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October 31, 2012

Coast Guard searches on for tall ship's captain

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Robin Walbridge had been in a lot of dicey situations as the captain of the HMS Bounty, an 18th-century replica tall ship that was the set of countless movie dramas and a Gloucester visitor. But none of his journeys was as treacherous, perhaps, as navigating through a hurricane churning up the East Coast, becoming part of an epic storm — and a daring rescue — that seemed ripped from the Hollywood films that made the ship famous.

Daisy Nell, a founder of the Gloucester Schooner Festival and an avid sailor, is among those on Cape Ann who met the captain and crew over the Labor Day weekend festival about seven weeks ago.

“They had come to the events during the weekend and they welcomed thousands of people on board during the schooner weekend. They came to the Sunday reception and everyone seemed to have a great time,” said Nell.

The Bounty left Gloucester earlier than scheduled on Labor Day to return to its home port in Florida; Nell said the captain hoped to beat any bad weather on the voyage home.

Walbridge’s wife describes him as a passionate, experienced captain, one with a cool head and a kind heart. Photos of him on the ship’s wooden deck just days before the ill-fated trip show a white-haired man with a steady gaze in a blue windbreaker, a man who was at ease with the sea.

“He’s been in many storms,” his wife, Claudia McCann, said Tuesday from the couple’s St. Petersburg home. “He’s been doing this a good portion of his life. He’s been in lots of hairy situations and he’s very familiar with the boat.”

McCann said she talked to him on the phone on his birthday — Oct. 25 — and last heard from him in an email Saturday. He said he and his 15-member crew were prepared to sail around the storm.

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