Monday, August 18, 2014

I am Master of the Bounty.....

"It just got to the point that she couldn't stay afloat anymore," stated Bob Hansen.

The HMS Bounty was constructed in 1960 in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia by Smith & Ruhland specifically for the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty."  MGM commissioned the ship and after decades of retrofitting existing ships to fit a part, this would be the first historically built for a part.  It took 8 months to build the Bounty from the original ship's drawings.  It had been decided to increase the size of this Bounty from the original 86' long to 120' in order to allow for filming to be easier on the ship.  Everything else had to be scaled up to match the original dimensions.

The Bounty was launched on Aug 27 1960 and was sailed through the Panama Canal to Tahiti for the movie's filming.  It had originally been slated to burn the ship at the end of filming but Marlon Brando objected to that.  MGM kept the ship and sent it on a worldwide  promotional tour after the film opened.  The Bounty then ended up docked in St Petersburg FL where it was a tourist attraction until it was sold in 1986.

Ted Turner bought the MGM film library and the ship came with it as part of the deal.  The Bounty once again hit the high seas as a promotional item and was used in the filming of "Treasure Island" in 1989.  Afterwards, Turner donated the ship to the Fall River Chamber Foundation in 1993 and the ship was used for educational purposes in Fall River MA.  In 2001, the Bounty was purchased by the HMS Bounty Organization LLC and work began in 2002, since she had temporarily lost her Coast Guard license

The Bounty had the bottom planking restored and it had it's license restored so by the time she reached St Petersburg again, she was ready to hit the seas again.  The ship played the Edinburgh Trader in two of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.  The Bounty had the bow and topside planking restored in 2006 and it was set to travel the route that the original Bounty had taken, ending at Pitcairn Island.  The Bounty was for sale since 2010 and by 2012, the asking price for the ship was $4.6 million dollars.

The ship that was not supposed the filming of a movie, certainly had not been constructed to survive fifty years at sea.  Evidently, even the crew of the Bounty stated that the ship was known to have shoddy maintenance and the crew was not always well trained for sailing a ship that size.  Many believed though, that things were getting better on the ship after it had it's second major restoration completed.

The Bounty had it's license restored but not as a ship that was to carry passengers.  This type of license meant that it was not given as strict an inspection as it would have if it were licensed to carry.  The owners of the Bounty had chosen to have it licensed as an uninspected passenger vessel that avoided expensive hull inspections every two years.  The crew was taken on as "volunteers" so it could slide under the rules for passengers and lesser paid crew could take officer positions aboard the ship.  Many of those who crewed the ship, wanted to learn to sail a tall ship under Capt Walbridge and were eager to be named to his crews.

The Bounty left port in New London CT on Oct 25 2012 just after 5 pm and was headed for it's port in St Petersburg FL.  Sometime before dawn on Oct 29 2012, the Bounty rolled on her side after being slammed by another huge wave and she began to sink.  The question on many people's minds when the news reported the sinking, was why did she sink?

Some of the answers to that question can be found as far back as the construction of the ship.  The Bounty was constructed from wood and was historically accurate but ut never had been built to last beyond the sail to Tahiti and the filming of the movie.  This isn't to say that it had been shoddily built, it was just not built for a long lifetime at sea.  It seems that MGM had only planned on keeping the ship docked as a tourist attraction after it had finished with it's promotional tours.

A wooden hulled ship is a maintenance nightmare even if they are wonderful ships to observe or sail.  Even if it just left docked and seldom put out to sea, it will become a floating money pit.  Worms will eat their way merrily through the hull, planks will warp, metal will corrode and if one were to lovingly haul it out of the water each year for restoration, it will manage to find ways to eat through a bank account.

Ted Turner had inherited the Bounty in 1986 and by the early 90's he had donated it to Fall River Ma.  The town had planned to use the Bounty to take paying customers and school children on short trips out to sea.  They discovered that they would have to do extensive and expensive repairs to the ship before they could hope to receive a Coast Guard certification to carry passengers.  At that point, they put the ship up for sale at an asking price of $1.6 million to prevent themselves from spending money they may never recoup.

Robert Hansen Jr, founder of Islandaire and an avid sailor, offered to purchase the ship in 2001 for an undisclosed price but reports state that it was less than was owed their creditors.  Hansen then created the HMS Bounty Organization LLC and based it out of Islandaire's Long Island NY headquarters.  He kept Robin Walbridge on as the captain since he had piloted the Bounty since 1995.  Hansen had plans to have the Bounty sail to Tahiti and then to Pitcairn Island, following the path that Fletcher Christian had taken and Walbridge had already sailed the ship on two European tours.

Tall ships had had a resurgence in popularity following the 1976 bicentennial and the hundreds of original or replica ships sailing the waters of North America had grown to a multi-million dollar business by the time Hansen had purchased the Bounty.  Most of the ships were sailing as passenger or schooling ships and operating under the requirements of that Coast Guard classification.  Hansen may have bought the Bounty with a plan for profit but he inherited a ship that was in need of expensive repairs to keep it from sinking at the dock.

The Bounty was estimated to be taking on 20-40 gallons a minute by the Coast Guard before he purchased it but the brokers reported that it was more like 30,000 gallons an hour.  At one point in 2001, the bilge pumps failed on the ship and it took the entire Fall River Fire Department to keep it from sinking.  Hansen had the ship towed to Boothbay Harbor ME for the first of it's repairs but they were not enough to get the Coast Guard to certify it to carry passengers.  This left the Bounty and Hansen sailing at the fringe of the tall ship community........ basically docking and allowing people to tour it for a price and the only "passengers" it could on were those that signed on as crew members.

They tried to keep the ship busy making money but even though it had starred in two movies, most of their income came from it's stops dockside along the Great Lakes and the East Coast.  They did take on volunteer groups and corporate teams at times as well as advertise for summer camp opportunities and sail training, which they were not certified for.  Crew members have stated that it was difficult at times to survive on the money brought in by $10 a head dockside tours.

In 2010, Hansen put the Bounty up for sale at an asking price of $4.9 million dollars.  Walbridge had also been diligently trying to find a buyer for the ship or in the very least, a new source of funds to keep the ship afloat.  In 2012, he was courting Richard Branson, of the Virgin Group, but he declined the offer even though his family had sailed aboard the Bounty when it was touring through the British Virgin Islands previously.  Walbridge thought he had found the perfect solution though as the 2012 tour season was finishing....... the Ashley DeRamus Foundation.  The foundation's mission was to raise awareness about Downs Syndrome and Walbridge felt that the Bounty could be used as an educational platform for special needs people.  The ship had just spent four weeks having another overhaul and was set for the 14 day trip south to St Petersburg at it's average speed of five knots, even with the sails up.

Walbridge was fully aware that Hurricane Sandy had developed into a Category 2 hurricane but he told the crew that he had a plan for heading south.  He planned to head due east out of New London CT, wait for it to turn towards land and then clip the southeast quarter of the storm as they headed towards Florida.  He acknowledged that many of the crew had been receiving messages to stay on land and he offered several times to put crew members dockside if they chose to do so.  No one is really sure why he did not stick to that plan though.  Walbridge headed around the tip of Long Island NY and then headed south southeast at 7.6 knots, directly into the path of the hurricane.

Claudine Christian was fairly new to the crew but had sailed on the Nina previously.  She sent a very telling email to a friend stating her concern about the reliability of the engines and generators on the ship.  She had noted that they constantly seemed to be working on them or checking them.  They had good reason to since there had been a mix-up with the fuel filters for the generators.  They had 2 micron filters instead of the usual 20 micron ones which now meant that they would clog much more quickly with sediment.

Walbridge had sailed the Bounty through other storms in the past, though she did not fair well through a few of them.  In 1998, he sailed her into a storm while heading south to Florida.  The ship began taking on water and the rescue of the Bounty involved, two Navy ships, two cutters, a tugboat and a Coast Guard helicopter.  The inquiry that followed stated that Walbridge had misjudged the severity of the storm.  In 2002, a tropical storm dragged the Bounty through the Gulf of Mexico's oil fields even though she was anchored.  Walbridge was forced to cut the anchor chain to free the ship.  In 2010, while the Bounty was heading for a winter in Puerto Rico, a storm destroyed one of the two generators, a mast and several sails which forced it to limp into port in Bermuda.

On the morning of Oct 27th, the Bounty was about 150 miles off the coast of Norfolk VA and the crew knew that Sandy was not going to be turning towards land.  The Bounty was struggling through 29 foot waves with only the forecourse up in 70 mph winds.  It took two people to hold the wheel and Walbridge had decided that instead of heading to port as other ships were racing to do, he would instead head southwest and try to squeeze between the storm and the shoreline.  The crew knew that they were headed directly into a larger storm than they had earlier thought.

By 7:30 pm on the 27th, the cook could no longer make hot meals and was handing out sandwiches and cold hot dogs.  The first crew member, Barksdale, was seriously injured after being tossed around twice. On Sunday the 28th, Prokosh was thrown across the tween decks and dislocated his shoulder as well as breaking several ribs.  Later that day, Walbridge injured his back and would need assistance any time he needed to move about.  The crew members who were in the engine room were frantically trying to pump water out faster than it was pouring in by now.

The wind tore apart the forecourse sail sometime around noon and all of the crew had to climb the rigging to try and furl what was left of the sail.  That sail was crucial to holding their course and stability in rough seas.  While the crew was trying to raise the staysail, the port engine and generator had shutdown because of lack of fuel.  The sight tube which allows a crew member to see how much fuel is left in a tank had broken without anyone realizing it.

By now, they knew they were fighting a losing battle.  They had managed to start the starboard generator and engine, restarted the port generator but could not restart the engine.  The bilge pumps were clogging with debris and by evening everything was going to hell.  The starboard generator died and couldn't be restarted and by 6 pm, the starboard engine stopped when the Bounty hit a large wave, listed and drowned it.  The port engine followed it not to long afterwards.  The Bounty was now adrift with only one dying generator providing electrical power.  Ar 8:45 pm, the Coast Guard was forwarded the last message Walbridge had managed to get off the ship.  The C-130 was dispatched and it spent the hours before dawn circling the Bounty, waiting for the expected the planned abandoning of the ship at dawn, off the coast of North Carolina.

At 4:45 am, the C-130 got a panicked radio call that the Bounty was capsizing and they rushed to drop the life rafts they had been carrying.  They also had hit their limit for fuel usage and had to turn back, not knowing if anyone had made it off the ship alive.  Fourteen of the crew had gotten off of the Bounty, no one had seen Christian or Walbridge leave the ship.  Thirteen were eventually rescued from the water that day and the Coast Guard set out to search the missing crew.  Christian's body was found Monday afternoon, about a mile south of the Bounty's last position.  She was pronounced dead after a 90 minute flight to shore with CPR being administered in hope of having her survive.  The search for Walbridge continued for several days but he was never found.

Both the Coast Guard investigation and an investigation by the NTSB were critical of the decisions made by Walbridge prior to and during the Bounty's last trip.  The Coast Guard report found that the most critical cause of the sinking of the Bounty was the failure of both Walbridge and the management of the Bounty to basically protect the ship and crew by not heading south into the hurricane.  They also found fault with Walbridge for waiting too long before abandoning ship as well as finding that a large number of the crew were not very experienced.  The NTSB report follows suit by stating that the decisions made did not put the safety of the crew as the highest priority.  It echoed the findings of the Coast Guard investigation as well as stating that the sinking may have been prevented if there was a stronger oversight of the sailing community and the inspections required.

There are many who state that the Bounty had no chance of surviving Hurricane Sandy at sea, little chance even if it had stayed tied up to the dock.  The three overhauls it had in 2001, 2006 and 2012 had never really addressed or solved the serious leaking problems the ship had.  There is agreement that the refit that was done in 2001 was the most extensive on the ship that some called the Bondo Bounty.  This refit did not fix any other structural problems that had developed on the ship.  Some of the problems were repeatedly fixed with numerous coats of polyurethane that came from hardware stores and some report that you could actually see daylight through existing gaps in the wood.

There were reports of water pouring in through the bowsprit, the same place that water during Sandy poured into the Bounty.  The costs of work during refits were often kept down by having members of the crew do most of the work and at times, sorting through discarded fasteners and shackles in a junk pile at the yard.  The engines and generators were said to constantly fail and the starboard one was known to be the worst until it was rebuilt by Walbridge and an engineer rebuilt it the previous year.  Some report that they were told to make to do on repairs with whatever was on hand and purchasing new parts was only done if it was necessary.

The refit in 2012 was to be for repainting, recaulking and reconfiguring the space below decks.  It did not include any major hull work to prevent or lessen the leaking problems nor did it address the rotted timbers within the structure.  It was reported that the Bounty had to have water pumped out almost every four hours when it was docked and every hour or two when it was under sail.

Joe Lobley, president of the Society of Marine Surveyors, states that that is a huge rate of leakage and could suggest that there were major problems with warping of planks and the tightness of the butt ends.  He adds that it could just be that the ship was very worn and fatigued, which is no uncommon with wooden ships.  Lobley stated that a wooden ship should be much tighter than what has been reported about the Bounty, especially if it is heading for open seas.  Despite was has been stated by former crew members about the condition of the Bounty, it had passed all of it's inspections to stay as a dockside attraction.  Many even remarked that the Bounty was in the best shape it had ever been since Hansen had bought the ship.  The investigations continue as well as any possible lawsuits connected to the sinking of the Bounty.  The preliminary consensus is that many things had to go wrong for the ship that so many recognized and liked, to sink.  No plans have been made to attempt to recover what may be left of the Bounty off the coast of North Carolina.

The Bounty has not entirely vanished from the sea though.  There was another reproduction of the original ship made for yet another version of the movie "Mutiny on the Bounty."  An accurate replica of the ship was built for the 1984 version of the film that was planned to originally be a two part film.   The plan had been for the two films to cover the mutiny and then the journey of the mutineers and the hunt for them.  Dino De Laurentis ended up funding the scaled down, one film production and the ship was built before the script was even finished for the film.

The $4 million dollar ship was built in New Zealand and completed by December 16 1978 by Whangarei Construction and Engineering.  The faithful replica of the original Bounty differs from the from the earlier one in it's basic construction.  The HMAV Bounty is a steel hulled ship that was then clad with various exotic woods and was very modern below decks.  Above decks was true to the original plans and look so filming above decks was made on board while scenes below decks were done in studio.

The filming of the movie was done in London, New Zealand and Moorea French Polynesia, so the ship did not have to travel far from it's origin.  Many of the scenes involving the Bounty were shot in the same location Capt Cook had anchored at in 1777, Opunohu Bay Moorea.

After the film was completed, the Bounty headed for port in Darling Harbor Sydney Australia where it was a tourist excursion ship until 2007.  In October of that year, the ship was sold to HKR International Limited and she was moved to Discovery Bay in Hong Kong.  There the Bounty has spent it's time on excursions, charters and sail training classes.  It is very popular to sign on for a dinner cruise and sail around the bay while enjoying the experience of being aboard a tall ship as well as imagining what life was aboard the Bounty.

It is certainly sad to know that the Bounty has sailed it's last voyage on  the seas and sadder still that two have lost their lives.  It would seem from the early reports that the Bounty should never have left post that fateful day.  The ship that was built to last through the filming of a movie had lived longer than anyone could have imagined.  It seems as though the only way that the Bounty could have survived longer would have been to have the ship undergo massive repairs and the deep pockets that would have required.


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