“We knew there was weather out there,” says Doug Faunt, the ship’s unofficial white-haired curmudgeon. “But we also respected Robin’s knowledge a great deal. We had a plan, and we were ready.”
That plan, as Walbridge explained it, was to sail due east, wait for Sandy to turn toward land, and then push the vessel into the storm’s southeast quadrant, where hurricane winds are usually weakest. Why he so quickly abandoned that idea once at sea remains a mystery.
JUST AFTER 5 P.M., the Bounty left New London under clear skies and in light wind. Tracie Simonin posted the news on the ship’s Facebook page, where it was met with notes from fans wishing Walbridge luck.
But instead of sailing east, the ship’s AIS—its automatic indicator system, a kind of GPS tracking device—shows it cutting a sharp angle around the tip of Long Island before establishing a south-southeasterly course of approximately 165 degrees: directly into the hurricane. The Bounty was motor sailing—using engines and sails—and making way at 7.6 knots.
“We were moving as fast as I’ve ever seen the boat move under power,” says Faunt. “We worked those engines hard.”
The pace on board was hectic as the crew prepared for the storm and finished up repair work begun at dry dock. That sort of climate was new to Chris Barksdale, the owner of a handyman business in Nellysford, Virginia. Barksdale was a friend of Svendsen’s with a lifetime of diesel-engine experience, but he hadn’t had much time on the quick voyage from Maine to Connecticut to acclimate himself to such a large marine-engine system.
Barksdale was responsible for maintaining the Bounty’s engine room, two diesel engines on either side of the hull topped by complementary generators that spun electrical power for the vessel. A large fuel bay supplied each. Walbridge had just rebuilt the starboard generator, and he told Barksdale to use the port one as much as possible—so they’d have a fresh generator if anything went wrong. Meanwhile, a supplier’s snafu meant that Barksdale had the wrong fuel filters for the generators—two-micron instead of 20-micron ones, which captured more sediment. But he wasn’t too concerned. “We just decided to be really vigilant, since we knew they’d clog up a whole lot faster,” Barksdale told me. “Everything was running smoothly. It seemed like it was going to be fine.”
As the ship made way, however, Claudene Christian was visibly worried. Her family believed themselves to be descendants of Fletcher Christian, the Bounty’s original mutineer, but she’d only recently come to ocean sailing, crewing aboard a replica of the Niña. The former Miss Alaska National Teenager and University of Southern California song girl arrived on the Bounty last May not with a weathered drybag but with rolling suitcases and a guitar case. Still, she loved tall-ship sailing and proved to be hardworking and a constant source of enthusiasm.