The Illusion of Experience – Bounty Hearings – Day 4
Tall ship sailors are so easy to like. When you meet them, within minutes, you know you are meeting someone who is doing exactly what they love. They are not at work, they are at home when aboard their boats, and I’ve never met one who even hinted at wanting to be anything else but a tall ship sailor. The jobs are hard, the hours are ridiculous, and the pay is awful if there is pay at all. But step aboard their boat and the lowliest deckhand will look at you with a certain amount of pity that you aren’t them. Like I said – so easy to like. Daniel Cleveland (third mate) and Laura Groves (bosun) from Bounty were no different.
Testifying on Friday, Cleveland (25) and Groves (29) both spoke of Bounty as a home. They both loved working and sailing on her, and they both had nothing but respect and admiration for Robin Walbridge – their former captain. But they had something else in common, something that wasn’t going unnoticed by the investigators: Bounty was the first and only tall ship they had ever worked or sailed on, and Walbridge was the only tall ship captain they had ever worked for. The way things were on Bounty was the only way they had ever known.
“My only job before Bounty was as a landscaper,” said Cleveland who came aboard in March of 2008. About sixteen months later, Bounty needed a new bosun and Cleveland requested the job. He had been aboard the only traditionally built wood hull vessel he had ever known for little over a year and Cleveland was responsible for maintaining the vessel’s hull. The job of keeping the water on the outside of the boat was his. On a steel vessel that task is primarily about coatings – taking off bad paint, cleaning the steel, and putting on good paint. But maintaining a plank-on-frame wooden hull vessel is decidedly more complex.
The difference between what Cleveland could have learned about his job in a couple of yard periods on a single boat, and what Joe Jakomovicz (see Day Three Testimony) knew after a lifetime of repairing wooden hulls at Boothbay, must be considerable. Nonetheless during a vessel haul-out of Bounty in October of 2010, Cleveland was teaching his job to Laura Groves (new to Bounty that season) who was looking up at the first wood hull she had ever seen in dry dock. Sixteen months later she would be bosun. This wasn’t the “old guys taught the young guys” school of wood boat repair that Jakomovicz had described, this was the new-teaching-the-new school. This was the illusion of experience. By September of 2012, during Bounty’s final yard period, Captain Robin Walbridge had assigned the responsibility of sealing the planks of his ship to Groves. According to her own testimony, the amount of re-caulking of wooden planks she had done was “not a whole lot.”
Hull repair – for obvious reasons – has been of primary interest to the investigators since the hearings began. Besides the plank replacements done by the Boothbay Shipyard in the late 2012 yard period, investigators were paying a lot of attention to the caulking – the method used to seal between planks. Caulking is not a simple (or easy) process on wood boats. It involves literally beating strands of cotton and then oakum (an oiled hemp material) into the seams between planks using large irons and wooden hammers of varying size. In the days before synthetic materials, the final step was to cover the seams (and the entire hull below the waterline) with hot tar. Today, shipwrights use modern materials. Opinions on what should be used have varied during the Bounty hearings:
Kosakowski – lead shipwright and project manager for Boothbay Harbor Shipyards – Testimony from Day 2
Shisha: “Was DAP used below waterline on the Bounty?”
Shisha: “Would you?”
Kosakowski: “It doesn’t work.”
But when asked about the sealing material used on Bounty on day 4, Cleveland told Commander Kevin Carroll, “We used DAP, which is a Home Depot product.”
Carroll: “Below the waterline?”
Cleveland: “I thought the DAP worked really well under the waterline…”
Carroll: “Who chose the products?”
Cleveland: “Captain Walbridge.”
“DAP” was DAP 33, a common household window glazing available from any local hardware store. When Groves was questioned concerning the material used during the 2012 yard period she told Carroll, “Starboard side we used NP1 Polyurethane…Port side we used DAP.” (NP1 is another product sold in local hardware stores.)
Carroll: “Why not just use one?”
Groves: “It was an experiment. Dan [Cleveland] had tried it [NP1] on a spot in 2011 and he saw that it had worked good so we got Robin’s approval to try it on the port side as an experiment.”
Kosakowski had mentioned a product in his testimony that he thought was good for the job of sealing the caulking on wood hulls: Pettit Seam Compound. But Pettit, specifically designed for marine use (and not available at Home Depot), was about ten times the cost of DAP.
When speaking to other hull repairs on Bounty, Daniel Cleveland testified about his Captain’s tutelage concerning the repair of wood rot on Bounty and how good his captain was at that type of work. “He was the one who taught me about Dutchmans, and scarfs.” Cleveland talked about a Dutchman as a common repair method for wood rot found on Bounty.
Carroll: “In your experience how do you treat rot?”
Cleveland: “The most ideal is that you remove the rot – you do a Dutchman.”
Carroll: “What is a Dutchman?”
The 25 year-old former landscaper spoke about how Walbridge taught him to cut out the old rot by cutting a deep scarf into good wood and then replacing it with new wood using epoxy to secure it in the old timber. “The idea is that it’s as strong as original because the epoxy penetrates the wood and it’s as strong as ever,” Cleveland testified. When asked about surface rot he said, “We treated surface rot with epoxy.” He sounded confident – proud of the things he had learned from his captain.
Groves also spoke of repair work on Bounty and particularly the use of lead patches along the garboard – the plank that tied into keel and among the most difficult seams to seal on any wood boat. She testified that there were “lots of lead patches on the garboard seam.” A lead patch was a section of lead sheet applied over a section of plank seam and sealed with roofing tar (again from Home Depot). Groves also seemed proud of what she had learned and confidently spoke of these repairs as adequate. She and her bosun predecessor Dan Cleveland were so easy to like, but neither knew that if Bounty had been certified to carry passengers, the repair work they had done to the ship would have very likely not been approved by the Coast Guard inspector who was asking them questions. But how could they know? They didn’t have the experience.
Next: Day 5 – Sins of Omission
Continued Bounty Coverage:
- Day 8: The Whole Truth
- Day 7: The 17th Passenger
- Day 6: The Cost of Waiting
- Day 5: Sins of Omission
- Day 4: The Illusion of Experience
- Day 3: Testimony Highlights the Complexity
- Day 2: Rotted Frames on Bounty
- Day 1: Chief Mate Testifies
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