A Legendary Ship's Final Hours Battling Sandy

PHOTO: HMS Bounty
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As Hurricane Sandy approached the East Coast in late October, Captain Robin Walbridge wanted to save his ship, the legendary Bounty. He set out to sea to ride out the storm -- a decision which ended in disaster. He lost the ship, a crewmember and his own life.

It was still a mild fall day in New London, Connecticut, when Captain Robin Walbridge stepped on deck to prepare his crew for the possibility of dying. It was 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 25.

About 1,200 nautical miles to the south, Hurricane Sandy, billed as the storm of the century, was making its way northward from Cuba. With wind speeds of more than 100 miles per hour (165 kilometers per hour), the storm was rushing across the ocean, headed for the east coast of the United States. At least 70 people had already died in the Caribbean, after being drowned, buried alive or struck with debris.

Captain Walbridge had a decision to make. He could leave the ship, the Bounty, in the harbor at New London, where it would be tossed back and forth by the storm and would presumably sustain serious damage. Or he could try to save the ship by taking it out into the Atlantic, thereby putting his life and the lives of his 15 crewmembers on the line.

Walbridge wanted to save his ship. A ship versus 16 human lives. How can such a decision be explained?

It wasn't just any ship that he had under his command. Walbridge was the captain of the Bounty, a replica of the most famous sailing vessel in seafaring history, and a treasure of the Hollywood world. Legendary films like "Mutiny on the Bounty," starring Marlon Brando, and "Pirates of the Caribbean," with Johnny Depp, had been made on board the Bounty. A legend like that can't just be left at the mercy of the weather.

While Captain Walbridge stood on deck, the US weather services were monitoring the hurricane as it became larger and more powerful on its way north. The media had dubbed it "Superstorm Sandy" and were calling it a "Frankenstorm," one that would be even more devastating than the so-called "perfect storm" of 1991. Coast Guard pilots flew over the shipping routes along the coast, sending radio messages to all ships to move to safety.

Levelheaded and Patient

At the Coast Guard base in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, pilot Mike Myers, 36, prepared for a catastrophe. He filled the tanks of his aircraft, checked equipment, and studied weather maps and forecasts. He also put together a plan: Once wind speeds along the coast reached 25 knots (46 kilometers per hour), he and his crew would board their plane, a Lockheed C-130 Hercules, and fly it inland to Raleigh, so that they would be able to take off in the event of an emergency.

Captain Walbridge was 63, a quiet, contemplative man with thinning gray hair and glasses. He had stood at the helm of the Bounty for 17 years, and it was hard to say whether he was more in love with the ship or his wife, although he did spend most of his time on the ship. The crew changed, and so did its owners, but Walbridge remained.

People who have sailed across the world's oceans with Walbridge praise him for his modesty, levelheadedness and patience. He taught young people how to sail, and he took disabled children out to sea.

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