LC's Take: On the Good Ship Bounty

Posted Wednesday, November 7, 2012 in Features

LC's Take: On the Good Ship Bounty

The HMS Bounty, sinking in the waves off North Carolina during Hurricane Sandy

by LC Van Savage

We three drove to Bangor that day a few years ago, so we could see up close the repairs being done on the mighty Bounty, the great  three-masted sailing ship with a huge reputation and many stories locked into her big, creaking wooden body.   We were going to Bangor where Bounty was propped up on enormous “holders” on land (obviously I don’t know sailboat jargon) looking clumsy and strange high up out of the water, and yet still powerful and beautiful. Repairs were being done on her. Great chunks had been removed from her sides allowing us to look at the giganticness of the wooden planks and boards that made Bounty.  It was a breathtaking sight. She patiently stood there waiting for humans to fix her,  but one could almost sense her straining to get back on top of the sea again and to sail off to parts unknown, even though they’re all pretty much known these days. 

She had been built in 1960 for the film “Mutiny on the Bounty” and had remained over the years, glorious to see and to sea.  We got to look at Bounty under and over and within. I’ll never forget it.  Why were we there? To do a TV show about her and her crew for “incredibleMAINE” which is on MPBN at 10:30 AM on Saturdays, if you’ll forgive the shameless plug.

I was asked to climb a nearly straight-up metal ladder so I could be filmed on board. Ugh.  I’ve never been a huge fan of climbing anything, especially anything pointing up, but director Dave Wilkinson was on the ship, aiming the camera down at me. So with some gentle prodding from producer Marilyn Taylor, up I went, gritting my teeth, pretending to love being on a slippery two thousand foot straight-up ladder to get onto the deck of a ship up on those “holders.”  Show business is my life. 

 Once aboard it was so worth it.  I immediately walked over to the helm which I’d always thought was called the steering wheel (OK, nautical I ain’t) and put my hands on it, fancying I was getting DNA from Clark Gable (who had saved the ship from being burned in the last scene of “Mutiny on the Bounty”) Charles Laughton and other stars, from their filming of “Mutiny on the Bounty” and of Johnny Depp from all those crazy Caribbean pirate films he made.  Bounty had been a big movie star for years, and had been used in documentaries and commercials and in any dignified way she could be, to make money.  Maintaining Bounty was a very expensive undertaking.

But a labor of love, too.  I got to interview the gentle, kind Captain Robin Walbridge who so clearly and dearly loved that big behemoth and showed me proudly around, explaining each and every shipboard gizmo, many so beautiful, teak, mahogany, hemp. He took us below (see? I can come up with nautical words when I have to!) to see how people slept on those ships back in the day, ate, worked.  This Bounty was larger than the original to accommodate all of today’s electronic gadgets and cameras and stuff to keep Bounty in touch with the world, to send out her vast amounts of emails and blogs so everyone (aka landlubbers) could follow her adventures.  Robin introduced me on camera to members of the crew, dedicated people who all shared that passion for the huge wooden boat.  He also assured me that the captain of a ship is the “least important” person on board, that it was his job to just watch it all happen.  I had a hard time with his charming self-effacement and besides, he wasn’t wearing any sea captain’s regalia; no fancy hat or uniform or medals.  He wore a baseball cap, cutoff jeans, an old and comfortable T-shirt, well-worn sneakers and sunglasses.  He looked like his crew members and in fact that’s how he saw himself. 

I had a chance also to interview the owner of the ship, NYC businessman Robert Hansen who so loved that great ship he would become very emotional when speaking about her.  He spoke of his long-time dream of owning a Tall Ship and so when Bounty came up for sale, he was “a goner!”  He also spoke of his dream of having the ship always being a teaching ship, where kids could learn about sailing and the ocean, how to scramble way, way up on those hundreds of miles of complicated ropes to stare out at the sea, to warn of whales and land-ho’s and storms and pirates and to fill their heads with the same dreams Robert Hansen had had.

It was a terrific shoot and I enjoyed myself tremendously. We even went back up to Bangor on the day Bounty finally sailed away, refurbished, renewed and ready to wind her way around the globe’s oceans.

Seeing on TV the helicopter view on October 28th, 2012, of that magnificent ship spinning around in the ocean like a bunch of toothpicks was just simply horrible to watch.  She looked frail and helpless, her masts reaching frantically toward the sky, begging for help.  But Hurricane Sandy would win this one.  Even though Captain Walbridge would say that a ship in a hurricane is safer out at sea than it is docked was maybe correct, only this time, Sandy had other plans and she took Bounty, a beautiful young crew member named Claudine Christian—yes she was distantly related to Fletcher Christian of the old Bounty from 250 years ago—and Sandy also took Captain Robin Walbridge.  He has never been found.  Claudine did not survive being tossed overboard.  All “Abandon Ship” procedures had been followed correctly, but the ship rolled and Robin went down and so did Claudine. The Coast Guard did a magnificent job under horrific conditions and got the remaining crew of 14 safely to land, but Claudine Christian was not responsive, and Robin has never been seen since.

 I only “met” Bounty for a little while and yet I am mourning her loss as if she’d been a part of my life always.  Can they salvage her? I don’t know.  Her history and her stories live inside of me and I won’t forget her, ever.  We humans think we rule the universe but we don’t. Mother Nature always rules and always wins.  Ships at sea are but simple splinters on the ocean’s surface, completely at the mercy of hurricanes or tsunamis or rogue waves or tidal waves.  And so was the beautiful, glorious Bounty.  Is it fitting her end should be at the bottom of the ocean off the coast of North Carolina? No.  She belonged to all of us to love and gawk at and gasp at.  I loved her. Millions did.  Bounty’s going down is an incomprehensible loss to the world.

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