The following excerpt is from The Sinking of the Bounty: The True Story of a Tragic Shipwreck and its Aftermath by Matthew Shaer. The Sinking of the Bounty was released this month by The Atavist, a Brooklyn-based digital publisher. Multimedia versions of the e-book--along with Kindle, Kobo, and Nook editions--are available at The Atavist.--Eds
At two on Monday morning, the exhausted crew of the tall ship Bounty donned their bright-orange survival suits and lashed together a makeshift raft of emergency supplies. For hours, water had poured into the boat much faster than it could be pumped out, and in the engine room, the twin John Deeres were submerged. The 180-foot, full-rigged Bounty was now adrift—completely at the mercy of Superstorm Sandy.
Deckhand Josh Scornavacchi, 25, one of the youngest members of the 16-member crew, was still not convinced that the Bounty would have to be abandoned, but he knew it was better to be safe than sorry. The survival suits—what sailors call “Gumby suits,” after the bulbous, ungainly form their wearers assume—were made of heavy neoprene. They would protect against both cold water and flame, in the unlikely event that electrical fires spread through the Bounty. Scornavacchi zipped the waterproof seal on the collar closed and attached a small rubberized plastic bag to his climbing harness with a carabiner. Inside the bag was his ID, a pocketknife—the essentials.
Topside, John Svendsen, the 41-year-old first mate, was waiting in the navigation shack, his Gumby suit only halfway zipped. He seemed to Scornavacchi to be much less concerned with his own safety than with the safety of the crew. He inspected each sailor carefully, like a commanding officer before a battle, tugging on straps, double-checking rescue lights, slapping shoulders and patting backs.
Scornavacchi thanked Svendsen, and joined deckhand Claudene Christian, 42, near the mizzen fife rail, which surrounded the aftermost mast. The clouds he could make out overhead in the darkness were low-bellied and full, and a strong wind blew across the deck. Christian was clearly scared but putting on a brave face for her friend, and she smiled brightly at Scornavacchi.
He looked up at the ghostly lights of the Coast Guard C-130 circling above him in the rain. Then he felt the deck lurch violently beneath him. The Bounty was once again leaning perilously over on her side. Bodies slid past him in the night, some silently and acquiescently, some with horrific screams, their hands desperately clawing for a handhold, a stray piece of rigging, anything at all.
He took a deep breath and jumped.
After receiving the OK from Svendsen, volunteer sailor Doug Faunt, a retired computer engineer from California, waddled sternward in his Gumby suit and lay down on the deck alongside deckhand Adam Prokosch, who had suffered a back injury. Prokosch’s eyes were half-closed, and he had his hands crossed over his chest, kind of like a corpse.
The Bounty was heeling badly to starboard—40 degrees or more, Faunt guessed. He wasn’t so much lying down as standing up now, with his feet on the railing, the sea frothing below him and lapping at his feet, the ship looming over him. The Coast Guard C-130 passed once overhead, the sound of its engines reduced by the storm to an insect-like whine. Gazing up, Faunt caught a glimpse of the big silvery wings of the plane, and the moon glowing faintly through the clouds, and then he was asleep.
That he was able to nod off on the deck of a doomed ship was a testament to the extent of his exhaustion. He had been working for 48 hours straight, give or take, many of them in the sweltering hell of the engine room. He was dehydrated, he was hungry, his joints ached and his lungs burned. He was strong, but he was also 66 years old, and he had his limits. Faunt later figured that he might have slept for an hour, but given the speed at which the Bounty rolled over, it was probably half that. When he opened his eyes again, the deck was fully vertical. He bent his knees and pushed off into the sea. The storm swallowed him whole.
Now commenced a jarring, vicious cycle. Faunt would push his way to the surface, and a wave would drive him back under like a hammer pounding the head of a nail. The Bounty’s engines were submerged now, and there was plenty of diesel in the water. Faunt was an experienced diver, and he did his best not to open his mouth. But the strength of the ocean was stupendous, and he couldn’t keep the salt water and diesel out of his throat. He spit out what he could and swallowed the rest.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.