The Tall Ship Bounty was a ship. She carried three masts, square-rigged on all three, and had a bowsprit. In the age of sail, when you said ship, that is what you meant – at least three masts, square-rigged, with a bowsprit. Anything else was a brigantine, a brig, a barque, a schooner, and so on, but not a ship.
There are few ships left in the world, and one less since the Bounty sank on Monday 90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras. It’s easy for a wooden ship to sink – you have metal fittings, cannon, heavy cargo and many tons of ballast. When I sailed on the Bounty in 2003, that is one thing that surprised me – the large amount of lead ballast she was carrying. When the hold is not stuffed with cargo, you need a lot of that.
Captain Robin Walbridge gave the abandon ship order at 0400 EDT Monday and at this time (0000 EDT Tuesday) he alone is missing. Walbridge has a long history with tall ships, has been with the Bounty since 1995, and is, to use an 18th century phrase, an excellent humane man. He has given Boy Scouts, orphans, “hard-core” youths, children with disabilities, and many others a chance to experience the glory of sailing a full-rigged ship. He made 15 voyages training the crew of the U.S.S. Constitution (“Old Ironsides”), and when the ship emerged from 116 years of dormancy in 1997, he was guest Captain/Advisor.
One night on Lake Huron, during a splendid display of northern lights, Walbridge told me his plan for bringing the Bounty up the Mississippi all the way to Minneapolis. A sort of floating dry dock would support the ship and reduce its draught. Low bridges? The masts of a full-rigged ship are constructed in sections, with only the lower masts being more or less permanently fixed. The topmast and topgallant masts that extend the lower masts can be taken down if necessary (and often were in the old days, as they were frequently damaged and spares were always carried). So there you had it. You get to your destination, sway up the masts and there she is, a full-rigged ship in Minneapolis.
I tried to interest the company I worked for at the time in supporting Walbridge’s idea, but despite having deep pockets, the PR staff was more interested in – well, who knows what. Nothing you ever heard of, that’s for sure.
I am still hoping the Coast Guard will find Walbridge alive, somehow. And if, God forbid, they do not, that someone else will bring a real, full-rigged ship up the Mississippi to Minneapolis.