Friends and family said that Walbridge didn’t really mean it, but it’s hard to explain what follows: a detailed description of how he drives the ship through major storms. “You don’t want to get in front of it,” he tells the reporter. “You want to stay behind it. But you’ll also get a good ride out of the hurricane.”
BY SATURDAY MORNING, OCTOBER 27, avoiding Sandy began to seem impossible. The Bounty was 150 miles off Norfolk, Virginia. Waves had grown to 20 feet, and it took two people to hold the wheel. Crew members estimate that the wind was gusting at 70mph, screaming through the rigging as it threatened to topple the masts.
“At that point,” says Faunt, “we knew the hurricane wasn’t going to turn toward the land. If we continued our course, we were going to slam into it. We had some sea room, so we thought we could cut back toward land.”
The crew pulled in all but the forecourse, a large forward sail crucial for holding a position and maintaining stability, and changed their heading from SSE to SSW. They were bound for Hatteras Canyon, where they thought they could get by the lee of the storm. It wouldn’t be easy: even on a good day, the Gulf Stream wreaks havoc on conditions there, changing already formidable swells into crashing surf.
The AIS records of the Atlantic during those hours are chilling: a sparsely dotted screen of vessels all making their way to port. Simonin attempted to counter growing vitriol online by reminding mariners of the adage that a ship is safer at sea than at port, but that idea was quickly denounced by other captains. Navy vessels and tankers may go to sea, they responded, but only in the interest of national security or averting major environmental disasters. Did Simonin think either applied to the Bounty? She didn’t reply.
At 7:30 p.m. on the 27th, Simonin received Walbridge’s scheduled email update. He told her that his new plan was to “keep trying to go fast and squeeze by the storm and land as fast as we can.” All else, he wrote, “is well.”
On board the Bounty, the ship’s cook, Jessica Black, was no longer able to prepare meals. She and Christian handed out sandwiches and cold hot dogs.
Barksdale was the first to sustain a significant injury, careening into the side of the vessel, jamming his right hand and rendering it all but unusable. Hours later he was thrown against a metal worktable in the engine room. He sustained a severe gash on his arm and was certain that he’d broken his leg.