In October 2012, out of New London, Conn., bound for St. Petersburg, Fla., a single tall ship sailed into the path of “the largest storm in geographic spread ever forecast.”
“Well…it looks like a big pirate ship in the middle of a hurricane.” The Coast Guard pilot looking down on a churning sea and the embattled Bounty could be forgiven for thinking the scene something out of a movie set. After all, the ship sinking 90 miles off Cape Hatteras was an expanded replica of the famous three-master constructed for Mutiny on the Bounty, and it had been featured more recently in two of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Tougias (A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival and an Incredible Rescue, 2013, etc.) and Campbell (Eight Survived: The Harrowing Story of the USS Flier and the Only Downed World War II Submariners to Survive and Evade Capture, 2010, etc.) review the ship’s 50-year history, sketch the backgrounds of the sailors aboard and offer an excruciating moment-by-moment look of the four-day voyage that killed one crew member and the captain. Relying primarily on sworn testimony from the Coast Guard’s formal investigation, the authors identify a number of factors that contributed to the disaster: a rotting hull, seams improperly caulked, inadequate bilge pumps, a largely inexperienced crew and the lack of any professional weather router. Culpability, however, rested finally with Capt. Robin Walbridge and his reckless decision to set sail: “The boat’s safer being out at sea than being buckled up at a dock somewhere.” Notwithstanding this huge miscalculation, the authors offer a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the captain, crediting his compassionate manner and the respect and loyalty he inspired. Finally, they devote a thrilling portion of their narrative to the courageous Coast Guard rescue and the almost incredible efforts of the pilots, hoist crews and swimmers who headed straight into Hurricane Sandy.
A taut recounting of a needless maritime tragedy.