Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Touring the H.M.S. Bounty, R.I.P.

Hurricane Sandy has been devastating and deadly for the East Coast, particularly the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. Living in a coastal town one hour north of Boston, my family endured a power outage lasting less than twelve hours and a few downed branches. Nothing, basically. Friends I communicated with on Facebook fared much worse, but I really don't know the full extent of what they suffered through. As a new storm, a nor'easter, churns its way up the East Coast just over a week later -- enough already! -- I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on one aspect of Hurricane Sandy of many that has particularly affected me: the loss of the H.M.S. Bounty, its captain, and one crew member.

First, let me say that I don't consider myself a Sailor the way others are sailors. I know how to sail and can and have sailed Sunfish, catamarans, and twelve-footers in light and moderate winds. True. I have also raced both a few times -- as a teenager, I was awarded a highball glass (pretty funny considering my age and the fact that I grew up a Christian Scientist!) for coming in second in a Sunfish race at my parents' beach club on Long Island Sound but had to be verbally assisted in righting my capsized catamaran in a race not too many years ago in a Florida river while staying at Club Med. I have never owned a sailboat, though I did purchase the original Windsurfer One Design when it first came out and enjoyed tacking that heavy sailboard back in forth in whatever body of water was near my home at the time. Currently, I do not have the opportunity to ply coastal waters in a sailboat, despite my close proximity to a harbor. (Note to self: make friends with people who own boats!) So, no, I am not THAT kind of sailor -- a hard-core sailor -- much less a Tall Ship sailor.

I have the utmost respect for those who are. I also hugely admire people who choose a risky, beyond-the-norm type of life such as the men and women aboard the H.M.S. Bounty. For nearly two years while I budget-traveled around Asia and the South Pacific some twenty-odd years ago, I led such an alternative existence. Today, as a single mother by choice of two young sons (i.e. I am very tied down), I am living the opposite kind of unconventional life. Still, the travel bug and the yen for adventure remain very much with me. Hence, I jumped at the chance to tour the replica of the mutinous vessel immortalized in the classic book "Mutiny on the Bounty," built for the 1962 film of the same name, and featured in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Seeing as my elementary-school-age sons are big fans of the "Pirates" flicks (natch!), and my older son loves history, it was a no-brainer that we would venture to the city next-door to check out the three-masted schooner when it came into port over Labor Day weekend for the annual Schooner Festival.

I wish I could say I had a great talk with Captain Robin Walbridge or that Claudene Christian explained the rope system to us. But the truth is: my six-year-old son does not do well in museum settings, seafaring or otherwise. He is too rambunctious in the company of his older brother. He jumps on him, hangs on him, pulls him, punches him, and kicks him -- anything physical to engage poor Christopher. Thus, the visit on board was marked for me by all of the above plus Christopher's legitimate complaints and my futile attempts at stopping the bad behavior.

I often wish I could leave Charlie at home with another adult in order to get the most out of the event at hand with manageable and appreciative Christopher. But I don't have another adult at home, and I can't afford to hire a babysitter on top of the event's admission price time and time again. Oh, and my house is not presentable enough for a babysitter anyway. Charlie has to come along, and Christopher and I have to deal with whatever Charlie dishes out . . . in public . . . again.

As we stepped on the ship, we passed a man dressed up as Jack Sparrow, the quirky pirate captain from the "Pirates" movies played by Johnny Depp. It was the end of the day on Saturday, September 1, and only a handful of deck hands were on board. The ship was in beautiful condition. Countless ropes, a gorgeous wheel, a handsome wood-paneled control room, economical living quarters. The schooner was smaller than I expected, and I was disappointed she was not in full sail. She was in port so, naturally, her sails were neatly furled.

A woman was selling some kind of handcrafted item on deck -- knitted, perhaps? My recollection is usually much sharper than this, but I was in full-on minimize-making-a-scene mode with Charlie so my mental energies were otherwise occupied. Crew members had tee shirts, postcards, and caps for purchase on the lower level. I wanted to buy a shirt yet resisted because doing so would have precipitated protests from my sons who also would have wanted something of equal value. Always thinking ahead of the cause and effect of each action I take in the company of my boys!

I spoke to a male crew member on deck in his late twenties or early thirties about the ship's itinerary, and I listened in as an older hand explained to another visitor why the two small dining tables downstairs were attached by chains to beams above. (To keep them stable and level during storms). I believe I glimpsed Captain Walbridge. I would have said something to him if our visit had been different, if I'd been without children in tow, or if I'd just been with Christopher. When I Google photos of the captain, he looks familiar to me, but I can't be completely sure. It makes me sad to think that I can't remember this and other details of our visit. I don't believe I ever saw Claudene Christian, the striking blond former cheerleader-doll company founder and alleged direct descendant of Fletcher Christian -- the mutineer aboard the original H.M.S. Bounty who died when that ship was burned off Pitcairn Island in early 1790.

Two Christians meeting the same fate in two different ways 222 years apart while aboard two versions of the same ship: strange.

It was surreal hearing on the news of the replica ship's fate, watching the video of the incredible Coast Guard helicopter rescue of the survivors, and seeing photographs of the magnificent schooner crashed sideways into the ocean like a scene -- ironically -- out of the very "Pirates" movie in which it appeared! The tragedy occurred the day before Christopher's ninth birthday, and we both cried as I told him about it.

This morning I watched the fourteen survivors interviewed on TV together for the first time. They were happy to be alive but somber when talking to "Good Morning America" about their missing captain and deceased shipmate. Douglas Faunt seemed to speak for them all when he said: "After this, I'm never going to have another bad day in my life." Later in the day, I was further touched by the very personal obituary of Captain Walbridge that appeared in the "Tampa Bay Times."

I am grateful the paths of my sons and I crossed those of the H.M.S. Bounty crew. I hope Christopher and Charlie never forget our visit on board the ship and the promise of adventure and personal reward that can be gleaned from living life outside the box. Captain Robin Walbridge and Claudene Christian died doing exactly what they loved.

May they rest in peace.

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