By Eric Bourque
Among those saddened by the tragedy of the HMS Bounty was Yarmouth County resident John Allan, who 50 years ago was a crew member aboard the ship.
Just this past summer, in Lunenburg, Allan had met Claudene Christian, who died Oct. 29 after being swept off the Bounty as it was taking on water off the coast of North Carolina during hurricane Sandy.
“She was a marvelous young woman,” Allan said of Christian.
Christian, 42, and Robin Walbridge, 63, the ship’s captain, reportedly fell into the water as the Bounty’s crew members were leaving the vessel and getting into life rafts. Another man fell overboard but managed to swim to a life raft, it was reported.
Christian was found in the water that evening and was said to be unresponsive. She was flown to a North Carolina hospital, where she died. Rescuers did not find the ship’s captain. There were 16 crew members on the vessel, 14 of whom were rescued by coast guard helicopters.
Allan – who in 1962 worked on the Bounty as it went on a tour promoting the film Mutiny on the Bounty, the movie for which the vessel had been built in Lunenburg – said he got an early-morning phone call from his sister informing him that the ship had run into trouble.
“The whole thing was sad news,” Allan said. “My reaction was like everybody else’s. What was it doing out there (in a hurricane)?”
Interviewed at his Port Maitland residence, Allan recalled meeting Walbridge, the ship’s captain, in Victoria, B.C., at a tall ships event.
As for what happened with the Bounty two weeks ago and why the ship was sailing in such stormy conditions, Allan said who knows what factors came into play.
“You don’t want to be second-guessing,” he said. “He (Walbridge) was captain for 20 years. He knew the ship well. He had a love and passion for it.”
A half-century ago Allan himself was a member of the Bounty’s crew. He spent most of 1962 with the vessel as it went on a promotional tour for the MGM movie Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando.
An 18-year-old Yarmouthian when he joined the Bounty’s crew, Allan was struck by how the vessel was received in the ports it visited that year.
“The interest in the ship at that time was unbelievable,” he said. “Since that time there are more tall ships around and it’s not quite as big a deal when a tall ship comes in.”
The ship stopped at various American cities and made its way overseas. Allan has saved many Bounty-related press clippings and during the interview at his home he produced an example of the media splash the ship made during its visit to England: a front-page story from The Evening News with a big headline: London welcomes the Bounty.
Allan – whose uncle, Ellsworth Coggins, was the Bounty’s first captain (and later captained the Bluenose II) – describes his time on the Bounty as “amazing.”
“It didn’t define my life … (but) it shaped me in a lot of ways,” he said.
While he considered pursuing a career at sea, Allan eventually decided it wasn’t for him. He got a university degree in Montreal and ended up spending much of his life in British Columbia. He returned to the Yarmouth area three years ago.
Asked what he remembers most about the time he spent on the Bounty, he said, “Gigantic crowds came to see us and then you’d go back to sea … I was thinking about that the other day. That feeling when the engines went off and you were under sail again, that kind of feeling will stay with me forever. I feel so fortunate to have had the experience.”
He said he also was glad to have met Claudene Christian, a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian, who led the real-life mutiny on the original Bounty in 1789.
Claudene Christian was originally from Alaska. Allan met her this past summer in Lunenburg during a gathering of people who were involved with the Bounty replica ship, either as builders or sailors.
“She had such a passion for the ship,” said Allan. Referring to the events of Oct. 29 and Christian’s death, he said, “It’s a very tragic story. Now we’re left with our memories.”