ABOARD THE HMAV BOUNTY
Last October on a cool, breezy, partly cloudy day I walked to the end of a long pier that jutted seaward from St. Andrews, New Brunswick and stepped aboard the Her Majesty’s Armed Vessel Bounty. The step took me to a time long gone. But this wasn’t the real Bounty, because according to history and Hollywood, Fletcher Christ ian and his band of romanticized mutineers torched the original vessel off Pitcairn Island 220 years ago. This modern HMAV Bounty was built in 1962, for the remake of the feature film Mutiny on the Bounty. The movie starred Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian and Trevor Howard as William Bligh. In keeping with the story of the mutiny, the modern Bounty or Bounty II was to be burned, but with the intervention of Marlon Brando and the movie company, Bounty II was saved from its scripted demise.
Bounty II emitted the ambience of a three-masted, 18th Century British bark in almost every detail. Its fore and main masts each displayed four square sails: topgallant, upper and lower topsails, and the lowest sails, the foresail and mainsail, respectively. The aftermost mizzenmast carried only an upper topsail and lower topsail and the mizzen sail. As typical of all barks, Bounty II has its array of jibs, staysails, and spanker sail. Lines, sheets, and halyards that controlled the sails were seized and hung from belaying pins linearly arranged along the ship’s rails.
Secured to the starboard and larboard sides of the hull were the sets of tight lanyards coiled between deadeyes that connected to the shrouds, which hold the heavy masts in place. With horizontal lines tied between the shrouds, these units form the ratlines, which allow sailors to climb up the masts into the overhead rigging. Networks of blocks and tackle, guidelines, and other ropes crisscrossed between masts and yardarms creating the complexity of the rigging.
From the foredeck projected the long bowsprit. This heavy spar provided anchorage for the fore and aft shrouds, and an assortment of jib sail guys, stays, and tacks. Below the bowsprit a figurehead of a woman wearing a helmet and riding habit decorated the Bounty’s prow. The foredeck was off limits to visitors. I got near enough to see that it contained bitts, boxes of ship stuff, coiled hawsers, an upended Zodiac®, and a pair of massive bollards – things dangerous to landlubbers with untrained sea-legs.
Amidships, between the fore- and mainmast, stood the massive capstan, where in the ol’ days the ship’s crew had to “lay to” against its arms to haul the anchors. Going aft, behind the mainmast the five-foot, highly varnished ship’s wheel occupied a narrow space forward of the after-deckhouse. I stood next to the wheel and wondered, with all the paraphernalia blocking the view ahead, how the helmsmen knew what the figurehead was seeing.
One of the crew quickly answered my question. He pointed upward to a platform positioned halfway up mainmast and said, “A lookout watched from there and yelled down to the jacks steering the ship what lay ahead.” The crewman then swung around and pointed fore and aft toward the other two masts. “Lookouts were also stationed on the other masts.”
I nodded and Marian, my wife, and I took pictures of each other tending the Bounty’s helm.
Upon first glance the Bounty II, which was supposed to mimic an armed vessel, had an absence of cannons and other guns. The original carried four 4-pounders (cannons that fired four-pound cannonballs) and ten swivel guns (small-bore, portable cannons that could be mounted on any of the vessel’s prominences, rotated in any direction, and fired).
Snooping around the deck, I found four 4-pounders, muzzles capped, touchholes covered, lying in their carriages, and secured to the starboard bulwark, almost hidden below the gangplank. I never found any swivel guns.
A quick examination proved these cannons were real. But each contained a copper nameplate dedicating it to the actor who played the role of Fletcher Christian in each of the four Bounty films: Errol Flynn, who was purportedly related to the character he portrayed in the 1933 Australian film In the Wake of the Bounty, Clark Gable (1935 MGM film, Mutiny on the Bounty), Marlon Brando (1962 MGM remake of Mutiny on the Bounty), and Mel Gibson (1984 Dino De Laurentiis Company (US) and Bounty Productions Limited (GB) film, The Bounty). Nautical history nuts like me find this to be an interesting tribute.
All the featured Bounty movies had to star a square-rigged vessel. In the 1933 and 1935 films remodeled schooners represented the Bounty. A steel-hulled sailing vessel, over sheeted with wooden planking, was used in the 1984 film. Christened the Bounty III after the film, it is currently being used for tourist excursions in the waters off Hong Kong. But, the Bounty II, upon which I walked in the footsteps of Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard, was built according the to drawings made for the 1784 vessel — the original HMAV Bounty plans are on file in the British admiralty archives. However, to allow room aboard for movie equipment and the 70 mm cameras, the dimensions of Bounty II were increased by roughly 30%.
Nevertheless, Bounty II is presently accepted in the world’s fleet of authentic tall ships. For nearly fifty years it has plied the oceans and visited many of the world’s ports. It has even starred and costarred in documentaries and other films. In 1989, it took part in the filming of Treasure Island with Charlton Heston. Most recently it appeared as the supporting vessel Edinburgh Trader in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End featuring Johnny Depp.
© Richard Modlin, 2011