The first major replica of HM Armed Vessel Bounty, of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame, had a remarkable career in her own right.* Her story could readily form the basis of a theatrical production or a motion picture. This new Bounty was completed in 1960, at Smith and Rhuland shipyard, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Smith and Rhuland are one of the last examples of the shipyards that made Atlantic Canada one of the most prolific centers of wooden shipbuilding from the 1850s to the 1870s.
This shipyard had built famous schooners such as Bluenose, and would go on to build stunning replicas, such as the Bluenose II, and HMS Rose/Surprise. Bounty’s design and construction was funded by Metro Goldwyn Mayer, for their blockbuster Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard (as Fletcher Christian and Lt. Bligh, respectively). After trials, the ship left for filming in Tahiti, with a working crew of Nova Scotians, who would spend more than a year far from home. The film would debut to mixed reviews in 1962.
This replica had taken 8 months to complete and, to help filming on board, was much larger than the original ship; the movie ship was at least 30 feet longer, with a total sparred length of 180′, a 120′ long weather deck, and a breadth (maximum hull width) of 31.5′. All this gave the ship 200 tons of added weight. 400,000 board feet of wood –mostly oak and Douglas fir– went into construction. Bounty could be propelled by its auxiliary engines, but was a fully-functioning wooden-hulled sailing vessel that could hoist a massive spread of canvas on her three masts. The main mast soared to 111 feet above the water.
This Bounty wore a distinctive livery of a broad black wale above the waterline, and dark blue sides, with yellow strakes running above the wale and at the level of the weather (upper) deck, and yellow ornamentation at the stern and at the headrails behind the figurehead.
The deck fittings and inboard machinery, such as gangways, hatches, the capstan and windlass, were painted white, while the ship’s gunwales above the deck were a bright red colour traditionally used inboard on warships of the Royal Navy.
During filming, this replica was originally intended to have been burned, like the original, at Pitcairn Island. Marlon Brando insisted he would not finish his scenes, unless the ship was saved from destruction. A large model was destroyed instead. In 1986 the ship passed to the ownership of movie mogul Ted Turner, and continued making promotional tours and appearing in television and film productions. From the mid-1960s until the late 1980s, Bounty was captained by Hugh Boyd, the first of two long-service Bounty captains.**
Turner donated the ship in 1993 to the Fall River Chamber Foundation, Massachusetts. The resulting Tall Ship Bounty Foundation operated her until 2001. A highlight of this era was Bounty’s involvement in training US Navy crews for USS Constitution’s restoration as a sailing warship. Bounty’s crew helped train USN personnel in sail handling and other duties involved in operating a fully-rigged ship, even as the USS Constitution was rebuilt and strengthened. When the two-hundred-year-old ship raised its sails and began to gather way for the first time in more than a Century, 21 July 1997, it was in part because of the support of Bounty and her crew. Bounty’s captain, Robin Walbridge, had also taken time away from Bounty to advise Constitution’s crew, and was a guest captain at the sailing.
Another notable event from this period were the false reports of her sinking in early Oct. 1998. Bounty encountered trouble while on the way to Charleston, SC. Reports of a malfunctioning pump and some flooding requiring Coast Guard assistance escalated to the point that the Tall Ship Bounty Foundation had to reassure the public that the media had been mistaken. Unfortunately, this event was symptomatic of Bounty’s worsening physical condition in the late 1990s. The 2001 sale of the leaky ship to the HMS Bounty Organization, based out of Greenport, NY, began with a much-needed massive restoration.
The vessel spent its summers, for more than three decades, at St. Petersburg, Florida, where Bounty ran excursions, and was a notable local attraction. The ship and crew worked themselves into the fabric of community life. For our shipsearcher project, it has been extraordinarily difficult to locate satellite imagery of the ship. The only satellite view we have ever located has Bounty at the old municipal pier off St. Petersburg.***
In addition to the occasional film work, most years her enthusiastic crew maintained a busy schedule, visiting ports-of-call and participating in tall ships events, dockside sail training programs, and heritage programming. Her classic paint scheme was revised in the early 2000s, for filming of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. She played the Edinburgh Trader, a merchant ship later destroyed by a kraken. Once again, a large model stood in for the replica! Bounty now featured dark green sides over the black wale, and the deck fittings received a muted sand tone.
Financing Bounty’s operation was a constant struggle, because of the steep costs of safely maintaining a traditionally-built, elaborately-rigged wooden sailing ship. Repair and refit work at Boothbay shipyard in Maine and elsewhere could begin to look like complete rebuilds. Around 2003 a major refit saw her original copper bottom-cladding removed and replaced by anti-fouling paint on the wooden underbody. Some of the work was geared at upgrading Bounty’s equipment to meet specifications for certification as a Sailing School Vessel (SSV), which would have allowed her to embark passengers and trainees in addition to crew. During the 2006-2007 Boothbay restoration of Bounty, large steel plates were added over the hawse holes, where modern anchors were prominently mounted there. This removed some of the decorative cheek pieces around the bows. This and the paint job made the vessel look less and less like the instantly recognizable movie ship, and gave her bows a more “apple-cheeked” working-ship appearance.
The tragedy that struck this Bounty in 2012 was deeply troubling. As Hurricane Sandy bore down on New London, Connecticut, on the 25th October, Capt. Walbridge made a decision to leave port, get some sea room between the ship and the storm, and try to skirt around the worst of the weather to the East of the developing system. The ship was due to resume its usual winter activities around Florida. He was a veteran skipper, with decades of sailing experience – most of which was on Bounty. He led a dedicated but inexperienced crew. They supported his decision to put to sea, rather than risk damage to Bounty in port. Despite multiple warnings urging all civilian craft to head for a safe anchorage, Walbridge took the small 52-year old wooden ship and his crew of 15 out .****
By the 27th, the vessel was being battered by violent seas. The unusual motion was making several crew members wretchedly sick, and Bounty was taking on water, with one generator out and the newly-installed electric pumps of the dewatering system struggling to keep pace. Worse still, two other hydraulic pumps and a gasoline-powered portable pump all could not be brought online. Suffering bouts of seasickness, the engineer could barely attend to his machinery, and crew members were nursing a number of injuries. Around 11:00 PM on the 28th of October, the situation rapidly deteriorated, with Walbridge emailing his organization that he did not know if Bounty could stay afloat until an orderly evacuation could be performed after daybreak . Weather conditions were too dire to evacuate from Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters. Early on the 29th of October, the exhausted crew had lost the battle to keep Bounty under any kind of control, the pumps were not functioning and the vessel’s electricity was disabled. Bounty was flooding fast.
Around 3:00 AM the crew gathered at the navigation shack, as the tween’ decks flooded beneath them. They discussed abandoning Bounty and taking to the two large rafts. Walbridge, now injured, was struggling with the enormity of the disaster. He asked crewmembers when it had all gone so wrong. By now they were wearing cumbersome immersion suits. The crew retreated to the weatherdeck to prepare the rafts. At 4:26 AM, Bounty’s bows dove under, and she pitched on to her starboard beam ends, throwing the evacuation into complete chaos. Crew members had to scramble into the cold water in darkness. Some were hit by objects or entangled in rigging. They struggled to get clear as the ship’s masts rose out of the water and crashed back down. The Chief Mate had communicated with an orbiting Coast Guard C-130 Hercules. Soon, another C-130 and two Jayhawks were on route.
Arriving on scene two hours later, at daybreak, helicopter crews were confronted with something that looked like a scene from Robinson Crusoe: An antique wooden ship was dying. They succeeded in rescuing 14 crew, in incredibly difficult conditions. Rescuers could not locate Walbridge or deck hand Claudene Christian. Christian’s body was recovered hours later. The last sighting of Bounty was from the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Elm around 7:00 PM, when she was about 120 miles SE of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, drifting mostly submerged, with masts still above the surface. She sank in about 14,000 feet of water. Despite an extensive search, Bounty’s captain was never found.
The eventual Coast Guard investigation found fault with the captain’s decision to put to sea in the face of storm-warnings. Bounty also departed from the planned course, and the Coast Guard heard about the worsening situation on the ship mostly via second-hand information from the shore offices of the HMS Bounty Organization. The National Transportation Safety Board official report concluded that the decision to put to sea was reckless, and that basic safety precautions, including ensuring the vessel was well maintained with functioning safety appliances, were absent.
This replica lasted decades longer than the original ship. Though gone, she lives on in the memories of those, like us, who had a chance to see this amazing ship, on her visits up and down the Eastern Seaboard, Atlantic Canada, and at many ports-of-call around the World. Recently, there has been revived interest in building another North American or even Canadian replica. As we will see in the third and final instalment of our Bounty trilogy, there are other, more economical options available for building a Bounty.
*for the 1935 movie, filming was done using either a converted schooner or a barge. A converted barge that played HMS Pandora sank soon after.
**Bounty’s longtime captain, Hugh Boyd, outlasted his beloved ship, passing away in late January, 2022. Boyd was originally from Dartmouth, NS, and was on the crew that went out to Tahiti.
***We were quite certain this was Bounty, and then confirmed it using the archived schedule of Bounty from 2005/12 available at the wayback machine, a good resource for information about this Bounty.
****this account is based closely on the detailed timeline provided in the US Coast Guard investigation, and the National Transportation Safety Board report, both linked to above.