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U.S. Coast Guard suspends search for captain of replica HMS Bounty

The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, is shown submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hat
The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, is shown submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hat

By Harriet McLeod

Charleston, South Carolina (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday suspended a four-day, round-the-clock search for Robin Walbridge, 63, the missing captain of the replica tall ship HMS Bounty, which sank in heavy seas stirred up by Hurricane Sandy.

Fourteen crew members were rescued from life rafts by Coast Guard helicopters on Monday, but Walbridge and another crew member, Claudene Christian, were washed overboard before they could make it to the rafts.

Christian, 42, was pulled from the sea later and flown to hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Walbridge and Christian families," Captain Doug Cameron, chief of incident response for the Coast Guard 5th District, said in a statement. "Suspending a search and rescue case is one of the hardest decisions we have to make."

Crews searched more than 90 hours and covered some 12,000 square nautical miles in the Atlantic Ocean, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard said earlier this week that all members of the crew wore survival suits, which had flotation capability, and that water temperatures were about 77 degrees F (25 C), raising hopes Walbridge might be found.

The three-masted, 180-foot (55-metre) ship, built for the 1962 movie, "Mutiny on the Bounty," was on its way from New London, Connecticut, to its winter berth in St. Petersburg, Florida, and was about 160 miles from the eye of the hurricane when it foundered.

The original Bounty, a British transport 'square rigger,' is famed for a mutiny in 1789. Marlon Brando starred as lead mutineer Fletcher Christian in the movie for which the ship was built.

In a short video of Walbridge posted on the Bounty's Facebook page this week, he described being captain of the Bounty as "probably one of the greatest jobs in the world."

Walbridge worked on the Bounty for 17 years, said his wife, Claudia McCann, who spoke with Reuters by telephone earlier this week.

"That was his passion," McCann said.

Growing up in Vermont, his mother "encouraged us to smell the sea air" on trips to visit relatives in Boston, recalled his sister, Lucille Jansen, 67.

"He always looked after his crew first," she added. "That's the last memory we'll have of him because he did exactly what a captain should do. He made sure the crew was safe."

(Editing by David Adams and Peter Cooney)

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