Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sinking of HMS Bounty a mysterious tragedy

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What an unbelievable piece of news Nova Scotians woke up to on Monday. A legendary vessel had sunk in a legendary storm near a legendary sandbar that is synonymous with shipwrecks. One crew member was lost and the captain is missing.

Shockingly, this was not a bad dream, nor the grand finale of a movie script -- the sort of silver-screen scene for which HMS Bounty was crafted a half-century ago -- but a real-life drama that is still unfolding on the high seas off North Carolina.

Mercifully, the U.S. Coast Guard staved off complete catastrophe by snatching 14 of 16 crew members from the gaping maw of hurricane Sandy after they were forced to abandon ship. A heroic search mission is on for longtime Capt. Robin Walbridge. But deckhand Claudene Christian, a descendant of the man who launched the notorious mutiny on the original Bounty in 1798, was confirmed dead after coast guard found her in an unconscious state and were unable to revive her.

Sadly, the Bounty's modern-era successor has fallen prey to treacherous waters. Just like Sable Island, which has seen far too many sea-faring disasters in its time, Cape Hatteras has acquired the infamous moniker "graveyard of the Atlantic" and has now claimed a ship near and dear to Nova Scotians' hearts. HMS Bounty and the Bluenose II are the most famous replicas ever built in Lunenburg.

News of the lost and missing crew members and of the second Bounty's demise hit home like a family tragedy back in the land of her birth. Over the years, the crew were like frequent house guests here during tall ships festivals, and the vessel was a perennial favourite of shutterbugs during parades of sail.

With each passing year, the connections got deeper and the memories sweeter. Just three months ago, some of the original builders of the ship -- now senior citizens -- held a reunion aboard the vessel they fashioned for the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty. Little did they realize it would be a farewell tour.

In the swells of this sad loss, many of us are left searching for answers. The towering question on everyone's mind is why the Bounty found itself at sea at all -- given the fact hurricane Sandy came with plenty of warning.

Evidently, Capt. Walbridge thought the ship could skirt the storm on its way to Florida -- a risk which fellow tall ship captain Dan Moreland of the Picton Castle said he could not fathom. Nor can anyone else.

But such questions can wait. There will be plenty of time to elucidate this mystery. Let us take the time to process this tragedy first.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 31, 2012 A9

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