On the HMS Bounty sinking

bounty capsizing…which we covered at the time, when Hurricane Sandy took the 1960 Brando-film replica to the bottom with her captain and a crew members (14 others were saved).

The decision to launch such a vessel into a hurricane was completely inexplicable, but now Outside magazine has put a ton of reporting into trying to understand and explain it.

Bottom line: after all that study, it beats them with a stick, too.

At the moment of truth for the ship:

Then all hell broke loose.

At 4:45 a.m., the C-130 got a panicked radio call from [First Mate John] Svendsen: The vessel was capsizing. Fast.

McIntosh put the plane in a quick descent as his crew rushed around the open hold, reconfiguring the ramp for a life-raft drop as rain pelted in. Within minutes, however, the plane hit its bingo-fuel level, the moment when any aircraft must turn around. They dropped the rafts and headed back, not knowing if anyone had made it off the ship alive.

At least 14 did, but they were fighting to survive. When the vessel capsized, it rolled sharply onto its starboard side, sending the crew and everything on deck—including the emergency drybags—tumbling into the sea. Svendsen, who’d been on the radio with the Coast Guard, was the last off the vessel; he broke his right arm and cut up his face as he crashed into the rigging on the way down.

The wind was blowing 50 knots and gusting higher. The sea was chaos. Its force pulled the Bounty’s masts 20 feet out of the water before slamming the rigging—and the tangled crew—back down. Josh Scornavacchi estimates that he was dragged 15 feet underwater. [Seriously injured assistant engineer Chris] Barksdale says he was trapped underwater multiple times.

“That was the scariest part,” he says. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not, but I did know that I needed to get the hell away from that ship.”

No one saw [Crewmember Claudene] Christian or [Captain Robin] Walbridge.

The HC-130, though, was practically at bingo fuel. They dropped life rafts and had to run for their base, while calling the HH-60s out earlier than expected.

More than an hour later, the first Jayhawk helicopter arrived. The much watched Coast Guard video shows the heroic and methodical rescue: the calm voice of co-pilot Jenny Fields as she counts wave intervals, swimmer Dan Todd plunging over and over into the angry sea, rescuing first Svendsen and then those in the first raft; flight mechanic Neil Moulder manning the rescue basket and then announcing that he’d dislocated his shoulder. What the video doesn’t show is Moulder slamming his shoulder against the chopper’s open door, trying to get it back in its socket. Nor does it reveal the full extent of this initial recovery—four aircraft and 22 rescuers—and the massive operation that followed. Before it was all over, the Coast Guard would search the Atlantic for 90 hours, covering 12,000 overlapping square nautical miles.

This is definitely one where you want to Read the Whole Thing™. It’s a real reporting tour de force.  A Coast Guard hearing into the vesel’s loss has been underway now for several days, and may produce restrictions on the operations of such ships; it may also produce information that even Outside’s excellent reporters were unable to glean, in part because the USCG can subpoena and compel testimony, while reporters must gracefully take “no” for an answer. If we had to wager, though, we’d guess that the Coast Guard, too, will be unable to make sense of the late skipper’s puzzling seamanship, particularly as regards judgment.

The survival of the crew of this 19th-Century replica is a model of 21st-Century seafaring best practices. Bear in mind that in the time of the original Bounty, advance information about the hurricane would not have been available, nor would aerial search and rescue, nor would helicopter recovery. Absent those very modern capabilities, all sixteen of the crew would have died, not just two.