“You could see daylight through some of those fixes,” the ship’s bosun at the time, the officer in charge of maintenance, told me. He asked that I not use his name but says he was told to pull shackles and fasteners from a junk pile at the yard, even though they were rusted through. At one point, he says, the ship’s bowsprit fell and injured two crew members. Most serious, he says, was what sounded like “a waterfall” leaking into the ship at its forepeak, up near the bow, the same place where a torrent would enter during Hurricane Sandy.
I spoke with dozens of people—ship captains, yard workers, surveyors, and former crew members—about the condition of the ship in the years that followed. Most agreed that it had certainly improved since Hansen purchased it. And Coast Guard records show that it consistently passed inspections as a dockside attraction. But, said many observers, the Bounty had persistent problems.
Money was always an issue. Two seasons ago, the ship’s satellite phone broke and was replaced with a handheld unit. Last year, during the Boothbay refit, the ship was scheduled for repainting and recaulking, along with a reconfiguration of the space below deck. Hansen and Walbridge tried to save money by having the Bounty crew do most of the work themselves. One crew member said that he asked the office for a new fuel-filtering system but was told to make do with the old one. When he purchased $40 worth of parts at a hardware store, he says, he was admonished by his superior, who said they’d both “catch hell.”
The engine systems, said a crew member, were “definitely patched together.” In the past, the generators failed frequently, and the starboard generator remained a particular source of concern until Walbridge and a former engineer rebuilt it last summer. That rebuild, Chris Barksdale judged, was sound.
The captain remained circumspect. “Robin would always tell us it’s about give-and-take,” says Grant Bredeson. “Things would break and we’d have to fix them with what we had. Bob Hansen would always look at the bottom line and say, ‘Tell me why we have to do this.’ A lot of time, our answer would get lost in translation. That could get really frustrating.”
The crew loved the ship—and believed it was seaworthy. But several talked about its rate of leakage. One former crew member told me that after the 2001 refit the Bounty continued to “leak like a sieve.” Even last fall in New London, crew members confirmed, the ship had to be pumped several times a day—when it was docked. At sea, the Bounty took on so much water that it had to be pumped out every four hours in calm weather and every one or two hours when it got rough. Said a crew member who left the ship last summer, “They were the worst conditions I’d ever seen.”
That rate of leakage makes Joe Lobley, president of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors, suck in his breath. “That’s huge,” Lobley says. “And extremely problematic.” The way he sees it, the rate suggests, at best, serious warping of planks and butt ends. More likely, he says, the entire structure was showing signs of deterioration and fatigue. “A wooden boat should be a lot tighter than that,” says Lobley. “Especially if it’s going to be in the open ocean.”
Citing a pending Coast Guard investigation into the ship’s sinking, the HMS Bounty Organization declined, through its lawyer, to address these concerns directly. But in an earlier conversation I had with Simonin, she took issue with Lobley’s estimation. “Wooden boats leak,” she said. “All mechanical equipment has issues from time to time. But the fact remains that the Bounty was in the best shape of her life.”