ORIENT, Maine — Town Manager Alicia Silkey would be more than happy if her cousin Jessica Black never went to sea again.
Black, 34, was among 14 crew members rescued when the tall ship HMS Bounty lost power and sank underneath them Sunday off the coast of North Carolina as it apparently attempted to outflank Hurricane Sandy.
“According to what I was told by [Jessica’s] father [Loughlin Black] they told Jess to get into her all-weather suit and when she went up on deck the boat listed and threw her into the ocean,” Silkey said Tuesday morning. “Someone pulled her into one of those rubber lifeboats and from what I understand she was out there for quite awhile.”
The U.S. Coast Guard continued its search Tuesday for the ship’s missing captain Robin Walbridge, 63, and has recovered the body of crew member Claudine Christian, according to updates supplied by the Coast Guard.
The HMS Bounty, a three-masted sailing ship that has appeared in two Hollywood movies and had visited Belfast, Maine, earlier this summer, was reportedly sailing from Connecticut to St. Petersburg, Fla., when it began taking on too much water and lost propulsion.
So suddenly the call to abandon ship came, Silkey said, that Black went into the water wearing only her pajamas under the survival suit.
Black had just signed on as the crew’s chef several days before it left port in New London, Conn., where her father had dropped her off before returning to his current home in Florida with Jessica Black’s mother Suzanne, Silkey said.
“Everyone was asking why they were even attempting to leave,” Silkey said. “We all knew that storm was coming [and] we are just thanking our lucky stars she got off that boat.”
Word of the Bounty’s distress calls and subsequent sinking spread quickly and Silkey said Jessica’s parents had a two-hour wait before learning their daughter was among those rescued.
“Her dad told me they were just wandering from room to room in their house looking at different televisions on different channels about the sinking,” she said. “Then a guy from the Coast Guard called and told them their daughter was safe.”
Black, a 1996 graduate of Houlton High School, has spent a number of years working her way around the country, first with Americorps to earn money for college and then as a chef after completing culinary training, according to her cousin.
“She has this great personality and is so even tempered and just fun to be around,” Silkey said. “She just likes to get out and do things — she’s been like that ever since she left Maine.”
Among Black’s stints since leaving her hometown, according to Silkey, were jobs working as a chef at Disney World and on a boat owned by singer Jimmy Buffett.
“When she started working on boats she had to take safety courses and get tested for swimming,” Silkey said. ”Thank God she did, that was probably the only thing that saved her.”
Images from the movie “The Perfect Storm,” about the loss of the fishing boat Andrea Gail in a storm similar to Sandy, had passed through Silkey’s mind when learning about the loss of the Bounty.
“I saw that movie and it scared the heck out of me,” she said. “Then I get a call from my cousin about Jess and we heard two crew members were missing, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is so surreal.’”
Jessica Black apparently lost everything she had on the Bounty when it sank, Silkey said, but did say she managed to hang on to her cellphone in its waterproof case.
“She’s lucky a shark didn’t eat it,” she said.
While overjoyed her cousin is safe and again on dry land, Silkey said the family is saddened for those who lost loved ones when the tall ship sank.
“I used to tease [Jessica] when she was a little girl and called her ‘Boo-Boo,’ like in Yogi Bear,” Silkey said. “If she were standing in front of me right now I would just hug her and cry and say, ‘Boo-Boo, don’t do these things anymore, you are driving us all crazy.’”
Meanwhile, Chris Gardner, executive director of the Post of Eastport, said more than a few of the residents of the Washington County community came to know Walbridge and his crew during the long weekend in early September when the ship was docked at a downtown breakwater during the 2012 Eastport Pirate Festival.
“It’s a heartfelt loss for a lot of people here,” Gardner said Tuesday. “I consider Robin Walbridge a friend. They were only here for three days, but the entire crew was very much out and about as a part of the Pirate Festival. Pretty much the whole community had a chance to meet them and Captain Walbridge.”
Before visiting Eastport, the HMS Bounty crew docked in Belfast for six days, beginning on Aug. 8, before sailing to Nova Scotia, where it was built in 1960 using plans from the original vessel. After leaving Eastport the ship spent Sept. 12 tied up in Castine, offering tours to local residents and to students and staff of the Maine Maritime Academy.
Owned by New York businessman Robert Hansen, the ship also had ties to Maine’s southern coast. In 2007, the 412-ton ship underwent more than a year of repairs and refurbishment at the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard.
BDN writer Tom Walsh contributed to this report.