A Legendary Ship's Final Hours Battling Sandy


Walbridge wasn't saying much anymore. Once, when Barksdale went on deck to get some fresh air, he discovered that the captain had changed course, and that they were now traveling to the southwest. His goal was to reach the other side of the hurricane as quickly as possible. Walbridge hoped that the winds wouldn't be as strong there.

No one could sleep anymore. The last time Barksdale had tried to sleep, on Friday night, he was tossed back and forth in his bunk, even though he had stuffed blankets, pillows and clothes into the gap between the bunk and the wall.

For the crewmembers, it was now a matter of keeping up their strength. Jessica Black, the cook, tried to prepare hot food on the stove, but the waves were so strong that she couldn't keep a pot in place. They ate sandwiches, cold hot dogs and sometimes some lukewarm food heated in the microwave. Claudene Christian helped the cook hand out the food. Barksdale remembers eating but doesn't remember what he ate, down in his engine room, where it was hot and dirty.

'All Else Is Well'

When Barksdale saw the engine room for the first time, before the trip began, he wanted to clean it up, but there was no time for that. New fuel tanks had been installed, and he spent his first three weeks connecting the tanks to the engines, laying the pipes and securing the connections.

Early Saturday morning, the wind speed reached 25 knots in Elizabeth City, on the North Carolina coast. It was the wind speed that Mike Myers, the Coast Guard pilot, had chosen as a cutoff point for himself and his crew. At about 9 a.m., Myers said goodbye to his wife and three daughters and drove to the base. It was raining and the runway was slippery. Myers called together the crew and they flew the plane inland from the coast.

A few hours later, Captain Walbridge sent an email to the director of the HMS Bounty Organization. He wrote: "Good evening, Miss Tracie. I think we are going to be into this for several days. The weather looks like even after the eye goes by it will linger for a couple of days. We are just going to keep trying to go fast and squeeze by the storm and land as fast as we can. I am thinking that we will pass each other sometime Sunday night or Monday morning. All else is well."

Early Sunday morning, Barksdale shut off one of the two generators for maintenance work. A few weeks later, the Coast Guard would investigate what the problem might have been. Normally one generator was sufficient to supply the ship with electricity. But at that moment a fatal chain of problems was set in motion.

As the generator cooled down, Barksdale escaped the hot engine room for an hour. During that time, the gauge on the day tank, which contains a one-day supply of fuel for the engines, was smashed. Barksdale saw the damage when he returned, but he didn't notice that the tank was almost empty. According to the gauge, there was still enough fuel in the tank. Barksdale didn't notice the error until the generator failed.

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