When Hurricane Sandy was forming in the Caribbean, Capt. Dan Moreland decided his square-rigged sailing ship, the Picton Castle, wasn’t going anywhere soon.
Weather forecasts showed the late October storm was getting big, and it was impossible to know where it was going. Moreland postponed the Picton Castle’s scheduled departure from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, for the South Pacific.
He was shocked to learn Capt. Robin Walbridge had taken the tall sailing ship Bounty to sea with the hurricane approaching, leaving New London, Conn., en route to St. Petersburg, Fla., he said.
“I can’t imagine there being any reason at all for being out there,” Moreland said. “It’s mind-boggling.”
He testified by phone from Tahiti on Wednesday during the Coast Guard hearing into the Bounty’s Oct. 29 sinking about 90 miles off Cape Hatteras.
Walbridge was lost at sea, and another crew member, Claudene Christian died. The Coast Guard rescued 14 people.
Capt. Jan Miles of the Pride of Baltimore II, who also testified Wednesday, said he was stunned Walbridge had set sail. Miles’ ship rode out Sandy docked in Baltimore.
He said one of his goals is to expose the Pride II to the least amount of heavy weather as possible.
Both Moreland and Miles said they didn’t believe a ship such as the Bounty is safer at sea than at port during a hurricane. Walbridge had told the Bounty crew one reason the ship was leaving was because it would be safer at sea.
Miles wrote an open letter to Walbridge after the sinking, calling his decision to sail “reckless in the extreme.”
Moreland said the Bounty probably could have tied up safely in New London or gone to New Bedford, Mass., or Mystic Seaport, Conn., to weather the storm in port.
The purpose of the hearing is to figure out what caused the Bounty to sink and how to prevent a similar event. It also will examine whether there was any misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence or willful violation of the law.