We have a big problem on the boat, the captain said, wearing a stern face.
Then he broke into a smile. A bike had "reproduced" from one to two, he said. He asked his crew to limit the number of bikes on board.
Chapter 4: Setting a course
Early evening, Thursday, October 25
OK, we're going to get under way, Walbridge ordered. Cast off lines.
With that command, the Bounty began its journey toward the hurricane.
It was a gorgeous Thursday evening with no sign of Sandy kicking up a fuss near the Bahamas, a thousand miles to the south. But deckhands got busy securing gear; rougher seas were sure to come.
With both engines up and running, the captain ordered the Bounty to "make tracks" to the southeast. The mates knew he wanted to go as far south as possible -- as fast as possible.
The plan was to swing out wide.
By sailing east of Sandy, they would put some room between the ship and the hurricane, then cut back west toward Key West, Florida, and around to Florida's west coast and St. Petersburg.
As Bounty sailed past the eastern tip of New York's Long Island on Thursday night, water in the bilge area -- at the bottom of the boat, below the water line -- appeared to be at routine levels.
The bilge is designed to hold water that routinely finds its way aboard a ship from rain, rough seas and small leaks. Electric pumps in the engine room, just above the bilge, eject the water back into the sea. Bounty's pumps didn't seem to be performing at their usual speed, but the crew was not alarmed.
The engine room itself worried Bounty's newly hired engineer, Chris Barksdale. He thought it needed a good cleaning. Sawdust and wood chips littered the floor. Everything just looked old.
Before arriving in Connecticut, the vessel had undergone repairs at a shipyard in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Rot infested 18-foot wooden planks on Bounty's forward right and left sides. Workers replaced them and caulked cracks and gaps in the ship's hull below the waterline.
Walbridge was warned by the shipyard that some of the boat's frames -- its ribs -- also contained rot, multiple witnesses testified. The shipyard manager testified that the captain said he'd do the repairs later.
Around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 27, about 300 miles east of Virginia Beach, Virginia, the captain made his move: Instead of continuing with his original plan to stay east of the storm, he ordered the crew to change course. He wanted to pilot the ship northwest of Sandy to harness its winds. Turning more westerly, the boat crossed the path of the oncoming hurricane.
By then Sandy churned about 600 miles away. Eventually, it would grow into one of the largest hurricanes on record to hit the East Coast, spanning more than 900 miles.
Most of the crew had never sailed through a dangerous storm. The work can grind down even the hale and hearty. It makes simple shipboard tasks like walking -- and sleeping and eating -- difficult if not impossible.
The winds stiffened and Bounty's sailors took notice. The ride turned rougher as higher waves rocked the boat.
Water crept out of the bilge area -- and up into the engine room.