NTSB: HMS Bounty sunk after captain's 'reckless decision to sail' during Sandy

This file photo provided by the U.S. Coast This file photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows the HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C. on Oct. 29, 2012. Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard / Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Kuklewski

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The sinking of the Greenport-based HMS Bounty during Hurricane Sandy was caused by the captain's "reckless decision to sail" despite an inexperienced crew, a dangerous forecast and rot in the hull, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday.

A crew member died and the captain was never found after the tall ship, made for the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty" and owned by Setauket businessman Robert Hansen, sank Oct. 29, 2012, off Hatteras, N.C. It was near the eye of Sandy, categorized at the time as a hurricane with gusts up to 103 mph, the report said.

The captain, Robin Walbridge, 63, was not named in the 16-page report, but the agency said he set out with an aging vessel and an inexperienced crew. He made numerous errors, from twice ignoring his chief mate's advice to call for help to charting a course he hoped would "outrace" Sandy -- staying west of the westbound hurricane instead of sailing east around it, the NTSB said.

The agency also criticized the ship's management company, HMS Bounty Organization LLC, for failing to heed hurricane warnings. Hansen was trying to sell it just before its final voyage. Neither could be reached yesterday.

The ship left Connecticut Oct. 25, bound for a Nov. 10 event in Florida, despite a list of potentially critical problems, the NTSB said.

The month before, there were warnings of hull rot during the Bounty's annual maintenance work in Maine, but Walbridge put off repairs until the next year to save time and money, investigators said.

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The NTSB report noted that the ship's crew was smaller than usual. Ten of the 15 members had less than six months of experience on the vessel, and nine had never worked on a tall ship, the agency said.

After initial fair sailing, high winds, water in the hull, seasickness and broken bones and injuries from falls beset the crew, including the captain, the report said. Also, the fuel tank broke and leaked, and one of the ship's two engines stopped working, the NTSB said.

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The water pumps malfunctioned and a new one was untested, NTSB said. Even in the best conditions, the crew testified, they usually pumped water from the Bounty once every four hours, NTSB said.

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But Walbridge resisted advice to call the Coast Guard and inflate life rafts ahead of time, crew members testified.

Only when the Bounty keeled to one side and the bow was buried by a large wave did the order to abandon ship come about 4:30 a.m., investigators said.

But some crew members were trapped when ropes, clipped to each other's harnesses as a lifesaving measure in choppy waters, got caught in the rigging, the agency said.

"The crew testified to a life-and-death struggle to swim away from the vessel in the stormy seas," the report said. "Some of the crew members were able to hang on to and eventually climb into a life raft that had automatically inflated."

In a still-pending lawsuit, the mother of the crew member who died sued Hansen and the management company last May for $90 million in damages.

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