Robin Walbridge, KD4OHZ, Missing at Sea after Sinking of Tall Ship Bounty; Ship’s Electrician Doug Faunt, N6TQS, Rescued
Every DXer knows the story of the HMS Bounty and Pitcairn Island, VP6: In 1789, the HMS Bounty -- a small three-masted sailing vessel sent by Britain’s Royal Navy to the Pacific on a supply expedition -- was roiled by tension between its crew and its captain, William Bligh. After landing in Tahiti and taking on a cargo of breadfruit, the Bounty set sail for the West Indies; it never reached that destination. Instead, Master’s Mate Fletcher Christian led the men in a mutiny, eventually allowing Bligh and his loyalists to sail off in a longboat. After an arduous journey, they reached safety at the Dutch-owned port of Kupang. Christian and his followers ended up on Pitcairn Island where they burned the Bounty and settled on the island. Passing ships did not discover the enclave until after the turn of the century.
On Monday, October 29, a replica of the Bounty -- built in 1960 for a remake of the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty -- sank off the coast of North Carolina as Hurricane Sandy made its way toward New Jersey. Of its 16 crew members, 14 were rescued by the US Coast Guard. Bounty Captain Robin Walbridge, KD4OHZ, never made it to one of the two deployed life rafts and is presumed dead. Claudene Christian, who claimed to be a direct descendent of Fletcher Christian, was unresponsive and passed away at a North Carolina hospital on Monday evening.
Doug Faunt, N6TQS, of Oakland, California, was one of the 14 who was rescued by the Coast Guard; Faunt served as a deckhand and was also the ship’s electrician. A noted DXer and ARRL Life Member, he was part of the FO0AAA DXpedition crew in 2000 to Clipperton Island and in 2007, he was part of the DXpedition to Lakshadweep. According to Spud Roscoe, VE1BC, Faunt had satellite communications equipment and Winlink capabilities on board the Bounty, but he was not the ship’s radio officer. “Sailing on replica ships was a hobby of Doug’s,” Roscoe told the ARRL. “He had previously sailed across the Great Australian Bight on a replica of the HMB Endeavour, Captain Cook’s ship. He was an able seaman of the watch.” Roscoe was the radio officer on the replica Bounty for its original voyage to France in 1962.
Faunt told the ARRL that the Bounty crew tried various methods, including a satellite phone, to call for help, “but we got nothing when tried calling out on HF. We tried calling the Maritime Mobile Net, but nothing was out there. We had Winlink on the ship that we used for e-mail and accessing the Internet to post to blogs and to Facebook, and we finally found an e-mail address for the Coast Guard. As a last-ditch effort, we used Winlink to e-mail the Coast Guard for help. Within an hour, we heard a C-130 plane, and later, a helicopter overhead.” According to Faunt, it was Walbridge, as master of the ship, who sent out the distress messages.
“I don’t know how I made it off the ship,” Faunt recalled. “I had finished serving a long watch, and then we started going down. I was exhausted. I had to swim to get to the life raft. The water was full of rigging, and here I am, in my Gumby suit, trying to swim. It was so difficult. While swimming to the raft, I came up for air and a spar was coming at me. I finally found a raft and tried to climb into it, but I almost didn’t make it, tired as I was. Through the help of my shipmates who were already aboard the raft, I got on.” The two life rafts were out about 100 miles from shore when they were rescued.
The vessel left Connecticut on Thursday, October 25 with a crew of 11 men and five women, ranging in age from 20-66. After being treated at a hospital in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Faunt arrived back home in California on Wednesday, October 31. “I’m looking for a new boat to sail and a DXpedition to go on,” Faunt told the ARRL. “Ham radio got me into my position on the Bounty, and ham radio got me out alive!”