Read Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy Online

Authors: Michael J. Tougias,Douglas A. Campbell

Tags: #History, #Hurricane, #Natural Disasters, #Nonfiction, #Retail

Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy (3 page)

BOOK: Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy
13.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
CHAPTER THREE
A VOYAGE WITH PURPOSE

MY REVISED FORECAST: Landfall in S New Jersey, between Cape May and Atlantic City . . . during the night [Monday, October 29], and before Dawn [Tuesday, October 30] morning.

I caution either [of two computer models] could easily be correct.

Further, regardless where Sandy makes landfall, the entire region may see a long-duration (1–2 day) wind event, with nearly-uniform winds of 60–80 knots sustained (gusting 80–100k)—anywhere within 300 miles of Sandy’s landfall in all directions (600-mile-wide swath of destructive winds and potential Storm Surge).

—Chris Parker, October 26, 2012, 6:36 a.m.

Chris Parker’s forecast did not reach
Bounty
’s Nav Shack. HMS Bounty Organization LLC had not chosen to buy Parker’s service, at a fee ranging up to $195 a year.

At the time of Parker’s report,
Bounty
was sailing with both diesel engines hammering at full throttle, on a course of about 165 degrees from true north, about forty miles south of Montauk Point. She carried instruments for gathering weather information, including a single-sideband radio, on which she received faxed weather reports; a satellite telephone, from which she could call home base in Setauket, Long Island; a radar to view approaching weather; and Winlink 2000, a ham-radio-based email service.

That Walbridge and Hansen had not engaged a professional weather router to guide their ship’s voyage—not even the free service provided by Herb Hilgenberg—may have spoken more to Walbridge’s noble attitude and lifelong habit of self-reliance than to penury. But as with any wooden-tall-ship operator, Walbridge fought an ongoing battle for funds and was always selecting which of the ship’s many pressing needs would absorb the limited cash on hand. It was a difficult and lonely role. Richard Bailey, skipper of the tall ship
Rose
in the 1990s when Walbridge was his mate, recalls his own feeling of being not “just the hired captain, but the chief visionary of the project, always trying to increase revenue just so you have more money to spend. I think you become very alert to financial opportunities but also to financial losses or failures.” Needing to make the economics work creates pressures.

Walbridge had left
Rose
in 1995 to take the helm of
Bounty
and had been her skipper ever since. But he and Bailey had stayed in touch. Walbridge, a year older than his former boss, told Bailey about his fund-raising schemes and dreams, among them a plan to make frequent stops in Copenhagen, Denmark, where
Bounty
had drawn huge crowds. If you could do that often enough, you could make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Bailey got the impression that
Bounty
was surviving on a rather low budget.

Some of Walbridge’s big dreams worked out. Thanks to her role in the
Pirates of the Caribbean
films, in 2005
Bounty
was able to dock in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, where the Steiner Shipyard was building boats for the same films. There, she got completely new rigging, replacing much of her ten miles of rope. The crew did the work but the materials and dock fees had been paid for by Disney, Walbridge told friends.

•  •  •  

Not every deal is a blockbuster, though. Some income walked up
Bounty
’s gangplank one person at a time. The ship was licensed by the US Coast Guard as a “dockside attraction” only and was not permitted to engage in the more lucrative business of taking customers sailing. Although at times the HMS Bounty Organization LLC had made stabs at qualifying for a coast guard sail-training license—and at times advertised that it would take paying customers sailing—no such license had ever been earned.

So Walbridge’s chore was to find ways to lure people off the dock in any city the ship visited, and a unique opportunity surfaced in January 2012 when
Bounty
was at its 2011–2012 winter dock in San Juan.

An Ohio photographer and event promoter, Gary Kannegiesser, wanted to become a private contractor who would take photographs of visitors in every port where
Bounty
docked. Since the primary source of
Bounty
’s income—other than the money spent on the ship by its owner, Robert Hansen—was the $10 fee visitors paid to board the ship, Kannegiesser’s scheme could be a nice addition. Once
Bounty
was inspected by the coast guard at a new dock, guests began walking the deck, climbing down to the tween deck, and imagining where, in Captain Bligh’s day, various events would have occurred. If they had known
Bounty
’s recent history, they might silently have visualized Johnny Depp swaggering over the same deck boards now under their feet. They would be primed, Kannegiesser believed, for a photo op.

Kannegiesser suggested that he take pictures of visitors standing at
Bounty
’s impressive wooden helm and sell them copies. He wanted a two-year contract, hoping to cash in during the 2013 season when
Bounty
was scheduled to join other tall ships for a tour of the Great Lakes.

Robert Hansen had flown to San Juan and Kannegiesser met with him and Walbridge aboard
Bounty
. “Bob was a businessman and he thought it [the idea] was cool, but he left the decision-making up to Robin,” Kannegiesser said. “Robin felt, ‘I really don’t know if I want to tie up the crew so they can have pictures taken.’ He was lukewarm. Very cordial, but lukewarm at best.”

During a break in the visit, Kannegiesser and a colleague who had made the trip with him went to a restaurant. At a nearby table sat an Alabama woman, Connie DeRamus, and her friend. The women were in Puerto Rico on vacation, and they eavesdropped and heard the men talking about
Bounty
. DeRamus’s friend began asking questions about
Bounty,
and soon all four were conversing.

DeRamus had one topic she liked to discuss: her twenty-nine-year-old daughter, Ashley, a blond young woman with Down syndrome. For years, DeRamus had thought of building a clothing line around Ashley, garments that would take into account the unique figure of Down syndrome girls and women, whom department-store clothing seldom fit. She told the men about her dreams.

“That’s a great idea,” Kannegiesser said. “Why don’t you do it?”

They continued to talk, and Kannegiesser began envisioning a role for Ashley DeRamus that would connect her with
Bounty
. He had in mind a concession on the dock beside
Bounty
where silicone bracelets promoting Ashley by Design—the name DeRamus had chosen for her daughter’s clothing line—could be sold. He imagined a charitable, nonprofit organization under whose auspices the bracelets would be marketed and which would raise funds for the needs of Down syndrome children and adults.

Eventually, Robin Walbridge agreed to Kannegiesser’s photography scheme, and Kannegiesser decided to begin slowly. When the season started in April and
Bounty
sailed north from Puerto Rico, the photographer and a crew of five boarded a recreational vehicle, joining
Bounty
at its first stops in St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Florida.

DeRamus’s friend Kim lived in Jacksonville. Her home on the St. Johns River had a pool. Kannegiesser and his crew stopped there for a break from travel and discussed how to make the photo operation at the next port—Savannah—more functional.

“Then Kim and I decided to go to Savannah and help out,” DeRamus said. “I just brought Ashley’s bracelets along because I could, and I set up a picture of her and [an] Ashley by Design [sign]. We just had that sitting on the corner of the photo table. It ended up that a remarkable number of parents stopped by to see what it was all about.”

DeRamus recognized then that having her daughter present would help boost donations to the nonprofit.

“The idea evolved [from] actually talking to the captain about Ashley,” she said.

DeRamus and her friend stayed with Kannegiesser through the next two ports, Charleston, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina. DeRamus was busy the next few weeks, and not until the end of May did she and Ashley return to
Bounty,
in Greenport, New York,
Bounty
’s registered home port. By then, Kannegiesser had an agreement from Walbridge that Ashley could set up a small area near the photo booth to sell bracelets and tell her story.

At first, DeRamus says, she didn’t know which of the crew members was
Bounty
’s skipper. “Robin was so humble and unassuming that he never announced to anyone that he was the captain,” she said. “He was always wearing a
Bounty
T-shirt or sweatshirt, cruising the deck, talking with visitors.”

From Greenport on, the recreational vehicle, with Kannegiesser, DeRamus, Ashley, and the five photo employees, arrived at every port where
Bounty
stopped. There was a swing north up the Hudson River and then a voyage south to the Chesapeake Bay and Annapolis, Maryland. Next was a stop in Philadelphia, in the midst of a hundred-degree heat wave that kept visitors away in droves, and then
Bounty
returned to Long Island, where it docked at Port Jefferson, below the bluffs of Setauket, home to the ship’s corporate offices as well as her owner, Robert Hansen.

The ship, her crew, and the photo team visited Plymouth, Boston, Gloucester, and Newburyport, Massachusetts, and sailed to Star Island in the Isles of Shoals, six miles offshore from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Two weeks later, they were in Nova Scotia, where they visited Lunenburg,
Bounty
’s birthplace.

Along the way, DeRamus saw Walbridge developing what she later described as “a kind of rapport” with her daughter. To DeRamus, Walbridge seemed sweet and compassionate.

DeRamus also said she and her daughter developed a friendship with everybody in the crew. “They were just really genuinely nice people, but they were sailors and they weren’t into giving tours of the ship and stuff, except for Claudene,” DeRamus said.

When Kannegiesser’s summer help went home near the end of the season, Claudene Christian was recruited to become part of the photo crew. In port, she donned the Tahitian-print dress provided by DeRamus and helped with Kannegiesser’s and DeRamus’s operations.

In Plymouth, Massachusetts, Walbridge welcomed Ashley and Connie DeRamus on board as crew members. They sailed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and then, watched over by other crew members, Ashley sailed on
Bounty
without her mother for the better part of a week, handling some of the duties of sailing a tall ship, perhaps a first for a person with Down syndrome.

In every port, Ashley was at the dock with her colorful bracelets, taking donations. “We got anywhere from one dollar to twenty dollars for donations, depending on the persons,” her mother said. “We had a table set up where we had printers for the photo operation. The people who had the pictures taken at the helm would come back to our table. We had an extra little extension table at the end of our photo booth. She [Ashley] had a sign explaining what she was doing.”

Meanwhile, Kannegiesser’s brain was churning out ideas connecting
Bounty
and Ashley. He and Walbridge talked of bringing Down syndrome children aboard for voyages the following summer, 2013, on the Tall Ships America fleet tour of the Great Lakes.

“They [
Bounty
] would either bring a parent [to supervise their child] or one of the crew members would supervise,” DeRamus said. “We were all very excited about that, giving Downs kids an opportunity for independence and learning about sailing, the education, self-esteem, responsibility, and the self-discipline. We spent a lot of time, and Gary and Robin especially, discussing the logistics of this next summer and what we were going to do,” DeRamus said. Walbridge wanted to make Ashley the liaison for special needs on
Bounty
, DeRamus said.

While she helped Kannegiesser with his photo operation, DeRamus was not his employee. “He took me and Ashley and gave her the opportunity to raise money. We used his photo opportunity to promote [Ashley’s] foundation.”

When, in September,
Bounty
was hauled out at the Boothbay Harbor (Maine) Shipyard for maintenance and repairs, Ashley and her mother returned to Birmingham, Alabama, where Ashley was a volunteer at the Bell Center, which helps special-needs children. She and her mother made a $6,300 donation to the center from the money they collected at
Bounty
’s side.

But the connection among
Bounty
, Walbridge, and Down syndrome did not end there. Kannegiesser had located the Down Syndrome Network of Tampa Bay. “Gary had approached me [in September],” said Shirley Lawyer, head of the nonprofit group. “I guess he was kind of calling around, trying to find some connection to Down syndrome in the Tampa area.”

Lawyer was familiar with
Bounty
, which had spent many winters as a dockside attraction in neighboring St. Petersburg.

In 2012, Walbridge wanted
Bounty
to visit St. Petersburg one more time. He and his wife, Claudia McCann, had a home there. But there was another reason: the St. Petersburg Pier, where, for many years,
Bounty
was a seasonal fixture moored on the pier’s south side during the winter, was scheduled for demolition.

“When she [
Bounty
] came to St. Petersburg,” Lawyer said, “we would bring as many people as we could get down to the [dock]. We have 450 families on our mailing list.” Kannegiesser, the promoter, envisioned Ashley DeRamus leading the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. “That was one component of the event,” Lawyer says. “And then it was asked if we would have three or four families who would be interested in sailing on the ship. We were going to sail across the Gulf of Mexico to Texas,” where
Bounty
was scheduled to spend the winter in Galveston.

•  •  •  

Ashley DeRamus was not the first special-needs person Captain Robin Walbridge had ever met. Nor was Gary Kannegiesser the first person to suggest that Walbridge pay attention to and have concern for the handicapped. Walbridge’s father, Howard, had worked as a vocational and rehabilitation counselor for the State of Vermont. In that work, he saw the needs of the blind and developed the Vermont State Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Often when his children were growing up, Howard would bring them to events for those with special needs.

BOOK: Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy
13.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

X Descending by Lambright, Christian
Layers Off by Lacey Silks
Nothing But the Truth by Carsen Taite
The Faceless by Simon Bestwick
A Steak in Murder by Claudia Bishop
Used By The Mob by Louise Cayne