Blue Island man rescued from sunken Bounty during Hurricane Sandy
BY STEVE METSCH Sun-Times Mediafirstname.lastname@example.org October 30, 2012 8:16PM
Drew Salapatek, HMS Bounty crew survivor, pictured during an Atlantic Ocean crossing in 2011. | Supplied photo
Updated: December 1, 2012 4:56PM
A 28-year-old Blue Island man is among 14 crew members who survived the sinking of the HMS Bounty in the churning waters of the Atlantic Ocean during the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy early Monday.
One crew member is dead and the ship’s captain was still missing Tuesday night, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
But Drew Salapatek is safe, resting with fellow members of the ship in Elizabeth City, N.C., his father, Jim Salapatek, said Tuesday.
Drew grew up in Blue Island and graduated from Eisenhower High School in 2001. He’s been a Bounty crew member for two years.
“I just talked to him earlier. One minute they’re laughing, the next minute they’re crying. Right now they’re just trying to heal. He’s safe. He’s safe. And they should be home probably in two or three days,” said Jim Salapatek, owner of Burr Oak TV in Blue Island.
Although Drew Salapatek was not available Tuesday, his father recounted the deckhand’s harrowing final hours on the HMS Bounty, a 180-foot, three-masted ship that is a replica of the famed British ship that inspired several “Mutiny on the Bounty” movies. The ship originally was built for the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando, and it was later featured in several other films, including one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.
The Bounty’s crew on Sunday tried in vain to keep the Bounty afloat as the storm neared shore.
One of the two generators failed and the bilge pumps were at half capacity. The ship began taking on water. After the captain gave the order to abandon ship — which recently had a $1.5 million renovation — the crew tried to get into two 25-person life rafts. That’s when a large wave knocked the Bounty on one side, spilling the crew into the sea with some entangled in the rigging.
“So now the fight was to swim out from that in the dead of night in total darkness. They had to swim to the life rafts,” he said.
News of the sinking left him fearful for his son’s safety and “sick to my stomach.” Those fears were eased a few hours later when Drew Salapatek called, his father said, his voice choked with emotion.
The Coast Guard staged a dramatic rescue at sea to save the surviving crew members, but later found crew member Claudene Christian, 42, unresponsive. She was later declared dead.
The search continues for the ship’s captain, Robin Walbridge, 63, the Coast Guard said.
“After the loss of one of their crew mates, and the probable loss of their captain, who was a friend and all that, they’re on an emotional roller coaster right now,” Salapatek said.
Christian was a descendant of Fletcher Christian, who led the famed 1789 mutiny on the Bounty against Capt. William Bligh, Salapatek said.
She was “the life of the party, a blond bombshell who was smiling all the time,” said Salapatek, who sailed on the Bounty this summer with his son to Nova Scotia.
Drew Salapatek fell in love with the sea in his 20s when he was on a ship taking supplies to Haiti after a hurricane, his father said.
“He’s got salt in his blood,” his father said.
He eventually got a job as a deckhand on the Bounty and has since “seen the world,” his dad said. That includes a five-week trek across the Atlantic last year.
“They lived on the boat. This was their home and their job. It’s like your house burns to the ground and you’ve lost your job. Everything you own is gone. They lived on the ship for 10 months a year,” Salapatek said.
The Coast Guard used ships and airplanes to search the Atlantic on Tuesday for Walbridge, and was optimistic he could still be alive in his blazing red survival suit 90 miles off the North Carolina coast.
The search for him was hampered by 15-foot waves, but the water temperature was about 77 degrees.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into survivability. Right now we’re going to continue to search. Right now we’re hopeful,” Coast Guard Capt. Joe Kelly said.
The ship had been touring the Eastern seaboard this year, Jim Salapatek said.
“The year before, they crossed the Atlantic and toured Europe. Basically, the sailing season was over. They had just put up in Maine for maintenance and repairs, painting, caulking. They had one final festival they were going to participate in down in St. Petersburg, Fla.,” Salapatek said.
After repairs were made in Maine, and after a demonstration sailing day with members of a nuclear submarine, the USS Mississippi, the Bounty set sail from New London, Conn., and hoped to avoid the storm en route, Salapatek said.
“Well, they had the hurricane in the way. But the captain, he’s experienced. He’s been captain of the ship more than 20 years, and they’ve been in weather like this before,” Salapatek said. “They rode out a hurricane in ’92.”
This time, the Bounty was not as fortunate.
When it set sail last week, Walbridge believed he could navigate the ship around the storm. After two days in rough seas, he realized his journey would be far more difficult.
“I think we are going to be into this for several days,” Walbridge said in a message posted Sunday on the vessel’s Facebook site, which reads like a ship’s log of its activities. “We are just going to keep trying to go fast.”
By the time the first rescue helicopter arrived, all that was visible of the ship was a strobe light atop the mighty vessel’s submerged masts. The roiling Atlantic Ocean had claimed the rest.
Rochelle Smith, 44, met Christian this summer when they sailed the HMS Bounty in Nova Scotia.
“She loved the Bounty. She absolutely loved it. She was so happy to be on it and doing something that she found that she loved to do,” said Smith, a medical transcriptionist who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
The vessel left Connecticut on Thursday with a crew of 11 men and five women, ranging in age from 20 to 66. Everyone aboard knew the journey could be treacherous.
“This will be a tough voyage for Bounty,” read a posting on the Facebook page that showed a map of its coordinates and satellite images of the storm.
Photos showed the majestic vessel plying deep blue waters and the crew working in the rigging or keeping watch on the wood-planked deck.
As Sandy’s massive size became more apparent, a post on Saturday tried to soothe any worried supporters: “Rest assured that the Bounty is safe and in very capable hands. Bounty’s current voyage is a calculated decision ... NOT AT ALL ... irresponsible or with a lack of foresight as some have suggested. The fact of the matter is ... A SHIP IS SAFER AT SEA THAN IN PORT!”
But as the storm gathered strength, the Facebook posts grew grimmer.
By midmorning Monday, the last update was short and ominous: “Please bear with us ... There are so many conflicting stories going on now. We are waiting for some confirmation.”
Tracie Simonin, director of the HMS Bounty Organization, said the ship tried to stay clear of Sandy’s power.
“It was something that we and the captain of the ship were aware of,” Simonin said.
Coast Guard video of the rescue showed crew members being loaded one by one into a basket before the basket was hoisted into the helicopter.
When they returned to the mainland, some were wrapped in blankets, still wearing the survival suits they put on to stay warm in the chilly waters.
The survivors received medical attention and were to be interviewed for a Coast Guard investigation. The Coast Guard did not make them available to reporters.
Gary Farber was watching crewman Doug Faunt’s house while his friend sailed. He hasn’t heard from Faunt directly, but made sure he relayed Faunt’s Facebook postings he made as the ship went down, including “The ship sank beneath us, but we swam free and mostly got into two rafts.”
“Doug is a jack-of-all-trades, but I am surprised he was able to get his cell phone and send messages as the ship went down,” Farber said by telephone of his friend.
The Bounty’s captain was from St. Petersburg and learned to sail at age 10, according to his biography on the Bounty’s website. Prior to the Bounty, he served as first mate on the HMS Rose — the Bounty’s sister ship.
“The ship was almost like his home,” said Smith, who met Walbridge in 2010 when she sailed the Bounty. “That’s where he spent most of his time, was aboard the ship. He was so full of history and so interesting to talk to. And he knew his sailing stuff.”
A posting on the Facebook page for the ship said they “mourn the loss of Bounty crew member Claudene Christian and pray for the continued efforts to rescue our beloved captain, Robin Walbridge.”
A relief fund has been established by former crew members for donations to the families of Christian and Walbridge, along with the 14 surviving members of the crew. Donations can be sent via PayPal to HMSBounty2012@Yahoo.com.