Close Ties Between Coast Guard, HMS Bounty

The tall ship HMS Bounty sails on Lake Erie off Cleveland.

At festivals that draw tall ships, the sailors get together to swap sea stories and discuss best practices.

They share a love of adventure on the high seas and many become fast friends. That's how Cmdr. Michael Turdo, executive officer on the U.S. Coast Guard barque Eagle, got to know John Svendsen, chief mate on the HMS Bounty. The Bounty sank Monday off the coast of North Carolina during Hurricane Sandy.

"Obviously I was shocked, worried and concerned," Turdo said Tuesday. "As fellow members of the tall ships community, any ship in trouble at sea resonates with us and our thoughts are with that crew and their families. It's especially surreal when you have a personal relationship with the crew."

Of the 16 people aboard, the Coast Guard rescued 14, including Svendsen, and is still searching for the captain, Robin Walbridge. Crew member Claudene Christian was unresponsive when she was pulled from the water and she was later pronounced dead.

While the seas were still about 15-feet Tuesday, water temperatures were a tolerable 77 degrees.

"There's a lot of factors that go into survivability. Right now we're going to continue to search. Right now we're hopeful," Coast Guard Capt. Joe Kelly said.

A decision on how much longer to look will come later Tuesday.

Svendsen sailed on the Eagle in September and he met Turdo for lunch on Wednesday when the Bounty was in New London to host submariners from the USS Mississippi for a day sail Thursday. Bounty owner Robert Hansen invited the crew after he toured the Naval Submarine Base in Groton last year.

The Bounty was recently in a dry dock in Boothbay Harbor Shipyard and stopped in Connecticut en route to St. Petersburg, Fla., Turdo said. He said the crew was very excited about the upcoming season and the work that been completed in Maine.

"They were looking forward to a good year," he said.

After leaving New London Thursday night, the Bounty was south of Hatteras, N.C. on Monday when it lost power and began taking on water. The ship was battered by 40 mile-per-hour winds and 18-foot waves.

Turdo spoke with Svendsen on the phone Monday night. Svendsen was at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C.

"He sounded pretty shaken up," he said. "It was a brief conversation to let him know the entire crew of Eagle was thinking about the entire crew of Bounty and our thoughts and prayers are with them."

Turdo said they did not discuss how the events unfolded. Some have questioned why the Bounty would be at sea during a hurricane.

Capt. Eric C. Jones, who served as commanding officer of the Eagle until July, said Walbridge is a "very good friend" and one of the most experienced, skilled captains he knows. Deciding whether to keep a ship in port during a storm or head out to sea, he said, is "always a tough, tough call."

"I would never try to second guess the captain. It's just as easy to lose anchor and get thrown up on shore and lose the ship," said Jones, who is now the assistant superintendent at the Coast Guard Academy.

Jones said the ship must have been in "dire straights" after it lost power because a ship needs a lot of people on board to operate the manual pumps. He called the sinking "heartbreaking."

Bert Rogers, executive director of Tall Ships America, said he expects an inquiry into why the Bounty stayed at sea in case anything can be learned.

"I know Capt. Walbridge as a sound-thinking, reliable, seasoned mariner and I do not imagine he would knowingly, willingly take reckless risks," said Rogers, adding later that he could not speculate on what the right decision was "from the safety of my armchair."

"We will miss Bounty," Rogers said.

Walbridge has been on the Bounty since 1995. There are roughly 200 tall ships in North America.

"This is a loss to the entire community," said Capt. Raymond "Wes" Pulver, Eagle's current commanding officer, who offered his condolences. He praised the Coast Guardsmen involved in the rescue for their tremendous efforts during an "incredible storm."

The two ships visited many of the same ports during this summer's Operation Sail events and tall ships festivals. The Eagle was at the submarine base for maintenance and stayed there during the storm. It was not damaged.

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