The H.M.S. Bounty which sank in the waters off Cape Hatteras during Hurricane Sandy on Monday, was an occasional visitor to the Vineyard. When she was home ported in Fall River in the 1990s, she made a number of 40-mile trips to Vineyard Haven, where she would spend the weekend tied up at the Tisbury Wharf, her gangway lowered to allow sailors of all ages aboard.
So when news reached the Vineyard on Monday that the tall ship had gone down during the hurricane with the loss of a crewman and her captain still missing, the tragedy was felt acutely as winds from the outer edge of Sandy, hundreds of miles away, began lashing the Island.
Initially built in Nova Scotia for the filming of the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty, the Bounty was a wooden replica of a ship that sailed in the 18th century. When she sailed amid the Vineyard community of sailing ships, she was an attention-grabber. Even three miles out, coming up Vineyard Sound, she was quite a sight.
She measured 180 feet overall in length. Her main mast towered 115 feet above the water. She had 10,000 square feet of sail. And to keep up with her appointments, no matter what the wind, she had two 375-horsepower John Deere diesel engines below.
In 1995 the Vineyard Gazette had an opportunity to participate on deck during one of her sails from Fall River to the Vineyard when the Bounty came for a Labor Day weekend visit.
The ship’s captain then was Jim Haskins. The Bounty had a mission as an ambassador for sail.
The vessel left the Fall River dock in late afternoon for the overnight sail to the Vineyard. The trip took place partly under sail and partly powered by motor when wind conditions required it.
I was the reporter and photographer on board that trip and I recall the exhilaration of being aboard a large ship under sail at night. When the engines were shut down there was an immediate transformation and I thought I knew what it felt like when a bird takes flight. The quiet of the ship moving across the water under sail is a lasting memory.
It reminds me that the Vineyard is fortunate to have great schooners like the topsail schooner Shenandoah and the Alabama still plying our waters.
And Capt. Robert S. Douglas of Vineyard Haven, who owns the Shenandoah, has his own connection to the Bounty. Mr. Douglas, at the age of 28, was a crewman aboard the Bounty when she made her maiden voyage to the South Pacific bound for Tahiti for the filming of the movie. He also was an extra in the movie.
In a brief conversation this week, Mr. Douglas recalled that experience and said it helped inspire him to later build the Shenandoah. That deepwater experience with square sails helped him visualize what he wanted in his schooner, he said. And he said he had great affection for the Bounty, a sailing vessel he has known for 50 years.
Now the H.M.S. Bounty has been lost at sea along with a tragic loss of life. At press time this week, three days after the sinking, the U.S. Coast Guard continued to search for Capt. Robin Walbridge, who was wearing a survival suit, in the waters off North Carolina.
And as I follow the news, I realize more than ever what a privilege it was to sit on her deck, to hear the light rustle of cloth, hemp and line amid a steady breeze running through the rigging and pushing square sails. To listen to the sound of water swishing and stirring not far away, a government buoy clanging in the distance. To be on her sail to the Vineyard that weekend.
What she delivered could never be explained so well in a book or a movie, and her loss is devastating to all who would appreciate her, whenever she made an appearance in any harbor.