October 31, 2012

Wife of HMS Bounty's captain awaits word on his fate

The Coast Guard is optimistic Robin Walbridge, 63, could still be alive after Hurricane Sandy sunk his Maine-connected ship.

The Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Coast Guard used ships and airplanes to search the Atlantic on Tuesday for the captain of the sunken HMS Bounty as the sailor's wife held on to a sliver of hope that he had survived the harrowing ordeal.

click image to enlarge

This photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows the HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. The Coast Guard rescued 14 of the 16 crew members by helicopter. Hours later, rescuers found one of the missing crew members, but she was unresponsive. They are still searching for the captain.

AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Kuklewski

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FILE - In this July 9, 2012, file photo, a replica of the historic ship HMS Bounty, right, sails past a lighthouse, center, as it departs Narragansett Bay and heads out to sea off the coast of Newport, R.I. The Coast Guard aid Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, that the 17 people aboard the HMS Bounty have gotten into two lifeboats, wearing survival suits and life jackets. The HMS Bounty, a tall ship, was in distress off North Carolina's Outer Banks as Hurricane Sandy swirls toward the East Coast. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

AP

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The Coast Guard was also optimistic Robin Walbridge, 63, of St. Petersburg, Fla., could still be alive in his blazing red survival suit 90 miles off the North Carolina coast. Walbridge went overboard early Monday when the replica 18th-century sailing vessel, made famous in Hollywood adventure films, rolled over in 18-foot waves.

Walbridge's wife waited in their in St. Petersburg home to hear any word, surrounded by friends and crying often.

"He's been in many storms. He's been doing this a good portion of his life. He's been in lots of hairy situations and he's very familiar with the boat. Same boat for 17 years, he knows it like the back of his hand," Claudia McCann told The Associated Press by telephone.

The searched for Walbridge was hampered by 15-feet waves, but the water temperature was about 77 degrees.

"There's a lot of factors that go into survivability. Right now we're going to continue to search. Right now we're hopeful," Coast Guard Capt. Joe Kelly said.

A decision on how much longer to search will come later Tuesday.

The Coast Guard rescued 14 crew members of the Bounty by helicopter Monday. Hours later, they found crew member Claudene Christian, 42, unresponsive. She was later declared dead. The rest of the crew was in good condition.

When the Bounty set sail last week, Walbridge believed he could navigate the ship around the storm. After two days in rough seas, he realized his journey would be far more difficult.

"I think we are going to be into this for several days," Walbridge said in a message posted Sunday on the vessel's Facebook site, which reads like a ship's log of its activities. "We are just going to keep trying to go fast."

His wife last heard from him on Saturday when he sent her an email. He told her not to worry about the hurricane.

"He said, 'it's going to be fine,'" she said. "He said they were prepared. They were prepared. He was just watching to see what the hurricane was going to do."

By Monday morning, the vessel had started taking on water, its engines failed and the crew of the stately craft had to abandon ship as it went down in the immense waves.

By the time the first rescue helicopter arrived, all that was visible of the ship was a strobe light atop the mighty vessel's submerged masts. The roiling Atlantic Ocean had claimed the rest.

The final hours of the HMS Bounty, as it was officially named, were as dramatic as the movies she starred in.

The ship was originally built for the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty" starring Marlon Brando, and it was featured in several other films over the years, including one of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.

The ship's connection to its namesake went back to the original Bounty, whose crew famously took over the ship from its commander, Lt. William Bligh, in April 1789. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian, and Claudene Christian said she was his great-great-great-great-great granddaughter.

Claudene Christian told a Canadian newspaper she was familiar with her background, and applied to sail on the Bounty replica. She was accepted despite a lack of sailing experience, with hopes her marketing skills could make the ship more popular.

"I was at the helm the first week and said, 'Captain, are you sure you're comfortable having a Christian at the helm? I wasn't sure if he got my joke," Christian told The Chronicle Herald of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in August.

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