It was a stupid move to be there in the first place and it will be interesting to hear more about the incomprehensible decision to set sail into a hurricane. Getting into the Gulf Stream with wind and current opposed is a well known situation to avoid. The buoy stats above: 25' sea/12 sec period is not particularly life threatening to a 100' boat.
I found a bit from the captain of the Picton Castle, dunno if its already been posted here...
. Dan Moreland, the captain of another tall ship, the Picton Castle, described Walbridge as an experienced seaman, but told The Chronicle Herald of Halifax, Nova Scotia, that he couldn't understand the decision to put out to sea on Thursday with a crew of 11 men and five women, ranging in age from 20 to 66.
Picton Castle and the Bounty were both heading to the same public appearance featuring the traditional sailing vessels in St. Petersburg, which was scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 10-11. There was plenty of time to reach Florida and Moreland said it was an "easy decision" for him to stay in port for an extra week or more because of Sandy.
"It's black and white, there are no nuances with this," he told The Chronicle. "It's a huge system and that made the decision very simple."
Moreland said he had plenty of weather information that was raising red flags and when he first heard the Bounty was at sea, "I thought, 'You've got to be kidding.' "
Seems simple to me, heading south and a hurricane heading north... Stay at home.
Your point is good that 25 foot seas on a 12 second period is not life threatening. But when those waves stand up and fall over in wind against current it is threatening to stove in a plank or 2..... But it doesn't even need to do that, just flex the caulking out of a few at the bow.
Below is the only photo I can find to show the effect of current made waves, though we've all seen them in tide races etc.
Here the water is dead flat calm except in the tide race where the waves are standing up.
So 25 foot waves in 12 sec period will be completely different to 25 foot waves with 2 knots against them. They only needed to hit the edge of the Gulf Stream to get some extraordinary waves which could have stopped the engines through water ingress / electrical wetting etc.
Photo of rom NOAA Ocean Prediction Center