sail-world.com -- Book feature: 'The Sinking of the Bounty'
Book feature: 'The Sinking of the Bounty'
Sun, 31 Mar 2013
And now, the book - well, eBook. The tragic sinking of the sailing ship HMS Bounty in October last year, which caused the death of one crew member and the ship's captain Robin Wallbridge, made instant world news. This was followed by many analyses by 'experts' and a well-reported formal investigation. The book was bound to follow.
Bounty was an 180ft three-masted replica of a British merchant vessel of the same name whose crew famously mutinied in 1789. She had been built for a Marlon Brando film in the 1960s. In spite of all the reportage, questions remain.
Was the Bounty’s sinking an unavoidable tragedy? Or was it the fault of a captain who was willing to risk everything to save the ship he loved? Drawing on exclusive interviews with Bounty survivors and Coast Guard rescuers, journalist Matthew Shaer reconstructs the ship’s final voyage and the Coast Guard investigation into her sinking that followed, uncovering a riveting story of heroism and hubris in the eye of a hurricane.
He recounts the ship's demise from the captain's decision to head south to the crew's rescue from the Atlantic. Capt. Robin Walbridge, Shaer reports, was among those seamen who believe a large boat is safer at sea than at the dock during a storm. His decision to set sail wasn't reckless. But his decision to try to get around Sandy by tacking southwest almost certainly was. There was no getting around Sandy, a freakishly massive storm almost twice the diameter of Hurricane Katrina.
Should Walbridge have been more cautious? Two people died in the disaster: Walbridge himself and a new recruit named Claudene Christian, whose parents are now contemplating a lawsuit against the ship's owner. Yet it's hard to blame the captain. He was by all accounts a capable and responsible seaman, and before the Bounty left New London he offered to let anyone off the ship who felt the coming voyage too dangerous.
Matthew Shaer relays the crew members' experiences in harrowing detail. By the time the crew had finally given up and jumped into the Atlantic—at some time after 2 a.m. on Oct. 29—they were exhausted, having had little or no sleep for two days and suffered numerous physical injuries as a consequence of being slammed around the ship. Once in the water, the ship's electrician found it impossible to keep from swallowing salt water and diesel fuel by the quart; he would 'push his way to the surface, and a wave would drive him back under like a hammer pounding the head of a nail.' Another crew member was tangled up in the rigging and sucked under by the sinking ship, then somehow—he now thinks by divine intervention—released.
Praise for The Sinking of the Bounty: 'Matthew Shaer masterfully recreates the last voyage and final doom of the Bounty, an iconic ship that collided with an historic storm off the Carolina coast. Shaer pulls you off the page and onto the Bounty itself—and then into the roiling sea—to relive a long night of terror, heroism and desperate quests for survival. The Sinking of the Bounty is a classic of the genre, beautifully told and riveting to read.' —Sean Flynn, GQ correspondent and author of 3000 Degrees: The True Story of a Deadly Fire and the Men Who Fought It