Late afternoon, Thursday, October 25
Walbridge scanned the faces of his crew members as they stood on deck at the ship's berth in New London, Connecticut.
It was an all-hands meeting at the capstan, a spool-shaped piece of equipment that sits near the helm -- a place made sacred by its role as a gathering place for the Bounty family. In just a few hours, the vessel was scheduled to set sail for St. Petersburg, Florida, where it would host tours for paying customers.
St. Petersburg was also home for Bounty's captain, a lifelong sailor with a weathered face, hearing aids and thinning gray hair he often tied back in a tiny ponytail. There, he shared a comfy 1930s home with his wife, whom he fondly called Miss Claudia. She hadn't seen her wandering sailor for a month. But it was Walbridge's 63rd birthday, and the couple had spoken via Skype that morning. They were both eager for a reunion. Between them loomed Hurricane Sandy.
The skies over Connecticut were mostly clear, with light winds and temperatures in the high 50s. But the Internet was already screaming warnings about the storm, located about 125 miles east-southeast of Nassau, Bahamas. Forecasters predicted Sandy would grow larger in the next couple of days and zigzag northwest, then north-northeast, up along the Eastern Seaboard.
Walbridge knew there was concern among his crew. Worried friends and family had called and texted. First mate John Svendsen would later say he privately urged Walbridge to delay the trip -- to stay in New London or head to an out-of-the-way port. So the captain, with 17 years at Bounty's helm, called the crew together.
Meetings around the capstan traditionally allowed for give and take between commander and crew. This time, Walbridge didn't invite discussion. Instead, he did all the talking.
Describing Sandy, Walbridge used the word "Frankenstorm," by one account, a reference to the media frenzy surrounding the hurricane. He described its predicted path and, as another shipmate put it, his "plan of attack" aimed at harnessing the storm's winds to increase Bounty's speed.
Ships are safer at sea during hurricanes, Walbridge said. I've sailed into hurricanes before.
Next, Walbridge revealed the bottom line: Anyone who wants to abandon the voyage has the option to do so, he said. The commander made it clear there would be no hard feelings.
There was no mention of future employment on the Bounty for departing crew, the third mate testified, nor did the captain offer to pay expenses home.
Any takers? No hands went up.
And no one at the meeting -- including the first mate -- voiced any worries about the journey.
On this day, there was no mutiny on the Bounty. Its crew members put their faith in the captain.
Chapter 3: Ocean nomads
They ranged in age from 20 to 66.
Four had been on the Bounty only a few months. Others, a few years. For the engineer and the cook, it was their maiden voyage.
Landing a job on a traditionally rigged wooden tall ship isn't easy. U.S. vessels number in the mere dozens. The Bounty crew members were typical of those who compete for the coveted spots. Many grow up in coastal towns with proud sailing traditions. Some are students or retired naval enthusiasts or Maine schooner bums. Or even middle-aged women who play Mama Bear to a boatload of ocean nomads.
Boarding Bounty for the first time -- as a tourist -- was all it took to make 20-year-old Anna Sprague yearn for that life. The Auburn University journalism major inherited her love for sailing from her father and nurtured it by competing on the school sailing team. But it was at a festival in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia, last May that she caught the tall-ship bug.
From the moment her feet touched the deck she made up her mind to sign on. She knew that winning a job on a tall ship could open doors to her dream: adventure combined with constant travel.
Sprague explored Bounty's 180 feet of oak and Douglas fir. Her eyes followed the lines of its three wooden masts stretching a hundred feet into the sky. Every part of the ship, she knew, served a unique purpose, including its 100-plus rope lines and complicated rigging.
With her trademark drive and confidence, Sprague marched up to a crew member and asked, "How can I be you?"
Later that day, she encountered John Svendsen who, as first mate, was second in command. At 41, with hair reaching down to the middle of his back, Svendsen had spent most of his life on the ocean, logging time as a diving teacher and boat captain. He'd joined the Bounty in February 2010.
Confronted with Sprague's enthusiasm and confidence, Svendsen offered her a chance to volunteer as a deckhand. A few months later, she'd earned a paid gig.
She was in.