Though seen as the villain of the infamous mutiny on the Bounty, Captain William Bligh completed a remarkable journey after being set adrift, sailing 3,600 miles to safety with 18 men in a small boat. Now a crew of four have recreated his extraordinary feat.
IT IS considered one of the most famous open boat voyages in maritime history, completed amid arduous conditions alien to modern-day sailors. But after almost seven weeks at sea with only 18th-century nautical instruments to chart his course, an adventurer blessed with “the Scottish pioneering spirit” yesterday completed a re-enactment of Captain William Bligh‘s journey across the Pacific.
Don McIntyre, whose family originated from Inner Hebrides, described the “humbling” moment when he made landfall after the epic 3,600-mile trip.
With no modern navigation charts, or 21st century luxuries such as toilet paper or torches, the 55-year-old and three crew were ecstatic after completing the remarkable crossing, which began in Tonga on 9 April.
Heading west towards Fiji, they passed by Cape York on Australia’s northeastern tip before sailing into the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait, arriving in the West Timor city of Kupang just six hours shy of the time set by Bligh and his 18 men.
“It was a very emotional moment when we finally completed a trip that’s been four years in the planning,” he said. “When we were out there on the sea, it felt like we were with Bligh, and we were racing him. I was reading his logbooks at every stage and it was amazing to think back 221 years ago. In the end, we were a few hours behind, but that’s OK, because he deserves the utmost respect for what he did.”
The original voyage in 1789 was sparked after Bligh and his men were cast adrift near the Tongan island of Tofua by mutineers on HMS Bounty. Without any maps, and with only the most meagre of provisions, he led the crew for 47 days across the Pacific, heading over the top of Australia towards the nearest European settlement. Only one of his men, attacked by Tongans, lost his life. The rest survived partly by catching fish and seabirds and drinking rainwater.
About 50 of their descendants still live on the remote island, now overseen by Britain, which governs it as its last remaining territory in the Pacific.
Bligh described the voyage in a letter to his wife, written on 19 August, 1789, from “Coupang”, Timor. “I was earnestly sollicited by all hands to take them towards home & when I told them no hopes of relief remained… they all agreed to live on one ounce of Bread a day & a Jill of Water,” he wrote. “I therefore bore away for New Holland & Timor across a Sea but little known & in a small Boat deep loaded with 18 Souls, without a single Map of any kind & nothing but my own recollection & general knowledge of the situation of Places to direct us.”
The expedition led by Mr McIntyre marked the first time anyone has sailed the same course in the same way that Bligh did. Previous attempts in 1983 and 1990 both made use of almanacs and charts, and made unscheduled stopovers. Inspired by what he called the “greatest maritime journey in history,” Mr McIntyre decided he and his men would try to emulate the crossing as closely as possible. Their vessel, a replica of a traditional 18th century open timber whale boat measuring just 25ft long, carried the same rudimentary aids as used by Bligh, including a sextant and antique pocket watches. They survived on a similar diet, consisting mostly of raw fish and biscuits. The only concessions to the 21st century were a life raft and other essential safety equipment, along with a satellite link which allowed Mr McIntyre and his team to describe the Talisker Bounty Boat‘s journey on a blog. A GPS system, locked away from the crew, tracked the vessel’s progress every two hours.
“When I first had the idea, I wanted to get as close to Bligh as possible, and we’ve done that,” said McIntyre, who has previously sailed around the world and spent a year in isolation in the Antarctic. “What we’ve been through physically and emotionally, I think is pretty close. The trip was a real success.”
The Australian, whose grandparents Thomas and Mary emigrated from Skye in 1901, added that he felt buoyed throughout by his ancestors’ taste for adventure. “There’s definitely a bit of the Scottish pioneering spirit in me. It’s a hardy land in Skye and I think part of that is in me.”
His journey, which was sponsored by Talisker whisky and aims to raise around £150,000 for The Sheffield Institute Foundation for Motor Neurone Disease, was not without its fraught moments. Mr McIntyre and his crew – Dave Pryce, David Wilkinson and 18-year-old Chris Wilde – capsized no less than four times, and survived close encounters with hidden reefs. The captain even sustained a dislocated toe during one lairy spell, before being struck down by kidney stones. “One time we were almost killed. We were less than a minute or two from total disaster,” he revealed. “It was the middle of the night and an island popped up out of nowhere… the next thing we knew we were surrounded by breaking surf. We were very lucky to get out of that.”
Mr McIntyre now intends to write a book and help produce a documentary about his experience.
During the voyage, the crew also monitored sea life and water temperatures, which they will compare with the detailed log Bligh kept. At the moment, the Talisker’s captain is simply glad just be to be on dry land. “I just had some hamburgers and chips to eat and I’m feeling quite hyperactive,” he explained. “After weeks of ship’s biscuits it tasted pretty good.”
A RUM PERSONALITY
CAPTAIN William Bligh arrived back in London in March 1790, where was honourably acquitted at the court martial into the loss of the Bounty.
He remained in the Royal Navy and was given command of a number of ships.
However, in 1797, he was one of a number of captains whose crews were involved in the Spithead mutiny over pay. Bligh was nicknamed “that Bounty b*****d.”
His reputation as a firm disciplinarian led to him being appointed governor of New South Wales in 1805.
His confrontational style led to the Rum Mutiny in 1808, when he tried to curb the private trading ventures of influential settlers. After being arrested and deposed by rebels, Bligh fled to Hobart, Tasmania, but failed to win support to regain his position.
Despite events in Australia, Bligh was given backdated promotion becoming a rear-admiral in 1811 and was promoted again to vice-admiral in 1814.
Bligh died in London in December 1817.