Coast Guard called off search for Capt. Robin Walbridge of the HMS Bounty
After four days of around-the-clock efforts involving a cutter a buoy tender and numerous aircraft, the U.S. Coast Guard called off its search for Capt. Robin Walbridge of the replica tall ship HMS Bounty on Nov. 1.
The search covered approximately 12,000 overlapping square nautical miles of the Atlantic.
Rear Adm. Steven Ratti, the Coast Guard 5th District commander, ordered a formal investigation on Nov. 2 to determine the cause of the sinking of the three-masted sailing ship, HMS Bounty.
With a crew of 11 men and five women ranging in age from 20 to 66, the HMS Bounty left Connecticut on Oct. 25 in an attempt to circle around super storm Sandy. Four days later, with the ship taking on water and pumps disabled, the captain and radio operator attempted to call for help using various methods including VHF radio, a satellite phone and the Maritime Mobile Net before successfully sending a mayday e-mail to the Coast Guard via Winlink global radio e-mail system. An hour later, a C-130 plane and helicopter were circling overhead.
As the HMS Bounty sank beneath 18-foot waves some 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C., Walbridge ordered his crew to don survival suits and abandon ship. Fourteen of the crew boarded two life rafts. Walbridge and another crewmember were swept away by a wave.
The survivors spent four hours in the rafts before rescue swimmers from Coast Guard Station Elizabeth City N.C. began hoisting them aboard rescue helicopters.
The Coast Guard later located crewmember Claudene Christian, 42, but she was pronounced dead after being flown to a hospital. She was a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian, the mate who led the mutineers aboard the original HMS Bounty in 1789.
Shipmates speculated that Walbridge, 63, was attempting to help Christian as they were swept away. He had been captain of the HMS Bounty for 17 years through several owners.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Walbridge and Christian families,” said Capt. Doug Cameron, the chief of incident response for the Coast Guard 5th District. “Suspending a search and rescue case is one of the hardest decisions we have to make.”
Built in Nova Scotia in 1960, the HMS Bounty as a movie prop was slated to be burned at the conclusion of the 1962 film, “Mutiny on the Bounty,” but star Marlon Brando declared he wouldn’t finish the movie if they burned the ship. Instead, the prop was preserved and sailed in an MGM Studios promotional tour before retiring to a berth in St. Petersburg, Fla.
In 1986, Ted Turner bought the MGM film library for his cable network and the ship was part of the package. He used it to promote his projects and it appeared in a 1989 version of “Treasure Island” staring Charleton Heston before being donated to an educational foundation in 1993.
In 2001, new owners towed the vessel to Boothbay Harbor, Maine, for a long overdue restoration. The HMS Bounty Organization LLC was dedicated to keeping the ship sailing as a vehicle for teaching the arts of square-rigged sailing and seamanship. To help pay the bills for keeping the ship afloat, Bounty also appeared in several more films, including the last two installments of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. It had just completed a new round of restoration work earlier this year.
Walbridge was hired as captain of the ship in 1995. Before that, his career included jobs as mate and captain aboard vessels including Governor Stone, Bill of Rights, Heritage of Miami and HMS Rose.
The highlight of the captain’s career was his two years and 15 voyages spent training the crew of the U.S.S. Constitution. Walbridge was honored by being asked to take the helm of “Old Ironsides” as the guest captain/advisor for her first sail in 116 years.
Under Capt. Walbridge, the Bounty sailed the globe, crossing the Atlantic twice, including visits to ports in Spain, Scotland, Norway and Canada.
Walbridge, is survived by his wife Claudia McCann, step-daughter Shelly McCann, and granddaughter Tara McCann; his step-mother, Alice Walbridge; his sister, Lucille Walbridge Jansen; step-brother, Steve Patterson; and a sister, Delia Walbridge-Gosik.
His family held a private memorial service.
Numerous former shipmates and friends have paid tribute to Walbridge with photos and remembrances on the HMS Bounty facebook page.
Cmdr. Kevin M. Carroll, chief of the Coast Guard 5th District Marine Inspections and Investigations Branch, will lead the formal Coast Guard investigation with assistance from officers in Coast Guard Sector North Carolina in Wilmington, N.C. They will look into:
- The cause of the accident;
- Whether there is evidence that any failure of material or equipment was involved or contributed to the casualty;
- Whether there is evidence that any act of misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence, or willful violation of the law on the part of any licensed or certificated person contributed to the casualty;
- Whether there is evidence that any Coast Guard or other government agency personnel caused or contributed to the casualty; and
- Whether the accident should be further investigated by a Marine Board of Investigation.
Coast Guard investigations of marine casualties and accidents are for the purpose of taking appropriate measures for promoting safety of life and property and are not intended to fix civil or criminal responsibility. Such investigations often take several months to complete.