The tall ship that had been a centerpiece for this year's Eastport Pirate Festival was a victim of Hurricane Sandy in the early morning hours of October 29. Fourteen crew members of the HMS Bounty were saved by the U.S. Coast Guard, but one woman died and the captain was lost along with the ship.
"I'm following along with everyone else," said Eastport Pirate Festival co-organizer Chris Brown from his winter home in Florida. "They were in our town for a week, so you feel a connection with them," he said. "It's obviously a shock to hear the news."
"The captain is in my prayers, and my deepest condolences go out to the families," adds Brown.
The Coast Guard recovered the body of Claudene Christian, 42, who did not make it into either of the two lifeboats. A four-day search for 63-year-old Robin Walbridge was suspended when the captain's body was not found.
The Eastport Area Chamber of Commerce (EACC) had held a successful social aboard the Bounty during its first night in port, September 6. A total of 130 people paid $30 apiece to spend time on a ship that had appeared in several movies.
"It's tragic, sad and surreal," says EACC president Meg Keay of the vessel's sinking and loss of life. "Robin was a really nice guy. All of the crew was cooperative in every way."
"He couldn't find spicy V8 juice up and down the New England coast," remembers Keay. "So I gave him two jugs a day while they were here, and he thought I pulled a rabbit out of a hat."
"Both the captain and crew were wonderful people, and I am so sorry for the families of Robin and Claudene."
The crew, which numbered 28 when the Bounty was docked in Eastport, was involved in just about every activity held over the Eastport Pirate Festival weekend, and one was crowned king of the Pirate Ball.
The HMS Bounty, a replica of the ship on which the famous mutiny took place in 1789, was built in Lunenburg, N.S., for the 1962 movie Mutiny On the Bounty. Ironically, the crew member who died was a descendant of mutineer Fletcher Christian.
Still reeling from the news a week after the deaths and sinking was Arlene Benham of Grand Manan, who served as a crew member several times aboard the Bounty and knew both Walbridge and Christian. "He was such a good friend. He loved photography, and we had that in common," she says of the captain. "And Christian was a really sweet person. She made everyone she knew feel like they were her best friend."
Benham loves tall ships and had served as a crew member aboard the HMS Rose before she first laid eyes on the Bounty in Halifax five years ago. She was enamored of the vessel, and when it returned to that port in 2009 Benham knew it was headed to Ireland, and she wanted to be on board. "They only had 12 slots, and I thought they'd be booked months in advance. There were only four days before they left, but I had an extra bag packed in the trunk, just in case," she remembers. "And they had room for me!"
"I love the romance of sail," she says. "One's emotions can be on a pendulum, ranging from 'This is great!' to 'I want to go home!'"
Since that first voyage, Benham made two other long trips aboard the Bounty as well as two souvenir sails, and she last saw the captain and crew when they were in Eastport. "I knew all but two of the crew members who were on board [when it sank], and I'd been keeping in touch with Robin by e-mail," says Benham, who hasn't yet been in contact with any of the crew who were saved. "There's been some finger-pointing and blaming in the media, which has been disappointing."
"There's been a navy of armchair admirals, but people should not pass judgment until there's been a full investigation."