HMS Bounty Sinks

Hurricane Sandy, and the nor’easter accompanying her, are smashing into the eastern U.S. coast as I write this – my daughter Holly is barricaded in her apartment in Philadelphia, where her backyard wall just blew away.  And my mother and aunt are stranded in Alexandria, Virginia.  My other aunt is even closer to the storm, in northern New Jersey, and my uncle is riding it out in Manhattan.  So basically I have family all around the periphery (right now it’s just high winds here in southwest Ohio).  I’m confident that all of my family will be safe.  But thousands of people have had to evacuate, power is down everywhere… and, unfortunately, lives have been lost.

One of the victims was a crewmember of the tall ship HMS Bounty: deckhand Claudine Christian.  Her body was found this evening.  The Bounty’s longtime captain, Robin Walbridge, is still missing.  The other 14 crewmembers made it safely into rafts.  The Bounty herself has joined thousands of other ships in the Graveyard of the Atlantic, off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The Bounty is a 180-foot three-masted ship that was built for the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty,” starring Marlon Brando, and it was also used in one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.  It is a replica of the original British vessel that, on April 28, 1789, experienced the most famous sea mutiny in history.  First mate Fletcher Christian (could Claudine possibly be related?) and other mutineers overtook tyrannical Captain William Bligh, then forced him and his supporters into an open boat in the middle of the South Pacific.  Christian sailed to Tahiti, and eventually to obscure Pitcairn Island, where he lived out a short and troubled life.  Bligh unbelievably navigated his boat and crew over 3,000 miles to safety – the greatest open boat journey in history.

The true reasons for Christian’s mutiny are unclear.  Bligh was certainly domineering, possibly brutal, but he wasn’t unlike many other ships’ captains of the time, who were essentially dictators on their vessels.  There is evidence that the mutineers were hypnotized by the utopian, sexually uninhibited society on Tahiti, and thus wanted to return.  But could this have been enough reason for Christian to send half the ship’s company to almost-certain death in a longboat, and to commit himself to the wrath of the exalted Royal English Navy, as well as permanent ostracism from his homeland?  Was it pride, lust, impetuousness, or a combination of all?  We’ll never know.

POSTSCRIPT: According to the ChronicleHerald of Nova Scotia, which recently interviewed her, Claudene Christian was 42 years old and the 5th great-granddaughter of Fletcher Christian.   Our hearts go out to her family.

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