SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

February 12, 2014

Locals recall portents of Bounty's tragic sinking

NEWBURYPORT — It was a pleasant July weekend in 2012 when the HMS Bounty pulled into Newburyport Harbor. Thousands thronged its deck, eager to see what life was like aboard the handsome tall ship.

It was a landmark event for Newburyport, a shipbuilding city that had made its fame and fortune from ships similar to the Bounty. City leaders were enthusiastic about the excitement the replica 18th-century ship had generated. They talked about the possibility of bringing the Bounty and other sailing ships to the waterfront on a regular basis.

And for some, that made the shock of what was to come that much worse.

Newburyport would be one of the final ports of call for the 52-year-old ship.

Three months after it left Newburyport, it sank 123 miles off Cape Hatteras, N.C., during Hurricane Sandy. Three crew members were badly injured, one crew member drowned, and its captain was lost at sea.

On Monday, the National Transportation Safety Board released its official report on the incident, citing Capt. Robin Walbridge, a stubborn and highly experienced seaman who often said he feared no storm, as largely to blame for the sinking. It also blamed poor maintenance, an inexperienced crew and a compromised ship.

Newburyporters who went aboard the ship during its stay there witnessed some of the issues that the NTSB discussed in its report. Some also interacted with the captain. They shared their impressions with The Daily News.

The NTSB conclusions, released Monday, cited Walbridge, 63, a Vermont native with a lifetime of sailing experience, for his “reckless decision to sail the vessel into the well-forecasted path of Hurricane Sandy.”

The report found that Walbridge, who had bragged to a Maine TV station two months earlier that he “chased hurricanes,” exposed the leaky, poorly maintained craft — a replica of an 18th century British Admiralty sailing ship — to deadly risks by ignoring pleas not to sail into the path of the approaching storm. He “subjected the aging vessel and the inexperienced crew to conditions from which the vessel could not recover,” investigators concluded.

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