Lost at sea

November 2, 2012 

It’s evident, as searchers comb low-lying areas of New Jersey and Staten Island, that deaths in the U.S. caused by the Sandy storm will number over a hundred. Amid the heartbreak over losses in the Northeast and even in North Carolina, let us remember, too, those who died at sea.

Notably, two of the 16 people aboard the tall ship HMS Bounty died about 90 miles off Cape Hatteras after the sailing vessel, built in 1961 to resemble the mutiny-cursed original Bounty, lost power and began to sink in furious winds and confused seas.

Skilled and daring Coast Guard rescuers plucked 14 people from two rafts and brought them safely, by helicopter, to Elizabeth City. Their efforts were in the great tradition of the old-time Outer Banks lifesaving stations and the impossibly brave men who hurled rowboats into the breakers and set out to save the crews of ships grounding on the Banks’ stormy shoals.

Now the Coast Guard has another task. It will undertake a formal investigation into what caused the Bounty’s sinking. Word of the inquiry came Friday, not long after the search for its missing captain, Robin Walbridge, 63, was suspended. Earlier, Claudene Christian, 42, died as the crew abandoned ship.

The investigation, expected to take several months, will determine what went wrong and why. It’s easy to cast blame now, but wiser to await the official findings.

Except that there’s one unavoidable truth: Off Hatteras in a big storm is no place to be. The Graveyard of the Atlantic earned its name a thousand times over, in the days of sail and steam.

This week, at Sandy’s height, a three-masted wooden sailing vessel, its diesel engines gone silent, followed an eerily parallel course.

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