March 19, 2013

How Maine-linked ship fought Sandy, and lost

The 180-foot Bounty, which was overhauled in Maine last year, sank during the superstorm, resulting in two deaths.

David Zucchino / Los Angeles Times

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, is shown submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C., on Oct. 29, 2012.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Kuklewski

click image to enlarge

Deckhand Anna Sprague describes sitting on the deck waiting to abandon ship as she testifies during the U.S. Coast Guard's February hearing into the sinking of the HMS Bounty during Hurricane Sandy.


Additional Photos Below

Svendsen begged the captain to make a distress call to the Coast Guard and to Hansen, the owner. But Walbridge said there was still time to get the generators working properly and pump out the water.

Three hours later, with Sanders reporting more water in the engine room, the captain relented. Svendsen fought his way to the weather deck and punched in numbers for the Coast Guard and Hansen. He screamed into a satellite phone against pounding wind, rain and waves. He couldn’t tell whether he was talking to an answering machine or a person.

Hansen heard him and called Simonin at about 8:30. He told her to call the Coast Guard and relay the ship’s coordinates. By 11 p.m., a C-130 plane had taken off from North Carolina in search of the Bounty.

Around midnight, the starboard engine died after it was flooded. The ship lost all propulsion.

Around 3 a.m., the captain called everyone together on the tween deck. Walbridge was fond of what he called brainstorming, in which the entire crew chewed over a problem. He asked: “At what point did we lose control?”

No one had an answer. Walbridge decided that the crew would prepare for the possibility of abandoning ship by getting into life vests and “Gumby suits,” the clumsy orange survival suits designed to keep people afloat. Two inflatable life rafts were readied.

Walbridge assured the crew they would be fine until dawn, when Coast Guard rescue helicopters were due. The ship had communicated by radio with the Coast Guard plane, which had located the Bounty.

As the crew helped one another into the survival suits, chief mate Svendsen tried twice to convince the captain to make the call to abandon ship. Walbridge refused.

Sometime before 4 a.m., with the ship listing at a 45-degree angle, he changed his mind.

Crew members crawled on their hands and knees, trying to assemble on the weather deck, as water raged across the boards. They carried waterproof “ditch bags” filled with passports, cash and cellphones. They clipped water bottles and bags of emergency provisions to harnesses on their life vests. They tied onto a line to keep from being washed overboard. They wore headlamps to see in the blackness.

Christian tied together extra life jackets to toss into the water to create an orange marker for the helicopter pilots. She helped the injured Prokosh toward the life rafts. The crew did a head count. Suddenly, chief mate Svendsen yelled that the bow was under water.

“We gotta go!” the captain hollered.

Moments later, the Bounty was struck by a massive wave. The ship heaved abruptly starboard, dumping most of the crew into the Atlantic. Others jumped in as the ship began to slip under the waves.

Svendsen clung to the ship’s mast as the Bounty rolled over. Then he tumbled into the ocean, breaking his hand and dislocating his shoulder.

For more than an hour, everyone struggled to stay afloat in the surging seas. Some others also had broken bones and bloody gashes from being struck by debris or rigging. Six crew members held on to a plank of wood and reached an orange life raft. A second group made its way to another raft. Svendsen fought the waves on his own for three hours.

No one could grab anything through the thick hand coverings on the Gumby suits. Everyone was weighed down by water that pooled in the feet of the suits. It took nearly an hour for the crew to climb, or be hauled, into the rafts. There, they sang sea ditties to pass the time.

Just after dawn, two Coast Guard helicopters dropped swimmers into the water to rescue them. A video shows 14 crew members being hoisted into the helicopters.

Walbridge and Christian were missing.

Christian was last seen by the third mate as he held her hand on deck and passed her to another crewman just before the ship rolled. He remembered that she was calm and smiling.

The Coast Guard found Christian’s body later that day, about a mile from where the ship went down. Her first paycheck had not been cashed.

Walbridge was never found.

For the crew, the final memory of their captain was of a man bent over in terrible pain, his glasses askew, making a final check on everyone before half-walking, half-crawling toward the life rafts as the waves washed over the sinking deck.

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Chief mate of the HMS Bounty John Svendsen, answers a question after pointing out where the Bounty was taking on water at a federal safety panel hearing on the sinking of the ship on Feb. 12, 2013, in Portsmouth, Va.


click image to enlarge

Matthew Sanders, second mate of the HMS Bounty, is sworn in during the U.S. Coast Guard hearing into the sinking of the ship off North Carolina during Hurricane Sandy. One member of the 18th-century replica ship's crew died and Capt. Robin Walbridge was never found after the ship sank about 90 miles off Cape Hatteras, N.C.


click image to enlarge

Jessica Black, former HMS Bounty ship's cook, talks about an electrical switch shorting out because of moisture from the hurricane and causing smoke inside the galley of the vessel, as she testifies during the U.S. Coast Guard hearing into the sinking of the ship.


Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)