The Bounty fiasco and an undeserved black eye

“Sail training” and tall ship sailors has certainly gotten a black eye over the past two weeks. Some of the criticisms are well thought out; and, hopefully, some positive things will come out of the Bounty fiasco.

However, this forum has hosted many unwarranted, disparaging comments about the people who crew these “tall ships” I am posting this to, hopefully, put some of the “sail training” discussion back on a charted course.

Regarding all of the comments about inexperienced, unprofessional crew on tall ships: If you have been sailing on a tall ship for two weeks – and have half a brain – you will be a contributing member of the crew.

You need to know to work with a line under a load. You have to know how to furl a sail. And you have to be able to follow instructions. That is pretty much it. No need for master mariners in the deck crew.

If you can make a bowline, a round turn with two half hitches and a clove hitch – even better. Coiling and belaying a line – you will learn that in a day or two.

And depending on the rig, you may have to be able to go aloft.

Maximum two weeks and you can be a contributing member to the crew. Either that or you just don’t belong on a boat.

A century ago, tall ships were manned the same way. You had a few seasoned deckhands, a mate and master, and a bunch of people who didn’t know anything on day one. Or, do you really think a deckhand joined a sailing ship a hundred years ago and said “So what school did you go to?”

That is not to say that crewing on “sail training” vessels does not require a high level of skill. It does. There are a whole lot of required skills most of which have nothing to do with being a mariner. For example: You need to have a good attitude; in part, because you will have very little if any personal space. There is also a lot team work required. You have to be able to work well and play well with others. You have to be able to take constructive criticism. And you have to be able to learn from your mistakes rather than repeat them.

Now comes the hard part: working with kids who come onboard. Most of them are there because their guardian or teacher made them do it.

As a crew member you have to have unbridled enthusiasm, tremendous patience and a willingness to work with kids. Strike one, strike two and strike three for some of the g.captain posters.

I stated out as a volunteer on tall ships, eventually quit my corporate job, worked for a few years on “sail training” vessels and then went the commercial route. I would like to share with you the most valuable skill I learned sailing on tall ships.

I did a lot of sailing with inner-city kids who lived in bad neighborhoods, attended failing schools - and the cherry on top - came from a bad family situation.

A common mistake of well-meaning, want-to-be mentors was that they would start out an interaction with a kid with a question like: The boat we are on now is a 120-feet long. Do you know how long Columbus’s ships were? Note: it was hoped that this well-intentioned effort would begin a dialog with said kid that would end later in the sail with a young person deciding that “yes college and graduate is a better opportunity for me than becoming a rap star”.

That mentor failed to realize was that in this young person’s world, being the smart guy isn’t necessarily an admired trait. In fact, the classroom is viewed as an opportunity to be embarrassed and humiliated rather than educated.

What the kid hears the adult saying is: “I know something you don’t know. I know that you don’t know. And now I am going to point out that yo don’t know.”

And the kid thinks: “In a few moments, I am going to have an even lower opinion of myself than I already have”.

This fear is oftened masked by a false bravado or complete withdrawal, or at best indifference. Occasionally the toughest kid on day one is the kid sobbing at the end of the week after they have developed enough trust to open-up to said mentor about a life problem.

The skill is learning how to build trust with a kid and to create the curiosity in the kid’s mind. The boat becomes a classroom where the line between teacher and student becomes very blurred.

This is what most of “sail training” is about.

I had the privilege to meet a lot of really great people in the wrongly named “sail training community”. Many of them were retired people who want to the opportunity to give back to the community. Some were fresh out of college. Some were attracted by the living history. Some were looking for an outdoor activity. And, yes, some of them were tree-hugging, granola chomping , want-to be actors, who showed up to volunteer because the renn fair was rained out.

But the common thread is that they are very good people. And they deserve far better treatment than they have received on this forum over the past couple of weeks.

And if you think your better than they are, in part, because you were able to pass a Coast Guard multiple choice test, you might be mistaken.

Thank you…
That was incredibly well stated, and with great restraint considering all the chatter of late.
We all lose track sometimes, and the anger over the loss of life due to one mans poor decision has many of the professional Mariners rightly upset. We don’t suffer fools lightly, but none the less, no offense was meant to the many great teachers and Mentors of this TSC.
My thoughts and prayers are with those who suffered and or lost their loved ones…

Humming kumbaya under my breath as I type this .,
Thanks for a very nice post.
The reason for the backlash was being told we didn’t have the expertise to comment on this tragedy.
Of any community I have come across on the Internet this is one that has a preponderance of members who have done a lot more than “just passed a multiple choice test”.

Sorry. It IS a well deserved swollen, black and blue, bloodshot, tear stained eye!

While the concept of ‘true’ sailors, experienced crew and safe operations do exist… The lack of knowledgeable oversight has been around since the concept of privately owned, pay for ‘trainee’ time, outward bound, shoestring budget operations started, the venerable HMS Bounty has done more to illuminate the tallship society for what it truly is. A way to run sailing ships with ‘paying passengers’ who are then listed as trainee, or some other name, so the vessels don’t have to be inspected, meet full safety standards and put the entire ‘crew’ (wink wink) at risk.

There is a reason sailing ships were relegated to the dustbins of old. At the age of the Bounty (heck, even half the age… It even a quarter the age!) These old ships became barns, or were ran up on shore and became docks. I don’t ever recall any old stories about any old 50 year old sailing boats that ended on a good note.

It is sad that an ‘Industry’ that does not pay a living wage to the entire crew, depends upon modern day impressment of seamen for manning, and uses a sneaky method of having help ‘pay’ and NOT be considered passengers that needs defending.

Makes me glad I saw the light 'working for Bob Douglas over 30 years ago. I was young, but saw the incongruity then. The Shennandoah is currently OUT of service. Why? She is 1 year younger than the Bounty. Coincidence? Most likely not!

Just to get something clear here. BOUNTY was not a “Sail Training Vessel” which are inspected under 46CFR subchapter R and have a minimum safe manning determination. BOUNTY was an 46CFR subchapter C uninspected passenger vessel which is worse as far as any oversight goes regarding safety of construction and equipment but to the best of my knowledge, nobody aboard BOUNTY on Oct 29th had paid for the privilege to be there that awful night. They might have been volunteers however.

Most of us recognize there are many competent mariners,sailors, seamen in the TSC. Many feel it is unregulated high seas theatre. The vocal majority of bashers all agree on one thing the “Master” of that vessel FAILED his crew miserably. All of us that work in the oilfield had to endure this same thing after DWH. As we all know the truth hurts. Judging by all the comments here, on the news and the interweb this was not an isolated incident. As the oilfield people had to do now the TSC has to take a long hard look at itself. Professional mariners are motivated to make a good wage and get home safely. In the TSC it appears that each vessel master has his on cult of personality and his fair share of sycophants for crew. In that instance you’re only as safe as the guy making all the decisions. This particular instance was a case of the blind leading the blind and it ended in catastrophe. If they had miraculously completed their voyage we would still find this man craven for taking that vessel out into a hurricane.

[QUOTE=Fraqrat;88524] In the TSC it appears that each vessel master has his on cult of personality and his fair share of sycophants for crew. .[/QUOTE]

Thank you for your timely illustration of my point.

The training under sail that PMC helped perform should be applauded. I wonder how many would have the same dedication in training unpaid crew for little or no reward other than helping some young folks? Having had experience [not as crew] with a previous sailing ship owner by the name of Burke I am afraid my opinion is not too high of the owners of these craft and their maintenance scheme. Perhaps I painted with too broad a brush but there seems to be a disproportionate number of bad apples in the TSC community.

Fraqrat nailed what we have all been saying.

We aren’t after the volunteers trying to help young kids. It’s the Masters and senior crew that think they sail any where any time placing peoples lives needlessly at risk and the owners who instead of manning up and either fix things right or haul the thing up and take it apart for firewood. Not keep patching things over and hoping to dump their bad investment on another star eyed rich guy wanting to call himself an owner of a tall ship.

The master and owner of the Bounty forget the order of things.

  1. Crew- Am about to put a crew members life needlessly at risk?
  2. Vessel- Am I about to do something I shouldn’t and damage the vessel?
  3. Cargo- Is it going to make it to the end of the voyage safe?

Just like in DWH life was needlessly lost because a date to complete a goal was put above all of those.

[QUOTE=PMC;88511] … “A century ago, tall ships were manned the same way. You had a few seasoned deckhands, a mate and master, and a bunch of people who didn’t know anything on day one. Or, do you really think a deckhand joined a sailing ship a hundred years ago and said “So what school did you go to?” … [/QUOTE]

A century ago, the Golden Age of Square Rigging Sailing Ships was well in its decline and was rapidly replaced by Steam Ships. In that era, only few schooners survived. But two to three centuries ago, a full-rigged frigate like HMS Bounty were manned by bunch of people who didn’t know anything, like:

1 Lieutenant Commander, 1 Master, 2 Masters Mates
1 Quarter Master Mate, 2 Quarter Masters
1 Boatswains Mate, 1 Boatswain, 2 Midshipmen
1 Carpenters Mate, 1 Carpenter, 1 Carpenter Crew, 1 Sail maker
24 Able Seamen and … Cooks, Surgeon, Clerk, Caporal, Gunners, Armourer & Botanists !!!

… “And if you think your better than they are, in part, because you were able to pass a Coast Guard multiple choice test, you might be mistaken” …

Nowadays to succeed to a Master Mariner unlimited examination, you just have to be able to sign your name at the bottom of the form cause the multiple choice test has already been answered.

… “You have to be able to take constructive criticism. And you have to be able to learn from your mistakes rather than repeat them” …

That constructive statement equally applies to you and your community.


Face it guys you’re fishing for sympathy in a dry hole. No one needed to start another thread on this. Everything has already been said next door in 300+ posts. There will be no quarter given here.

[QUOTE=Fraqrat;88561]Face it guys you’re fishing for sympathy in a dry hole. There will be no quarter given here.[/QUOTE]

I think they were surprised that the professional mariner community (PMC) didn’t bubble over with condolences and support after the tragic loss of one of their best and most experienced captains courageous.

It is as if they believe they share some bond with working sailors and actually believed someone here would give them a hug and say they understand how that big bad storm just came up out of nowhere and took the ship away from the heroic captain who gave his life fightng the elements in a futile attempt to save his ship and crew - they believe he did everything he could - yeah, right, he did everything except for getting them rooms in the nearest Holiday Inn and having a storm party in the bar until it passed.

If after 300+ posts telling them that their hero was a criminally negligent idiot you would hope that they would get the idea that something is wrong with their club and its members. They were in a position to prevent this and didn’t say or do a thing to stop it. They knew what kind of dangerous fool was running that ship, they had almost 20 years to watch him and never said a word about it. They used that ship and that idiot to promote their own dockside attractions and sideshow cruises.

Well, TSC apologists, look for sympathy and kind words elsewhere, most of us here just call it as we see it and there just aren’t many who see much glory or glamour or professionalism in taking a rotting, undermanned, leaking, poorly maintained wooden carnival ride into what was recognized even before Bounty sailed as the largest hurricane ever to hit the US east coast.

Steamer, thanks for drawing an important distinction – TSC apologists vs TSC realists.

TSC is still a novel notion to most of us, though I agree there is obviously no “Industry” associated with what we do.

Hmmm. I just looked at the profile on mb05j, expecting to see that he/she was a volunteer on a tall ship for a while. Maybe sailed for two weeks over three years. And then I see that the has a 1600-ton license. All I can say is: Holy crap! mbj05j, as one tall ship sailor to another - stop talking. You are embarrassing yourself and anyone else who has ever gone to sea. You don’t speak for anyone that I know who sails on square-riggers. And now I have a better idea about where the anger on this forum comes from.

To other posters I say “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. And thank god I am not sailing with this guy!

edited…I need to rethink my reply.

Good points were made on both sides of this issue. Bottom line is A) tall ship guys; stop thinking you are professional mariners. You’re ships are nothing more than a hobby. You serve no commercial interest and you have no business risking the lives of your crew and the people who have to rescue you when you screw up. And B) Profesional mariners; Say a prayer for those affected and keep a sharp lookout for these narcassistic nincompoops who feel the need to take a toy out on the ocean risking all involved.

I’m not trying to make a smart-ass comment here. Serious question: where does the Coast Guard Academy barque “Eagle” fit in here? WAFI? Blowboat? Thespians? Pirates? Mariners? And if you think those that sail the Eagle are mariners, do tall ships serve a useful purpose in the 21st century?

Why not use the other (pretty much all encompassing) thread to ask this? The contextual answers you are looking for have already been written (ad nauseaum) over there!

If you like you can start a Monday thread and a Tuesday thread to spread out the info if you like.!

[QUOTE=PMC;88746]I’m not trying to make a smart-ass comment here. Serious question: where does the Coast Guard Academy barque “Eagle” fit in here? [/QUOTE]

It is a USCG owned and operated training ship. It is professionally maintained to the highest possible standard and the trainees really are trainees. They are service academy cadets selected for and under the same standards as other service academies. Quite simply, the only comparison you can possibly make is that the Eagle has masts and sails. The caliber of people onboard it, the reason for its existence, and its quality of maintenance has nothing in common with the carnival boats.

do tall ships serve a useful purpose in the 21st century?

Aside from the legitimate naval cadet training ships, not really.

They are colorful entertainment for many. They are about the same as the biplanes in a summer “barnstorming” show, they are fun to watch, neat to get a ride around the airport, but hardly a serious component of any aerospace operation and far from safe and reliable transportation. They are about the same as a surplus army tank driving around at a reenactment, they provide a bit of fantasy adventure for people who wish they had not missed the real thing - or never knew that many of those that didn’t miss it didn’t survive it either.

Bounty is a perfect example of what happens when fantasy meets reality.

Sometimes ‘critical reading and thinking’ comes into play.

A thorough reading of the ‘other thread’ shows the USCG Eagle was mentioned because she was IN the exact same harbor tied up to another dock as was the mighty HMS Bounty prior to the arrival of Sandy. One Captain used the pretext “A ship is safer at sea than in port” to justify taking a 52 year old Movie prop out into a Hurricane. The other Captain opted to stay put. Does this point out a difference in logic and though process’?

And IIRC the full context was the term " Nautical Thespian". It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. But if you need help… People who ACT professionally are thespians. The crew of Tall Ships ACT like sailors. They admittedly do take pride and are good at their “craft”. But, it is still acting. THEREFORE they are Nautical Thespians. BTW, Nautical Thespians have one trick they like to do, it is the “Nautical Squirrel”. that is to dart to and fro, in a rapid, unpredictable manner making it difficult (if not impossible) for others to miss running them over!