Search continues for captain of sunken tall ship

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The Coast Guard continued its search Wednesday morning for the captain of the HMS Bounty, which sank Monday off North Carolina in heavy seas from Hurricane Sandy.

Capt. Robin Walbridge, 63, was wearing a cold-weather survival suit when he was swept off the tall ship Monday in 18-foot seas and 40 mph winds 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C.

The water temperature Wednesday morning in the search area — now shifted to 145 miles off the Carolina coast — was 77 degrees.

"As of now, our intent is to continue searching for the missing person," said Capt. Doug Cameron, the chief of incident response for the Coast Guard 5th District. "This is still an active search, not a recovery effort. Factors such as fitness of the member, weather conditions, survival equipment and the results from previous searches are taken into consideration to determine how long the Coast Guard will search."

The crew of an HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Miami, Fla., searched for four hours Wednesday morning, a Hercules aircrew from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Fla., began a search about 7:30 a.m. and a Hercules aircrew from Air Station Elizabeth City planned to start searching later in the day.

A Coast Guard helicopter rescued 14 of the tall ship’s crewmembers about 6:30 a.m. Monday. The crew of Bounty, a 180-foot, three-masted square rigger built in 1962 for the filming of the “Mutiny on the Bounty,” starring Marlon Brando, were hoisted from two 25-person life rafts. All were wearing cold-weather survival suits.

The body of a 15th crewmember, Claudene Christian, 42, a great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Fletcher Christian, who led the mutiny on the Bounty against her commander, Lt. William Bligh, in April 1789, was recovered from the water later Monday. Christian also was wearing a cold-weather survival suit.

The Bounty left New London, Conn., and was headed for St. Petersburg, Fla. — its winter home — last Thursday. On Bounty’s Facebook page, the captain said he planned to sail east, then south and circle around the massive storm, which at one point ranged over 940 miles with tropical storm-force winds or higher and 1,560 miles with seas of 12 feet or greater.

Bounty had been at the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard in Maine for repairs and maintenance, and it left the yard Oct. 21 for the voyage to Florida. Bounty’s Facebook page acknowledged that it would be a “tough voyage,” adding that “a ship is safer at sea than in port.”

The Facebook page reported that Bounty’s generators went out Sunday night. The ship was taking on water, and without a generator to run the pumps it took on too much water and sank, according to the Facebook messages.

— Jim Flannery

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