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post #1859 of Old 02-24-2013
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Re: HMS Bounty in trouble...

Interesting stuff at GCaptain by Mario Vittone

"At the start of each day of the hearings, Commander Kevin Carroll does the same thing: he reads a statement. He tells all in attendance, “The purpose of the investigation is to determine the cause of the casualty and the responsibility therefore to the fullest extent possible; and to obtain information for the purpose of preventing or reducing the effects of similar casualties in the future.” A worthy purpose, to be sure. ... But then he says something that some may have missed:

“This investigation is also intended to determine whether there is any evidence of any incompetence, misconduct, or willful violation of the law on the part of any licensed officer, pilot, seaman, employee, owner, or agent of the owner of any vessel involved…”

The hearings are also intended to look for evidence of negligence or incompetence.

“Evidence of any incompetence” of a licensed captain would not come by asking questions of the crew that worked beneath him. They had never been in his position, they didn’t know what he knew or what he should have known. They simply believed and admired the man and trusted his decisions. To determine whether or not the trip itself was evidence of incompetence or negligence, Carroll had to find similarly credentialed and experienced captains to testify. He needed to ask them to put themselves in Walbridge’s place, and say what they would have done. He needed to speak with the best....

On the phone was Captain Daniel Moreland, arguably the most respected captain in the traditional sailing ship community. Moreland was calling in to testify from Tahiti. His ship, the Picton Castle, is on a six month voyage in the South Pacific. Moreland has taken the barque around the world five times since he’s been captain. His personal sailing experience started in the 1970′s. He is without question one of the most competent sailing ship masters in the world. When Carroll asked what his thoughts were when he found out Bounty was at sea from New London, Moreland’s response was no surprise:

Moreland: “I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t.”

At the time Sandy was tracking up the Atlantic, the Picton Castle was scheduled to leave home port for the world cruise she was now on. Moreland had cancelled because of the storm days before Bounty had left New London. He went on to discuss the much safer options available to Walbridge if he thought New London was unsafe due to storm surge. “New Bedford – up above the bridge,” Moreland offered. New Bedford, 100 miles to the north of New London, has a “hurricane barrier” specifically designed as a hiding place for ships that need to avoid storm surge.

When asked by Carroll if he believed that a ship is “safer at sea,” Moreland discussed the difference between a Navy vessel that had the ability to move at 22 knots and be 400 miles from the storm, and a slow-moving historic sailing vessel. “…and the Navy is paid to take that risk so that they can respond if needed for war…but between the ship and crew, you always have to go with what is safer for the crew.”

Moreland made it clear to investigators that he would not have made the same choice as Walbridge if put in that situation. In fact, he was in the same situation and hadn’t. The primary difference between Walbridge’s choice to leave and Moreland’s to stay, was that Picton Castle was larger, made of steel, rigorously inspected, and prepared for a global voyage. If Moreland wasn’t thinking about leaving port in late October – what was Walbridge thinking? Only the HMS Bounty Organization’s attorney had the nerve to ask:

Moreland: “I can’t imagine what he was thinking.”

There were no further questions from the Bounty Organization.

Ralph Mellusi, the attorney for the estate of Claudene Christian, wanted more specific testimony:

Mellusi: “What if the bilge system of your ship wasn’t in perfect working order and in fact your crew had told you they were concerned that it wasn’t working properly; would you have taken the ship to sea in those conditions?”

Moreland: “That would be unconscionable on a good day.”

Investigators interviewed two more captains of tall ships, including the captain of the Pride of Baltimore II , Jan Miles. Captain Miles, also a well-respected captain and a friend of Robin Walbridge, was so dismayed by his decision to sail into Sandy’s path that he wrote an open letter to Walbridge calling his decision to sail “reckless in the extreme.” He too told Carroll he wouldn’t have sailed, and that a ship wasn’t safer at sea, adding “I don’t know what would have caused her [Bounty] to go.” His responses to Mellusi’s questions were chilling. Mellusi simply read the most damning passages from Miles’ letter and asked the wooden tall ship captain, “Do you still stand by that statement.” Without hesitation, Captain Miles answered with only one firm word, “Yes.”

The masters had given no quarter to the deceased Walbridge. Leaving New London on October 25th and sailing toward hurricane Sandy was – in itself – negligent. No competent sailing captain would have done it.

But Robin Walbridge had competently sailed Bounty for seventeen years. Why, indeed, would he do something that no other captain would have done? The investigation continues; Commander Carroll has a massive job still ahead of him.

But perhaps Robin Walbridge was suffering from the same thing his crew was – a lack of the right kind of experience. He had faced down storms before and won, he had tangled with hurricanes and made it home, his experience was that if he headed into harm’s way, he would get away with it.

He had clearly confused the lack of failure with success, and may have begun to truly believe his own advice. Maybe it was something else, I don’t know. Robin Walbridge, the last captain of Bounty, isn’t here to ask".

Well, nothing that it was not said in this thread long ago, but interesting stuff even so.


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