Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bounty Mutiny Voyage Re-enactment

Today is April 28 in Australia, but it's only April 27 in Tonga, which is the other side of the International date line. So the Talisker Bounty Boat (TBB) is about to set sail for Timor, re-enacting the perilous voyage of William Bligh, captain of HMS (His Majesty's Ship) Bounty, after his crew had mutinied and set him adrift in an open boat. He travelled all the way to Timor, a feat which is thought to be the greatest navigational achivement in maritime history.

Bligh sailed a 45-foot (14 metre) open boat with 18 men from Tonga to West Timor in 48 days, surviving partly by catching fish and seabirds and drinking rain water.

His feat — achieved without charts or compass — has been portrayed in novels, poems and in several "Mutiny on the Bounty" films starring British actor Charles Laughton and Hollywood stars Clark Gable and Marlon Brando.

The new expedition is sailing in a 25-foot (7-metre) open deck boat, the Talisker Bounty, which has two small sails. The team expects to take seven weeks to cover the distance.

"It is going to be really an adventure," , the expedition leader, Australian Don McIntyre, told a reporter. "Our boat is half the size of Bligh's boat, so the challenge is trying to survive on board. Our biggest fear is capsizing."

Wikipedia says "Fletcher Christian (25 September 1764 – 20 September 1793) was a Master's mate on board the Bounty during William Bligh's fateful voyage to Tahiti for breadfruit plants. It was Christian who seized command of the Bounty from Bligh on 28 April 1789."

McIntyre said they would carry the same food as Bligh had on board in 1789. It included 150 pounds (67 kilograms) of ship biscuits, 16 pounds (7 kilograms) of pork, six quarts of rum, six bottles of wine and 28 gallons (106 litres) of water.

Like Bligh, the crew has no modern navigational equipment such as charts, compass or lights.

The team will film their re-enactment for a documentary.

The mutineers, led by Fletcher Christian, eventually settled in Pitcairn Island, where they burnt the Bounty, sinking its hull so they could not be found.

About 50 of their descendants still live on the remote island, Britain's last remaining territory in the Pacific. Others live on Pitcairn Island.

English actor Charles Laughton starred in a memorable film, Mutiny on the Bounty. American heart-throb Clark Gable was cast as Fletcher Christian. You can see brief extracts in a trailer posted at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fletcher_Christian. It won an Academy Award for Best Picture of 1935.

A few days ago I asked Stuart Keane, an expedition member, how they coul claim their boat was a replica of the original, since it's only half the size. He replied:

The Talisker Bounty Boat is indeed smaller than the original BB. It is very similar to Shackleton's James Caid. All three were classed as whaling boats.

The TBB with a crew of four represents the same challenge that Bligh and his crew had, in as much that the TBB crew will only have the same square footage per man that Bligh and his men had and the same freeboard.

Don McIntyre considered building an exact replica but came to the conclusion that it would be a problem getting eighteenrew to volunteer, also the cost would be prohibitive building a larger one.

This was a wise decision in view of the fact of the problems with crew pulling out at the last minute and a tremendous overrun of the budget due to unforeseen problems like the trouble Don has had with his onboard communications satellite systems.

If anything it's a greater challenge with such a smaller boat on those huge seas which are forecast.

Incidentally I am meeting tomorrow with a professor of fine arts, David Cotterill from Sheffield University. He has created a computerised film of the view that the crew would have had from the original Bounty Boat.

He gathered his material from historic documents such as Bligh's log and weather reports of that time His film runs for ten hours and Don sees it as an ideal backdrop to the Talisker Bounty Boat when it returns and is displayed at museums throughout the world.

Stuart said that Fletcher Christian's brother was in the crowd farewelling the re-enactment boat. "Just after a photo was taken we had crowds asking all about the TBBE and the chap slipped away without us getting his details -- perhaps you would like to run an international quest to find him. It would be fun and create added interest to our quest"

Why is the re-enactment vessel called the Talisker Bounty Boat?

Stuart Keane explained "Talisker is the name of the main sponsor of the TBB expedition 2010. It is the name of a single mallt whisky distilled on the Isle of Skye in Scotland since 1830."

The Duke of Devonshire wrote
Dear Don and all your intrepid crew. This comes with very best wishes from Stoker and Amanda Devonshire in England. We have been following your progress so far on your web site and we are confident that you will have an epic and extremely successful journey.

The support that you are giving to the Sheffield Institute Foundation for Motor Neurone Disease is hugely appreciated, and we look forward to seeing you on your return to congratulate you peronally. -- Ther Duke of Devonshire KCVO, CBE, DL

You can follow the journey by visiting the officil blog: http://www.bountyboat.blogspot.com/

FOOTNOTE: My sister Sylvia Oliver, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand, says, "A challenging journey ... I hope they are successful. I don't know where mythical Hawaiki was, but there would be some Maori who would be sure their first canoes to reach NZ had a longer open boat journey in the 15th century."

1 comment:

Dumdad said...

Fascinating post. I read Bounty by Caroline Alexander a few years ago. The whole story from Bligh to the mutineers to the trials is extraordinary.

P.S. You write: "About 50 of their descendants still live on the remote island, Britain's last remaining territory in the Pacific. Others live on Pitcairn Island."

Don't you mean Norfolk Island?