Local captain baffled by HMS Bounty accident

Hurricanes and Tropical StormsCaribbean SeaMarlon BrandoNational Hurricane CenterFells PointNew London (New London, Connecticut)St. Petersburg (Pinellas, Florida)

When Jan Miles got word that HMS Bounty, the famed ceremonial tall ship, had sunk off the coast of North Carolina in the monster Hurricane Sandy early Monday morning, he felt profoundly the loss of a historic vessel — and worried over the possible fates of the two crew members who have yet to be found in what were 40-foot waves earlier in the day.

"The ship has given a lot of joy and happiness to a wide range of people," said Miles, captain of the locally-based tall ship Pride of Baltimore II. "In that sense alone this is very bad news. And if there's loss of life, holy cow, there's no ambivalence about that. What a tragedy that will be."

But Miles feels ambivalent about how the accident occurred. He's mystified as to why the captain, Robin Walbridge, would have set forth on the ship's scheduled voyage from New London, Conn., to St. Petersburg, Fla., this week in the first place.

The director of the HMS Bounty Organization, Tracie Simonin, told news outlets after the sinking that the crew was "staying in constant contact with the National Hurricane Center," adding that "they were trying to make it around the storm."

Miles remembers well the loss of the original Pride of Baltimore, the ambassadorial tall ship that sank in the Caribbean Sea in May 1986 when a sudden storm called a microburst overtook it, killing the captain and three crew members.

Miles also was a captain of the ship, but not on duty at the time.

That loss of life, Miles said, couldn't be helped because so little was known at the time about microbursts and how they could affect vessels at sea. But that wasn't the case here.

"We won't know until we talk to the captain and crew members, but at first glance, the idea mystifies me," Miles said. "A hurricane like this is huge and unpredictable. It travels at about 15 knots. A ship like the Bounty can only sail 10. If the storm shifts direction, there would be no way for her to adjust in time."

The Coast Guard rescued 14 members of the Bounty crew and as of Monday were still searching for the lost crew members.

The ship called in Maryland numerous times over the years — including 2010, when it staged a mock battle with Pride of Baltimore II off Fells Point — and was last in the area when it stopped at City Dock in Annapolis last spring, said Miles, adding that with its full square rigging and great hull, "she's always an attraction unto herself."

Miles said he was anxious to hear what Walbridge, a professional acquaintance, and surviving crewmembers have to say about the incident.

The Bounty, which was built specifically for the 1962 Marlon Brando film Mutiny on the Bounty, appeared in numerous Hollywood movies, including the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, and travelled to five of the seven continents.

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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