DeRamus’s disability doesn’t slow her down: she medaled in Special Olympics swimming 43 times and works as a teacher’s assistant at a special-needs preschool in Birmingham. A petite blonde with a pixie haircut, she tells stories about her time on the Bounty in a voice that is husky and slow but also clear and funny. She wasn’t able to do much work on the ship, she says—her hands are too small to manage most of the rigging, and multiple operations have left her with fused ankles—but she liked being on board. Claudene Christian was her watch partner, and as DeRamus prepared to leave the ship, she found Christian crying in the galley. “I’m going to miss you,” Christian said. “I’ll see you on your birthday.”
The plan was for Ashley, and others, to crew again on the ship, starting in St. Petersburg the weekend of November 9. To launch the venture, Kannegiesser was arranging to fly in several children with Down’s, and the Down Syndrome Network of Tampa Bay confirmed that it would be inviting some 400 families with Down’s children to the event. Ashley would recite the Pledge of Allegiance, kicking off the Bounty’s new chapter as a place of learning and inspiration.
From St. Petersburg, Ashley and several others with Down syndrome would sail with the ship to Galveston, Texas, arriving by her birthday, December 9. Over the winter, Christian would work with them as the Bounty was modified to accommodate special-needs crew. As the summer season got under way, the foundation would pay for other kids with Down’s to join each leg as crew. In 2014, they hoped to attempt the first-ever tall-ship voyage through the Northwest Passage, again with special-needs people among the crew.
It’s unclear how the HMS Bounty Organization intended to reconcile this with its Coast Guard restrictions on carrying passengers. When asked, Kannegiesser said that he didn’t know the Bounty was not classified to do so. He believed that the ship was in good repair but could use a financial boost. “That ship needed a major infusion of resources,” he told me. “We thought we could be that shot.”
The foundation would contribute some money, Kannegiesser says, but the main funding would come from corporate sponsorship. The foundation was in talks, he says, with a soft-drink company, a car dealer, and a producer who hoped to land them a show on the History Channel. Simonin says that was her understanding as well. But Kannegiesser acknowledged that initial sponsor contributions might have amounted only to $10,000 or so. He believed that ongoing media attention would bring in the rest.
The plan made some of the crew uneasy. None were trained to care for special-needs people, and they were already stretched to the limit with their existing duties.
But Walbridge seemed sure it would work. Kannegiesser showed me a series of texts from both the captain and Christian, sent last fall as plans materialized. Walbridge reported that he’d secured permission for the ship’s new mission, and as the Bounty set sail, Kannegiesser wrote that things were moving along nicely on his end.
“Great,” Walbridge responded. “I think we (mostly you) will make it happen.”