The Bounty’s skipper, Robin Walbridge, decided to sail across the path of Hurricane Sandy more than a month after a shipwright, citing rot discovered in her frames and planking, questioned the 50-year-old tall ship’s seaworthiness and urged him at a minimum to avoid sailing in rough seas.
Walbridge last September rejected a proposal to remove the planking to determine the extent of the rot, putting that work off for a year, according to Todd Kosakowski of Boothbay Harbor (Maine) Shipyard. Bounty sank Oct. 29 in Hurricane Sandy 90 miles off Cape Hatteras, N.C., taking the lives of Walbridge and crewmember Claudene Christian.
Kosakowski, who was project manager overseeing repairs on the Bounty that ran from September to October, told a Coast Guard hearing officer in Portsmouth, Va., on Wednesday that his recommendation “was shot down immediately” by Walbridge. “[Determining the extent of the rot] would have involved a significant amount of time.”
Kosakowski’s sworn testimony came on the second day of the planned eight-day hearing, part of the Coast Guard’s investigation into the cause of the loss of Bounty, built for the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty,” starring Marlon Brando.
Kosakowski testified that sometime after Walbridge rejected his advice, the skipper told him that the Bounty’s owner, Long Island, N.Y., businessman Robert Hansen, was considering suing Boothbay Harbor Shipyard, which had replaced much of the ship’s topsides in a major 2006-07 refit.
Then, two hours later, Walbridge “said he told Bob Hansen that he should get rid of the boat as soon as possible,” Kosakowski testified.
Hansen, exerting his Fifth Amendment rights, has refused to testify at the hearing.
Click play for a report on Day 2 of the hearings.
In earlier testimony Wednesday, Bert Rogers, executive director of Tall Ships America, praised HMS Bounty Organization LLC, the ship’s official owner, for its investment in the vessel. “The opinion in the [tall ship] community was that she was making great progress with an owner who invested to bring her up to standards,” Rogers said.
In a later interview, Rogers wouldn’t second-guess Walbridge, although he said that had he been in Walbridge’s position he would not have sailed from New London, Conn., on Oct. 25 because “it was too dangerous.”
“The storm was big, really big, and the concept of getting out and around it was hard to figure out,” Rogers said.
Click play for a report on Day 1 of the hearings.
Editor’s note: Douglas A. Campbell, a former Soundings senior writer, is in Portsmouth covering the Bounty proceedings for a book he is writing with Michael Tougias that will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2014.