PORTSMOUTH, Va. — With the HMS Bounty taking on water and the decision to abandon ship in the middle of Hurricane Sandy nearing, Capt. Robin Walbridge gathered the crew to ask the same question federal officials are now investigating: What exactly went wrong?
"He asked for some brainstorming. At what point did we lose control? I don't know that anybody had many ideas," the ship's boatswain, Laura Groves told a federal safety panel at a Virginia hotel on Friday.
One member of the 18th-century replica ship's crew died and Walbridge was never found after the ship sank about 90 miles off Cape Hatteras, N.C. during the October "superstorm."
The three-mast sailing ship was built for the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty" starring Marlon Brando, and was featured in several other films over the years, including one of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.
Officials from the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are holding eight days of hearings to determine what caused it to sink and to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths.
"The only thing that was clear is that there was an open seam in the engine room above the water line in the portside. You could hear water coming in when we rolled," Groves said. A boatswain is in charge of a ship's deck crew.
The ship had been taking on water as its pumps failed, had no engine power and was headed directly in the path of the hurricane when the ship rolled and tossed the crew into the Atlantic Ocean.
Groves and Daniel Cleveland, the Bounty's third mate, testified that getting into a life raft once they were in the water was difficult and that they were injured while trying to escape the ship. Other crew members were seen holding onto wooden pieces of the ship to stay afloat before they could find and get into a raft. All 14 surviving crew members are scheduled to testify, as well as others in the tall ship industry who decided not to leave port during the storm.
Officials at a Maine shipyard that did repair work on the Bounty in the weeks before the storm have testified that parts of the ship's frame were rotted, but not replaced.
Testimony is scheduled to last through Thursday.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis