Re: An Informed Opinion about the Bounty
December 1, 2012
AN OPEN LETTER
It has been a month now since the USCG stopped looking for you. Claudene is dead and BOUNTY, like you, is lost at sea as a result of your decision to sail directly towards Hurricane Sandy. Your action reminds me of the movie “Hunt for Red October”. I am thinking of that captain of the submarine hunting the other submarine. The captain on the hunt for the fleeing sub threw all caution away in his hunting effort. Why did you throw all caution away by navigating for a close pass of Hurricane Sandy? I was so surprised to discover that BOUNTY was at sea near Cape Hatteras and close to Hurricane Sandy Sunday night October 28th! That decision of yours was reckless in the extreme!
The outcome of your action makes you the only captain of the current crop of long experienced American maritime licensed sailing vessel masters’ actually willing to voyage anywhere near a hurricane! Did you not remember the fate of the FANTOME? Like BOUNTY she was a slow, less than 10 knot capable vessel under engine power. Not fast enough to run out of range of the reach of Hurricane Mitch. Additionally the master of FANTOME had too much confidence in hurricane forecasting accuracy. Mitch made an unexpected left turn after consistent movement westward before slowing down to near stopped about the time FANTOME made her run eastward from Belize trying to escape Mitch. A stationary hurricane is nearly impossible to predict future motion. To the best of anyone’s knowledge (FANTOME was lost with all hands) Mitch ran right over her. You, on the other hand, maneuvered directly toward a very accurately forecast and steadily moving Hurricane Sandy with a slow moving vessel of wood construction, FANTOME was of metal. Also, BOUNTY is quite a bit smaller than FANTOME. Still you aimed all but directly at Sandy. That was reckless my friend! Was it wise or prudent to set off into the teeth of Sandy in BOUNTY? Did it make any sense at all? Virtually all of your professional friends and colleagues back here do not think so, not at all.
You told everyone you were going east around Sandy. But you did not even try to do so. Your track line indicates unequivocally a trail all but directly toward Sandy. When I heard east around was the strategy I immediately wondered about it. I am not the only one to know that BOUNTY is not highly powered with her engines. You yourself are publicly recorded as saying BOUNTY is under powered. Looking at weather conditions east of Long Island for Friday October 26 it is clear there were northeast winds. They were not strong winds...near 5-10 knots at the buoy 50 miles SE of Nantucket with a slight sea of between 1-2 feet. But windage of any sailing vessel under auxiliary power is significant. A full-rigged ship has a whole lot more windage. 5 knots of boat speed into 10 knots of wind means a lot of drag slowing BOUNTY down...maybe with the underpowered engines BOUNTY could barely reach 5 knots of boat speed? Saturday Oct. 27 at the buoy wind had increased to around 15 knots NExE and sea had increased to around 3-4 feet. With staysails set and motor-sailing what would BOUNTY have been steering? Maybe something south of true East? What kind of speed would BOUNTY have made? On Sunday Oct. 28 wind had jumped to 30-35 knots NExE and the sea was up around 12 feet and building. Considering those big bluff bows of BOUNTY and massive windage in her rigging you probably decided to abandon the "go east around Sandy" strategy long before even trying it out because of the increasingly slow progress BOUNTY would eventually be making with ever increasing winds and swell from the northeast plus the knowledge the wind would eventually veer to east and on toward southeast as Sandy moved north forcing BOUNTY to turn southward and even southwestward and that would be back toward Sandy. You may also have still been doubtful of Sandy actually turning NW. Considering Sandy did go toward land rather than toward sea, had you tried to go eastward as you originally intended with any kind of will, BOUNTY might have wound up pretty far away from Sandy’s center, but the storm was so big you might actually have met conditions somewhat similar to what you actually met by heading straight toward Sandy. Having to abandon BOUNTY well out to the eastward would likely have been at a location somewhat further away from rescue assets than you actually were. So, ironically, it may actually have been fortunate for your crew that you did not try to go eastward.
An even more distressing puzzle is brought forth by BOUNTY’s steady movement directly at Sandy after you had abandoned your original notion of going east around. Friday Oct. 26 forecasting confirmed an even higher confidence Hurricane Sandy would turn left after some more time going north. But BOUNTY continued straight southward! Why did you not turn for New York Harbor? The light northeast flow I describe above was occurring all the way down past the mouth of the Delaware Bay. You could have gone way up the Hudson River. With the NE’rly wind behind BOUNTY is it likely speed might have been more than 5 knots on her way to New York? Alternatively, by my calculation, at 5 knots BOUNTY could have diverted toward Delaware Bay and gone up that bay and through the C & D Canal by late Saturday night. Wind in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Saturday night was light and variable with a forecast to increase from the NE overnight into Sunday before backing toward the north and continuing to increase overnight Sunday into Monday. At midnight Saturday northeast wind strength in Baltimore Harbor was actually 10 knots. Late Sunday wind had backed to north and increased to near 20 knots. If BOUNTY were in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore by early Sunday she would have been sheltered from wind by all of those tall city buildings that ring the north side of the Inner Harbor. There would have been no sea action. Harbor water levels did indeed increase above normal, but only by 3-4 feet. BOUNTY would not have floated over any dock. Even if she had, the damage would unlikely be the loss of the ship and certainly not the loss of any life!
So what was it you were thinking by not diverting toward shelter once you knew about the confirmed forecasting that not only continued to indicate Sandy going ashore in New Jersey but also Sandy would likely be the largest hurricane in some time? No slow boat was going to be speedy enough to get out of Sandy’s long reach from where BOUNTY was on Friday. Certainly resurrecting the "east around" strategy would be impossible now that the distance to Sandy had reduced bringing with the reduced distance soon to increase NE’rly winds, soon to start a steady veer through East. But a slow boat would have had time to get inshore from where BOUNTY was on Friday before Sandy’s strength was felt. Why did you persist in steering BOUNTY directly toward Sandy? Was it confidence in her physical strength after all of the rebuilding over the last several years? If that was the case, that is recklessly cavalier to the extreme! Not even the big powerful tug and barge combinations that regularly ply the East Coast were fooling around with facing Sandy! But you were. I find myself wondering again…What were you thinking?
On top of this, you told folks during the south bound journey directly toward Sandy that it was safer to be at sea. Hmmm...an interesting & vague notion that. It is true the US Navy in Norfolk goes to sea ahead of an approaching hurricane. But they are high endurance (high speed) ships with mariners trained and contracted to go in the way of danger, not young keen professionals & volunteers on an harbor attractions’ vessel!
I understand there might be two reasons for sending a navy fleet out. One is their wind resistance at the dock…and probably also concern for extra high water from storm surge. That wind resistance could play great havoc keeping the ships tied to the dock. Maybe wreck the pier by the pressure against the dock. Extra high water causes all kinds of concerns. The other reason is our nation’s security. A navy bottled up in port for a hurricane is not a navy able to provide for national defense. Meanwhile those navy ships have a lot of speed they are capable of. And they do not hang around at sea in the path of a hurricane. They keep going out to sea to get away from the rough seas that will be created by the approaching hurricane. Making 20 knots means they could be 480 nautical miles to the eastward in 24 hours. Something not possible with a smaller slow boat that departed closely ahead of Sandy with the idea of protecting itself from dock damage on the premise it would be safer instead to experience big seas as well big winds creating them. Now that is just plain illogical thinking! With a choice between suffering strong wind by being inshore while avoiding big seas verses being at sea with both big seas and strong winds you should have diverted Friday as soon as you got the updated weather forecasting confirming Sandy was going ashore in New Jersey.
Yeah, you were a reckless man Robin. I would not have continued to proceed as you did. Frankly, I do not know anyone with a lot of experience in large, slow (still faster than BOUNTY), strong, steel motor vessels like the powerful tug & barge combinations we see plying the East Coast would have considered heading toward a hurricane like you did with Sandy…not only forecast as going ashore rather than turning towards sea…but also described as a “storm of the century”. Those tug & barge operators would seek shelter inshore or not proceed to sea at all. I also do not know any sailing vessel masters that would head toward a hurricane as you did with hopes of negotiating a pass like two vessels meeting head-on. The tug & barge industry has a lot of reason to stay on schedule. Lots of money at stake with timely delivery. But it is even more money if there is significant damage from big seas. Plus, if the cargo is chemical or oil there is the cost and criminal consequences of a polluting spill. I cannot imagine there was any reason existing that would force BOUNTY to directly approach a hurricane. Loss of BOUNTY is so permanent. No more voyages after losing the ship…don’t you know!
But the loss of life is the most tragic. You not only lost your own, you lost that of Claudene’s. Hell man, the BOUNTY can be replaced. But why ever risk loss when it is so much more important not to risk a crew member’s life? Having BOUNTY remain in port, or seek port when it became evident Sandy was not going to turn eastward as most often hurricanes do, might have meant damage to BOUNTY, but unlikely any loss of life. If you found no dock willing to accommodate BOUNTY up the Delaware or in the Chesapeake Bay, put her in the mud and hang on. Doing that would mean no reason to fear sinking completely below water. Even if she were to roll on her side while aground she would not have sunk below the surface. Maybe she would have become a total loss, but the crew could remain sheltered in her hull, assuming there was no safe way to get off of her and ashore before high winds arrived. Putting BOUNTY aground for the winds of Sandy because of no dock option would have been a bold decision! Actually, I believe your request to get to a dock would not have been turned down. However, all of the above was avoidable by not going to sea at all. Your focus should have been the same focus of all of your East Coast sailing vessel contemporaries…not go to sea…rather get tied up in as safe a place as you could find…not waste time trying to gain some distance toward your intended destination.
Robin, for all of the experience you have, it was recklessly poor judgment to have done anything but find a heavy weather berth for your ship, rather than instead intentionally navigate directly toward Sandy with no thought given to deviate if the original plan of yours was not panning out. During the nineteen years you were master of BOUNTY you were the single reason she remained active. Under your command she went from being an aging wooden vessel with all of the typical problems age brings to a vessel, to a reviving vessel as a result of several significant re-buildings over the last several years. You were a hero in everyone's eyes. Deservedly so I will freely add!!! I so respected your even, steady persistence to celebrate what BOUNTY could be and as a result was becoming. After years of barely surviving coastal trips here in America, after significant rebuilding, you successfully managed two safe and productive European voyages. That success was surely destined for more voyages to ports thrilling throngs of public in love with BOUNTY's roll in Hollywood movies. But that future is gone now. Because you chose to do something that no one of your experience, and all those young professionals with less experience, several that sailed with you, would have done. Some might have sailed and diverted. Some might have sailed with the plan to get some distance south along the coast then duck inshore long before any real impact from Sandy would be felt. But most did not depart at all. They worked from the start locating as safe a harbor arrangement as could be figured out. Up there in Southern New England is the fine port of New Bedford with its storm dyke to protect the fishing fleet. Surely BOUNTY would have been welcomed? I cannot conjure any reason why your friends in New London would not have responded with welcome of shelter had you asked.
While there are many memories I have of conversing with you about things marine affecting what we do as masters of sailing vessels, we never discussed the topic of delivering on schedule as promised and the problems of failure to arrive as promised. This is coming oh so very much too late, but I feel compelled to share that during my many years as master of vessels, there has never been any pressure put on me to make sure promises of arrival were kept. What I was told is that safety was most important. Safety of the ship was desired. But safety of the crew was most essential. As a result I have been master aboard when I have had to inform the company the intended arrival would not occur as scheduled due to weather. Sometimes the weather concern involved a hurricane. Sometimes the concern was a cold front and resultant head winds or a typical mid latitude low passing by. The decision we were going to be tardy to the destination port had to do with risk of damage to the ship. Preventing ship damage most often meant there would be little to no additional risk of injury to the crew and in the case of an inspected vessel also the passengers. Yep, unlike BOUNTY, most of the sail training vessels in America are certified and inspected for underway activities; several in the American fleet are certified for ocean service. Those that are wood built are pretty strong. Yet they avoid hurricanes. Being tardy always meant there would be another opportunity in the future. With BOUNTY now gone, with you and Claudene as well, there is no future to share with Claudene, with you, with BOUNTY, for all of us…for everyone.
If confidence was the basis in your decisions, no ship is invulnerable. And in a career at sea one cannot avoid every gale or nasty storm – but you set out with the BOUNTY with whatever her strengths and weaknesses into the biggest one some of us have ever seen dominating the Western North Atlantic. Many stronger, faster ships than BOUNTY chose to stay in port for this one. What was your need?
Well my very recklessly cavalier friend. I cannot say I told you so. But I sure can say I am surprised! Not Robin! This stunt is so amateurish as to be off the scale! But stunning surprise of surprises! It is Robin! Heading directly at a hurricane in a small, slow boat. Instead of running and hiding...or not venturing out at all. You have provided everyone with a great deal of hurt and sadness and consternation as well a firestorm of gossip nearly full of blame and foolishness directed at the whole of our sailing community.
That is an inestimably be-damned legacy my friend.
Jan C. Miles
**I took the liberty of copy & paste for those of you who do not have a facebook account. I hope no one minds.