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Tall Ship Bounty Visits the Caribbean – No Mutiny Reported

The film star Bounty on a visit to St. Thomas  Photo: Dean Barnes
The film star Bounty on a visit to St. Thomas Photo: Dean Barnes

A replica of one of the most famous sailing ships in history anchored in Charlotte Amalie harbor in December. Fresh from a European tour, the tall ship Bounty wasn’t in search of breadfruit, but instead a few days in drydock en route to its winter home between Piers 3 and 4 in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, where it is open for public tours.

Best known for the famous mutiny that took place in 1789 in Tahiti against the infamous Captain Bligh, this replica of HMS Bounty was built for the 1962 movie, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ starring Marlon Brando.

The 180ft vessel’s past and present ownership is an interesting one. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios commissioned the ship to be built in 1960. It was the first ship to ever be built from the hull up for a movie. This construction took place at the Smith & Rhuland Shipyard in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. She was christened August 28th 1961.

At the time, the tall ship Bounty cost $750,000 to construct. Plans from the original Bounty, which began her career as the collier Bethia, built in 1784 at the Blydes shipyard in Hull, England, were used. However, the present ship was lengthened by 30ft to accommodate the film crews.

“During production of the movie,” says Tracie Simonin, director of the HMS Bounty Organization, LLC, based in New York, “MGM wanted to burn the ship at the end, as the original Bounty‘s fate. Marlon Brando stepped in and would not allow that to happen. He threatened to walk off the set and they could not finish the film without him.”

The Bounty subsequently went on a worldwide tour after the movie’s release. Years later, when Ted Turner of Turner Productions acquired MGM’s library, he found himself the new owner of a ship. He used it in a few movies such as the pirate-comedy, ‘Yellowbeard’, and ‘Treasure Island’ with Charlton Heston. Once Turner no longer wished to own the ship he donated it to the city of Fall River, Massachusetts, where they used it as a dockside attraction and sail training vessel. When the city could no longer afford to maintain the ship, it was put up for sale.

“This is where we came in,” says Simonin. “In 2001, a private business man from Long Island, New York, purchased the Bounty from The Fall River Chamber of Commerce. The ship was not in great shape and starting to sink at the dock. The first thing the HMS Bounty Organization did was to restore the ship from the waterline down to make it seaworthy again. This was the first phase of the restoration and over a million dollars went into the project. We have since completed two additional phases of restoration to bring the ship back to her original glory. The restorations were spread over a few years.”

Since then the ship has be used in the second and third of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ and ‘At World’s End’ starring Johnny Depp; the Sponge Bob Square Pants movie; Disney’s ‘Oceans’, and countless documentaries and commercials. In fact, Bounty is considered to be one of the most photographed ships today.

This past season brought the Bounty to Europe where she visited the UK, Poland, Germany, Sweden and Norway. Upon its return, the Bounty went into the Subbase Drydock in St. Thomas for minor maintenance and a new coat of paint. By mid-December, the ship was docked in Old San Juan.

“We maintain a crew of 18 to 22 people during a sailing season,” says Simonin. “They range in experience from new sailors to seasoned ones. Our Captain has been with the ship for over 15 years. It is a place he considers home!”

Simonin adds, “We pride ourselves on sailing the ship in the way it was intended still using the skills that were taught in 1789.  Although we do have modern conveniences onboard, it is our intent to sail the ship as much as possible.”

Some of these modern conveniences include a GPS, electricity and modern head in place of the sextant, candles and chamber pots and head rail on the 18th century Bounty.

Next up, the Bounty will set sail on its 2012 East Coast tour. She’ll visit the ports of St. Augustine, Florida, in April; Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington and Greenport in May; Portsmouth and Philadelphia in June and finally Newport, Newburyport and Halifax in July.

For more information, visit: www.tallshipbounty.org

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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