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The sinking of the Bounty - what went wrong
+ New yacht from Auckland - 26 Mar 13
We have been following the inquiry into the sinking of the Bounty and death of its skipper. The ship has obvious links to Australia and I have a special interest because I very nearly sailed the coast of China in her… but that's another story.
1. The sinking of the Bounty - what went wrong
The reports we have been following are by Mario Vittone, who has 21 years service with the US Navy and Coast Guard. He describes a series of cross-examinations that are so bizarre as to be almost unbelievable.
To give you an idea - this is his report after six days of "evidence".
I've been listening to the crew of Bounty tell these stories for six full days now, and I have tried very hard to hold back my opinion. I'm a former Coast Guard vessel inspector and investigator, but I'm not an expert in wood hull construction and though I love the things, I don't know much about tall ships. But this part? This part about abandoning ship and sea survival? This is what I know. This is what I've spent most of my adult life on. There may be people who know more about this than I do, but I haven't met them. So here is my opinion:
Captain Walbridge called his crew to the weather deck to abandon his sinking ship at least twelve hours after he should have. His first call to the Coast Guard was made at least thirty-five hours after it should have been made.
On Saturday (the 27th), the weather started to turn and the bilges needed constant pumping. On any other ship in the world, that's called flooding. The code of federal regulations calls that a reportable marine casualty; it's something that should be, you know, reported. Daniel Cleveland [third mate] testified that they were having problems with the ship's generator as well - another reportable marine casualty. Throughout the hearings we have heard about failed generators, impaired bilge systems, and engines dropping off line.
Too often sailors think of the Coast Guard as a last resort. Calling "Mayday" means that you can't handle things and you're giving up. But "Mayday" (and again, I'm an expert) is almost never the first call to make. The rarely used but vitally important "Pan-Pan" distress communication is meant to communicate to the Coast Guard that there is a problem aboard a vessel and assist anc e may be needed.
Not calling in as soon as Bounty experienced trouble denied the Coast Guard the advantage of giving the master critical advice. Advice like, "You're about to be in a situation where helicopter rescue is going to be difficult," and, "If you wait you will be making our crews fly into hurricane-force winds; even we have limits and dropping you life rafts and pumps will be impossible."
I have chosen this excerpt from the hearings to demonstrate two things, the impartiality of Mr Vittone and the incredible behaviour of the people aboard Bounty.
Now I intend to do something which we have never recommended before. PLEASE TAKE THE TROUBLE TO READ THE WHOLE OF VITTONE'S REPORT.
The reasoning is this. It does not matter what size boat you have - accidents can happen to any boat, skipper and crew. If the accident is bad enough there can be an inquiry. If you should be brought before such an inquiry you will be in a strange situation which you may not be able to handle.
2. New yacht from Auckland
Now, following that heavy item something much lighter, a bit of total self-indulgence on my part. The boat Te Uira I proudly owned for many years.
"As a yachting man, your Governor, will soon" (writes the Wellington correspondent of the "Age"), "have to encounter a formidable rival to his new yacht. To the order of Mr G Palmer, of Melbourne, Messrs C and W Bailey, of Auckland, have turned out a splendid clipper yacht, which has been named the Te Uira. Her fine lines have been very much admired by yachting enthusiasts and others. She is of the following dimensions:- Length overall, 45ft.; beam, 9ft.; length on the waterline, 30ft.; draught, 7ft.
She is built on the diagonal principle, with three skins of the best white kauri, the same kind of timber being used for the decking and stringers. The fastenings are of pure copper. Her deck fittings are of teak, while the saloon is handsomely finished with mottled kauri panelling.
The bulkheads and ceilings are painted with white enamel, picked out in gold, and the upholstering work is of a superior nature. The spider band, goose necks, rudder cap, chocks, and cleats are of gun metal, and finished off in first-class style. The hull is painted black, and handsomely gilt scrollwork and a figurehead with gilt streak give a nice finish to her gracefulness.
On her trial run the Te Uira acquitted herself splendidly. She passed through here last Friday on the Tarawera, en route to Melbourne, and will arrive about the time this letter appears in your columns. Mr Palmer, her owner, is on board the Tarawera, and he has expressed himself as being well satisfied with the way in which she sailed in Auckland Harbour.
The Te Uira is to be pitted against Lord Brassey's new yacht, and doubtless this announcement will cause all the yachting enthusiasts in and about Melbourne to go and have a look at her immediately she arrives."
I have a copy of her original certificate of registration in Melbourne in 1896 and the photograph, below, showing her under original cutter rig winning the Williamstown to Geelong race in 1923.
I had my share of wins in her and did 11 Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron cruises with my school age children and some of their friends.
A successful rescue + Running aground at full speed + Conclusion - 22 Jan 13
During the last week or so we have been following two incidents in our area which are of great interest to us as experienced sailors interested in safety at sea.
1. A successful rescue
The first took place in something that is an area of Australian responsibility - the Southern Ocean. A French single-handed round-the-world sailor, Alain Delord, was dismasted about 300 miles south of Tasmania.
That was bad enough in itself, but the broken mast was slamming into the hull of his yacht, a much more serious problem than a "simple" broken mast. He had got into his liferaft and turned on his EPIRB.
There was considerable concern for his safety because it was unknown whether he was wearing a survival suit, whether he was injured and whether such a small target could be found in such a vast area.
Luckily a patrol aircraft sent to search for him found him relatively easily and was able to communicate his position to a 4000 ton cruise vessel, the MV Orion. But she was more than a day's sailing away and the conditions, while moderate by Southern Ocean standards, were bouncy and the weather threatened to deteriorate.
Luckily, on board was an extremely experienced navigator in subantarctic waters, Don McIntyre. He combined with the ship's captain to devise how this large vessel would get alongside the flimsy liferaft without crushing it or the Frenchman.
Once they had decided on what they would do, they and the crew practiced. The result was that when they reached the stricken man, even though the dark of evening had begun, the rescue went off without incident.
The man is now safe on the vessel going to Hobart in Tasmania.
Here's a link to the whole story of the rescue preparations.
2. Running aground at full speed
The other incident occurred thousands of miles north in the Philippines. An American minesweeper USS Guardian, at full speed and in the middle of the night, crashed on to a world heritage reef and was stuck fast.
There seemed not to be any injuries to crew and they were removed safely. The vessel is still on the reef.
Early reports suggested that the electronic chart being used was badly inaccurate, possibly by as much as eight miles.
An intriguing report said that the environmental vessel Greenpeace had hit the same reef years earlier, had admitted its error, and apologised to the Philippine government. It was later said that the company which had provided the US Navy with electronic charts had responded to the information about the Greenpeace accident and had corrected its chart for that area.
But unfortunately there seems to have been no correction made on another of the company's charts of the area, on a different scale. It was suggested that that was the scale chart that the Guardian was using.
You can read more on this grounding incident.
Human nature being what it is, in both cases, after the drama and suspense of the actual incident, each became involved in controversy.
In the case of the Guardian, the Filipino official responsible for the reef and the heritage area claimed that the skipper of the vessel had been warned that he was approaching the reef but had said that if the Filipino wanted to protest it should be done through the US Embassy.
In the case of the divergence of the MV Orion to rescue Delord, the company which owned the vessel refused to answer questions about whether passengers would be reimbursed for the loss of part of the voyage they had paid for. Since the cheapest ticket was said to be AU$20,000, if true, some compensation would seem reasonable.
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