Bounty: Ship with a reputation taller than the restIn a parade of stars, the HMS Bounty — a veteran of the big screen — shines the brightest.
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
Visit Duluth president Terry Mattson stood near the entrance to the Tall Ships festival on Friday, greeting visitors with a smile but holding back just a hint of frustration.
“The Bounty needs to apologize,” Mattson said, grinning, “for being so popular. They’re the most popular ship here — by far.”
That’s what movie stardom will do for a ship.
The HMS Bounty’s popularity, fueled by roles on the silver screen, caused Mattson’s team to reorganize the lines of people on Harbor Drive as throngs of fans awaited their turn to board the ships.
Unlike two years ago, when only three ships were here to satisfy the masses and some people waited in line more than three hours, this year there were more ships to go around, with nine vessels in port.
Even so, the wait to get on the Bounty averaged between two and four hours on Friday, while the wait for some of the other boats was 15 minutes or less.
While not as big as the 198-foot US Brig Niagara, or as splendid as the pearl-white Barque Europa, the Bounty has charisma.
“She’s a movie star,” said the Bounty’s captain, Robin Walbridge of St. Petersburg, Fla.
The 180-foot ship was built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, for the 1962 movie, “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando. At $750,000, Walbridge said in 1962 it was the most expensive movie prop of all time.
It has since gone on to appear in “Treasure Island,” starring Charlton Heston, “Yellowbeard,” “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” and two of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. Walbridge also estimates the ship has appeared in 100 sailing documentaries and is a near match of the ship featured in “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World.”
“You can stand around here, and everyone goes, ‘Look at that pirate ship,’” Walbridge said, adding that the real-life Bounty the movie was based on, of the late 1700s, was about half the size. “This is actually a horrible replica of the original Bounty, but it’s a very good replica of a sixth-rate frigate of that era. Hollywood made the ship to fit everyone’s image. This is the classic stereotype of the pirate ship.”
Pirates of all kinds descended on Harbor Drive on Friday, but the official Capt. Jack Sparrow of the festival was Brendan Anderson, a freelance impersonation artist from Maple Grove, Minn. Anderson was free to roam wherever he wanted, but by no small coincidence, he stuck close to the Bounty.
“This is a surreal experience for me,” Anderson said, still in character. “The accent … that’s part of the gig.”
Walbridge, 61, has captained the Bounty for 16 years. The “square-rigged” ship, with its sails hanging perpendicular to the ship, is privately owned, with its home port in Long Island, N.Y. The 412-ton craft, built with 400,000 feet of timber and rigged with cannons, has literally been around the world, visiting five of the seven continents, and has navigated through swells as high as 75 feet.
“The boat just keeps moving,” Walbridge said. “We have all the modern day technology, GPS, radar and so forth, but we still use sextants and dead reckoning in navigating the ship. We try to do this as close to possible as the way they did it 200 years ago. Part of that is education, but there is also some satisfaction in knowing that if our GPS fails, we can still find our way there.”
In this case, Duluth.
Digital animation has made large-scale props nearly obsolete, meaning the Bounty’s days as a movie star may be numbered. However, the Bounty will always have a place at tall ship festivals such as this one, where the Bounty always fetches a crowd.
Among the landlubbers who came to see the Bounty on Friday were Lisa and Ryan Czech of Brainerd, Minn., and sons, 9-year-old Tyler and 7-year-old Cody. The boys got a little restless after more than a two hour wait in line, but once on board, it was worth it.
“If you’re only going to see one tall ship,” Lisa Czech said, “this would be the one to get in line to.”