Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Tragic Demise of the HMS Bounty

Image of the Bounty via the Bounty Facebook Page
For obvious reasons, tragedies at sea strike close to my heart.  Really close.  They always have, in fact.  I remember being a young girl and being completely and utterly obsessed with the Titanic.  I read every book I could get my twelve year old hands on about it.  It broke my little heart to imagine this beautiful, "unsinkable", behemoth of a ship going down with all her passengers, changing lives and destinies for eternity.  Images from those books are forever etched into my mind's eye: a woman laying in her bunk, clutching her baby as the ship goes down.  A husband and wife waiting on the rail, holding hands in solidarity as they neared their fate.  The band bravely playing their music until the very end.  I was deeply moved by these haunting images and their suspects who were no longer of this world; they represented the fragility of life and the uncertainty of the sea.

This depth of feeling I had as a child has not abated.  For better or worse, I feel it all and I am completely gutted by the loss of the H.M.S. Bounty.  When I opened my twitter feed yesterday morning and saw the news she had been abandoned by her crew, my heart dropped.  As the morning went on and details emerged that two crew members were missing and the majestic ship had surrendered to the raging waters of the Atlantic, my heart sank further.  Having been at sea in less than ideal conditions (but never in anything remotely close to a hurricane) I can only imagine what the captain and his crew were dealing with.  The emotions they felt.  The fear and adrenaline that pulsed through their veins.  The uncertainty of what lay ahead.  When raw nature bears her teeth at you, it's scary.  I have been in two life and death situations in my life, and I can tell you two things: 1) it's surreal and 2) you think very, very clearly.  You are wide-eyed and you will never be more present than in those moments.  That's my experience anyway.

Image taken by the Coast Guard of the sinking Bounty.
I think this loss strikes me particularly hard because Scott is the captain of a tall ship who could very easily be faced with a similar situation.  While it is easy to get all puffed up and lay blame on the Captain and say careless things about the fateful decision he made, it must be said that he was a very respected seaman with many ocean miles beneath him.  He obviously felt that what he was doing was best for his crew and his ship.  In life there are times when we must take calculated risks.  Each and every one of us has done it.  Sometimes those risks pay off, sometimes they don't.  I am reminded of the ill-fated final voyage of the Albatross and the tragedy of the Fantome.  Both are cautionary tales of incredible ships who met their fates at the hands of nature with capable men at their helm.  Both stories break my heart into a million little pieces each time I read about them.

At the time of writing this, fourteen of sixteen crew members are safe ashore.  One of the missing crew members, Claudine Christian, was found unresponsive and pronounced dead shortly after.  The captain, Mr. Robin Walbridge, is still lost at sea.  While the loss of these two sailors is devastating, this tragedy could have been a total catastrophe if not for the heroics of the men and women of the US Coast Guard who rescued the fourteen survivors.  It is an incredibly brave feat to routinely risk your life to save the life of a stranger and this is exactly what they do, day in and day out.  These men and women are true heros.

My heart and prayers go out to the entire Bounty family.  She was a majestic ship who's site I'm sure ignited a thousand dreams and let loose countless imaginations.  The seas are a little less beautiful without her sailing on them.  May she rest in peace.


Anonymous said...

Very well said.

Steve said...


I share in mourning the loss of lives and the tragedy at sea. I think the Coast Guard is amazing. I heard the first words the USCG rescue swimmer, Dan, spoke to the crew when he reached the life raft were, "I hear you guys need a ride."

But I need to question what the HMS Bounty was doing at sea at that time. The hurricane warnings and the likely path of the storm were broadcast everywhere for days before it hit. The Bounty was only 80 miles from North Carolina, directly where and when the weather models predicted the path of the storm would strike. Unless the ship was returning from, say, an Atlantic crossing and heading for port when they were trapped by the storm, I would think the prudent thing would have been to head for shelter somewhere well in advance of the storm, assuming such could be found. Perhaps they tried and could find no suitable shelter.

Long before modern communications and weather reports at sea, a good friend of mind got caught in a hurricane half-way between California and Hawaii. They were in a sloop of moderate size. There was no place to hide, nothing they could do, and they suffered numerous knockdowns. Fortunately, they and the boat survived.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I am not trying to judge the captain's decisions. But I hope an investigation explains why they were where they were at that time so we -- sailors all -- could all learn from their misfortune.


Tasha Hacker said...

This story killed me, too. What an awful thing to happen. Glad to hear Florida was spared by Sandy!

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