, Salem, MA


June 13, 2014

Column: Group dynamics and loyalty lead to disaster

Captain Robin Walbridge assembled his crew of 15 sailors on the deck of the Bounty — a tall ship built for the 1962 movie “Mutiny on the Bounty” with Marlon Brando. It was Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, and Walbridge knew the crew was hearing reports of an approaching hurricane named Sandy. He called the crew together for two reasons: to tell them he still planned to set sail from New London, Conn., to St. Petersburg, Fla., but that they were under no obligation to join him.

He explained to his crew that “a ship is always safer at sea than at port,” and that he intended to sail “around the hurricane.” The captain made it clear that anyone who did not want to come on the voyage could leave the ship — there would be no hard feelings. Not a single sailor took the captain up on his offer.

Four days into the voyage, Superstorm Sandy made an almost direct hit on Bounty. The vessel’s failing pumps could not keep up with the incoming water. The ship began to lose power as it was beaten and rocked by hurricane winds that spanned 800 miles. A few hours later, in the dark of night, the ship suddenly overturned 90 miles off the North Carolina coast, sending the crew tumbling into an ocean filled with crushing 30-foot waves. The Coast Guard then launched one of most complex and massive rescues in its history.


Robin Walbridge’s disastrous decision to leave port is the way most people will remember him. But we have all made mistakes, and it seems unfair that over a lifetime of difficult choices a person gets labeled for their last one. Coast Guard Captain Eric Jones explained it this way: “One bad decision does not undo all the positive influence Robin Walbridge had on sailors.” I think he’s right, and almost every crew member who survived Sandy agrees — they almost all spoke highly of Robin’s leadership and training skills.

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