HMS Bounty Makes History Again…

On a better day — sunlight, calm seas, blue skies, full sails. She went down in the dark, visibility low in swirling precipitation, clouds and rain with reefed sails. RIP.

…and this time, again, in a negative way. A replica of the 18thCentury ship, made for a 1962 Marlon Brando movie, has foundered in the Atlantic off the ships’ graveyard of Point Hatteras; the US Coast Guard has rescued 14 and two further crew members are believed to have gone down with the ship. (This is preliminary information, and may change as more information becomes known).

The original Bounty, under the command of the supremely skilled but exceptionally cruel skipper William Bligh, was notorious for a mutiny that set Bligh and a few loyalists adrift in an open boat. The mutineers then sailed the ship to presumed safe haven, and wrecked her. In one of history’s greatest feats of seamanship (equaled, perhaps, by a couple of shipwrecked crews in World War II and Shackleton’s incredible voyage from Antarctic shipwreck to South Georgia Island), Bligh sailed the rude boat thousands of miles to safety at Kupang, and swore vengeance on the mutineers.

The event led to three books by a pair of World War I veterans, one each recounting the mutiny, the life of the mutineers on Pitcairn Island, and the hard voyage of Captain Bligh’s loyalists. The writers, Nordhoff and Hall, had served together in the Lafayette Escadrille. The most successful of the books, and the impetus for the Brando picture, was Mutiny on the Bounty. 

Bligh’s vengeance never came to pass; by the time the outside world discovered the whereabouts of the mutineers’ island camp, ringleader Fletcher Christian and all but one of his mutineers had passed away, and the last one was an old man; Bligh had died, a high admiral and former governor of New South Wales in Australia (where he was on the receiving end of another muting, this time by colonists). Other mutineers, who had returned to Tahiti, were captured by HMS Pandora and those that survived the subsequent shipwreck of that vessel were court-martialed in London. Bligh testified in defense of four, who were acquitted. Three were found guilty without extenuating circumstances and hanged; others received royal pardons.

The replica Bounty was built in 1960 in Nova Scotia. She was made larger (to allow movie cameras to work) and was equipped with modern communications and survival gear, which came in handy when the ship became distressed in the night 90 miles off shore. The ship has starred in several films (not just 1962’s Brando Mutiny on the Bounty, but it’s been Captain Jack Sparrow’s Black Pearl in the Pirates of the Carribean series).

The Coast Guard rescue is one for the books, with an HC-130 providing on-site persistence and several Coast Guard helicopters winching up the 14 survivors and spiriting them to safety. The Coast Guard has not yet given up the ship for the survivors’ remaining two shipmates, although the odds are against their survival, even in immersion suits (which they were wearing). An HC-130 and HH-60 remain on the prowl for the missing.

CNN has more  on the rescue from USCG sources:

Three people engulfed by the Hurricane Sandy-roiled Atlantic strove to reach a life raft after falling overboard Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard said. But only one of them made it.

When the HMS Bounty’s crew members realized their lives were in danger off the North Carolina coast in the dark morning hours, they made a short journey they hoped they’d never have to take — to two waiting life rafts. But of the 16 people on board, only 13 initially made it. Three crew members washed overboard, and only one of those three climbed into a lifeboat, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Robert Parker told CNN.

Reportedly, they were trying to skirt around, even to race, the monumental Hurricane Sandy to reposition the sailing ship from Maine to Florida for the season. The Bounty lost that race. We’ve seen the storm’s pounding of the shore in New England, and only its outermost reaches are here yet.

2 thoughts on “HMS Bounty Makes History Again…

    1. Hognose Post author

      The missing man is the captain, 63-year-old Robin Walbridge. The Coast Guard continues to search. Due to the warmth of the Gulf Stream, he may be alive (he was in a Mustang or similar immersion suit). The other missing person, 42-year-old Claudene Christian, was found dead. The storm did a lot of damage to NYC, which didn’t prepare or try to evacuate any area until too late, and New Jersey, which did. Here on the New Hampshire coast, the storm surge apparently set records, but was contained.