A Legendary Ship's Final Hours Battling Sandy


As they got under way, Claudene Christian had sent the following text message to her mother: "Don't worry. We'll be fine. ... our ship is strong. They say Bounty loves hurricanes." She also wrote: "I'll probably be halfway to Europe before we get around it."

Christian, who had joined the crew in May, was one of the unpaid volunteers. She had tried a lot of things before, including owning a company that made cheerleader dolls and working as a PR consultant. She had also been a singer and a diver, and she was once crowned "Miss Teen Alaska." She had lived in Alaska, California and, most recently, after declaring bankruptcy and sliding into depression, with her parents in Oklahoma. On the Bounty, she felt, for the first time in her life, that she was in the right place. She loved the ship, and she had a special connection to it.

Claudene Christian, a petite, 5'1" (1.55 meter) woman with long, blonde curls, was a descendant of the family of Fletcher Christian, the key figure in the legendary mutiny on the original Bounty.

In 1787, Christian signed on as a master's mate on the Bounty, a heavy, 39-meter bark with the British Admiralty. The Bounty had a mission that took it halfway around the world, through storms, snow and ice into the South Seas. Under the command of the ambitious Lieutenant William Bligh, the Bounty sailed to Tahiti with 46 men on board to pick up a shipment of breadfruit plants and take them to the Antilles. The admirals believed that breadfruit would be a cheap way to feed the slaves working on the plantations there.

Bligh was a repulsive man who abused his crew. Fletcher Christian, in contrast, was a young man from a good family, who could no longer look on as his crewmates were made to suffer. He led a mutiny in which Bligh was overpowered and, together with a few of his loyal crewmembers, abandoned at sea in a small boat. That, at least, was the way the story was often told later on.

The first color film about the mutiny on the Bounty was released 50 years ago, with Marlon Brandon in the role of Fletcher Christian -- shot in part on a detailed replica of the Bounty that was specially built for the film.

Claudene Christian carried her family history with her like a trophy, writing on her Facebook page: "As a descendent of Fletcher Christian, played in four movies by Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando & Mel Gibson, I'm sure my ancestor would be proud."

Scared to Death On late Thursday evening, it looked as though Captain Walbridge's plan was going to work. The hurricane was passing over the Bahamas, where it claimed one life. During the night, it shifted slightly to the northwest, as forecast, and became weaker.

But Sandy had only taken a little turn, gathering steam for the furious finale. On Friday evening, off the coast of Florida, it shifted back to the northeast, and it also began to gather strength again. The storm was now moving in the direction of the ship, with sustained winds of 120 kilometers per hour.

On Saturday, the third day, engineer Barksdale realized how serious the situation was. The waves were now up to 10 meters high, and if you didn't hold on, you could be hurled all the way across the ship. The Bounty was several hundred kilometers east of Chesapeake Bay, off the coast of Virginia, traveling at 6.8 knots, or 12.6 kilometers per hour. The crew recognized that the ship was moving too slowly, and that they would be caught in the middle of the storm.

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