UPDATE: Feb 13, 2013
I wrote this blog post during the chaos of Hurricane Sandy. I heard the awful news that the Bounty was in trouble, but knew little information about the details.
Recently OUTSIDE magazine posted a great article on the progress of the investigation. It is a good reference for people looking for more accurate information. It can be found at this link.
Today Ben and I are hunkered down in our friend’s boat, preparing to ride out Hurricane Sandy. We’ve stocked up on flashlights, water, and chips and guacamole. We’ve charged our cell phones, computers, and camera batteries. And we’ve got our foul weather gear standing by. While we still have power, we are monitoring Sandy on multiple weather websites.
I just read the recent news of the sinking of HMS Bounty. Its sad to know that another tall ship is lost from the fleet, and even worse that two crew members are missing. I know a lot is being said about this tragedy. I’ve read the news, their FB page, and anything else I can to find out more about those last two sailors. I’m disheartened by some of the comments and negative judgments placed on the Captain’s decisions during the last few days. Two sailors are still missing. The energy we pour into this situation should be respectfully focused on positive thoughts and prayers for their safe return, and the wellbeing of the USCG rescuers, all the Bounty crew, their family members, and what they now face after this loss.
I remember a delivery I was sailing on a few years ago. We were caught offshore in a strong gale. Things began to break, sails tore, and lines flogged. The rain poured down in sheets. A stool was thrown through the galley cabinet. A crew member was vomiting on herself in her bunk. When we weren’t on watch, we were ordered to stay in the cabin. But I didn’t need the order. I wanted to stay below anyway. The Captain told us that if we were working on deck we had to be clipped in. I will never forget him saying, “because if you fall overboard, we aren’t coming back for you.” The truth is, he probably couldn’t come back for us. None of us slept much. After 48 hours of not sleeping, I felt dizzy and disoriented. I even peed my pants without knowing it. The few times I’ve told that story, people have laughed. In hindsight, it is nice to be able to laugh at it. But staying awake for that long brings on a debilitating fatigue.
That might be the worst weather I’ve sailed in. It wasn’t fun, but what I learned is that there is never a single moment where a right or wrong decision is made. Its not that simple. Situations like this are never black and white. Usually what happens is a long series of small situations. Little things that can be managed individually go wrong such as weather, things breaking, injuries, sickness, darkness, fatigue, cold, etc. But collectively they are tragic. They all compound into a large problem. Most storms don’t strike suddenly. They steadily intensify while all your energy and abilities decline. They slowly grate you down. Those of us safe ashore can foolishly try to understand what happened. We can say, “they should have done this or that…” but we are wrong and thats the bottom line. There is absolutely no way I can understand all the layers of the situation the Bounty faced before and during the storm. And to make a statement like the ones I’ve read such as, “They shouldn’t have been out there anyway.” blocks all opportunities for learning from the situation.
Sometimes I wish it were that simple. That there was one pivotal moment where there is a clear decision to be made. Then I could go to sea with a stronger sense of confidence. But the scary thing is that moment doesn’t exist. Any one of us, despite our most informed decisions, could find ourselves lost in a complex and extreme plight dealing with more than what we can manage. The hardest part for me to make peace with is the fact that tragedy struck an experienced Captain who had been through many many severe storms before. Its a lesson that teaches us that no one is immune, no matter how many miles we’ve sailed.
It’s in our nature to want to understand situations like these. I want to understand it too. I believe in the goodness of people, that everyone leading the operation did so with good intentions and their best judgement. I know that its not possible to understand the situation intimately enough to judge the decisions made aboard the Bounty in the last few days. I think judging only invites bad sea-karma anyway. There will be a time for questions later. But really, only for questions.
There are a lot of ships at sea in the Atlantic right now. There are at least nine waiting to enter a nearby local port, which is unfortunately closed now. More than two dozen departed from NYC this morning because they determined it was better for them to be at sea then in port. Lets keep them all close to our hearts as well as the Bounty crew, their families, and the rescue team.
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