Retired Naval Architect
Join Date: May 2012
Location: ON S/V Strider
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Re: An Informed Opinion about the Bounty
I started this thread because I believe that the people best informed to comment on an event like this are those who have been out in the dark in traditional wooden ships with lives entrusted to their care. If their writing style, tact, perspective, and level of emotionalism doesn’t pass muster with a group like this, it doesn’t change the fact that they are speaking as people who have faced the same pressures, dangers, and decisions as Wallbridge.
I’ve been quite involved with the issues of sailing vessel safety and losses over the years. The author of the letter was the person sent by the original Pride organization to assist the survivors and do the first fact finding right after her loss. He called me from the airport on his return to be informed with my perspective before reporting to the board. The British government hired me as their primary technical analyst and consultant for the inquiry into the loss of the “Marques”. I will lay claim to being a bit more than just “a retired boat designer” as someone posted above.
Since I am retired, this is the first such incident since I came on the scene thirty years ago in which I have not been in direct personal or email contact with survivors, organization personnel, or investigators. I’m still in the network though and something very different stands out about this event.
Back when the Exxon Valdeze was still major news, I was in a board meeting with three tanker captains, two of whom had been master of vessels on that same route. I said something along the lines of, how could a guy like Hazelwood have become master of a ship that could create such devastation? All three instantly said that, no, he was a very competent guy and it could have happened to anyone of them. They went on to say that they had just been to a professional gathering of, I’ve forgotten exactly, but something like twenty tanker captains. These guys reported that they had discussed the grounding there and, to a man, every captain said it could have happened to them.
This, “There but for the grace of God go I.”, point of view has been a dominate feature of every peer discussion of a vessel loss that I have known. What is significant to me is how little of it I am hearing in this case. Whatever you may feel about the way he expressed it, that is the significant point of Jan’s letter.
And, it isn’t just Jan. I’ve heard from others who have not been referred to here. You can see it simply in the AIS web site displays that were posted before the vessel was even experiencing mechanical and water ingress problems. Every ship in the eastern north Atlantic is scattering like a crowd on a city street that looks up and sees a piano falling. Just one vessel is going the other way. This was the real time judgment of the masters of container ships, tankers, and other craft with a much greater probability of surviving an encounter with the storm than a wooden replica of an 1800’s vessel.
Operator error and mistakes are an inevitable part of every transportation system. However, there are some decisions that have to be put in a different category. Everything that I can discern about the judgment of his peers tells me that they see this as being one of those.