November 1, 2012

Coast Guard stops search for Bounty captain

Robin Walbridge was captain of the tall ship that sank before dawn Monday off Cape Hatteras, N.C.

The Associated Press

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — The U.S. Coast Guard halted its search
Thursday for the captain of a tall ship that sank off the North Carolina
coast during Hurricane Sandy after more than three days of
around-the-clock effort.

The Coast Guard for 90 hours searched for 63-year-old Robin Walbridge of
St. Petersburg, Fla., using ships, helicopters, and large planes before
suspending its efforts at approximately 6:42 p.m., said Lt. Michael
Patterson.

"Suspending a search and rescue case is one of the hardest decisions we
have to make," said Capt. Doug Cameron, the chief of incident response
for the Coast Guard 5th District.

The HMS Bounty 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.

Walbridge was captain of the three-masted tall ship, which sank before
dawn Monday in hurricane-churned waters about 90 miles off Cape
Hatteras. The crew abandoned ship in two life rafts, and the Coast Guard
rescued 14 crew members. Claudene Christian, 42, was among those
rescued, but she died.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Walbridge and Christian
families," Cameron said.

The search persisted for days despite rough seas in hopes the healthy,
expert seaman could stay alive in his survival suit in the relatively
warm waters near the site of the shipwreck, the Coast Guard said. The
water temperature was 79 degrees Thursday, but seas rocked waves of 4
feet and the winds were 30 mph.

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.

Walbridge believed he could navigate the ship around Hurricane Sandy
when the Bounty set sail last week from Connecticut. 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."

By Monday morning, the vessel had started taking on water, its engines
failed and the crew had to abandon ship as it went down in 18-foot
waves. By the time the first rescue helicopter arrived, all that was
visible of the ship was a strobe light atop the vessel's submerged
masts. The roiling Atlantic Ocean had claimed the rest.

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