of call.

    • Val

      No captain can be compelled to sail if he/she deems it unsafe. Period. Mr. Walbridge was around long enough to know that. If Mr. Walbridge saw the boat through numerous owners over all those years, I doubt Mr. Hansen really oversaw the captain’s activities.

      The point has been made that Mr. Walbridge worked 8 to 10 months out of the year, away from his home, which is St. Petersburg. So here’s a thought: maybe, since it was near the end of the season, he really just wanted to get home, to his wife, and that clouded his judgment?

    • David Hastie

      …and sailing, especially open ocean voyages, is ALWAYS about a weather window. Can I skirt the storm, will it lessen, can I wait for a better window.

  • David Clark

    The URL you cite for the Matt Sanders testimony at the hearings is at “” which is not “”. Malware?

  • Carole

    Minimizing is what some witnesses do when they experience guilt while answering questions.

    This feels right – or at least on the right track. The lack of emotion and the adversarial nature of some of the answers are bewildering. What is there to hide and why would they want to hide it?

    I keep trying to wrap my head around the one life raft singing sea shanties all the while not knowing if other members of their “family” were safe or maybe drowning a few yards away. These actions seem disconnected from the camaraderie and closeness of the crew that they themselves described in their testimony.

    In the videos, the Coast Guard rescuers displayed how a well-trained, tightly-knitted crew works together in a crisis situation – something visibly lacking in the crew’s actions as described when the boat foundered. Yet they kept trying to make safety training and closeness a main point in the Captain’s favor. I don’t see it.

    Thanks again for the articles and insights. They are the best.

    • Chris

      I think ‘minimizing’ is also a tell-tale sign of being coached by lawyers or public relations professionals (I worked for many years as a journalist and saw this often from politicians or people facing a ‘media crisis’). When you are recalling something from rote, the emotion and natural flow of what you’re saying is often lost.

      • Mario Vittone

        I don’t know – what I do know is that most people say “I don’t remember,” or, “I can’t say,” instead of “I have no recollection of that,” or “I can’t speculate.” At times, some of the witnesses were speaking an entirely different language than there own. Where they learned it is another story altogether.

        • Rick Owens

          Frankly I think all of this ” coached” theory is off base.
          The crew goes from naive sycophants, to calculating prevaricators,a head-snapping change of course.
          If advise were taken from “lawyers and PR professionals”, none would testify.
          More likely,to me at least,is that they were a bit intimidated by the ambiguous “show trial” atmosphere.
          Trying to satisfy the “under penalty of federal law” threat to tell the truth, and a spotty memory, accounts for our disappointed expectations.
          After all, it has only been a scant three months since a life changing ordeal.
          I could be wrong though.

          • Mario Vittone

            I don’t think they were coached, I think they had discussions with each other, which of course they had every right to do. The decision to make the hearings public wasn’t about a “show trial” – I believe the USCG had to be talked into opening the hearings to begin with.

          • Chris

            I disagree Rick. When a group of people all repeat the same opaque phrase “I have no recollection of that” I would speculate they have quite clearly been ‘advised’ by a lawyer. It’s not the sort of phrase people with no experience in these matters simply agree upon (even if conferring with one another). I should know, I’ve worked my entire career as a journalist, and hear this phrase regularly from people who have been ‘advised’ on how to answer difficult questions. I don’t necessarily see this as sinister or an example of being ‘calculating prevaricators’. In fact, from their point of view you could say it’s prudent – I think anyone in the same unfortunate position would also seek the advice of a lawyer on how to respond.

          • Rick Owens

            Mario, my reply was supposed to be to ‘Chris’ not to you. My apologies!

      • Rick Owens

        Thanks for the perspective you provide.
        I am simply an interested kibitzer, and all comments of mine should be taken with that in mine.
        I have heard, though, that political journalists can be quite cynical, given there subject matter! (Where is the smiley face emoticon?)
        I see very little connection between those crew members retelling a horrific life-threatening ordeal and a politician defending his/her reputation in a “media crisis” Again I could very well be wrong.
        I feel that a lawyers’ advice would be ” I refuse to testify”.
        Not that the all crew members would necessarily take that advice, nor because they think they could dodge any sticky questions, but to tell the truth to the best of their memories.
        Again, three plus months after a traumatic event. With many,I feel, still healing.
        And here they all are, publicly subjected to the idiotic comments of people like me.
        I am now of the opinion that maybe this hearing should not have been televised.
        I would be happy to have to wait for Mario Vittones’ book. Easy to say after the fact.
        What’s your opinion on these points?

        • Chris

          Hi Rick. I also enjoy your insights. To be clear, I’m not a lawyer (my brother is – we often joke about who has chosen the most despised career), however I have covered a few court cases in my time.

          I’d suggest the surviving crew of the Bounty would have had little to gain by refusing to testify. In fact, my reading of this case (thanks again Mario for your reporting) is that the two people who are generally culpable, and thus with the most to lose, are the captain (now deceased) and the Bounty’s owner (who you will note has, in fact, refused to testify).

          I believe a lawyer may well have told the crew, by all means testify, but here’s some advice on how to answer the more uncomfortable questions. This is, of course, all speculation on my part.

        • David Hastie

          ANY trial, hearing, or testimony becomes clouded if it is recorded on video. It then becomes a show – ONLY a stenographer should be used in such proceedings. Shows do not lend themselves to finding truths or facts.

  • Chris

    Really enjoying reading these excellent reports Mario.

    Reading today’s post, I’m reminded of a recent maritime catastrophe in my home country. On 5 October 2011 at 2.20am, the container ship Rena ran aground off the coast of New Zealand, resulting in the country’s worst environmental maritime disaster (fortunately there was no loss of human life). The captain and navigation officer later pleaded guilty to causing the accident, as well as altering the ship’s logs. They served three months in jail before being deported to the Philippines.

    It’s generally assumed, however, that the captain’s shortcuts were the result of immense commercial pressure from the ship’s owners (Greek shipping company Costamare) to reach port by 3am. The captain refused to incriminate his employers in court.

    Likewise, Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia which ran aground on 13 January 2012, has said he was put him under intense pressure from his employers to sail his cruise ship close to Giglio Island in order to present a spectacle to passengers. That legal case has to still to play out.

    Clearly, it’s the captain who is ultimately responsible for his vessel and all those on board. My concern however, is if we continue to focus solely on the captain, and ignore the companies who may be heaping on the pressure to take irresponsible risks, we allow the conditions for another disaster to occur.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Chris

    I would add to my above post that, in the case of the Rena, it’s speculated the captain and navigation officer were given two options by their employer: attempt to incriminate us in court and we’ll hang you out to dry; say nothing and take your punishment and we’ll support you when you’re released from jail. Unsurprisingly, they took the second option.

    With the captain of the Costa Concordia, he’s already been hung out to dry by his employers, so it will be interesting to see what happens when that case gets underway in Italy.

    I wonder as well, what might happen once the anticipated criminal prosecutions in the Bounty case begin. Will all those involved stick to their stories (which seem to change anyway).

  • Dan

    It’s not hard to figure why the answers are opaque or evasive: there’s criminal or civil or professional liability at stake here.

    The mistakes were all made before the ship left the dock; I think most of them performed quite admirably afterward.

    CYA, CYA, CYA. Can’t be stressed enough. Feel something’s amiss, not safe, not to spec? Better put it on paper, in an email. Keep your own log, write it down.

    On another note, having a “capstan meeting” on whether to sail into a hurricane and not having the gumption to speak your mind or walk off begs the question of what exactly you DO speak your mind about?

  • Rickr

    Thanks for pursuing this case, Mr. Vittone.

    My experience aboard the cutter CUYAHOGA was somewhat different from that of BOUNTY — but there are familiar elements: fear mixed with resolve, shock when it becomes obvious you’re going down … the scramble to get clear of the wreck … head-counting for survivors, praying for rescue, perhaps dealing with severe injury … and grief at losing shipmates.

    The shock of living through that takes a while to wear off, and shock can then conspire with time to blur memory; “I can’t say” may be an honest response, especially under oath.

    The Board of Investigation doesn’t need a tidy causal chain from the survivors’ testimonies … the red flags are now clear and familiar: material deficiencies masked by penny-pinching maintenance and a dismissive “we’ve gotten by before” attitude … inexperienced hands who dared not challenge a captain “not receptive to any of the other options” and “very firm in his ideas” … a lack of accountability in the chain of command/ownership … and more. The lessons from BOUNTY are already available.

  • David

    Being able to see the testimony of the witnesses on video adds a whole new dimension to understanding more about this shipwreck. Thanks for posting – your commentary is, as always invaluable.


    • Mario Vittone

      Thanks David

  • Marc Dacey

    Maybe it’s the cynic in me that wonders if the witnesses have been coached in order to be “incented”. Not to lie, precisely, but to prevaricate, obscure and redirect the thrust of the questions posed. After all, it’s an inquest, not a trial, and they are victims of a tragic set of decisions and actions. There’s a limit to how far they can be pressed to answer fully.

  • Herb

    When I was young I never worried about weather when cruising on my 32 foot sailboat. I trusted the boat and had confidence in myself (perhaps unwarranted.) In very rough seas, I wasn’t afraid – I was too busy with the boat, engine, safety, crew, guests, etc., to worry. I expect that explains why the crew members may of had little sense of concern. Also, they clearly respected their captain’s judgement. Now in my 70’s, I have more respect for the sea and the weather. I have grown wary and more careful. Maybe I have less time left than you younger folks, but I really think that as we age, we’re supposed to be smarter and more attentive to possible problems. Or maybe I’ve become a chicken. However, I want to see my grandchildren again.
    Beautifully done Captain Vittone.

    • Mario Vittone

      Thanks Herb – but please know that I am not a licensed captain.

  • andrew

    As someone who went through a similar situation when younger on a brigantine (obviously didnt sink in the storm but came close enough that for a while were taking on more than we could pump), its seems to me the answer is that the crew didnt seem scared because of a mixture of Adrenaline from the situation, and lack of enough experience to know they were truly in grave danger. When I think back what I went through in that storm as a young and inexperienced sailor, it makes me nervious today just pondering, since i am both now older, wiser and far more expereinced…but at the time it was my firm big storm at sea, the captain was staying calm, so I guess I just thought “this is what being in a storm is like” and honestly didnt feel afraid till far after the fact (when I knew better)…it seems to me that has at least some to do with what the crew was thinking, plus for as has been noted many times above, they clearly trusted that Walbridge had it under control.

  • Scott

    I am also looking in on this from the outside. Excellent writing Mr. Vittone…it is what caught my attention initially. I had an unlimited master’s license which took me all over the world and have raced sailboats since college, including a stint as bowman on a 72′ maxi in the infamous 79 Fastnet Race.

    My initial reaction when I heard of this tragedy was clearly in the, “what the hell was he doing out there” category. I think the testimony brings that out. How much detail people remember or don’t remember is interesting and it would seem there is ‘some’ coaching in the background. If the account of the capstan meeting is correct I think it would have been more unusual if anyone had actually gotten off. Peer pressure is a strong thing.

    What I find incredulous however is the apparent lack of knowledge on the part of the crew as to what sailing into a hurricane might actually be like. Unbelievable. Is common sense truly dead in the world? Were they really that clueless? They aren’t anymore. Bottom line is the captain was/is responsible and the owner will never say anything. He should be the one in court ultimately.

  • Jack Morton

    Given that everyone on the ship has undergone a severe trauma, it is worth noting that one of the characteristics of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is emotional “numbing” – a dulling of emotional response. That it should show up in testimony is not surprising. It becomes one of the subconscious mechanisms by which people protect themselves from being overwhelmed by emotion – traumatized – all over again.

  • Rick Owens

    Herb & andrew,
    Very good points.
    Having been in a far too similar circumstance some 40 years ago (no one died, thankfully), fear was ever present when I would think of the potential danger, but subsided when focusing on the imperative tasks of surviving, so I would avoid trying to contemplate the worst case.
    I would think that the Bounty crew were also trying to control their fear, but too damned busy to let it catch up with them. ” Don’t look back, they may be gaining!” Concentrate on running for your life and helping your shipmates.
    I’m too old and crusty to be embarrassed to recount it, but they still have that certain youthful pride I possessed back then.
    And I didn’t have to announce it to a television audience and roomful of reporters and government investigators and lawyers under oath.

  • Mario Vittone

    Thanks Everyone (Rick, Rickr, Scott, Herb,) for the comments and compliments on the writing. I sincerely wish I was writing about avoiding a tragedy than about the hearings for one.

    I’ll be writing one final analysis piece where I’ll discuss my own opinions about what may have happened (besides the obvious) and cover some testimony that hasn’t been discussed in depth yet; the moving of fuel and water tanks, and adding of thousands of lbs of ballast to the laz and engine space; the 65 tons of lead strapped to the keel in a previous yard period; rot and decay in the keel itself.

    What I know for certain about the hearings and the testimony is this; by the fifth day I had stopped trying to figure out how Bounty sank, and began to wonder how she floated for as many years as she did.

    • Rick Owens

      My thanks go to you for bringing your experience and balanced reporting.An invaluable source of perspective (even temperance) for me.
      And for providing this source for my participation.
      Thank you and I am looking forward to reading your, unfortunately, last posting.

    • JAK

      Thanks, Mario, I’ve really enjoyed your articles. I’d love to hear more about the ballast change, and if it was discussed in the hearing. This has bothered me for months, and I’ve been wondering if it wasn’t a major contributor to her leakage. I had read a report somewhere about her swapping internal lead for a shoe, but I never could track down any structural changes because of it. Obviously the loading of lead bolted to a keel is dramatically different than internal ballast spread over a larger area secured to frames. It’s not much of stretch to think she could pull open her seams with that swinging down below.

      • Mario Vittone

        The ballast changes were significant over the last few years and especially in the yard period prior to her last trip. I am sure it had a negative affect on her watertight integrity.

    • David Hastie

      I wonder how many other ‘tall ships’ currently operational have major deficiencies? Wooden hulls are maintenance intensive and the money is seldom plentiful in these sail training ships. I would guess most have issues with seaworthiness.

      • A

        As to a lead shoe: fairly common, both in original construction and later to increase stability on wooden sailing ships. Its is pure speculation to suggest that a lead shoe on the keel caused the issues.

        As to other wooden ships “in operation”, the majority are at least inspected at T-boats (small passenger service) so have been approved to carry passengers at least on limited routes. Bounty was not. Please do not apply the situation of the Bounty to all wooden vessels.

  • C. Wallace

    When our ship was dismasted in ’10 I was on the quarterdeck. A split-second, ear shattering crack was all that was heard. I watched as a 127 foot, 18″ diameter fir mast spit asunder in splinters and dust. It felt like time had slowed; then the screams and shouting of passengers brought me back to the present in a rather jarring way. The trainings and the drills (although in truth, we never had a drill for dismasting scenarios), got me acting almost automatically in a stimulus-response mode. The first thing I remember seeing after the mast fell, was our captain running forward to check for victims underneath the fallen boom and shrouds. (Cables that are over an inch thick)…He also was acting on auto-response. Realizing that we were still under full (remaining) sail and being pushed onto the shore, he shouted for me to take over and went back to the wheel.
    I was petrified and in shock. I do not recall making any actual decisions per-say; more following what my instincts and training had instilled in me.
    We got passengers rallied to the quarterdeck and into their life jackets, manifest checked off, the injured triaged and a mayday sent out in record time. (In large part due to a very mature and calm group of teenage passengers who followed orders carefully).

    As first mate I had to go forward and try to manhandle our foresail to the deck as the peak had been dropped… 50 LB masthead cap swinging 90 feet over our heads, ready to drop to the deck. I had to leave my terrified ten year old daughter with the passengers and go do my job… I had no idea if the rest of our rig was coming down or whether we’d be driven aground. The entire crew was terrified, but acted bravely.

    We were very fortunate. There were no casualties. (After the CG arrived and finished their initial triage, the Lt. confided that she had braced herself for multiple fatalities given the size of our rig and number onboard).

    I cannot write about that event, which occurred over two years ago without shaking and getting slightly emotional reliving certain points. However, due to lack of casualties, I was never forced to be put on the witness stand; televised internationally–having read and listened to countless criticism and finger pointing about the actions of my captain, myself and my crewmates. (Granted, there are many objective critiques such as Mario Vittone’s articles and others… those that have held off until the investigation to weigh in)… but so many puffed up self-proclaimed experts wanting to pronounce their verdict about the capabilities and motives have taken center stage.

    If I had been put on a stand months after our incident, knowing I would eventually have to answer to the actions and decisions of that day–knowing there were these internet trolls hanging on every word to say “I told you so”. You can bet I would have (consciously or not), retreated to a very clinical and emotionless accounting of the event–if only for my own psychological well being.

    It makes sense to question and to try and find the reasons behind this tragedy. It is even wise to ask the witnesses pressing and often painful questions… but I would hope that those commenting would try to cut them a break–just a little, about why they might seem hesitant to bring emotion into their testimony.

    For me it is easy to empathize with what they must be going through. for others a gentle reminder “There but for the grace of god…”

    Let the excellent CG investigators do their job. Let the crew give testimony and answers will come. (The lawyers will make sure of it).

  • Larry

    I noticed the same thing about the seeming lack of fear. I have wondered if the needs of the moment just didn’t allow time to be really scared. I remember talking to a pilot who landed his plane with one of his wheels stuck in the up position. He said that only after he got home, took a shower, and crawled into bed that he started shaking.

    All I can say is that what we saw in public is what I have seen in private. It is not an act, nor is it the result of trying to hide something. To the extent they were scared, they share it, if at all, only with their crewmates or closest companions.

  • Ron Palmer

    I disagree that it is the owners who are partly to blame by putting pressure on Wallbridge to sail. I have been a ships master for some 40 years and of course the owners will put pressure on to get a ship to the next port etc. However, it is the masters responsibility for safety of the ship and crew and on the many occasions when my decision has been not to sail or not to cross a bar harbor because of too big a sea etc it has always been accepted by the owners who have some faith in the Master they employ. Chris in his comments about the “Rena” grounding in New Zealand and placing some blame on the owners is incorrect. Once again it is the Masters responsibility and his alone. The 2nd Mate and the Master of “Rena” were guilty of very bad seamanship and should have had the certificates suspended. The reason for the “Rena” grounding was that they took a short cut without consulting the chart. If they had laid the new coarse off on a chart they would have seen that it took the ship directly onto the reef. Sure there was pressure to get to the Pilot Station on time but only fools and first trippers alter coarse and not really know what lays ahead. It is very basic seamanship and nothing to do with the stamp lickers and other arm chair Admirals ashore.
    The First Mate of “Bounty” has a lot to answer for. Had he had the courage to tell Wallbridge that he would not sail into Hurricane Sandy I’m sure it would have influenced other crew and prevented Wallbridge from making such an inexplicable decision. Wallbridge may have thought he was bullet proof or believed foolishly in the power of prayer – I have had an experience of a Master who suffered similar – He was lost at sea with his ship also.

    • JAK

      Ron, I think both you and Chris have made a bit too big of a jump by comparing this to the real Merchant Marine world. True knowledge and training is left largely to the individual in much of the tall ship world. Yes, you have to have a license if you’re going to be the master, but some owner will always sign your time (it’s good business as it keeps the wages down) and then you head to a sea school, bam. Don’t get me wrong, the best captain I ever served under was in the tall ship industry, but there is strong push for them to leave (and she did). Most can only do things for the love of it for so long. When you realize you can actually make real money elsewhere, most generally take it, myself included. I’m wondering if you knew the pay scale of the average “tall ship” crew and captain, or knew the Bounty’s was even lower, would you have a different opinion? Like mentioned the other day, a good insurance policy plus a bad captain is money saved, in this industry, and possibly a nice chunk in the bank. Point is the owner heavily contributed to the lack of knowledge and the culture that existed on the Bounty. I agree the ultimate responsibility should be laid upon the captain, but when you’re fired for saying no (and, yes, I have been), and there’s 20 more “captains” in the bar behind you, someone will go….

      • Chris

        Hi Jak. You’re of course correct that commercial shipping and tall boats aren’t necessarily in the same league. However, I also think you make my point about the role pressure from owners can have on captains’ decision making processes. If the captain of a tall ship is told to sail, and knows that if he refuses to do so he can be fired and quickly replaced by someone who will, this puts him under a great deal of pressure. Yes, the captain is ultimately responsible for his vessel and crew, and it would be comforting to believe they will make the right decision, but we know this isn’t always the case. As I mentioned in my above post, human nature is fragile and the fear of loss of employment (even if the pay is small) can be a powerful motivator – sometimes leading competent people to make incompetent decisions.

        I should note that we don’t know if pressure from the Bounty’s owner played a role in this incident. The captain is tragically no longer with us, and the owner is refusing to talk (I guess we’ll have to draw our own conclusions from that).

        • JAK

          Chris, I did like your point, and am happy to reinforce it. It was only the example… not that there isn’t some comparison there, just afraid of the holes in the argument.

    • Chris

      Hi Ron. Thanks for the reply, I appreciate your thoughts. You’ll see from my original comment I’m in complete agreement it’s the master who is ultimately responsible for safety of the ship and crew. However, I believe we need to accept that commercial pressures can play a role in competent and responsible captains making incompetent and irresponsible decisions. Human nature is fragile and an economic imperative (promised incentives or fear of punishment) is a powerful motivator.

      We see this in the road freight industry, the rail and aviation industries. For example, in 2005 in Western Japan a train derailed killing 105 people (including the driver). It was later revealed the driver, who was speeding, was afraid he would be punished if running late (he’d been punished by his company the previous year for the same offence).

      In the case of the Rena, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission report found that the captain and navigation officer were grossly negligent (thus they went to jail), but also found the commercial pressure they were under to reach the port before 3am had played a factor in their decision-making.

      My interest is what lessons can be learned, and how do we prevent future incidents from occurring. This requires us to look at all the evidence and factors involved. Yes, captains are ultimately accountable. But they are also human and susceptible to external pressures – and accidents continue to occur. We need to ask why. I think it would be irresponsible not to consider all the elements.

  • Rusty356

    It seems to me that the people who think the crew of the HMS Bounty were (or should have been) in fear for their lives or terrified when the ship was sinking, don’t quite understand what it’s like being on a boat in trouble and there is a very strong possibility that nobody will reach you in time if/when the awful awful happens.

    When you’re doing everything possible to save yourself (and in this case, saving the HMS Bounty)from going under, “fear” doesn’t even enter into the equation. Fear is the mechanism that keeps you out of trouble, not the one that gets you out of trouble. The HMS Bounty was in trouble the minute it left port due to the weather conditions.

    On land, you may have many different options for survival in almost every bad situation, and your “fear” might help you make the best choice possible. When 100 miles out at sea, you really only have two options in a bad situation. Either stay out of the water … or die. It makes perfectly good sense that, while the crew of the HMS Bounty was busy, they weren’t afraid or fearful.

    • Mario Vittone

      Rusty – my job put me on more sinking, burning, capsized, foundering, grounded ships than anyone I know (besides my other rescue swimmer friends). I was scared every time. Fear is there to keep you out AND get you out of trouble. Being a tall ship sailor doesn’t make you emotionally special. Not only would many of these far less experienced kids not admit to being scared, they would hardly speak of it as even abnormal. Maybe it wasn’t to them – but I do know downplaying when I hear it.

      • andrew

        I suspect your excellent training as someone who would have to go into trouble on sinking vessels, plus time to ponder the consequences of your actions in advance, helped make it a more “normal” situation where your natural fear could come out…what I think you are hearing from those of us who went through dangerous times without advanced notice is that the natural reaction of fear doesnt kick in till the event is over and your thought process has time to recover. I now deal a lot with the military and more than a few friends who went through the dark days of Iraq and Afghanistan tell similar stories–werent scared at the time a particularly horrific event like IED attack happened–but scared and traumitized later. If you do write a book based on all your excellent reporting, I’m sure there is lots of medical info to dig into on this…and seems to me the above comment about impact of PTSD on lack of emotion of witnesses is spot on as well–seen same with our boys in the sandbox.

        • Mario Vittone

          Andrew – I’m not talking about the lack of terror in the moment, but rather the lack of any emotional attachment to the event in the retelling. Throughout the testimony – most (not all) witnesses minimized the seriousness of the event. Jessica Hewitt did state that one crewmember was “frantic” as they prepared to abandon ship but (honorably I thought) asked not to say the name out loud for public consumption. She was the first and only witness to admit to anyone showing any emotional distress during the event. Your “advanced notice” idea is interesting, but the crew had 26 hours of knowing their ship was taking on more water than it could pump out. That is far more notice than I ever got on a rescue case – far more than the Bounty officers gave to those who rescued them. I wasn’t expecting them to say that they were terrified, but the bulk of testimony was presented as – “Nothing was out of the ordinary – nothing was going wrong – we had some minor engine problems – and you know, all wood boats leak, we worked on our problems and stuff – and..oh yeah…some real tragic stuff happened, but it was no big deal really.”

          This is not the way they presented the event to investigators months earlier. Is it because they were on camera, and the world was watching, and the lawyers, and the people who might or might not employ them in the future? Again I say – I don’t know. But I do know that the testifying crew of Bounty during the public hearings “minimized” the event. I also know that tall ship sailors aren’t some special breed of fearless pirates – they are people – good people – and subject to the same emotions and dynamics under stress as everyone else.

  • Dan

    The discussion about how much “fear” the crew felt is, at this point, totally subjective and a little beside the point.

    Like the pain a woman feels during child birth, maybe the fear the crew felt isn’t remembered the same way that it was felt at the time?

    Having spent a harrowing night at the helm of sail boat in a big blow, crossing the gulf stream in 20-25′ seas in the wee hours of the morning (actually lasted for 54 hours), I can attest to not remembering much in the way of emotion afterward.

    As the situation progresses, you rationalize, “It’s not that bad. We’re still here. We made it this far, should be getting better any moment now”. By the time it really is bad, you’re usually way beyond the point of exhaustion to be feeling anything at all, much less fear.

    I doubt any of the crew had slept since the previous night if they had even slept well at that point. By the time they were donning their immersion suits, time had already collapsed (their sense of how long they’d been at it, how long it was taking to do something, etc.) and with it, their fear instinct.

    With all the talk of the crew’s experience or lack thereof…well, they’re experienced now…

    Another aside, I bet you $100 the first mate’s book on ship’s procedures is put on hold!

  • M taylor

    I was unaware that ballast was added and also ‘externally bolted on the keel’. Now we add another lever on the keel and trying to break that off. Surely that would quicken the roll period and most likely open seams.

    I’d like to hear the testimony and see the calculations, drawings and reports of Wyman – the surveyor and naval architect. And of course, no retest of the stability. He has a major part in this saga.

    • Mario Vittone

      70 tons of ballast (internal and external) added since the stability letter was issued.

  • Deeana

    Many of the standard protocols regarding obeying maritime laws seem not to have been followed aboard the Bounty during its last voyage. Things like the duty to notify the Coast Guard when engines and generators fail.

    During testimony I was struck by the numerous witnesses who had no idea WHEN any particular event took place. I understand that during a crisis people often do not stop to look at their watch. But here we are talking about a protracted crisis – not an hour or so, but many hours. I found it to be very strange – and eventually found it to be kind of suspicious – that no one seemed to have much of any concept of time. “Everything was just a blur” seemed to be the “go to” explanation for this.

    Not likely the logbook is available, but is there any requirement that critical events such as those that took place during this incident be entered into a ship’s log book? And who would actually write or type in those entries?

    I am sure the Coast Guard has logged every communication with the Bounty and the time at which such took place. And if not an audio recording of these exchanges, there will be informational log entries by the Coast Guard. These will be interesting.

    During final day testimony Svendsen started to get into the value of the “support group” for the crew since the event. Cmdr. Carrol cut off that line of questioning with a quick “That’s not relevant to this inquiry”. “Support group” is a loose term. There are professionally led therapeutic support groups and there are informal, self-help “support groups” – which are known to at times not be all that therapeutic. Wonder which this one was/is?

    I have gone online and read Coast Guard Inquiry reports for several other at-sea disasters. The reports are very thorough, encompassing far more than just witness testimony.

    Also, somewhere along the line, someone questioned why the Coast Guard investigators would be questioning the survivors immediately after the event, even before the survivors were taken to a hotel room. (Hotel rooms and Walmart shopping for clothing items were paid for by the Red Cross, by the way. Not the employer.) The reason for this is the closer to the event itself, the better the recall of the details of the event. Memories fade and change as time passes. Especially if the survivor then exchanges recollections with others who experienced the same event. This is not supposition, this is known fact and is why investigators perform interviews immediately and separately.

    In all, what a sad tale this is. The only possible good that I can see ever coming from it would be the lessons to be learned for the future.

  • Ron Palmer

    Hi Jak and Chris,
    Thank you for your comments and I accept that Tall Ship scene is not comparable with the Merchant Navy. Further, I can accept that there is always another person waiting to fill your shoes, that happens in the Merchant Navy also. However, lets keep our feet on the ground and recall all the information that was available on Hurricane Sandy. It was publicised as the worst hurricane in history – an exceptional Grade 5 or even off the scale. Who would take a leaking partly rotting ship to sea with a crew of mostly rank amateurs to meet those conditions. Especially after being warned by an experience and qualified shipwright that “Bounty” needed to be carefully nursed. Surely the 1st. Mate was aware of that also. I accept your example of pressure to keep employment by referring to the train driver Chris but I do assume that Captain Wallbridge held a Class 1 Masters certificate and that the 1st Mate also holds an appropriate certificate. A train driver and a Captain of ship is not a comparison. The suggestion that the owners of “Bounty” were more interested in an insurance payout added to the pressure to sail is hard to accept. The ship could have been wrecked in a much safer way for the crew then to put it to sea in a category 5 Hurricane. After 15 years as master of “Bounty” surely Wallbridge had the confidence of the owners and they would have accepted his
    decision not to sail because of “Sandy” Captain Wallbridge must have thought he and “Bounty” were bullet proof and regretfully the 1st Mate did not live up to his responsibilities and influence the novice crew not to sail. It’s not mutiny if the ship is tied up in port.

    • JAK


      Your first question as to “who would take…?” is the one we’d all like to know. They would have to fit in one of two categories. Insane or just not knowing better. I’ve met Robin a couple times, and I’d probably go with the latter, though with maybe a touch of the first, but I’m still trying to understand it. He created an interesting culture around him. If you didn’t question, were green enough, and unafraid or unaware of risk, you could hang out for bit, learn some things, and move on. I know a few people who gained from that boat. Most I knew who spent time aboard, however, found themselves questioning, and things would go downhill fast. They left at their own expense, regardless of where they were.

      You’re not the first person to mention the first mate either. This one has bothered me quite a bit. To what level is he responsible? In the real world, you’re absolutely right. He should have an applicable license, the knowledge, and therefore be held accountable. BUT, technically this is a private vessel acting in a recreational capacity, not carrying freight or passengers. Insurance companies generally set the most requirements in this situation, and I don’t know what they required for the Bounty. I doubt much if that surveyor/agent had any input there. I know the mate had a basic masters license, 100 ton or under. Any other certificate would have to have been very new as a couple years earlier he was a diver in the Pacific and had never sailed on a tall ship before. Dive boat captain held accountable for loss of life on the tall ship Bounty? I don’t know…..

      As far as an insurance payout, I was speaking generally. Once a culture is created, it’s not so easy to change in a specific situation. I agree with you that this would be far too dangerous a situation to risk if you decided you now wanted the boat sunk. The odds he’ll receive a check are slim. That doesn’t change the fact that this boat could have gone down in much nicer weather (and almost has several times that I’ve heard about), which would have resulted in a healthy payout. I’m also not saying that I believe the owner even wanted the ship to go down at all, but saving a thousand a week in salary can go a long way towards a good insurance policy…. you know, just in case. Plus, do you have any idea how much a good captain can spend in a yard period on boat like the Bounty? Much more than that premium. The owner and shore management had set the policy of “follow the schedule” and “cut every corner” or we’ll shut the program down. They had the man who always said “yes”….. right to the end.

      • Mario Vittone

        Svendsen testified to having a 1600 ton masters. In later testimony it was stated that the HMS Bounty Organization required their officers to be licensed (except the engineer as it wouldn’t have been required if they were certificated).

        If (big if) the first mate’s license was a condition of his employment, it doesn’t matter if the boat was recreational or not.

        His license may be in jeopardy (or it may not) – that question gets answered later.

        • JAK

          Wow…. thanks again, Mario. I did not know that and obviously missed that part of the testimony. In my head I’ve been trying to take it easy on John and considered him one of the “victims” on some level. When I knew him, he was driving a dive boat not so many years ago. He had “earned” the sea time for his license by being a dive master aboard these boats. I will say he was one of the most capable divers I have ever been under the water with, but his seamanship skills were non-existent. I know he left the water for a time, and I read that he went back to diving for a stint before heading to tall sips. Where and how he earned the tonnage so quickly would be interesting to know. I’d be pretty curious who signed off his sea time if I were the investigating officer. Maybe this is where his loyalty to Robin stems from. If he sat for that ticket, though, and was working underneath it, he should definitely shoulder some responsibility here. If you play, you pay. I would expect he’ll lose it, as, in my opinion, he certainly proved he doesn’t deserve it.

  • Larry

    I am not clear on exactly what the crew, or even the first mate thought the captain would do. Some have indicated that the captain said something like, “We are going to head SE and then decide what to do depending on what the storm does.” Did everyone really understand that the captain was going to try to cut in front of the storm and then go down the west side of the storm, or did they only hear the part about heading SE to get sea room?

    While they knew they were headed for rough weather, there was no probing at the hearing as to what their expectations were in terms of maximum wind and sea state. I bet they assumed that they would be “skirting” the hurricane, and thus expected seas in the 20 foot range and winds under 50kts to 60kts. I also think that this is what the captain expected. The problem with Sandy was that hurricane force winds extended a long way from the eye, much further than what the captain may have expected. He still showed poor judgement in taking the course that he did, but I really do not think he expected to be in winds of 90Kts.

    A plausible explanation of the actions of both the first mate and the crew is that they expected to be sailing into “rough weather,” but not “into a hurricane.”

  • Rick Owens

    It seems to me that Cpt. Walbridges’ intent is, indeed an important factor in what the USCG must factor in deciding the extent of his culpability, and responsibility here.
    And courses are very telling.
    They must, however be viewed in the context of wind speed and direction coupled with the effect of losing power to the main propulsion engines.
    Expected course compared to actual course-made-good.
    So, a very detailed time-line needs to be established and compared to the storm location and synchronized to any maneuvering concerns and failures…Can’t sail due to sail damage… Can’t motor due to engine concerns…What priorities there are. Pumping being more important, so change tack… Courses are probably more determined by these factors than what course you would LIKE to steer.
    That would mean you are sailing more “into the hurricane” and less “into rough weather”
    All, of course, speculation on my part,
    But an ‘as accurate as possible time-line’ is first.

  • Ron Palmer

    Many thanks for your excellent reporting Mario. Jak, pleased to read that you had some involvement of Wallbridge. My thoughts on the man is that he was short of a few marbles when it came to good seamanship and safety which go hand in hand. Certainly not a ships master I would employ. Mario Vittone has pointed out that the Mate, Svendsen did hold a significant certificate and if the Inquiry has any teeth he will have it suspended. My experience with the USCG when calling at a USA port is that they are very efficient and professional. Had a similar incident happened with a New Zealand ship the results of an Inquiry under our jurisdiction would see a few heads roll

  • Ron Palmer

    Commenting on Larry’s remarks about Wallbridge and the Mate expecting to encounter 50 knots by sailing on the perimeter of the Hurricane. Lets get real. Wallbridge and the Mate new “Bounty” was rotten and had been warned that the ship was critical and needed to be nursed. Sailing into a 50 knot gale is not nursing a rotting ship. In reality “Bounty” was not in a condition to leave port in 20 knot winds unless you had the Fire Departments pumps with you.

  • Stephen Olson

    First off, I LOVE the language of marine insurance. Terms like Barratry, Moral Hazard, and Inherent Vice roll trippingly from my tongue. Did the vessel’s owner fall under the thrall of Moral Hazard, and prevail upon the crew to commit a barratry upon the “Bounty,” so that he could collect a fat payout. My guess is that almost certainly did not.
    All he’d have had to do to accomplish that would have been to order her to stay in port because of the hurricane, and order the crew ashore. She’d almost certainly have obligingly sunk, and the only fly in the ointment would have been an oil spill, but diesel spill fuels aren’t that big a deal. The reason that only a knucklehead owner would conspire to cause the Bounty’s loss at sea are these: a) He, and his co-conspirators, would be liable to be charged with murder. b) The underwriter would probably not cover in the case of an intentional loss, so there would be no payout. c) The vessel’s owners may very well get a large bill from the Coast Guard, which the underwriter may cover, but in the case of an intentional loss, may very well not.
    Also, there’s the issue of whether Wallbridge would have co-operated. Based on my couple of brief interactions with him, and what I’ve read and heard, he was deeply self-identified with the vessel, and it’s hard to imagine him going along with an insurance fraud scheme that would result in the destruction of the Bounty.

  • Stephen Olson

    An important element of the crew’s performance on board, and their behavior since being rescued may be what’s called “unit cohesion”
    Unit cohesion is a military concept, defined by General Edward Meyer, former United States Chief of staff as “the bonding together of soldiers in such a way as to sustain their will and commitment to each other, the unit, and mission accomplishment, despite combat or mission stress”
    When I was sailing as bosun on tankers, master on tugs, and master on sail training vessels, developing “unit cohesion” was a goal that I worked at.
    From what I’ve heard of Robin Wallbridge, he was very adept at developing unit cohesion, bonding together the paid crew, the volunteers, and students.
    If you’re going to develop unit cohesion that’s focused on the “Godlike” figure of the Captain, he had better damn well be a God, because his subordinates and followers will follow him with blind devotion. The greatest problem with this is very well expressed in a Pete Seeger song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” sometimes called “The Big Fool says to push on”
    A person doesn’t automatically become one with the Gods when he gets a sheet of paper from the USCG, nor does training and experience necessarily develop strength of character and intelligence. I’ve sailed with people with years at sea and big licenses who were sycophants and/or fools. I’ve met guys on their first voyage who were tough, smart guys.
    My observation has been that the “Godlike” captain, unless he/she is the real deal, doesn’t draw tough, smart guys to him, and in fact they don’t get along well. So the tough, smart guys (of both genders) move on, and the sycophants stay in place, building up the admiring claque around their own little tinpot God.
    And then the wind begins to blow high…

    • JAK

      Well put, Stephen. I think Robin had a knack for picking out people with stars in their eyes, though, so unit cohesion was probably a simpler chore for him than someone who values knowledge and skill.

  • Steve Douglas

    Can anyone tell me why (or on whose order) the HMS Bounty Facebook page was taken offline sometime before the CG hearings and is still “missing in action”? A valuable resource of corporate and public discourse on the events surrounding the sinking that for now appears lost.

  • en tuna

    What’s the point? I know for a fact that in the early 90’s Bounty was leaking pretty bad up forward. I also know that most crew are loyal to their captains and the vessel they sail on. As part of the crew on a ship like Bounty you know nothing bad will happen to you even if she leaks or if the standing rigging is shot and should be replaced because it’s fourty years old…you’re invincable. I had two captains during my time on Bounty and one as a temporary. I trusted two of them but still sailed with the third. The tragic thing that happened recently happened. Bad call on the skippers part, yep. But what about Pride of Baltimore or Marques or Alexandria. I’d say the same thing could be possible as far as making a bad call but even after those terrible disasters, we still continue to sail.

    • Chris

      I fail to see your point? Are you suggesting we shouldn’t try and learn lessons? We shouldn’t look at ways we might prevent further incidents from occurring? We’ve seen in the maritime arena (as well as road, rail and aviation) that lessons have been learnt and safety has been improved. I don’t believe that ‘tragic things’ need be an inevitable consequence of sailing a tall ship.

      • Mario Vittone

        “I don’t believe that ‘tragic things’ need be an inevitable consequence of sailing a tall ship.”


    • andrew

      marques was caught in a microburst that no one saw coming (no weather tech at the time predicted that intensity of the storm)…alexandria was another really poor decision (i had severed breifly on her just a few years before and she was in terrible shape–that and the incompetance of the then foundation that ran her made it a quick and easy decision to leave her)…she wasnt safe to take out of the potomac on a good day, let alone off hatteras in a storm

  • Stephen Olson

    I only did one short trip on Pride of Baltimore 1 (San Francisco to Panama), have never sailed on Pride 2. But I have sailed a lot on Amistad, which is the little sister of Pride 2. Designed by the same guys, built to have a USCG ocean stablity letter, certified for passengers and sail training. This is a very far cry from the Pride 1, which was not CG inspected.
    The Pride organization learned from the loss of Pride 1, and Pride 2 had watertight compartmentation, outside ballast, proper scantlings, and much more stability. The rig on Amistad is simpler and smaller (relative to the size of the vessel) than Pride 1, even though it’s still a scary rig with which to set off across the Bay of Biscay.
    The point being that people do learn from marine casualties. Some of the lessons are learned again and again. Maintenance. Crew Training. From the loss of the John F. Leavitt we learned that just because a fellow has enough money to build a big schooner, and high deck boots, it doesn’t qualify him to take a vessel to sea. From the loss of Pride 1, schooner Issac H. Evans, and Albatross we learned that watertight integrity is absolutely crtical in a knockdown.
    Every person who goes to sea, whether it’s on a supertanker, a nuke sub, or a wooden hulled square rigger, is human. They make mistakes. They are subject to fear, and self-delusion.
    Maybe the best accounts of vessels at sea in a storm were written by Joseph Conrad, in “Nigger of the Narcissus” and “Typhoon.” I recommend “Typhoon” in particular because of Conrad’s description of the young Chief Mate Mister Jukes, and how he became very passive at the height of the storm, until his captain prodded him into action. It’s a great book, written by a man who sailed as mate and master in square riggers.

  • Rick Owens

    Soundings Magazine has published some documents through a freedom-of information request about rescue communications on October 28&29,2012.…-a-haze-of-war

  • Steve Cross

    Wooden Ship Frames Hold Wooden Hull Planks. Wooden Hull Planks Provide Buoyancy. Buoyancy Makes Wooden Boats/Ships Float. Am I Missing Something Here?

    • Rick Owens

      Yea, ballast!
      It is added to improve stability ie… righting moment to offset the tipping forces of sails and seas.
      Displacement sailing boats, as a unit, weigh more then water and, if intact, will sink when filled with water.
      That’s the reason the Bounty sank, although not until almost completely filled, by the looks of the pictures I have seen.
      There are issues of watertight compartments and bulkheads that I would imagine will be addressed in the USCG and NTSB reports to come.
      Best I can do in way of an explanation, Steve.

    • Stephen Olson

      Yes, you’re missing the essential point that it isn’t the buoyancy of the planking that keeps the vessel afloat. If that were the case, a flooded vessel would float. Which the “Bounty” didn’t do. What keeps a vessel afloat is the air that the planking encloses. Every cubic foot of air Below the Waterline increases buoyancy. Let water in, it displaces air, the vessel loses buoyancy. Get the water sloshing back and forth, otherwise known as “Free Surface,” and the vessel loses stability, and then she lay on her side, the seas break over her, and things go downhill from there.

      • Steve Cross

        Well Yes, That is what I was saying. If the Frames do hold not the Hull Planks it lets water in.

  • DoctorL

    “What keeps a vessel afloat is the air that the planking encloses. Every cubic foot of air Below the Waterline increases buoyancy”

    Not quite, Stephen. A floating vessel displaces an amount of water with a weight equal to its own weight. A vessel will sink down in the water until the weight of the water “pushed out of the way” by the submerged part of the vessel is equal to the weight of the vessel itself.

    When a vessel floods, effectively what happens is its weight increases. The weight increase causes the vessel to sink further into the water (increasing displacement) until a new equilibrium is reached.

    Sinking occurs when the weight of the flooded vessel exceeds all of the available displacement, that is to say the weight of the water “pushed out of the way” by the submerged part of the vessel is at its maximum, and less than the weight of the vessel itself.

    At that point the vessel has ceased to become a floating object and has become a submerged object. A submerged object displaces an amount of water equal to its volume, regardless of its weight.

    (1) Fill a tub with water. Cut a 2 ft long piece of 2 x 12 and put it in the water. Mark the elevation of the water on the side of the tub.

    (2) Put a brick on top of the 2 x 12. Mark the new (higher) elevation on the side of the tub. Take the difference in elevation, multiply by the length and width of the tub, and then multiply by the density of the water in the tub. Since a floating object displaces an amount of water equal to its weight, you now have the weight of the brick.

    (3) Now take the brick off of the 2 x 12, and throw it in the bottom of the tub. Mark the elevation on the side of the tub. It will be higher than the original elevation (the 2 x 12 alone) but not as high as the elevation with the brick on top of the 2 x 12. Take the difference in elevation (2 x 12 alone vs 2 x 12 with the brick at the bottom of the tub), multiply by the length and width of the tub, and you now have the volume of the brick.

    (4) take the weight of the brick from (2) and divide by the volume of the brick from (3). You now have the brick’s density.

    (5) you have just completed the experiment done by Archimedes to determine whether or not the king’s crown was made of gold. It worked especially well because unlike a brick, the crown had an irregular shape with a volume that was difficult to determine. The crown was not pure gold and the king’s goldsmith lost his head.

  • Steve Cross

    Well, I still think buoyancy is pretty important.

  • john david hutsell

    what’s next, Mario?

  • Bill Fleming

    I highly commend Mario Vittone’s coverage of the hearings. I also have been impressed with many of the thoughtful comments.

    I believe that no matter what recommendations come from the inquiry, that Captain Wallbridge’s choice to set sail with the knowledge of the oncoming hurricane will be cited as a major factor that lead to the sinking.

    We hope that seafaring improves with time and such tragedies will provide lessons from which we all learn. However, this may not be the case. In his well researched book, “Tall Ships Down” Daniel Parrot, besides documenting the fate of five tall ship disasters, chronicles the loosening of standards since commercial tall ships regularly weathered Cape Horn storms. Even in those days, referring to the notes of Mariner and historian Niels Jannnasch who’s experiences on the grain carrying tall ship Passat under different flags allowed him to document both the devolution of the science of stowage and the less rigorous steps taken in making secure and watertight the hatches. It would seem that what we learn from failure and tragedy creates improvements that slowly over time get ignored or reduced until disaster strikes again.

    One factor that has been touched upon was the caulking. I believe in response to one of the comments, Mario reflected that that he felt Caulking was not an issue. I disagree. While much discussion has been made about non marine grade seam compound, lees has been made of the skill and application of the cotton and oakum caulking itself. Captain Moreland touched upon it in his testimony. Caulking achieves towo things, properly driven it creates a watertight joint. Also, if again driven well, it tightens the planking creating an almost monocoque hull. When the Bounty was built, it was at a time when the the shipyard still employed full time experienced caulkers. Having this arguably skilled craft turned over to relatively inexperienced crew as we learned during the teastamony is highly questionable. The vessel leaked – a lot, way more than it should. Even with the much publicized rot, a vessel of its size, with its three inch planks and large framing scantlings should be able to be made tight. Rot would have to be so severe, extending through six inches of multiple frames that it would significantly affect the trunnels ability to secure the planking. Remember that the veteran shipwright Joe Jakomovicz testified that he had seen worse. He also remarked on how solidly she was built and noted that even awash in hurricane driven seas she held together.

    Held together or not, the Bounty had developed a culture where excessive leaking was the norm and seemed fine as long as the pumps kept ahead of the situation. This too, I believe was a major factor in her sinking. Such complacency does not mix well with hurricanes

  • Steve Cross

    Doctor L, You forgot to mention that your plank in Your example had to have a specific gravity of less than one. Not all Wood does. I know that Our Live Oak sinks like a rock.

  • JosephG

    I first saw Bounty in the spring of ’97 when she was making her way northward to Fall River. I was in the Maritime History/Nautical Archaeology program at ECU and heard she was in Morehead City so I drove down to have a look. I was frankly appalled at the sight. Caulking was hanging out of her sides and there were signs of rot everywhere. I’m not a professional seaman, but I have worked on a number of ships, both wood and steel and I would not have taken her any further than the immediate vicinity of the harbour. The second time I saw her was when she was hauled out in Boothbay for reconstruction and David Wyman who assisted me with a ship design I was working on suggested I go see her. She looked much better and I know Boothbay does good work, but on a vessel that age, things can go south very quickly if you don’t keep on top of maintenance and from the sound of it they weren’t. My first thought when I heard about the sinking, like so many others was “What in the world were they doing out there?” I’m sure many of you know more about it than I do, but this was clearly a manifestly unsafe voyage. I suspect Peter Hayden is correct and that it was financial pressures that drove the decision to sail. The question really is did the owner pressure the captain into sailing? Having said that, even if the owner did pressure Captain Walbridge, the sinking is still Walbridge’s fault. The Captain is in charge and it his (or her) responsibility to insure the safety of his ship and its crew. In 1912 J. Bruce Ismay came under fire for his supposedly ordering Captain Smith to maintain speed. There’s no real evidence that this was the case and even if it were, Smith would have been well within his rights to refuse it. The same applies to the Costa Concordia. Regardless of what the owners want, it’s the Captain who must decide if the course of action is safe or unsafe. In this case given the testimony there is absolutely no way that Walbridge didn’t know that he was taking an enormous risk and his failure to declare an emergency (the pan-pan call) is inexcusable.
    Mario I would also like to thank you for your clear and readable account of the hearings.

  • Steve Cross

    What about the ballast? Did it break off?

  • Jane Smith

    The owner of the Bounty and it’s LLc. He’s the one responsible for paying to have the ship it top shape. The Captain is only the employee…who reported the problem to the owner, who just did not care…and 2 lives were lost.

  • Steve Cross

    When is the Coast Guard Report going to be completed?

    • Rick Owens

      “So the public hearings are over – but the investigation continues. I suspect it will for at least a month or two. If the report is published by the end of the Fall, that would be considered on time for the USCG. But sincerely – there is enough out that there is no real mystery to uncover. A poorly maintained vessel sailed out into a hurricane. What caused the sinking? (read previous sentence)”
      According to Mario on another forum.

  • Steve Cross

    Where would a person research Coast Guard guidelines on Tall Ship Frames?

    • Mario Vittone

      Google NVIC 7-95

      • Steve Cross

        I googled it and reread it. I had actually printed it off a few years ago and I wanted to make sure it was the same document. It was. MY interpretation was it was left up to a skilled persons interpretation on the frames, but that qualification was not clearly defined.How does a person know other than spending a fortune without guidelines? By the way I manufactured the flitches for an entire Tall Ship that passed inspection. Thanks,Steve.

  • Steve Cross

    On the NVIC 7-95,item 4 at the beginning mentions “Applying Good Marine Practices” to use the document as a guide. How would a person(Me) qualify in the opinion of the Coast Guard to “Apply Good Marine Practice”. Does the Coast Guard ,or anyone, have a list of qualified people? I believe that although it is a big challenge , it should be written so that more people could read and review it technically. Opinions are like armpits, most people have a few.

    • Mario Vittone


      NVIC 7-95 was written by a collaborative team from the Coast Guard and from the wooden boat building industry. For every “standard” there could be a possible acceptable exception so the guidance (7-95) is just that – guidance. So yes – it is left to a skilled persons interpretation of what is a good or bad frame repair. The USCG qualifies its own inspectors to make those determinations and “good marine practice” can be a term with a lot of leeway; but that is just how it goes. In the example of Bounty (which was not subject to USCG inspection of her hull), if she had been fully inspected, MANY of her repairs would have been determined to not be good marine practice and some of them (Dutchman repairs to framing) would have been against the NVIC guidance.

      The one overarching lesson I learned in my time as a USCG Marine Inspector it is this: Don’t ever for any reason…ever…buy a wooden boat. There is a reason the art is dying and lost – better materials and construction arrangements came along. Setting a “standard” for qualifications now would be very (read: impossibly) difficult.

      • Steve Cross

        From a purely practical standpoint, You have a point. From an Historic and Artistic viewpoint though there many reasons for preserving and building Tall Ships. Witness The USS CONSTITUTION. No One wants to scuttle it. Not Me for sure.There is always a solution. The Difficult We do right away, The Impossible takes a little longer,but only a little. Thanks Steve Cross 229-774-2781 Home and Business 229-726-5561 Cell

      • Steve Cross

        I had heard that You had concerns about the structural integrity of the keels on Tall Ships. It seems such a logical observation that I wondered why no one is talking about it.Is this the “Gorilla in the Room”??? Could You share some thoughts on this?
        Steve Cross

        • Mario Vittone

          I had concerns with Bounty’s keel because it was 53 years old, worm-eaten, hogged, and covered in 65 tons of lead.

      • Steve Cross

        You mentioned that the US Coast Guard qualifies its inspectors and in the next paragraph You say setting a standard is “impossibly difficult” . Why is My head spinning?

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