On the Bounty and the value of sail training vessels
February 14, 2013
Over the last two days I have been reading a friend’s live
Facebook notes from the Bounty investigation, as well as watching a live stream of
the proceedings when I have had the chance.
After working as a traditional sail training vessel captain
and crew off and on for the last 10 years, this sinking of the Bounty hit home for me and all
of my sail training friends. Many of them of shed a lot of blood, sweat and
tears aboard Bounty. On these vessels we work for little or no money, and there
are no unions involved. Our workdays often last well over 12 hours when not on
a transit, and during one contract I did not get a day off for 90 days.
One of my deckhands prepping a bilge for paint aboard Hawaiian Chieftan.
Today, one of the lawyers asked a witness to explain the
“phenomenon” surrounding these vessels. Much of the public does not understand
a traditional sailor’s love and devotion to these boats. The people who join
the boats are there because they have few glaring responsibilities ashore,
and they figured out that life isn’t all about money and buying things –
it’s about developing close relationships with a variety of people, learning a
trade, and engaging in an inherently dangerous activity that takes us out of
our comfort zone, allowing us to put trivial dramas into perspective.
After doing things like hanging from a wildly swinging,
loose piece of wood 70 feet above deck at 4 a.m. in the wind and rain off
the Washington coast, I eventually stopped caring about inconsequential things.
Most sail training vessels in the U.S. are either replicas of
square riggers from the 1700s, replica schooners from the mid-1800s, or
original vessels built in the early 1900s. There are several top-notch
operators in this field. The models for financial stability usually include
either vessels that are privately run by owner-operators, or non-profit
“science at sea” type programs.
Here, I'm tarring the rigging aboard the Elissa in Galveston.
There are exceptions, but the Bounty was not one of them, as far
as financial success goes. She was always thought of as struggling to stay
afloat (in more ways than one). She was high-maintenance, largely because she
was not built to be seaworthy for the long-term. She was even more unique
because she was the largest vessel in the U.S. sail training fleet that did not
hold a COI for carrying passengers underway.
Every former crewmember cherishes their experiences aboard the
, but in my discussions with them, I always got the feeling that the
camaraderie and the valuable skills they acquired aboard came from the constant
state of (mostly controlled) chaos. I’ve heard stories of people spending more
hours up in the rigging completing repairs than on deck over a three-month
period, and of a fire below decks during a Coast Guard inspection. Part of me
always wanted to crew on the
because other boats had more resources, had to
follow regulations more closely, and therefore didn’t allow as many
crisis-level learning experiences. I’m one of those people who retains the most
knowledge when the stuff is hitting the fan, and I have to figure out how to
Safe or not, when we lost the
, we lost a rare and
valuable experiential maritime training resource. But we gained a collection of
crewmembers who are now out of work.
These sailors have a deep
respect for traditional hawsepipe seamanship, and every modern vessel would
benefit from including at least one of these hardworking sailors in their crew.
Many of them have their TWIC cards, BST and either an AB or 100-ton captain’s
license. They use sail training vessels as free trade schools on their way up
the hawse, and now need either oceans time or more tonnage in order to rise up
through the ranks. Any boat that carries ordinary seamen and wipers should try to
hire from this pool first, if work ethic and teamwork are at all important.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to let the
traditional sailor crowd know about the positions available. I will get the word
out to them.