The decision to take a slow-moving tall ship into the path of massive Hurricane Sandy cost at least one life.
It’s a decision many in the maritime community are questioning as the details of the HMS Bounty’s final days become clear.
The Bounty was built as a movie prop almost a half-century ago. Since then, it’s been a favorite backdrop for Hollywood films, while also teaching the art of sailing and seamanship. The ship’s final — and now controversial — final days were chronicled in an electronic log of sorts, its Facebook page.
“This will be a tough voyage for the bounty.” That’s the message posted Friday as the crew left New England and headed into what would be one of the worst storms in history—a storm that was no surprise to anyone.
A day later, the Bounty’s log shows she’s on the edge of the massive storm. And when some questioned why head into such awful weather, the ship’s crew and owners shot back, in what would be a fateful miscalculation:
“Bounty’s current voyage is a calculated decision. Not at all irresponsible or with a lack of foresight as some have suggested.”
On Sunday, “so far so good” was the post, even as the picture posted showed the ship deeper into the hurricane, as Sandy grew stronger.
Then after dark that same day, the first sign of worry in the ship’s optimistic log. A generator, used to pump out water failed. “They are taking on more water than they would like.” But the post concluded: “The captain will wait ‘til morning to determine if the Bounty is in need of assistance.”
A Coast Guard rescue crew had by now heard the ship was in trouble. But the weather was so bad they pondered what to do. Bring the ship pumps? Launch a rescue? They didn’t want to do any of that at night in the middle of the storm. Then, a Coast Guard airplane watching the ship sent a message that changed everything.
The brave facade on Facebook, the voice that ridiculed those who questioned the captain, finally cracked.
What was needed was a rescue crew. This quartet flew into the storm and put a helicopter barely above the sea surface roiling with two-story waves. The altimeter shows them at times just two dozen feet above the water, and the helicopter itself was relentless with warnings.
A pair of Coast Guard helicopters rescued 14 crewmembers. One was found unconscious, and she later died. The captain, the man who believed he could out maneuver the storm, has never been found.