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Authors: Michael J. Tougias,Douglas A. Campbell

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

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BOOK: Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy
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“In front of us, they rolled that car several times,” Lucille recalled. “It landed right side up, perpendicular to the road. The wheels were still spinning and it went off the road, missed a very solid tree. One of the boys was thrown out.”

Speaking the whole time in a calm voice, like a teacher in a classroom, Howard observed that an accident like that could cause a fire or an explosion.

“And you shouldn’t park in front of [the wreck] because you don’t want to obstruct the view” of motorists following you and arriving on the scene.

It was as if the Walbridge kids—Lucille, the oldest; Robert, four years younger; and Delia Mae, about nineteen months younger still—were watching a movie. Their father’s voice, calm and confident, kept teaching as he drove past the wreck and parked.

Howard got out and took Lucille with him, approaching the Volkswagen. “You have to know how many people we’re looking for,” he told her as they reached the boy who had been thrown from the car and, now stunned, staggered around.

“Son, how many people were in that car?” Howard asked the boy. “Three,” the boy answered. Howard told him to sit down. He turned to Lucille and instructed her to stay with the boy and keep him in place while he looked for the others.

Once the injured boys had been sent to a hospital, Howard explained to his children that you didn’t go by the scene of an accident without helping. At the next pay phone, Howard stopped to call the Palmers and explain that he and the family would be late.

“I didn’t understand why we would do that,” Lucille recalls. When she asked, Howard patiently explained that you didn’t let people worry about you.

Lesson taught—and lesson learned.

In a sense, Robin Walbridge, the ship’s captain, couldn’t help himself. He was a teacher as well.

CHAPTER FIVE
A HAPPY, HAPPY CREW

This will be a tough voyage for Bounty. Here is Bounty’s current position and the weather front (Hurricane Sandy) that is approaching.

Bounty is approx 100 miles off shore. Speed 8.6 knots on a course South by west.

—Bounty
Facebook page, Friday, October 26, 9:45 a.m.

Sandy is generating deep convection near her center . . . but as soon as it’s generated, strong SSW-to-NNE wind-shear strips them away from Sandy’s center, and spreads “debris” clouds (which are not significant), some showers, and lesser-intense squalls throughout areas . . . all the way from FL E Coast . . . to Norfolk VA . . . and E-ward to beyond Bermuda.

—Chris Parker, email, Friday, October 26, 5:50 p.m.

Among his fifteen crew members—ten men and five women—aboard
Bounty
, Walbridge enjoyed unquestioning loyalty.

Douglas Faunt, the oldest crew member and three years older than Walbridge, would say that the
Bounty
crew was his family—“closer than my family”—and a group who would risk their lives for one another. Walbridge, Faunt felt, was his mentor and someone whom he held in high regard.

Although there seemed to always be eager applicants for crew positions, not every sailor who stepped aboard
Bounty
shared Faunt’s enthusiasm for the skipper when he or she returned ashore. At least one, Andrew Seguin, felt lucky to have been able to get off the boat alive.

•  •  •  

In late November 2010, Seguin, from Osterville, Massachusetts, twenty-three at the time and recently unemployed, got a call telling him that
Bounty
was looking for crew for a voyage to Puerto Rico, leaving Boothbay Harbor, Maine, the next day. Seguin, who held a coast guard captain’s license, had studied naval engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, a prestigious New Jersey university. There he had met Marc Castells, three years older, a computer science major.

Seguin called Castells, who had also lost his job, and told him about
Bounty.

“You have twenty-four hours if you want to do this.”

Seguin said, “The only information I had before getting on the boat was that it was leaving Maine and was ending up in Puerto Rico. We drove through the night to get there and literally pulled into Boothbay Harbor when the sun was coming up.” It was November 27, past the end of the hurricane season.

Seguin had sailed a few vessels up and down the East Coast, including the seventy-four-foot, steel-hulled
Liberté
, from Annapolis, Maryland, to Cape Cod.
Liberté
was as close as he had come to sailing a tall ship. Castells had no such experience.

“It was like a giggly feeling,” Seguin said. “Wow, I’m going to take that boat from here all the way to Puerto Rico.”

In time, Robin Walbridge got up, and he and the crew invited Seguin and Castells to have breakfast. They got to do a bit more exploring before Walbridge held muster at the capstan.

“Then it was ‘Here’s a list of things we have to do before we leave the dock.’ ” They spent the rest of the day helping their new shipmates tie everything down that was loose, assuring that the ship’s cannon were secured and that the dockside furniture that welcomed guests was stowed.

When the work was done, Seguin was satisfied that
Bounty
was prepared to sail offshore. “We really didn’t know what to expect from the boat. There’s so many systems on the boat and it’s so complicated that it’s difficult to say it’s seaworthy unless you are a full-time crew,” he said. “We ended up leaving Boothbay under motor. Everything seemed perfectly normal. I do know that hours before we left, they were diving over the boat. The seacocks were leaking slightly.” Seacocks are valves in the hull of a vessel, below the waterline, that either admit seawater or are used for pumping out bilge water. Before the dock lines were cast off, Seguin said, the seacocks were sealed. “Motoring out the first day it was gorgeous. It was cold. There were dolphins jumping off the bow.” As
Bounty
headed south, the friends spent the first couple of days getting used to the routine of the ship. Each morning, Walbridge came to the weather deck and gave a speech.

On the first morning, Walbridge told the crew that he didn’t worry about fire on the boat because it was old and wet. He also was unconcerned with sinking. “He said he’s had many engineers who said the boat has enough buoyancy in itself that it won’t sink,” Seguin recalled.

“One thing that he emphasized was that man overboard was the most dangerous thing on the boat. The boat can’t sail into the wind,” so anyone in the water would quickly be left behind.

“We did overboard drills almost every day,” Castells recalled. In the drill, a dinghy was lowered overboard and used to pick up an object thrown into the water in place of an actual man overboard.

Then the weather worsened, and Walbridge told the crew that in these conditions
Bounty
could not even be turned around should someone fall into the water. For those cases of man overboard, a drum at the stern was packed with safety and survival gear, even an Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), the device that, when triggered, contacts a satellite that relays a distress signal to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which notifies coast guard search-and-rescue units.

All were taught that if they fell overboard, they could find the big drum floating in
Bounty
’s wake.

The first day out of port, with calm seas and no wind, the crew was sent up the rigging to furl and set sails for practice. It was exhilarating.

“After the sun set the first day, everyone was in really high spirits,” Seguin recalled. “It seemed like it was going to be a good trip. Even day two was not bad, with enough wind to sail the boat, a little sea-state.”

But then, making boat checks while standing watch, the friends each noticed that the bilges contained more water than when
Bounty
had left the dock.

“It becomes a blur from then on, the order of stuff going to hell,” Seguin said, laughing. “It might have been the night of day two, morning day three, when the wind started to really build up.” There were no more man-overboard drills.

For a while, the winds were consistently in the thirty-knot range. Then one morning the winds eased. “The captain said, ‘We’ve gone through the worst of the weather.’ ”

But the wind returned and the crew started to see sails tearing and blowing out. At one point, Seguin said, he went to Walbridge and questioned the amount of sail area
Bounty
was flying. “I’m a conservative sailor,” Seguin said. “It’s easier to let more sail area out than to put it away. We had four or five sails up.

“Robin told me, ‘I’ve gone through hurricanes with three of them up.’ That’s when I was, like, ‘Okay, I don’t like this situation, but I’m not in control, so I do what I’m told.’ ”

When the fore course sail, the lower square sail on the foremast, blew out, eight hands were sent aloft. Castells followed Chief Mate John Svendsen—in his first year aboard
Bounty
and his first year aboard a square-rigged ship—up the ratlines. Castells was wearing a head-mounted video camera that memorialized the event.
Bounty
rolled thirty degrees to each side, a huge metronome, driven by gale-force winds that blew up the shredded sections of the torn sail into canvas balloons. Overhead the sky was blue, with patchy white clouds, a beautiful day to look up. When the crew looked down, they saw a surging sea.

And then the topmast broke and folded over its lower half.

Seguin had stayed on deck. At first, he saw the backstays, ropes that hold the masts up and keep them from falling forward, sagging. Then he saw the mast break above where Castells was working.

Then the weather got worse.

“At one point, I was down in the galley and Captain Robin whispered something,” Seguin said. “The cook yelled, ‘What? We’re sailing directly into a force-nine gale? Don’t you think the cook would want to know?’ ”

Seguin said he asked several times to be shown the weather faxes, but it was two watch shifts before he got to see them, and when he did, he discovered that
Bounty
was headed dead center into the storm.

Meanwhile,
Bounty
’s bilges were filling with water. On watch, Seguin inspected the bilge, expecting to find baffles there to keep the water near the suctions for the bilge pumps. There were none. Every time the boat rolled, the water sloshed up the inside of the hull, away from the suction lines, and the bilge pump lost its prime.

Seguin said he asked the ship’s engineer, Caleb, why there were no baffles. He said Caleb replied that a couple of years earlier, when
Bounty
was in dry dock, the baffles that had been there were removed to make repairs, and half of them were rotten, so they were not replaced.

“Once we got into the thick of the storm, I don’t know how far we were rolling, but it was huge,” Seguin said. “There’s stuff all over the floor. At the same time, the timbers of the boat worked endlessly in bone-crunching moaning, creaking [so loudly] that you pretty much have to yell, not over the motors but over the boat.”

Seguin recalled a time when he awoke to go on watch and met one of his shipmates whose face was parted in a huge grin.

“Guess what I did last night,” the fellow said. “I saved the boat. I put out a fire.” The crewman didn’t say where the fire was, but later in the day, when he was doing boat checks, Seguin lifted an engine cover. The day before, it had been yellow. Now it was white from fire-extinguisher foam. Seguin learned from Castells, who had been on watch at the helm when the fire was extinguished, that the shipmate who saved the ship never told anyone in authority.

This bothered Seguin, but probably not as much as the story he said the engineer told him. Two wires had been shorting when anyone stepped on a certain floorboard in the crew quarters. The engineer said he didn’t know what the wires were for, but his solution was to pull them out.

Upon hearing this, Seguin said, “I was prepared to end up in the life raft.”

Seguin noted that Walbridge stayed in his cabin except when he gave his morning talk. He ran the boat by delegation. Seguin was unsettled by the fact that Svendsen, to whom Walbridge entrusted command of the day-to-day handling of his ship, had, as recently as two years earlier, been a dive boat captain. This was not the sort of credential Seguin expected of the person second-in-command of a massive tall ship.

As
Bounty
neared Bermuda, with the bilge pumps overwhelmed, Seguin came up behind Walbridge, who was writing an email to home base. In it Walbridge wrote that things were not going so well and requested that parts be sent overnight to Bermuda.

“This is not what he’s telling everyone,” Seguin said.

In a last-ditch effort, old bilge pumps were hauled out of a forward hold and dragged back to the engine room. The crew spent two hours hooking one pump to the bilge manifold system. It was time wasted. The pump never worked, Seguin said.

Bounty
did dock in Bermuda and Seguin and Castells informed Walbridge they were leaving. The skipper was pleasant when he accepted their resignations. Ashore, the friends paid for lodging and airfare home. They were told on the dock that when people applied for their berths on
Bounty
, they were told that the two friends had left because they were seasick.

CHAPTER SIX
BECOMING ROBIN WALBRIDGE

December 1951. A Volkswagen Bug, one of the first imported, was headed from northern Vermont to a Boston suburb, a family Christmas trip. In the backseat were a six-year-old girl and her brother, two months past his second birthday. The boy was silent. So far in his short life, he hadn’t spoken a word. His sister thought he was difficult to fathom. His parents were getting worried about the child’s learning ability.

As the Volkswagen slowly negotiated the winding country roads on the way to the grandparents’ home, the girl was mulling over a quandary. The family was spending hours—long, boring hours—to travel from Montpelier to Quincy, Massachusetts. If she compared the distance they had to cover to, say, the entire world, it was not that far. How, then, was it possible that in one short night—Christmas Eve—Santa Claus visited the home of every child in the world? She struggled with her puzzle until she couldn’t bear it. Then she asked Dad, who was driving. Dad was honest with his children.

BOOK: Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy
13.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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