From The Boathouse: Equipment failure sank HMS Bounty


Hurricane Sandy, aka Frankenstorm, brought a storm surge Monday that broke the high-water record at Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. The late-season hurricane slammed the Eastern Seaboard and hit land on the Jersey Shore. Once the hurricane is over land, the storm loses the energy derived from the ocean and downgrades in magnitude.

The storm damages are from the high surge of water from the Atlantic causing flooding and the strong sustained wind speeds. This reminds me of the late 1990s when the 100-year storm hit Southern California causing Newport Harbor and Huntington Harbour bay water levels to rise above average due to the runoff from the storm drains and creeks causing some docks to break free of their supports.

Sadly, Hurricane Sandy helped sink the famous movie ship HMS Bounty, killing at least one crew member. The captain remains missing as of Tuesday morning.

This 180-foot-square-rigged, three-masted replica ship was built in 1962 for the movie "Mutiny on the Bounty," and the tall ship was also used in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

"We received a distress call for Bounty at 1830 Sunday evening October 28th that the Ship lost power and the pumps were unable to keep up with the dewatering," a post on the Bounty's Facebook page says. "At that time we immediately contacted the USCG for assistance."

Being a professional captain, I can attest to system and equipment failures that can put a vessel in peril. Remember "peril" is a legal term in the nautical world. "Peril of the sea" refers to natural accidents on the sea, but in some cases, it is related to natural causes.

However, I digress. Once the Bounty lost engine power, the dewatering pumps failed when the batteries were drained. Reports have surfaced that the vessel was taking on water at a rate of two feet an hour, which is not reason to abandon ship for a vessel of this size, unless the pumps fail, as in this case.

Without power and steerage, the boat would be tossed in the trough of the swells as it sat broadside to the seas, so the 16-member crew decided to abandon ship. They sent a mayday, and boarded the life rafts.

Unfortunately, 42-year-old crew member Claudene Christian was not on board a raft, and the Coast Guard found her unresponsive Monday evening. I believe the 63-year-old captain, Robin Walbridge, held to the professional code of conduct of passengers and crew first, and he might have been trying to save the ship.

Why was the Bounty sailing during a hurricane? Well, big boats, like the Bounty, typically leave port and head out to sea to escape a storm and skirt the outer winds. The Bounty was already on a cruise to Florida, and the executive officers probably decided to round the edge of the hurricane. They would have survived if the mechanical equipment did not fail, sending the ship to its demise.

Tip of the week is to think about how you would respond in a man-overboard situation. It can be very difficult, depending on the ocean conditions, to spot someone who has fallen overboard. It can be especially tough to pluck them out of the water.

The first person to realize someone is overboard spreads the alarm in a loud voice and let's everyone know which side the person fell over, such as "Man overboard — port side." Most importantly, a pointer is immediately assigned to continuously point to the victim in the water.

The skipper can immediately mark the location with GPS if so equipped, plus the skipper can alert the Coast Guard or local authorities if help will be required. Do not get overly excited, but if you see the person fall in, immediately turn the boat in the direction of the person overboard to get the stern (propellers) away from them, and sound the danger whistle signal of five short blasts.

At the same time, throw the life ring or a life jacket to the side that the person is in the water. Someone, who is not the pointer, will don a life jacket to be ready to jump in the water as a rescue swimmer but only as a last option.

The skipper will advise on a leeward or windward recovery, and do not forget to use your swim ladder. Lastly, plan and prepare how you would recover someone who is in the water before you venture off the docks.

And don't forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead's "Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network at noon Saturdays and replayed at 10 a.m. Sundays.

Safe Voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to

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