Tag Archives: survival at sea

“The Gathering Wind” by Gregory A Freeman

Product Details

This book has an extensive subtitle: Hurricane Sandy, the sailing ship Bounty, and a courageous rescue at sea.

The subtitle craze is out of hand.

I’ve read several books about the sinking of Bounty, a tall ship originally built in 1960 by MGM as a movie prop. MGM originally intended to burn the ship after filming Mutiny on the Bounty, but Marlon Brando protested and the ship became a tourist attraction. Many movie goers admired Bounty in the 1989 movie Treasure Island starring Charlton Heston.

Bounty sank on October 2012 during Hurricane Sandy. The captain and one crew member died. The remaining crew members were rescued by the US Coast Guard.

Details are widely available. One thing that is perfectly evident is that Hurricane Sandy had been predicted clearly and well in advance. No ship needed to be close to that large and violent storm, and in fact Bounty was alone on the ocean when it was destroyed.

What I found most interesting was a detailed account of the Coast Guard investigation of the accident. An investigation is not a criminal court proceeding. The intent was to discover cause and assign responsibility, and “to obtain information for the purpose of preventing or reducing the effects of similar casualties in the future.” It was acknowledged that this could lead to discovery of “incompetence, misconduct or willful violation of the law…”

The starting place for investigation and analysis is the assumption that (in recognition of the hazards of ocean travel) the captain always bears ALL responsibility for the ship. Captain Robin Walbridge had an excellent reputation and many years experience on sailing ships, but due to his death, the crew and owner of Bounty (and selected experts) would be the voices heard during the investigation.

To the surprise of all concerned, Bounty owner Robert Hansen withdrew from the process, citing his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The question of whether he pressured Captain Walbridge to sail under unsafe conditions because he wanted the ship available to a prospective buyer at an event scheduled in Florida was never answered.

With this failure of process, the Bounty investigation was stymied. Freeman discusses in detail what happened subsequently in the “court of public opinion”. Many people and organizations had a stake in the loss of Bounty. Most grievously harmed were the parents of deceased crew member Claudene Christian. Freeman includes in full a Facebook jeremiad posted by Jan Miles, Captain of the tall ship Pride of Baltimore II (and long term friend of Walbridge) in which he excoriates Walbridge for taking Bounty to sea in the face of Hurricane Sandy. He points out how the crew could have survived if Walbridge had taken shelter in Baltimore Harbor or even had deliberately run aground in the Chesapeake or Delaware estuaries. Jan Miles’s document is a heartfelt cry of pain, anger and disbelief.

Freeman’s book provides a useful case study for a number of subjects: the psychology of leadership and decision making, regulatory development, history of marine architecture and so forth. Or if you want a good adventure story, read it!

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