The Bounty Hearings

iStock_000004473971XSmallIn the Coast Guard investigation into the sinking of Bounty, there have been questions every day about the condition of her hull. We’ve heard about plank repairs and bottom jobs; about wood rot and maintenance practices; and every day the investigators ask about seam caulking. But that isn’t all they’ve talked about. Friday’s interviews of Cleveland and Groves started at nine in the morning; at six in the evening, Laura Groves – the ship’s bosun – was still answering questions. After the fourth day of testimony I’ve taken 20,000 words worth of notes. The gCaptain articles haven’t been (can’t be) comprehensive. I’ve had to pick and choose what I thought was most relevant each day and focus on that.

My article on Saturday, The Illusion of Experience, might have suggested that the caulking of plank seams was substandard.  Though it may have been (or not),  there is evidence that suggests that the caulking could have been done by master craftsmen with the best materials money could have bought, and Bounty still would have taken water through the planks on her final voyage. Explaining how is going to take another 2,000 words, and I’ll get to that. For now the plan is to try to stay faithful to the facts, be as respectful as possible to all involved, and to suspend judgment until I’ve heard enough to form an opinion about something; about anything.

So far I’ve heard enough to know (yes, without ever having been aboard Bounty) that the maintenance practices on the ship were less than good.  Regardless of how likable the crew is and how much they respected their former captain,  Bounty took in water through her hull and sank. It wasn’t because she was in perfect shape; she wasn’t operated completely safely, and mistakes were most certainly made. I know that because when a perfectly good ship is operated safely, and the captain and crew don’t make mistakes she eventually pulls into port.  The point of the hearings is to make sense of those mistakes and there is going to be more than one of them.

Today I am working on an article that will discuss testimony concerning the bilge pumps. Many people in the room think what I think; that for want of better maintenance and training with the bilge system, Bounty might very well have made it past Hurricane Sandy and now be safely on the hard in Texas.  That doesn’t mean the decision to make the trip would have been a good or a bad one, it just reminds us that there are variables and we should consider all of them.

There is so much to discuss and to learn from the Bounty hearings. That’s why I’m in there; to learn.  I’m writing the articles each day at gCaptain in hopes that those of you who go down to the sea in ships will learn from the hearings too.  Please keep the comments coming and write me if you have questions. I’ll do my best to answer. I’m not a tall ship sailor (I just wish I was) so go easy; you guys speak a whole different language.

Thanks so much to Captain John Konrad and Rob Almeida at gCaptain for their support, and thanks to all of you for reading.

Be safe out there,