Maine shipyard official turns focus toward lives lost after release of tall ship Bounty report

The replica HMS Bounty tall ship is shown in this August, 2011 handout photo supplied by HMS Bounty Organization LLC on her European Tour 2011 while in Swinoujescie, Poland.
HANDOUT | REUTERS
The replica HMS Bounty tall ship is shown in this August, 2011 handout photo supplied by HMS Bounty Organization LLC on her European Tour 2011 while in Swinoujescie, Poland.
Posted Feb. 11, 2014, at 12:38 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 11, 2014, at 4:44 p.m.
Robin Walbridge, missing captain of the replica tall ship HMS Bounty.
HANDOUT | Reuters
Robin Walbridge, missing captain of the replica tall ship HMS Bounty.
The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot ship, is shown with hull rot in Belfast. The boat sank in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C.
Courtesy of Janet Robbins
The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot ship, is shown with hull rot in Belfast. The boat sank in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C.

BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine — The president of a Maine shipyard where maintenance and repair work was done on the famed tall ship Bounty kept his focus on the lives lost in the vessel’s sinking Tuesday, the day after a federal safety board released its report on the wreck.

Eric Graves, president of Boothbay Harbor Shipyard, issued his first public statement Tuesday morning in the aftermath of the long-awaited National Transportation Safety Board report.

The board investigation, which included extensive interviews with Bounty crew members and shipyard workers, blamed the ship’s demise on 63-year-old Capt. Robin Walbridge’s “reckless decision” in late October 2012 to sail into the path of Hurricane Sandy, which was whipping up 30-foot seas and 100-mph wind gusts.

But the report also highlighted concerns expressed by Boothbay Harbor Shipyard workers, who warned Walbridge about potentially inadequate caulking and rotting in the ship’s wooden hull less than a month before it sank.

Walbridge, citing budget and scheduling limitations, did not address the rotting and caulking problems, the safety board found.

Shipyard officials did not comment on the report in the immediate aftermath of its Monday afternoon release, but on Tuesday morning, Graves broke the silence with a statement redirecting the attention toward the two people who died in the Bounty’s wreck.

The body of crew member Claudene Christian, 42, was recovered by rescuers while Walbridge was never found and is presumed dead.

Another 14 crew members, including Aroostook County native Jessica Black, were saved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

“First and foremost, I would like to remember the two incredible people lost in this tragedy,” Graves said in a statement emailed to the Bangor Daily News. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to their family and friends. We knew Robin well from many years working with him on the Bounty. Robin spoke very highly of his crew and we hired several of them this past summer.”

Graves did not address the safety board report in detail Tuesday, adding just that: “We have great respect for the NTSB team and the conclusion of their investigation.”

The board found that, while the September 2012 work took place at the Maine facility, the work was supervised by Walbridge and largely done by the ship’s crew members, the majority of whom had less than six months experience aboard the vessel.

“Most of the crew members were also inexperienced in the technique of caulking and reseaming a wooden hull,” the report reads, in part. “Some of the shipyard workers later testified that they provided demonstrations and also assisted with a few challenging tasks. They also said that some of the crew members may not initially have ‘set the seams’ hard enough and that the yard workers alerted the crew members to this.”

The report goes on to state that although the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard workers called the caulking and resealing “adequately performed,” they did question Walbridge’s choice of three seam compounds — “none of which was recommended for water immersion/marine environments,” the report noted.

The board also found in its investigation that “several areas of the wooden hull were found to have rotted,” a fact flagged by shipyard workers during the ship’s time in Boothbay Harbor.

“The crew already knew about some of the rot, but other areas were also found and brought to the captain’s attention,” the report stated. “When the project manager asked the captain how the rot was to be addressed, the captain instructed his crew to apply paint to the rotted areas, and that because of time and money constraints, repairs had to wait until the next shipyard period a year later.”

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