HMS Bounty captain talked of 'chasing' hurricanes

A crew member of HMS Bounty who abandoned ship shortly before the Nova Scotia-built vessel sank in Hurricane Sandy tells a U.S. federal panel how the captain described "chasing hurricanes" before the ill-fated voyage.

U.S. panel investigates tall ship's sinking during storm off North Carolina

This photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows the HMS Bounty submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy, Oct. 29, 2012. (U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Kuklewski/Associated Press)

An HMS Bounty crew member who abandoned ship shortly before the Nova Scotia-built vessel sank in Hurricane Sandy has recalled how the captain described "chasing hurricanes" before the ill-fated voyage and talked about how to best navigate during a big storm.

John Svendsen, chief mate of the Bounty, was testifying Tuesday before a federal safety panel run by the U.S. Transportation Safety Board and U.S. Coast Guard in Portsmouth, Va.

The panel is looking into the cause of the Oct. 29, 2012, sinking 145 kilometres off Cape Hatteras, N.C., during the storm. One member of the crew died, and the captain was never found.

Svendsen, one of 14 survivors, was asked about an interview Walbridge had with a local media outlet in Belfast, Maine, in August 2012.

"[Walbridge] stated that he was asked if he had been in any heavy weather, and he stated that he chased hurricanes," Svendsen said of the video he saw.

He replied "yes" when asked whether the captain's comments made during that interview were "consistent with how he operated Bounty."

"Chasing a storm as I had it described by Robin was to get onto the navigable side, or the southeast side as he described in the video, of a storm, so you get the favourable winds of the storm," Svendsen said.

A Coast Guard officer then asked him on what occasions did he observe the captain "directing Bounty into close proximity of hurricanes or large storms." Svendsen noted two times — once during a voyage from Boothbay, Maine, to Puerto Rico when the crew "encountered storms," and then in October 2012 during Hurricane Sandy.

Svendsen earlier described Walbridge as a "gentleman who had been master of Bounty for 17 years" and as someone who was "always available to teach and share his knowledge of traditional sailing."

The safety panel has scheduled testimony from the 14 surviving crew members, representatives of the shipyard where the Bounty underwent repairs weeks before sinking, and captains of similar ships that stayed in port during Sandy.

The ship was built in Lunenburg, N.S., for the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty and appeared in other seafaring dramas. It was sailing from Connecticut for Florida when it sank.

With files from The Associated Press