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“I see a giant pirate ship in the middle of a hurricane.”
February 11, 2013 8:44 PM   Subscribe

Remember that replica of HMS Bounty that went down in the middle of Hurricane Sandy? If you've ever asked yourself why a replica wooden sailing ship was in the middle of a hurricane, Outside has your answer.
posted by Ghostride The Whip (56 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have been wanting to know the full story. Thanks for this.

As an aside, why does it seem that all the best stories from Outside are harrowing?
posted by ocherdraco at 8:46 PM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would watch this film!
posted by ninjew at 8:53 PM on February 11, 2013


I don't know, but you're right, I've read several excellent-but-harrowing stories on the blue alone from them in the past couple years.

Perhaps it's because the magazine's full title is Outside: It's Scary And You Will Probably Die.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:55 PM on February 11, 2013 [22 favorites]


or, Mother Nature's A Bitch
posted by mannequito at 8:57 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you've ever asked yourself why a replica wooden sailing ship was in the middle of a hurricane, Outside has your answer.

Actually, while it does have quite a few answers, it doesn't really have that particular answer.
posted by Behemoth at 9:08 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


They that go down to the sea in ships... etc.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:14 PM on February 11, 2013


Didn't we already cover the reasons in one of the Sandy threads? The Bounty was scheduled to go somewhere, and the captain, worried about missing the appointment as well as the ship being damaged if it sat in whatever port it was in, gambled everything that he could haul ass down the coast, beat the storm, and make the appointment? And paid for his hubris with his life?
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:55 PM on February 11, 2013


(and the lives of everyone else on board, and put all those rescue crews at risk, etc)
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:57 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Article jibes well with what I've heard from an acquaintance who is a former tall-ship captain. The boat was built as a movie prop.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:40 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this, it's good to get more of the details of what happened.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:49 PM on February 11, 2013


As an aside, why does it seem that all the best stories from Outside are harrowing?

Call it a beat.
posted by dhartung at 10:54 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


“I see a giant pirate ship in the middle of a hurricane.”

Scaramouche, Scaramouche! Will you do the fandango?
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:33 PM on February 11, 2013 [22 favorites]


That Outside link nearly freezes my iPhone 4.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:51 PM on February 11, 2013


As an aside, why does it seem that all the best stories from Outside are harrowing?

Because all the rest of the articles are about slightly different jackets?
posted by fshgrl at 12:09 AM on February 12, 2013 [21 favorites]


From the Outside article: That plan, as Walbridge explained it, was to sail due east, wait for Sandy to turn toward land, and then push the vessel into the storm’s southeast quadrant, where hurricane winds are usually weakest. Why he so quickly abandoned that idea once at sea remains a mystery.

To me that seems the most important question. Sailing an fragile old ship anywhere near a hurricane clearly identifies somebody as a fool - but was he a fool with a coherent plan for minimising the risks of this manoeuvre - or simply one with a death wish?
posted by rongorongo at 12:35 AM on February 12, 2013


And in the ship’s last act, an unlikely new character had emerged: a young woman with Down syndrome who, perhaps inconceivably, held the key to the Bounty’s future.

Oh, come ON!

Boats make it through hurricanes, but preparation and proper maintenance /having a sound boat/ are paramount. The detail that sank the ship, the sight glass (glass tube that tells you how much fuel is in the tank, no power in the port generator and engine, excessive strain on starboard motor, fuel filter clogging, loss of all power) breaking. That's heartbreaking. If x-number of things had been done differently maybe ...

And then my last thought was, through all the refits I'm surprised they never thought about just giving her hull a fiberglass 'sheath'. This is not a crazy-strange thing to do and I'd be surprised if it wasn't cheaper than the tri-annual refits, pump wear and etc. It might in fact be more expensive, but I'd be surprised.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:42 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fascinating, but this:

Then the weather radar malfunctioned. McIntosh and his co-pilot, Mike Myers, were now flying using visual flight rules in zero-visibility conditions.

is wrong. They were still using instrument flight rules, they haven't lost neither the artificial horizon, nor the compass and direction indicators.
posted by hat_eater at 2:33 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very scary stuff.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:12 AM on February 12, 2013


'There was little McIntosh and Myers could do. The ship’s rigging, more than 100 feet in the air, threatened to ensnare the C-130.' Uh. Just four paragraphs before, '...Coast Guard officials hoped McIntosh could get close enough to establish communication and assess the situation.' And oh look! 'McIntosh made radio contact with John Svendsen, the Bounty’s first mate, who reassured him that the ship would make it until morning, when the crew planned to make an orderly descent into life rafts.' Seems like the air crew were doing EXACTLY what they were supposed to be doing. And ok, I don't know anything about the manoeuvreability of a C-130 or indeed any other kind of fixed-wing aircraft but, this rigging, that's more than 100 feet high - is it not going to be a long, long way below the safe operating height of a fixed-wing aircraft in shitty weather? Aah yes, they're flying at 500 feet. So ok, it's threatening a bit, but if they're going to get anywhere near that close I bet they'll be at least as concerned about the water.

Fearing the worst, he deployed one of the ship’s four emergency position-indicating radio beacons. Four? I strongly suspect they were required to carry one (that's the international requirement, I'm not familiar with any specific rules for US ships). EPIRBs cost about USD 1000. They are not the kind of thing that any shipping company, let alone one with no money, would carry that many spares of.

Svendsen bobbed alone in the waves, clutching a five-gallon tub Walbridge had jury-rigged into a kind of rescue beacon. ... I would really like some explanation of this, because, what?
posted by Lebannen at 4:47 AM on February 12, 2013


This particular Outside article only made me want to avoid ships when there is any bad weather predicted, which is a much smaller influence than it usually has on me.

Though as fascinating as the whole thing was, I don't think I was ever likely to want to go sailing in a hurricane, so it didn't have to terrify me about why that is a horrible bad idea that will end in painful injuries and probably death.
posted by jeather at 5:39 AM on February 12, 2013


Commercial ships steer away from Hurricanes and they are a hell of a lot more seaworthy than a quasi tall ship built primarily as a movie prop and run on a shoestring budget with very little regualatory supervision. The Captain, whatever his experiance was an egoistical chancer chasing a fantasy.
This is telling: You know me, I am not a mechanical person but the generators and engines on this ship are not the most reliable.
Not a well run vessel.
posted by adamvasco at 6:03 AM on February 12, 2013


Good Outside articles are harrowing because people like Robert Young Pelton and Krakauer write for them or use the magazine to tease their books.

Seems like the air crew were doing EXACTLY what they were supposed to be doing. And ok, I don't know anything about the manoeuvreability of a C-130 or indeed any other kind of fixed-wing aircraft but, this rigging, that's more than 100 feet high - is it not going to be a long, long way below the safe operating height of a fixed-wing aircraft in shitty weather? Aah yes, they're flying at 500 feet. So ok, it's threatening a bit, but if they're going to get anywhere near that close I bet they'll be at least as concerned about the water.

Well, just a few years ago some of the captains/divemasters I dive with on Kauai were involved in a joint diver rescue attempt that turned into a recovery, sadly. A C-130 was trying to coordinate with civilian surface boats, but due to positioning, the coastline, sight angles and maybe weather the dive boats were having trouble spotting the the C-130. So the pilot buzzed the boat at around 100-200ft and said on the radio, "see me now?"
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:10 AM on February 12, 2013


Commercial ships steer away from Hurricanes and they are a hell of a lot more seaworthy than a quasi tall ship built primarily as a movie prop and run on a shoestring budget with very little regualatory supervision.

Does anyone know how seaworthy newer cruise ships are? I have a hard time looking at those gigantic floating boxes without thinking that they'd be absolute death traps in anything other than calm seas.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:13 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


All cruise ships are built to very strict Class regulations.
One of the classification societies is Lloyds which with all the others is part of IACS.
Here is a pdf about classification societies.
Of course when the captain fucks up all bets are off.
posted by adamvasco at 6:36 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Outside has your answer

As long as your answer is "we dunno."
posted by yoink at 7:28 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem with cruise ships (and container freighters) is that they are built for the shallowest possible draft so as to be able to dock in shallow water ports. Tankers and bulk freighters tend to be built with as much ship below the water as above for stability, but the infamously wrecked Costa Concordia had decks over 100 feet above the water but only drew 26 feet. Such ships depend on width for stability, and if they take on even a small amount of water for any reason they roll very easily.
posted by localroger at 7:30 AM on February 12, 2013


All cruise ships are built to very strict Class regulations.

On the one hand, I understand that they're built with safety in mind and that there's an entire network of governments, insurers, and maritime organizations in place to make sure of it, but on the other, I can't look at those massive superstructures without thinking that something's extremely messed up with those ships.

but the infamously wrecked Costa Concordia had decks over 100 feet above the water but only drew 26 feet.

That's insane.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:36 AM on February 12, 2013


Outside Magazine just keeps getting better and better.... great read, thanks!
posted by ph00dz at 7:42 AM on February 12, 2013


From Bklyn asked about fiberglassing the hull. In the wooden boat community, there's a lot of debate over this, but the general consensus seems to be that for a planked hull it's the sort of thing you do when you want to squeeze a few more years out of the boat without doing proper maintenance, and scrap the boat after that time.

It's difficult to maintain a fiberglass hull except as a unit, and planks change size with humidity a lot (one friend with a Stevens 34' motor cruiser that will shortly grace the cover of Wooden Boat magazine describes borrowing several pumps when he puts the boat in the water, running them all full bore for a day or so, and then the boards swell up and he can run it off one pump that cycles on once a day or so). The planks and the fiberglass are liable to try to tear themselves apart, and if you then get water in the places where they're no longer adhered, the planks are liable to rot fairly quickly.

And, the argument goes, wood hulls fail in pieces, so you get warning and if your pumps are running and up to it you can keep the boat floating for quite a while, fiberglass fails catastrophically. I'm not sure how much opinion is behind that argument, but it's a widely held one.

Wood hulls are repairable, and, in the same vein as "that was George Washington's axe, but my great-grandad replaced the handle and my grandad replaced the head and..." can last indefinitely if they're well maintained.

(Sources: My wife and I built a small plywood sailboat this spring, and being seen in a wooden boat opens up all sorts of discussions with wooden boat owners of all sizes, online and in real life)
posted by straw at 7:47 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's interesting to contrast two infamously wrecked ships, the Costa Concordia and R.M.S. Titanic.

Ship:....Concordia...Titanic
Length......952 ft....882 ft
Draft........26 ft.....34 ft
Width.......116 ft.....92 ft
Depth*.......46 ft.....64 ft
Decks.........9 .......13
Tonnage..114000 ....46000

Depth is the height from the main deck to the bottom of the keel. Those numbers all look pretty similar until you get to the tonnage. Titanic was a much lighter ship, deeper drafted, not nearly so top-heavy, and more significantly ballasted by her boilers, engines, and fuel which were all toward the bottom of her deeper, narrower hull. Concordia was basically a barge getting maximum displacement out of its draft and overall dimensions.

Titanic only sank because its watertight bulkheads were open at the top, and with several segments breached at one end of the ship the bow went low enough for water to start pouring over them into the unbreached compartments. Titanic's damage was probably very similar to Concordia's, but it never rolled and only sank quickly once the keel was lifted high enough out of the water to over-stress her frame, breaking her in half.

Ships haven't been built that way for a long time because of what happened to the Titanic; cruise ships like the Concordia are built as a series of modules which are welded together in dry dock, and I'm very sure Concordia had fully sealed modular waterproof compartments. But all the damage was on one side and she rolled, a very rapid and dangerous failure mode even in shallow water.
posted by localroger at 8:03 AM on February 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Oh dangit, edit mode expired and I reversed the deck count. It was Concordia that had 13 decks and Titanic 9, of course.
posted by localroger at 8:11 AM on February 12, 2013


Speaking of maritime maintenance and safety concerns, today is the thirtieth anniversary of the sinking of M/V Marine Electric off the Delmarva Penninsula in 1983.
[I]nvestigations [determined that] the Marine Electric left port in an un-seaworthy condition, with gaping holes in its deck plating and hatch covers. . . . [M]uch of the paperwork [declaring] that the Marine Electric was seaworthy was faked. Inspection records showed inspections of the hatch covers during periods where they'd in fact been removed from the ship for maintenance; inspections were recorded during periods of time when the ship wasn't even in port. . . . yet the Marine Electric was repeatedly certified as seaworthy.
Questions were raised about how successfully the [American Bureau of Shipping] was exercising the inspection authority delegated to it . . . there was a conflict of interest in that the inspection fees paid to the ABS were paid by the ship owners.
The wreck resulted in some of the most important maritime reforms in the second half of the 20th century. The tragedy tightened inspection standards, resulted in mandatory survival suits for winter North Atlantic runs, and helped create the now famous Coast Guard rescue swimmer program.
My brother-in-law was aboard her. I would have preferred these reforms had been motivated in some other way.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:34 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


This isn't a cruise ship! A few years ago I was on vacation in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and this thing was tied up down the hill from our (awesome!) inn.

Heck, the Google search for the inn's name bring up pictures of the ship: https://plus.google.com/113956887050817668861/photos?hl=en

We walked over near it, and it looked both small and frail. When I heard it was out in the storm, I knew it was a goner. Too bad, too because it looked really great, and I am a big fan of seeing old wooden ships still afloat.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:07 AM on February 12, 2013


Does anyone know how seaworthy newer cruise ships are? I have a hard time looking at those gigantic floating boxes without thinking that they'd be absolute death traps in anything other than calm seas.

Well, generally they try and arrange their schedules so that they don't spend too much time in places that are likely to have severe weather, because a) passengers get sick on sea days and complain, b) severe weather can mean it's not safe for the ship to get into port, so port visits have to be cancelled and passengers complain, and c) if it's horrible weather at sea, it's probably not going to be very nice if you can get ashore either, so guess what, more unhappy passengers. But of course sometimes it's unavoidable.

Modern passenger ships have various options available to them, mostly being built with stabilising fins (and/or probably other stuff I don't know about) to help damp motion from heavy weather. This usually means that they can cope very well indeed in weather; I've been on a large, modern, cruise ship in a Force 9 before, and ... you could tell that you were on a ship. There was a noticeable, but slight, movement - but you could still do things like leave a cup of coffee on a table and it would still be there when you came back. On a cargo ship in those conditions - or something like the Bounty - you would have only made 3/4 of a cup in the first place, and you would hold on to it at all times or end up mopping up the coffee and the pieces of the mug out of whichever corner it flew into. Of course, sometimes things go wrong on cruise ships, and when the fins don't work (in the linked case, one was out of action anyway, and then speed was reduced (which is a fairly normal thing to do in bad weather) below the point at which the other one stopped working (this is where it became a problem), and then they altered course....) Bad Things can happen (but on the Pacific Sun no-one died).
posted by Lebannen at 11:02 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


localroger wrote '... tonnage ...'

Yes indeed, let's talk about tonnage. The Costa Concordia had a gross tonnage of 114,000, while the Titanic was 46,000 GT. Yes and but so? Let's talk about how much ships weigh. The Costa Concordia had a displacement of 51,387 probably-metric tonnes, while the displacement of the Titanic was 52,310 probably-not-metric tons. So ... basically about the same.

Tonnage as referred to by localroger above is a measure of volume not a measure of how heavy something is. The Costa Concordia had a lot more empty space than the Titanic did.
posted by Lebannen at 11:27 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Costa Concordia had a lot more empty space than the Titanic did.

Yeah, and it's all above the water line. That being my point.

mostly being built with stabilising fins (and/or probably other stuff I don't know about)

Most newer cruisers actually have active stabilizers which move weights or pump fluids around to actively cancel out wave-induced rocking. I've talked to some people who were on a ship whose stabilizers failed mid-voyage and they said the difference was very striking. This is also a factor in safety for these flat keeled ships because rolling over is the most serious danger to them.
posted by localroger at 11:51 AM on February 12, 2013


EPIRBs cost about USD 1000. They are not the kind of thing that any shipping company, let alone one with no money, would carry that many spares of.

They absolutely will! One in the wheelhouse, one in every lifeboat and at least one water activated one strapped to the outside of the boat would not be unusual for a commercial boat. A lot of crew carry their own epirbs now too, I know a dozen people at least who own them. Large or small people often have their own survival suits too.
posted by fshgrl at 1:28 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


But all the damage was on one side and she rolled, a very rapid and dangerous failure mode even in shallow water.

She was holed on the port side, and ended up rolling to starboard, most likely as a result of the turn that Schettino ordered to take the ship into Giglio. Combined with a delay of over an hour before ordering the passengers to lifeboats, as well as other failures of crew management and emergency response, it seems the design was not a primary factor here.
posted by dhartung at 3:01 PM on February 12, 2013


Concordia was holed on the port side. This sank her.
There is argument about the exact mechanics of why she rolled to Starboard; course alteration, misadjustment of ballast tanks, shallow water effect and more.
None of this has anything to do with the Bounty which should never have been at sea in those weather conditions in the first place. That was the first error and proved fatal.
Poorly maintained ship with poor oversight.
posted by adamvasco at 4:07 PM on February 12, 2013


The modern cruise ships have very powerful engines, I remember reading they were not as concerned about the Somali pirates as they could out run them. Going fast is really expensive for a ship but if you can get to 20-25 knots it's possible to outrun just about any storm.

Now there is that recent ship dead in the water off Mexico and one last year in the indian ocean.
posted by sammyo at 4:17 PM on February 12, 2013


localroger - yeah, fine, have also been there with non-functional stabilisers, but the point is, even big ugly boxes don't fall over in normal circumstances (and that includes being designed to withstand a blackout), and fins aren't going to help once you've got free surface effect doing its thing in an emergency, whether that's in the ballast tanks of the Cougar Ace or on the car deck of the Estonia.

I'm not familiar with the use of anti-roll tanks - automatic water transfer to make a more comortable motion - at sea, having only worked with heeling tanks which were always required to be switched off at sea for safety reasons. It's thought that the use of an anti-roll tank contributed to the capsize and loss of the Bourbon Dolphin, because of the reduction of stability caused by the use of this tank.

fshgrl - yeah ok, but the only one they're legally required to carry is the float-free one (thanks to the Estonia, actually, the things I learn from Wikipedia). I accept that's it's quite common for large ships to carry one in the wheelhouse as well, but in my experience (only on two ships with lifeboats though) those have been designated to be carried to a lifeboat in the event of abandonment, the lifeboats did not have their own. And the Bounty, of course, didn't carry lifeboats. Again, I'm only familiar with two Bounty-sized ships, with a very good safety culture, they carry optional equipment as well as that legally mandated, etc, and they only had one EPIRB each - this may be affecting my opinion above. Carrying a personal EPIRB or PLB is obviously a personal decision, and one that I might make if I was spending time on a small boat or indeed if heading into a hurricane on a ship known to leak, but would they be counted towards the total in the article? Or maybe they were donated. Guess it's not that important a detail, it's just something I'm curious about.
posted by Lebannen at 7:57 AM on February 13, 2013


This was just sent to a tall ship mailing list I'm on. Apologies if it was already linked here.

A traditional rig tall ship of Bounty's ilk would never consider a fiberglass hull, no matter what, so even if it were a viable idea it would not happen.
posted by Miko at 2:10 PM on February 16, 2013


That is one sad, sad note, Miko. Though it might not have led directly to her sinking, it says a lot about the level of upkeep they were able to maintain.

...it would not happen.
I can understand this sentiment wholeheartedly - as one who has removed fiberglass (heat guns, masks, putty knives) from a wooden hull - but still, from a bit of the reporting I've read about the Bounty it sounds like she (or at least her hull) was on her last legs and thisclose to being condemned.

If the money isn't there to do the repairs properly yet they wanted to keep her going, perhaps it would have been an option - at least given her ~ten more years of life.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:48 AM on February 17, 2013


From everything I know, it's just not viable. A fiberglass outer hull wouldn't last a week due to all the working. The dynamics are much different on a vessel of this size.

And I think that o single thing leads directly to a sinking. Something as drastic as a sinking only happens when multiple systems fail. You don't sink because of one thing failing, you sink because of a combination of many failures. Whether the planking was involved or not, we don't know, but certainly had there been weak planks they had one known risk factor already that they decided to tolerate. A bad sign, and it increases overall risk whether or not it was involved in an incident.

The real issue is the chronic lack of money, and I remain convinced that what Wallbridge and the organization knew that the rest of us don't (yet) was that they were critically dependent on the influx of cash from scheduled charter sails on Florida, and that's why they forced the trip. It's a problem somewhat endemic to the world of traditional rig, and I've seen it result in a lot of deferred maintenance, inability to make payroll, etc., but never before in such a monumental loss of equipment and life. I'm just happy the crew who did survived -nothing short of miraculous.
posted by Miko at 9:42 AM on February 17, 2013


(A deleted FPP, which I guess belogs here. I sure hope it gets noticed!)

This week a blogger named Mario Vittone, who reports on maritime affairs for the site gCaptain, has been attending the hearings and reporting on them. Despite years of professional experience, he is learning about the ship itself and the whole system of maritime safety approvals.

Here are the four daily posts on the hearings so far (of the scheduled eight): Day one, Feb. 12, 2013. Day two, Feb. 14. Day three, Feb. 15. Day four, Feb. 16 (Subsequent days' accounts of the HMS Bounty Hearing articles will be added as they are posted.)

So far, the evidence presented is very disturbing. It includes accounts of neglected maintenance; the many approvals and documents required by the USCG and other agencies; the use of ordinary tubes of DAP caulk from Home Depot to repair rotted planks; and the consistent refrain of people saying they can't believe the ship headed out into the hurricane.

On one hand, the USCG has very specific standards for determining whether ships are seaworthy, according to their tonnage and purpose. Tied up at the pier, the ship can be a "moored attraction vessel" requiring a Certificate of Inspection (COI), though once she cast off, the Bounty could not carry paying passengers: "Bounty was in a sort of regulatory no-man’s-land. She was a recreational vessel, a well-crewed yacht, and it was none of big brother’s business how she was maintained."
Though often complained about, most large ships at sea are burdened by myriad requirements for inspections and records of inspections, classification documents, SOLAS certificates, and training and maintenance logs. There are safety management systems and security certificates and a dozen other documents they have to carry at all times, and getting those documents is no small (or cheap) feat. When repairs on a ship are made, governmental oversight in the form of Coast Guard or class society inspectors will then make their own records that note every action taken by crew and shipyard.
Yet many of the people working on and around Bounty were not experts with any sort of certification. “My only job before Bounty was as a landscaper,” said the third mate, and the bosun he taught was looking at "the first wood hull she had ever seen in dry dock." And one expert witness, Joe Jakomovicz – the now-retired yard manager at the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard -- knew the Bounty well but also had no formal documentation of his expertise:
Carroll: ”Can you give us a few details on professional background; your certifications?”

Jakomovicz: ”I don’t have any certifications.”

Carroll: “Did you attend any schools?”

Jakomovicz: “No – well I have a degree from forty years ago, but it’s got nothing to do with boats.”
It seems that the Bounty's master is to blame for her loss for going to sea at a bad time after neglecting repairs, but should the system be tightened up as well? And if the system needs improvement, can obsolete skills and a lifetime's experience by certified?
posted by wenestvedt at 7:47 AM on February 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Bounty was in a sort of regulatory no-man’s-land.

This is not unique to Bounty, and is true for almost all of the traditional-rig "tall ships." There are a lot of well-trained, experienced, talented people working them, but it they are most definitely not as strictly regulated as commercial vessels. That allows them to operate with volunteer crew and run nonprofit support organizations.

Third mate and bosun are generally low-ranking positions. Often only the captain and first have licenses. Third is one notch above entry level. Some vessels have very skilled bosuns who are worth their weight in gold, but they're equipment specialists, not vessel masters.

And yes, I think if we wished to it would be trivial to create certification for life experience and "obsolete" skill - which is not so obsolete that it doesn't protect lives every day, in fact. It's just a matter of creating a regulatory class for these vessels which, generally, as rare entities, have fallen into legal gaps.
posted by Miko at 7:52 AM on February 18, 2013


wenestvedt asked "...but should the system be tightened up as well?"

I've read the U.S. Coast Guard's Boatbuilder's Handbook, and discovered things about my own boat building efforts that I'll be doing differently next I'm involved in building a boat. On the basis of that I have a lot of respect for the approach that USCG appears to be taking on private boating, but I think the answer to "...should the system be tightened up as well?" is "probably not".

There are tall ships that are licensed for carrying passengers for hire, those appear to be abiding by the USCG rules and appear to be safe. This was an unusual design for a private yacht, but if you ask the USCG what sorts of boats cost them the most in off-shore SAR operations, I'm betting (without much data to back me up) that 30-40 foot fiberglass hull boats are way over-represented in the "captains doing dumb shit and getting them and their crews into trouble" department.

Last year a sailboat cut too close to the Farallons, resulting in 4 deaths, but it didn't garner national attention because it wasn't a big ol' wood historical ship. These things happen, sailing is a risky sport. If I were part of the tall ship community, I'd be speaking up for educating crew and creating an environment where people were assessing their own risks and were willing to say "nope, not going out in this", and as a participant in various extreme sports I've been very vocal in supporting people in not doing dumb things, but at some point it comes down to "whose risk is it to take?"

Yes, there was risk to the USCG, and maybe we need to once again have the discussion about "what emergencies we respond to when". However, as a whitewater raft guide who's told my crew "I'd like to walk this one", and then run it because every one of my crew said "we'd rather run it", the decision of who gets to decide when and how I risk my life is a touchy one. I'd rather leave that largely in the hands of the people whose lives it is.

Otherwise it isn't their life.
posted by straw at 2:50 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I were part of the tall ship community, I'd be speaking up for educating crew and creating an environment where people were assessing their own risks and were willing to say "nope, not going out in this"

This would be great. In general (with a toe in both worlds) I often feel that the "challenge by choice" and mutual support and decisionmaking strategies crossed over more often from the world of outdoor adventure and the tall ship world. You'd think there would be more time spent on these social dynamics, but there usually isn't.

There is a very real tension there between individual voice and mutual agreement, and the necessary command-and-control hierarchy which is a time-honored system at sea, and the bigger the crew and more complicated the rig, the more desperately you need that. You can't have someone opt out when you're 300 miles out with days left to sail, and you can't defy orders without pretty drastic consequences - especially where licensure is involved.

My hope would really be that the tall ship community step up to self-regulate a bit better, not that we start requiring more licensing. For those interested, you can read about the different classes of US "tall ship" (they're not all the same animal) here, and what regulations generally apply to them. Many operate on a shoestring and so they carry the minimum number of licenses required. The pay is low, the hours miserable, and only a very few people can sustain the lifestyle for a long time. Vessel expenses and insurance are astronomical, so most vessels have some sort of nonprofit fundraising and education arm to keep them going. Requiring a lot more crew licensure would further constrict the number of vessels operating viably.
posted by Miko at 3:07 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


gCaptain - The Cost of Waiting – Bounty Hearings – Day 6.
I’ve been listening to the crew of Bounty tell these stories for six full days now, and I have tried very hard to hold back my opinion. I’m a former Coast Guard vessel inspector and investigator, but I’m not an expert in wood hull construction and though I love the things, I don’t know much about tall ships. But this part? This part about abandoning ship and sea survival? This is what I know. This is what I’ve spent most of my adult life on. There may be people who know more about this than I do, but I haven’t met them. So here is my opinion:
posted by adamvasco at 6:17 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, that was a fascinating link, adamvasco.
posted by jeather at 7:58 PM on February 21, 2013


Walbridge told him that he planned to wait until the water reached the vessel’s tween deck to abandon the boat.

That's fucking insane.
posted by Miko at 8:44 PM on February 21, 2013


I've been willing to with-hold a lot of judgement about this (the initial reports, the tape about 'chasing hurricanes' the latest round just before the hearings) but these reports - such as not calling "Pan-pan" (or, "I'm in a bad spot here, Coast Guard, not abandon ship bad, but bad") when his motors/generators ere failing much less the bullshit about actually holding to “You never step off until you have to step up”, is inconceivable. Is fucking insane. Thank god no one else was killed.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:12 AM on February 22, 2013


Same for me, From Bklyn. I know a little bit about how many complicating factors there are in these situations and Wallbridge had a fair amount of respect, so I really was withholding judgment, but it seems pretty clear that he failed to keep shore authorities informed and waited far, far too late to act. A real failure of leadership there no matter what was going on or what his hopes.
posted by Miko at 8:45 AM on February 22, 2013


If you catch the Day 5 report, you see that they didn't test any of the pumps or train on them or use them regularly.
posted by jeather at 9:39 AM on February 22, 2013


Oops, missed that one
posted by Miko at 9:40 AM on February 22, 2013


From Day 5 (also pretty damning)

This notion of not using something to make sure it would work when you needed it was common practice on Bounty.

Ugh.
posted by Miko at 9:47 AM on February 22, 2013


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