Once they were safely at the base in Elizabeth City, the Bounty crew spent Monday, October 29, hunkered down in a conference room, wearing surplus jumpsuits donated by the flight crews. Outside, a barrage of reporters tried to gain access, but the crew just wanted to get back to their homes. They say they didn’t hear that day from Simonin or Hansen, who was reportedly at a funeral in Colorado. Ultimately, the Red Cross took them to Walmart for a change of clothes and to a nearby motel.
Christian’s body was found that afternoon, floating a mile south of the ship’s last position. She was unresponsive, with bruises and lacerations over much of her face; the helicopter team continued CPR for the 90-minute flight to Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, where she was declared dead. The search for Walbridge continued for days.
ROBIN WALBRIDGE LEFT BEHIND a complicated legacy and the full truth about why he left New London. His ship was too slow to outflank the hurricane; why couldn’t he have waited? In an open Facebook letter to Walbridge in December, Pride of Baltimore II captain Jan Cameron Miles called his friend’s plan “so amateurish as to be off the scale.” Why, he wondered, didn’t Walbridge turn into port while there was time? “It was recklessly poor judgment,” Miles wrote, “to have done anything but find a heavy-weather berth for your ship, rather than instead intentionally navigate directly toward Sandy.”
The ramifications of that plan are only now coming to light. The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board have subpoenaed crew members and yard workers, dug through emails and cell-phone records, and interviewed friends and family in anticipation of a two-week hearing in Portsmouth, Virginia, February 12 through 21.
At press time, in early February, one person they had not yet spoken with was Ashley DeRamus, a 30-year-old woman from Birmingham, Alabama. DeRamus has Down syndrome, and over the course of 2012, her family and Walbridge devised a plan to transform the Bounty into an educational platform for people with special needs. They would launch this new chapter in St. Petersburg the weekend of November 9, when the ship was scheduled to arrive in port.
On the face of it, the scheme isn’t quite as far-fetched as it seems—Walbridge had long had an interest in bringing people with disabilities on board—but the more I learned about the particulars, the fuzzier the whole vision got. The idea had its genesis last February, when the Bounty’s dockside photographer, 65-year-old Gary Kannegiesser, met a vacationing Connie DeRamus, Ashley’s mother, in Puerto Rico, where the ship was wintering. Kannegiesser has a background in photo marketing; he and Connie decided to create the Ashley DeRamus Foundation, dedicated to raising awareness about Down syndrome by turning Ashley into a role model. Connie created an Ashley fashion line, and they began touring the country, stopping off for Ashley to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at high-exposure locales like the Grand Canyon and the Rose Bowl parade.
Kannegiesser says the Bounty connection seemed natural. “We knew we wanted to get Ashley’s foundation some exposure,” he told me when I met up with them before the Rose Bowl parade, in Pasadena, beneath a square-rigged ship made of flowers. “The Bounty is the most famous ship in the world. What better place to get the word out?”
At first, Connie sold rubber bracelets printed at the dock. Before long she and Ashley were on the ship itself. Kannegiesser thought they might get more exposure by capitalizing on the Bounty’s role in Pirates of the Caribbean, so he began dressing up like Jack Sparrow. Connie worried that the female crew members didn’t seem very feminine, so she bought them Tahitian dresses. Finally, last August, Ashley crewed for a week on the ship.