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post #1242 of Old 12-10-2012
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Re: HMS Bounty in trouble...

I am copying the majority of a post I made on a gCaptain forum, something I have been following re:Bounty since soon after she went down. Clearly I have too much time on my hands to be reading all these forums, but well, I have no excuse other than a frozen lake in winter.

Some background on me: I have nearly six years of experience as crew on various Tallships, ranging from 60-150 feet, and sailing in and around both US coasts, the FL Keys, and many many islands in the South Pacific. Professionally, I met Captain Walbridge twice to speak with him about working for Bounty, seen the boat, lived aboard her while at dock, and know many former crew members (I have never sailed aboard Bounty). I also know Captain Miles (the author of the "my friend" letter), and have sailed as a volunteer on the Pride of Baltimore II (he was co-captain of the original Pride, and has been captain of Pride II since her creation).

Please forgive me, I know this is long-winded, but I'd like to share the "tallship sailor's side," if you will.

I have not talked about the Bounty publicly (either in forums, Facebook, etc) out of respect for her crew (some of whom are friends), and I believe that is why the TallShip community as a whole has been quiet. It has NOT been to protect the name of the Bounty by any means, but the actual people. However, it has been several weeks, and I am incredibly frustrated by most of what I've read on this forum and others, not to mention the Bounty Facebook page. I am not defending the Bounty, Captain Walbridge or the decision to go to sea. I only wish to defend the rest of the Tallship Community/Industry (I refer to both because I feel that this is both a career to many of us, and it is also a very small, tight-knit community) who are being grouped in with the Bounty defenders. Nor are probably 99% of those posting inane comments on the Bounty Facebook page or elsewhere.

1. The crew that makes up the base of the TSCI are supported by a large percentage of volunteers. Sometimes those crew volunteered in order to be "promoted" to paying jobs, other times they were retirees or weekend warrior types. Some TallShips have "pay-to-play" or "trainee" type programs, like the Picton Castle. PC left recently for a circumnavigation (notably postponing leaving Nova Scotia until Sandy was out of the way), and "pay-to-play" is how she funds her overhead costs. Most other Tallships are funded by donors, educational field trips, "appearance fees" (though this has become more rare), and passenger fees on daysails/overnight sails. I have volunteered occasionally, though my first gig on a TallShip was as paid crew. Whether they were paid, paying, or volunteer crew, quite often a ship is a sailor's "home." For the majority of the last 6 years, I lived aboard the boats I worked on, and had mail forwarded to friends or family. On top of this, most TallShips don't pay much. Over the years, depending on the organization that owned the boats and my experience or position, I was paid between $400-1400 a month (the lower end of the scale 90% of the time). I'll come back to it, but note that if a sailor were to leave Bounty (former crew have told me they made $200-240 a month, with officers not making much more. Bounty was notorious for low pay.) a few nights in a hotel or a flight home would be a month's pay.

2. In the TallShips Community, Bounty was an anomaly. There are a small handful of other Tallships that are privately owned, and not managed by a non-profit. In essence, the USCG saw her as a yacht (which is why she was an "uninspected" vessel), not much different than a private motor yacht. On the other hand, Lady Maryland, for example, is a 104-foot wooden schooner built in 1986 by the Living Classrooms Foundation. She operates March-November with an ecology based program, teaching 4th-12th grade students and sailing with them in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as in New England. To do this, she is inspected every year by the USCG (not only checking the hull, rig, and maintenance, but also making us crew “re-enact” man-overboard, fire, and evacuation drills), has all the proper paperwork showing exactly how many crew and what licenses (and what size) are needed to operate, as well as watertight bulkheads, etc, and amount of sails and size she can carry (i.e., LM can only sail with her main topsail if there are no passengers aboard). Bounty did not have to go through any of this, and might only have a very basic inspection, and carried a six-pack, or 6 passenger max (some people say 12pax? I'm just going off conversations with crew from years ago), uninspected vessel license. There is a world of difference between the way she and the majority of Tallships are operated. Why did she advertise school/corporate sails on her website? I don't know how the office planned on making that happen, but I have never heard of that happening aboard Bounty, with the exception of the occasional paying passenger. So why did she not have subchapter T certification? I can't answer that question, only the office or Walbridge can. The problem comes when you begin to think about why a vessel like Bounty should be inspected. Because she carries passengers/pay-to-play? Technically as long as it's six/12 or less, she doesn't need any bigger certification. Because she is a large boat? There are private motor/sailing yachts that size that don't need inspection. Because she's old/wooden/replica? There are again, many many privately owned vessels that old or older that remain uninspected (a friend of mine is restoring a 1920s schooner to use as a charter boat with six passengers, so he won't need any inspection).

In all reality, if USCG rules are changed, that's a hell of a lot more paperwork/manpower/regulation that will have to be put into place, for every single “old boat,” or vessel over such-and-such feet.

3. Many other sailors had heard “sea stories” about her, though I know a lot of us wrote these off as hyperbolic (because sea stories usually are). Since this story and the “we chase hurricanes” interview have come to light, it appearing obvious that many of the stories are not as overblown as we thought they were. I must admit, I have warned friends away from working on the Bounty, and I know I am not the only one.

4. Most Tallships carry greenhands. That’s how we learn. In weather like this hurricane, with as much forewarning as there was available, Bounty should never have left the dock especially with newer crew (even with my experience - the biggest seas I've seen are 20ft, and 50-60knots - the thought of sailing toward a hurricane makes my stomach turn over). She did have eight “experienced” crew with licenses/AB cert, and several others with a couple years of experience, but the rest were all new, including Claudene (note: I don’t consider six months aboard a sailor’s first boat “well-seasoned”). To be honest, Bounty was kind of a "green boat." That is, she often had crew fresh off the dock, and many of her officers were crew that had mostly or only sailed Bounty. That can be a good thing, as her older crew are extremely familiar with her nuances, but it can also mean that her crew have a lackadaisical approach when on another vessel (we never did that on the Bounty, etc).

5. In addition, the ship’s engineer in a recent interview (who boarded the ship in Boothbay, where the ship was hauled out) stated "at that point in time, I didn't know a hurricane was coming" and “we didn’t realize the magnitude of the storm.” That blows my mind. I have to wonder, because of their naivety about the weather (I have to admit, sometimes life aboard a Tallship can become very insular with little news of the rest of the world “outside,” but I try to take opportunities to watch news in the bar, or catch the front page of newspapers, etc, and most definitely pay attention to the weather reports on the VHF) was Walbridge able to psyche the crew up for a “wild ride” and get them to follow him?

6. Finally, if you are a crew member at the dock and hear about Hurricane Sandy, what do you do? Do you jump ship and leave your crewmates behind? Remember, not only does this look bad on your part, but you have also left your friends, and home. If Walbridge hadn’t said that he wouldn’t hold it against them if they left, in the small community of Tallships, this is possibly a blacklisting offense. As crew, where do you go? What if you left and the ship made it to Florida safely? All kinds of things could be said against you. If you incite others to leave, when does it become mutiny (and if other captains hear this, why should they trust and hire you, when you didn’t trust your captain’s judgment)? Other posters on this forum wondered why in the 15+ years that Walbridge was captain on Bounty, why no one said anything about him. What do you say? If something happens that causes you as a sailor to lose your trust in your Captain, where do you go? Do you tell another captain? The USCG? That’s hearsay, and certainly your word as a deckhand versus a captain. If you as a captain of another Tallship hear a sea story that makes you question Walbridge, you’re repeating hearsay and possibly ruining Walbridge’s reputation if it was only a false rumor.

7. In defense of Captain Miles' letter, I do not know the exact extent of his relationship with Captain Walbridge, but I do know they were at least friendly and good acquaintances. I think his reasoning for addressing Walbridge as "my friend" was twofold; they were friends and had very similar social circles, but also he was perhaps using "friend" as a way of softening a blow when the letter needed to be said. It comes back to the TSC not addressing the situation other than with condolences because many of our friends are former crew. I know as a majority, the TSC let out a sigh of relief when we read Captain Miles' words. He is extremely well-respected for his experience and knowledge in the community.
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