North Carolina is not only known for her diversity, but also for her weather, and it’s a mixed bag for sure. Not only do we have the snow, sleet, and often blistering days of heat that other states endure, we are also prone to tornados, flooding, and our severe drought conditions are becoming all too common. If there is one weather word that gets the attention of each and every North Carolinian, though, it is the word “hurricane”. Our state has endured some doozies, and there is always a lifting of the head when one threatens, as our coast is particularly vulnerable, especially the treasure of our fragile banks.
Do you remember where you were when President Kennedy was shot? When the Beatles first played on the Ed Sullivan Show? How about the Twin Towers? We all have landmark memories, and the sinking of the HMS Bounty in Hatteras Canyon, aproximately 90 miles SE of our banks, is one memory that will remain permanently with us, as we all stayed glued to our respective TVS, radios, and internet while every attempt was made to save her crew.
Many know of the HMS Bounty for her role in the Marlon Brando movie, “Mutiny on the Bounty”, which she was specifically built for in 1960. She also appeared in the 1990 version of “Treasure Island”. However, the HMS Bounty was probably best known in more recent years for her appearance in two of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. When this tall ship sailed out of New London, Connecticutt bound for St. Petersburg, Florida, everyone believed that she was enbarking on a new endeavor. She had a new purpose in life: to become part of a program to increase awareness of Downs Syndrone, under the umbrella of the Ashely DeRamus Organization.
Hurricane Sandy was givng North Carolina a right good pounding on October 28, 2012, although she had not yet reached her full potential. Winds were up to 70 mph, and waves were towering around 20 feet. The HMS Bounty was known to have some issues, but she had recently completed a refit in the shipyards She was sailing under Captain Robin Wahlberg, with a crew of fourteen on board. Around 9 o’clock that evening, Tracie Simonin, director of the HMS Bounty Organization, forwarded a distress email to the North Carolina Sector Field Office of the Coast Gaurd, located in Wilmington. The Bounty was losing her power, and was taking on water quickly, and things continued to deteriorate from this point on..already the onboard electronics were failing, and the Bounty was reduced to using a hand radio shortly after the orignal email was sent. All sails had been furled, with the exception of the forecourse, a sail necessary for a tall ship to hold its position.
The actual sinking of the HMS Bounty is far too complicated for me to list all details here, but trust me when I say this: after reading several different reports and checking many different stories of this tragedy, it is almost as if the Bounty was caught in a series of mishaps and events that no one could possibly have foreseen. The crew was dealing with back to back emergencies: just a few of which were a hurricane which had not made an expected turn for land, one onboard failure after another of critical equipment for handling a tall ship, the loss of fuel for the port engine and generator,due to the breakage of a slender but critical “sight tube”, and no sooner did the crew deal with one emergency than another arose. All of this while seas continued to rock the boat, causing several injuries, including a back injury to Captain Wahlberg. At some point, the crucial forecourse sail was destroyed, and the crew attempted to raise the staysail, which hopefully would help counterbalance the ship with the violently shifting seas.
By nightime on October 28, a final failure of the starboard generator put the ship into greater peril, as a wave caused the ship to list and submerge the generator. At this point, according to reports, the only remaining running generator for the ship was the port generator, and that was not to last long, as this generator was soon also submerged, and the water continued to swamp the boat. It was at this time that Captain Wahlberg sent the distress email, using the last vestiges of remaining electricity. He also, at this point, deployed the first of the emergency position beacons.
The crew began preparing for a dawn transfer to the life rafts, with Captain Wahlberg checking for safety features and this is actually the last time that anyone remembers seeing Captain Wahlberg. A 4:45 AM emergency radio call reported that the Bounty was capsizing, and fourteen of the crew members went over the side, although only thirteen made it to the life rafts. Claudene Christian, a volunteer, was not found until much later that day, unresponsive, and only a mile from the orignal site..With constant CPR for another hour and a half, she was transported to Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, where she was pronounced dead. Captain Wahlberg was never seen again.
In an odd twist of fate, it is reported that Ms Christian was the great-great-great-great-great granddaughter of the ship master of the original (not the movie ship) HMS Bounty, Fletcher Christian.
The heartwrenching pictures as this beautiful tall ship disappeared beneath the waves of the Atlantic are mental pictures not easily forgotten, but thankfully, maybe we can ease some of the horror by enjoying the the beauty of this ship thru Keith Green’s photos. Keith fortunately agreed to let us use two of his photos to commemorate the Bounty, and we cannot thank him enough. The actual picture of the sinking of the Bounty is a published photo from CNN.
Hurricane Sandy did an incredible amount of damage to the United States..why then, did the Bounty catch our hearts and souls? Maybe because North Carolina is a state appreciative of the perserverance and dedication necessary to maintain and sail a tall ship. We have a strong, thriving background in dealing with the sea, from our southern shores of Wilmington, Southport, and others, heading north up our coast thru the Morehead City area, on to our banks, and our lone island that has weathered so many storms, Ocracoke. There is one trait that all mariners share, and we have in abundance here in North Carolina..a love for the sea, and the tenacity to hold onto a lifestyle that has stood us well over the years. If there is one thing that NC will remember from 2012, it is the passage of the Bounty from our visible sight to the ocean floor.