HMS Bounty captain discusses life aboard storied ship

By Ben Holbrook | Aug 15, 2012
Photo by: Ben Holbrook HMS Bounty Capt. Robin Walbridge has helmed the iconic ship for nearly two decades, and enjoys visiting small town ports like Belfast.

Belfast — After three decades of sailing around the world, there are few places the crew of the HMS Bounty haven’t seen, but the most memorable trips are the ones to the small port communities, said its Captain Robin Walbridge during the ships visit to Belfast last weekend.

Walbridge was first introduced to the Bounty when it was in a sad state of disrepair, but he was able to convince the owners to fix the ship and sail it again. After appearing in the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty,” the ship fell into disrepair over the years before it was refitted and seaworthy again.

Although the Bounty has a storied history, Waldbridge did not always consider the sea his home. He began his career flying airplanes during the Vietnam War era, but after many of the pilots began returning home from the conflict, Walbridge found the aviation business was a lot more competitive, especially after the company he flew for was bought out.

“Here were these guys coming back with 10,000 hours in the air and I had 1,000 hours,” he said.

It was at that point that Walbridge decided to begin a career in the maritime industry, where he discovered many of his aviation skills translated well. One of the more memorable sailing moments for Walbridge occurred when he had the opportunity to work aboard the HMS Rose, an 18th-century Royal Navy frigate that appeared in the film “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World."

From there Walbridge made his way to the Bounty, where he has been a fixture through the years as the ship began touring the world. One of the unique features of the vessel is the fact that the crew — a group of 22 volunteers — is constantly changing, a result of Walbridge’s personal philosophy.

“My philosophy is that everybody on this boat wants to be a captain someday. I encourage people to work on different boats, because if they stay with me, they only learn what I know. If they work for other captains, then they learn what other people know, too,” he said.

When looking for volunteers to work aboard the Bounty, it may seem like nautical experience would be the most important factor, but Walbridge only wants one trait in his crew: a desire to be on the ship.

“If somebody wants to do something, they can do it,” he said. “The work is not really that difficult.”

The belief that the work on the ship is not that difficult extends to Walbridge’s assessment of his own role as captain, despite the fact that the man has, stated simply as fact, met kings and queens during his many voyages.

“As captain, I’m the most useless person on the boat,” Walbridge said. “I’m just kind of the person who sees the whole picture.”

While his experience helming the Bounty helps keep everything running smoothly, he also knows what to expect when sailing into certain ports, as the larger ports don’t necessarily translate into larger crowds.

He said the small town ports are actually some of his favorite stops, because people are more excited to see the ship.

“When we go to a small town like Belfast, we will probably put 5,000 people through the boat. When you walk around town you hear people talking about it. If we go to New York City, we would probably put 500 through,” he said.

After the ship leaves Belfast it will head to Bridgeport, Conn., before going to Massachusetts. Walbridge said he would like to return to Belfast, but he wouldn’t plan a trip for at least another five years, so that people can get excited about the visit.

“I would definitely come back,” he said.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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