Coast Guard to investigate sinking of HMS Bounty replica

CHARLESTON, South Carolina Fri Nov 2, 2012 6:30pm EDT

1 of 3. Capt Robin Walbridge with his sister Lucille Jansen in front of HMS Bounty,at Fall River, Massachusetts is seen in this May 2010 handout photo courtesy of the Walbridge family and supplied to Reuters November 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Walbridge Family/Handout

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard announced an investigation on Friday into the sinking of the replica of the sailing ship HMS Bounty with the loss of two crew members during Hurricane Sandy.

Rear Admiral Steven Ratti, commander of the Coast Guard's 5th District, ordered the formal investigation on Thursday after the Coast Guard suspended its search for the Bounty's missing captain, 63-year-old Robin Walbridge.

Fourteen crew members were rescued on Monday from life rafts by Coast Guard helicopters after the Bounty took on water and foundered at sea during the hurricane.

The captain and one other crew member were swept overboard and never made it to the rafts. The body of Claudene Christian, 42, was recovered later but she was pronounced dead.

"This has been classified as a major marine casualty due to the loss of life and the gross tonnage of the vessel," Coast Guard spokesman Lieutenant Michael Patterson said.

"We'll be looking into anything that may have caused the incident or contributed to it, communications, records, schematics of the vessel, testimony of the survivors and crew and other persons of interest as they're identified," he said.

Investigators will then be able to determine if negligence, misconduct, or equipment failure contributed to the sinking, and also whether the Coast Guard could have done anything differently, Patterson said.

"This was an unprecedented storm," he said. "What were their sailing intentions? Was their intent to ride it out in what they thought was the safest place to be? Professional mariners know how to take avoidance measures," he added.

The Bounty's three masts were visible for some time above the waves but from Tuesday night, the Coast Guard has been unable to locate the ship, Patterson said. The water depth where Bounty sank is around 13,000 feet, he said.

Coast Guard officials have debriefed the 14 surviving members of the crew, who were taken to the Coast Guard's Elizabeth City Air Station and turned over to the Red Cross. "We were able to get those initial narratives first-hand from the survivors rescued," he said.

"That information can be used in our subsequent investigation, and they can be required to provide more testimony," he said.

The Bounty left New London, Connecticut, on October 25, according to its Facebook page, en route to its winter berth in St Petersburg, Florida.

The captain's last communication to the Facebook page on the night of October 27 said:

"I think we are going to be into this for several days. The weather looks like even after the eye goes by, it will linger for a couple of days. We are just going to keep trying to go fast and squeeze by the storm and land as fast as we can."

The Bounty sank about 90 miles off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in high seas kicked up by Hurricane Sandy after its water pumps apparently failed.

The three-masted, 180-foot (55-meter) ship, built for the 1962 movie, "Mutiny on the Bounty," was about 160 miles from the eye of the hurricane when it foundered.

The original Bounty, a British transport 'square rigger', gained infamy for a mutiny in 1789.

The investigation could take months and involve hearings, which will likely be open to the public, Patterson said.

(Editing by David Adams and David Brunnstrom)

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Comments (2)
hogsmile wrote:
I don’t understand that captain’s thinking at all.

I have some experience with open (“deep”) ocean sailing, in the Santa Catalina Channel; a treacherous a body of water given the way freak weather suddenly springs up.

Sailing out there taught me hard lessons. One I learned is how a gale breaks a ship hull. Waves hit like sledge hammers. After several hours pounding some of the little things that hold a hull together start to loosen or break. A hull is like a chain — only as strong as its weakest link. When it starts the breakdown becomes progressive, and a captain dares not assume that his pumps or engine will continue to work indefinitely in such circumstances given the added strain that increased draft, added deadweight of shifting seawater below the waterline plus diminished freeboard above produce; all that magnified by incessant wave-pounding. Then the ocean becomes a wrecking ball.

This is true no matter how large the vessel might be. A friend who served aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise during the ’70′s told me about a sequence of rogue waves that savagely hammered the bow section of the flight deck, displacing it 9′ and breaking the hull. Making Enterprise seaworthy again required nearly a year; a 95,000 ton 1,000 foot nuclear aircraft carrier.

So, since the captain’s first obligation is to his crew, in this instance he should have consulted NOAA’s GOES East Satellite server while still in port; something I did out of curiosity while Sandy was still two days away from landfall. One glance at that picture would have told him everything he needed to know. Sandy was too big to outrun, and a run east, then south, to skirt its eastern edge wasn’t just an enormous gamble, it was tantamount to suicide.

He should have acknowledged the wisdom of an ancient saying: “any port in a storm”. Stay where he was, battened down, multiple sea anchors in place; ride it out with a skeleton crew in a semi-sheltered cove. If he couldn’t find a satisfactory anchorage then, yes, run — 180° away — in his case, due north, up to Boston; not due east, then south towards Florida. Sandy was forecast to turn west at least a day before arriving over his head, if tracking forecasts proved wrong and it arrived overhead. Motoring north at 8 knots 36 hours ahead of it would have put him 150+ nautical miles above it, depending on ocean currents.

Had he run north to Boston only a small, weak piece of Sandy would have found him day-before yesterday.

Nov 03, 2012 5:43am EDT  --  Report as abuse
hogsmile wrote:
NOAA maintains a satellite image archive, GOES image search, at its website: http://www.goes.noaa.gov/srcheast.html

To see what the captain should have seen:

Set the Sector to: GOES EAST CONUS
Set “What Day?” to: SUNDAY (at the latest)
Set “What Week?” to either: THIS WEEK or LAST WEEK if done after 11/4
Set “What Channel?” to: INFRARED
Set “What Time?” to: 1215Z

and click “Submit choice”.

The stored GOE satellite image should open in a new window.

Play around with the image types, advance the selected times and days, and watch SANDY evolve; go back in time.

Hurricane Sandy moved twice as fast as any surface ship. To return to Florida by skirting its eastern edge, Captain Walbridge had to first sail in an easterly direction to a point almost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean before changing course and heading south; an impossibility given his vessel’s slow speed and lack of time to execute the maneuver.

Nov 03, 2012 9:16am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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