Superstorm. Hybrid vortex. Frankenstorm. Post-tropical cyclone. You know a storm is bad when the meteorological community can't even come together on a single name for it.
By whatever name, Sandy was bad. And although Carroll County dodged the proverbial bullet, despite the fact that the center of the storm came through barely to the north of us, many other areas were not so lucky. In fact, if its track had taken it even a wee bit south of us, we'd likely be telling a different tale.
Almost, but not quite, lost in the tales of destruction and flooding from Crisfield to Long Island, was a tale of destruction and loss on a smaller but, to my mind, no less poignant scale. Seen against the backdrop of the Big Apple's skyscrapers and subways, the loss of a 180 foot wooden sailing ship may seem incongruous, anachronistic, perhaps almost inconsequential. But not for the loved ones of its crew, or for those of us who respect what that tall ship stood for.
I am referring, of course, to the sinking, in the stormy seas off the North Carolina coast - long infamous as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" - of the HMS Bounty. The modern HMS Bounty was a replica of the vessel at the center of the most notorious mutiny in the history of the Royal Navy, when First Mate Fletcher Christian seized the ship from its Captain, Robert Bligh. The incident was immortalized in the Marlon Brando movie, "Mutiny on the Bounty," for which the current Bounty was built. It had since appeared in numerous documentaries and feature films, most recently in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."
But aside from, and arguably more important than, its movie appearances, Bounty had become a floating classroom and ambassador for the Age of Sail. Under owner Robert Hanson and skipper Capt. Robin Walbridge, a highly experienced mariner, Bounty offered everything from dockside tours to months-long tours of duty aboard, for those wishing to learn more about the almost-lost art and science of square-rigged sailing, and the era of "wooden ships and iron men."
The ship's season effectively over for 2012, HMS Bounty was on its way from Connecticut to St. Petersburg, Fla., when it was caught in the tentacles of Superstorm Sandy. Even then it might have weathered the storm, but for reasons which are not now clear, it began to take on water. Shortly thereafter, the Bounty's engines - a modern innovation not part of its historic namesake - failed.
Left without steerageway, Bounty was at the mercy of the vicious winds. The crew called for help from the U.S. Coast Guard, and Walbridge gave the order to abandon ship.
Fourteen out of 16 crew members were successfully lifted from their life-rafts through 50-knot winds by heroic helicopter crews out of Elizabeth City, N.C. Two crew members, sadly, were washed off the ship before they could be rescued. One, Claudene Christian - a descendant of the Fletcher Christian of mutiny fame - was discovered later, unconscious; attempts to revive her failed. Last week, the Coast Guard suspended the search for Capt. Robin Walbridge.
There has been and will inevitably be speculation and recrimination over why the ship set sail, seemingly into the teeth of a monster storm, but until an investigation has established the facts, such speculation is pointless. What is clear is that the tall ship community has lost an important, storied, and much-loved ship, and with it two mariners: one relatively new to the sea, the other a gifted captain of more than 40 years experience.
May fair winds and following seas guide them into safe harbor, and the journey's end.