Image: The HMS Bounty is shown submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, North Carolina.
Handout  /  Reuters
The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, is shown submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles (145 km) southeast of Hatteras, N.C. in this U.S. Coast Guard handout picture taken Monday.
By Patrik Jonsson Staff writer
Christian Science Monitor
updated 11/2/2012 9:04:59 PM ET 2012-11-03T01:04:59

While questions will remain about Bounty Capt. Robin Walbridge’s decision to brave Cape Hatteras, N.C., during a hurricane, his ultimate legacy, his family says, will be one that goes back to the origins of global seafaring: his final act of putting his crew and ship above himself.

After 90 hours of searching some 12,000 square miles of open ocean, the US Coast Guard on Friday suspended the search for Mr. Walbridge, who had captained the 180-foot three-master for 17 years. The boat was a near-exact replica of the 18th-century “square rigger” that became the scene of a mutiny that inspired half a dozen Hollywood movies.

In the end, the Coast Guard concluded that the Bounty’s loss to Hurricane Sandy took two lives. Claudene Christian, who joined the Bounty in May and claimed an ancestral link to Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian, died after being pulled out of the waters on Monday.

In pictures - Sandy: Chronicle of an unrelenting storm

But as the Coast Guard made its condolences and began an investigation into the sinking, his family hailed Walbridge for being the consummate captain in his efforts to make sure that the rest of the crew survived after it became clear that the Bounty was going to sink.

Image: Handout of Walbridge, the missing captain of the replica tall ship HMS Bounty which sank in high seas off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
Reuters/Walbridge Family/Handout
Robin Walbridge, the missing captain of the replica tall ship HMS Bounty which sank in high seas off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina October 29, 2012 during Hurricane Sandy is shown in this handout photo courtesy of the Walbridge family and supplied to Reuters November 2, 2012. The U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday suspended a four-day, round-the-clock search for Walbridge after 14 crew members were rescued from life rafts by Coast Guard helicopters on Monday, but Walbridge and another crew member, Claudene Christian, were washed overboard before they could make it to the rafts.

"He always looked after his crew first," his sister, Lucille Jansen, told Reuters. "That's the last memory we'll have of him because he did exactly what a captain should do. He made sure the crew was safe."

Born in Vermont, Walbridge grew up in Florida, where he turned a teenage love of sailing into a career, first as a houseboat mechanic on the Suwanee River, then captaining the Governor Stone, Vision Quest and Bill of Rights as he earned his 50-, 100- and 500-ton captain’s licenses.

His work on tall ships began on the Tall Ship "HMS" Rose, and he moved on to the Bounty in 1995. According to his biography, the Bounty would have sunk at the docks in Fall River, Mass., without Walbridge’s efforts to raise renovation funds. He also served as guest captain on the USS Constitution when it made its inaugural sail in 1997, after the ship had sat dockside for 116 years.

Walbridge’s hobbies included building experimental kayaks, flying, photography and chess. The Bounty, built in 1960, was “his passion,” his wife, Claudia McCann, told the Associated Press.

The Coast Guard’s investigation will try to find the cause of the tragedy, as well as whether any mechanical problems or crew misconduct led to the Bounty’s end.

The 14 surviving crew members have collectively decided to not discuss the Bounty’s demise with the media, but fellow tall ship captains and maritime experts have questioned Walbridge’s decision to set sail for Florida last week as Hurricane Sandy took aim at the US mainland.

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“The thing that’s striking is why Walbridge put himself in that position,” Sal Mercogliano, a maritime history professor at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., told the Monitor this week. “It’s hard for a lot of people to fathom.”

Walbridge, who was known to claim that a ship is safer at sea than in port during a storm, intended to skirt around the hurricane. But late Sunday, the ship apparently lost power and began taking on water as it tried to make its way around Cape Hatteras. On Monday, the Coast Guard undertook a daring rescue operation that plucked the Bounty's survivors out of 20-foot waves.

This article, "Coast Guard concludes HMS Bounty captain went down with ship," first appeared on CSMonitor.com.

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© 2012 Christian Science Monitor

Video: Coast Guard rescues ship in distress

  1. Closed captioning of: Coast Guard rescues ship in distress

    >>> as we take a look at the radar, it has been raining in certain places on the east coast for days. and this just begins phase two of the osteoporosis, we saw the scene in point pleasant beach, new jersey, earlier tonight. it is still raining in north carolina , where this all started up well over 24 hours ago. we should add they don't scare easily along the outer banks of north carolina . lester holt has been covering the southern end of hurricane sandy. he is in elizabeth city tonight. lester, good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, good evening, a dramatic rescue at sea today, 16 crew members on board a 180-foot tall ship had to go over board an abandoned ship when they took on water. two people were missing, late word tonight, one of the people has been found, a woman found unresponsive and flown later to new york city . the ship was on its way to connecticut to florida, trying to steer around the storm when it ran into trouble.

    >> survivors coming out of the raft.

    >> reporter: the dramatic video shows the members of the crew jumping into the raft of a coast guard rescue swimmer . the distress call came in last night, the ship had lost power and was taking on water, some two feet an hour. the bounty and her crew were 90 miles off cape hatteras . and then earlier this morning, the 16-member crew were given the order to put on their survival suits and abandon ship . spotted first by a coast guard c-130, two choppers were launched into the teeth of the winds and low visibility.

    >> there was a lot of winds, fortunately going out there, there was a tail wind , so we got out there pretty quick, even though it was at 180 wind.

    >> reporter: one was found in the water, the other in a life raft.

    >> it was like being in a washing machine. you have the waves kind of hitting at you from every single direction.

    >> reporter: one by one, the bounty's crew were hoisted up into the helicopters. one of the crew members were later hospitalized with a broken arm. the bounty is a replica famous for its mutiny, and was used in the brandon movie. recently, it was used in the pirates of the caribbean "dead man's chest," but nothing could match this real life drama.

    >> you could easily see how violent it is, if you don't prepare yourself properly and handle it the way you should, then it could come back to have very drastic consequences.

    >> reporter: and as we come back live, the sound here behind me is the helicopter just coming back with that other victim that they found floating in the water again, her condition, unresponsive, taken to a hospital. they're continuing to search, brian, for the other missing crew member.

    >> i'm no expert, but i'm guessing a tall ship had no business in the waters with the approaching storm. lester holt , with the dramatic rectory out of carolina, lester, thank

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