It was no hurricane movie out on the Atlantic last night.
In a harrowing situation reminiscent of The Perfect Storm, three crewmembers of the tall ship replica HMS Bounty—originally built for the 1962 Marlon Brando film Mutiny on the Bounty—faced the full reality of hurricane Sandy, washing overboard into the roiling waters off the coast of North Carolina. Only one of them made it to the safety of a life raft. Later, the ship itself apparently sank when it's bilge pumps failed, but the rest of the crew, 14 in all, were rescued by the Coast Guard at around 6:30am Monday.
All three crew members entered the water wearing warm, high-floatation survival suits, but rescue conditions were "extraordinary" and "very problematic," Coast Guard Vice Admiral Robert Parker told CNN. The proximity of a C-130 aircraft and a helicopter overhead gave rescuers some reason to hope the two missing crew could be found.
UPDATE: On Monday, rescuers pulled Claudine Christian, 42, from the water. She was unresponsive and was pronounced dead at the hospital. The Coast Guard is still searching for the ship's captain.
The 16 member crew abandoned their ship, which had been taking on water, about 90 miles off of the Outer Banks into 40-mph winds and 18-foot waves.
UPDATE: On Friday, the US Coast Guard Friday called off the search for HMS Bounty Captain Robin Walbridge, presumed lost at sea after the replica tall ship went down early Monday morning off of Cape Hatteras.
Meanwhile, Walbridge’s decision to sail the Bounty out of port in New London, CT and into the path of the storm is being questioned by experienced maritime experts. The Christian Science Monitor reports:
In a post to Facebook before the ship ran into trouble, Walbridge defended what apparently was a controversial decision to cast off from Connecticut ahead of the storm. "Bounty's current voyage is a calculated decision... NOT AT ALL... irresponsible or with a lack of foresight as some have suggested. ... A SHIP IS SAFER AT SEA THAN IN PORT!” Walbridge wrote.
The Bounty’s 14 survivors have collectively decided to not speak to the press out of respect for Walbridge and the only confirmed casualty, Claudene Christian [reported to be a distant relative of the original Bounty’s mutineer captain, Fletcher Christian]. But into that silence…has poured rampant speculation about the captain’s decision.
“The thing that’s striking to a lot of people is why Walbridge put himself in that position … when he had another avenue out: He could’ve headed eastward into the Atlantic and waited off of Halifax or Nova Scotia,” says Sal Mercogliano, a former merchant marine who is now a maritime historian at Campbell University, in Buies Creek, NC. “Why cross the path of a hurricane and put yourself in such a precarious position? It’s hard for a lot of people to fathom.”
One captain, Dan Moreland of the tall ship Picton Castle, expressed disbelief at Walbridge’s decision in an interview Wednesday with the Nova Scotia Chronicle Herald. “When I first heard the Bounty was out there, I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ This is a huge system, there is no way of avoiding this, there’s no dodging and weaving around it.”
The Monitor article goes into additional nautical background that casts doubt on Walbridge's decision. The ship itself, a 60-year old replica of a 250-year old design, was originally built for a crew of more than 100. When Bounty’s diesel engines gave out during the storm, the 16-person crew would have had little chance to raise even the small storm sails in the hurricane’s high winds.