I’m saddened by the news that HMS Bounty Capt. Robin Walbridge is missing and feared dead. I had the privilege of going aboard the Bounty and meeting him on a couple occasions while working for The Times Record. There’s a lot of scurrilous talk flying around the internet about him being a bad captain right now. I don’t believe it. I watched him handle that ship. He was good. No one knew the vessel better. You almost wouldn’t believe how he steered the 180-foot ship against the tide on the Kennebec River, making a hard turn, threading a ledge and letting her float gently backwards up against the dock at the Maine Maritime Museum. It was a thing of beauty.
It’s awful that the ship went down. It’s worse that lives were lost. But that’s how most wooden sailing ships of the 18th and 19th centuries ended up: on the bottom of the sea. It’s almost fitting. I think — if its working life had to end — it’s more fitting to go this way than to rot at a mooring or dry dock. I’ve always liked reading about ships from the days of commercial sail. I feel bad for the beautiful ones who were cut down to scows or coal barges when their days were done. It always seemed better to end up losing a hard-fought battle with the elements.
But, maybe that’s just an overly romantic, landlubber way of thinking. I don’t know.
BDN reporter Seth Koenig met the good captain while working with me at the TR. Here’s what he has to say.
On two occasions when I was working with The Times Record out of Bath I wrote about the HMS Bounty — both times, the tall ship was coming with great fanfare to the Maine Maritime Museum on shores of the Kennebec River.
The ship’s captain, Robin Walbridge, made a tremendous impression during our interviews. He was charismatic and adventurous, but also weathered and knowing, a combination of qualities I imagined was a throwback to sea captains in generations gone by. As the Bounty had been so often used by Hollywood as its go-to pirate ship or other period vessel, Walbridge had rubbed elbows with the likes of movie stars — Johnny Depp, who played Capt. Jack Sparrow in the blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, was perhaps the most famous. Yet he didn’t exhibit a sense of entitlement or rub-off stardom. Rather, it kind of sounded like Depp was the lucky one to have spent some time around Walbridge, hearing about his exploits at sea and this history of the old Bounty.
Capt. Walbridge was magnetic and laid back. My memories of our interviews are replayed in my mind over soundtracks of Jimmy Buffett, and my daydreamed version of the biopic about Walbridge stars Mickey Rourke in the title role. I’m not sure if those are perfect choices, but those are the ones my mind keeps coming back to. Going down with his ship is the heroic end for many a legendary sea captain. I wish Capt. Walbridge didn’t fit the old role so perfectly.