The search has been called off for Captain Robert Walbridge of the HMS Bounty which sunk on Sunday, October 29th. He joins Claudine Christian as the two casualties from the Bounty’s sinking. Captain Walbridge had captained the HMS Bounty for the last 17 years and, by all accounts, had grown quite attached to the ship. While the crew of the Bounty refused to speak about its sinking, Captain Walbridge’s deep love for the tall ship most likely played a role in her sinking. What is known is that Captain Walbridge felt that in tough weather a ship stands a better chance of survival at sea rather than in port–a commonly held bit of conventional wisdom amongst sailors.
Many people are questioning why and how the HMS Bounty came to be at sea during a hurricane. Since the crew is not talking at this time, all one can do is speculate, but I believe that the story that will most likely emerge is that the Bounty was in dock in North Carolina and believed to be safely out of harm’s way. However, as the superstorm developed and widened, it became apparent that the Bounty ran the risk of being smashed to pieces by the storm while in harbor. For the crew of the Bounty, the ship represented their unique livelihood. There simply weren’t many tall ships to crew in the modern world. And so the captain and crew’s concern for their ship had layers both of love and of commerce.
At some point the captain no doubt weighed the ship’s chances of survival by staying in dock or taking to sea. The plan was then made to attempt to take the Bounty to sea and sail around the developing storm. Unfortunately, the 15-foot waves eventually overwhelmed the ship and then a distress call was sent out. The captain’s priority was to get his crew safely into the lifeboats. Accounts from the sinking state that Claudine and Captain Walbridge were the last on board and were washed overboard while attempting to get into the lifeboats.
In many ways the decisions facing the captain and crew of the HMS Bounty were typical of those facing sailors constantly. The risks of death on the job are quite real, as was depicted in the movie about another superstorm that caused the loss of a ship and crew, the Andrea Gail in the movie “The Perfect Storm.” These decisions are made with some frequency, and the vast majority of the time they work out well. It’s only when these decisions go wrong that we get to ask “why on Earth were they out there in the first place?” from the safety of our living rooms.
One of the factors that the influence these decisions is simply the love of the ship on behalf of the captain and crew and their desire to protect her from harm. But if ever there were a case to help us understand their love, it must be the case of the one of a kind tall ship, the HMS Bounty.