Books+Media

Book Review: The Sinking of the Bounty

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If you Google HMS Bounty, the now-perished tall ship’s website, tallshipbounty.org, still appears as the fifth search result with a description of the historic vessel underneath. Click on the link though, and you’re led to a blank white page. It’s an eerie reminder of the tragic events that led to the Bounty’s sinking during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

The Sinking of the Bounty, by Matthew Shaer, chronicles the days, hours and even minutes of the tall ship’s and her crew’s losing battle with the destructive superstorm. The book is available only in e-book form on Atavist.com, and its 21 pages include a variety of interactive multimedia to enhance readers’ experience of the ship’s demise. Coast Guard video footage of crew rescues and embedded links to photos, diagrams, maps, a timeline of events, definitions of sailing terms and short character biographies scattered throughout the text make sure readers never miss a beat of this complicated and captivating tragedy.

The Bounty was an enlarged replica of the 1787 Royal Navy sailing ship HMS Bounty. Her construction was commissioned for the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando. The original 18th century naval vessel was the setting of an uprising in 1789 that eventually led to the ship’s destruction in 1790. The replica ship was to be burned after filming ended, but Brando reportedly threatened to walk off the set and not finish the movie under those circumstances.

And so, the Bounty survived until her last voyage in October 2012, undergoing a number of restorations in her tumultuous life.

Shaer captures the fight for survival aboard a doomed-from-the-start ship, won by 10 crew members and tragically lost by two, captain Robin Waldbridge and crew member Claudene Christian, in heartbreaking detail that makes the book an emotional read. Shaer writes about volunteer engineer Doug Faunt’s decision about which of his possessions to save before abandoning ship:

“He dashed back to his cabin and took a quick inventory. He wouldn’t be able to bring much with him—he was going to lose his bicycle, most of his clothing, his radio gear, his books. In the end, he settled on his rescue and his teddy bear, Mush, which he strapped to his chest.”

Shaer includes suspenseful dialogue and firsthand accounts from all involved with the ship, including crewmembers that experienced the storm and shipyard workers who had encountered the Bounty over the years.

There’s plenty of speculation about why Bounty’s longtime captain Robin Walbridge, known for his intense dedication to the ship, sailed right into the worst of Sandy. In the book, Shaer intersperses background and analyses but never comes to any conclusions, and that’s the way it should be. The mystery surrounding the Bounty is complex, sensitive, and controversial, and Shaer explains it as best as anyone can. 

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