Take a massive movie prop that painstakingly recreated one of history’s most famous ships, have it visit the largest world’s fair ever and then give it a home in a bay ruled by a mythical pirate.
Created for the 1962 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) movie Mutiny on the Bounty, this sailing ship was a reconstruction of the H.M.S. Bounty – one of the most famous ships in European history. Built in 1784, the original Bounty was a relatively small cargo vessel that was purchased by the Royal Navy in 1787 and sent to the South Pacific to collect breadfruit seedlings for transport to the Caribbean.
The reconstruction Bounty was built in Nova Scotia in 1960. It’s construction was remarkable in that it used the original ship’s drawings from the British Admiralty. The makers used traditional methods over eight months in what was one of the few full-rigged sailing ships built since steam eclipsed wind as the method cargo ships were powered.
The ship was not completely faithful to the original, however. Considering the amount of filming that was going to happen on its decks and in its interiors, the size of the ship was significantly increased, resulting in a larger and much heavier vessel. It’s length was increased by about 30 feet (9 m), partly to incorporate two large modern engines. It’s total length was 118 feet (36 m).
The Bounty (without the H.M.S., of course) was launched in August 1960, traveled through the Panama Canal and had an successful voyage to Tahiti for the film. Legend says that the ship was due to be burned at the end of the movie, presumably for the scene where the mutineers set fire to the ship, but that the film’s star Marlon Brando persuaded MGM to keep it.
After production on the movie ended, the Bounty was used for promotion at various ports around the world. Later, it would find its way to Queens, New York and the 1964 New York World’s Fair to begin it’s life as a tourist attraction.
After the World’s Fair, MGM, which continued to own the Bounty, sent it to St. Petersburg where it became a permanent attraction. This would make MGM’s Bounty the first attraction in Florida that was owned by a major Hollywood movie studio, predating Walt Disney World by at least 5 years. Moored in Vinoy Basin near the St. Petersburg Pier, the attraction allowed visitors to tour the stately vessel as well as explore a Tahitian village and a gift shop which included wood carvings from Pitcairn Island, carved by the descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers.
Ted Turner (creator of CNN) purchased the MGM film library in 1986 and the Bounty was included in the deal.
In 1993 the Bounty was donated to the Fall River Chamber Foundation. At this time, it was sailed to Fall River, MA. It continued to be a tourist attraction, summering in Massachusetts and wintering in St. Petersburg, like so many other aging New Englanders.
In 2001 it was sold to an organization called the HMS Bounty Foundation, who, apart from doing much-needed restorations, continued to operate the ship in much the same way it had been operated in the previous 35 years – as tourist attraction, movie prop and charter vessel.
In 2012, it was once again heading down the east coast of the US towards St. Petersburg. Hurricane Sandy, one of the most powerful storms to hit the continental US, was heading up the coast. The two met near Cape Hatteras, NC. Later, it was determined that the captain had sailed into the hurricane, not away from it. In the midst of the storm, Bounty sent a distress signal to the Coast Guard which sent a C-130 rescue airplane to find the stricken vessel. It eventually found the Bounty and made radio contact.
The C-130 coordinated rescue efforts during the storm. Rescue helicopters were dispatched and the C-130 eventually dropped liferafts as it was short on fuel and needed to leave. The crew abandoned ship. The ship sunk prior to the rescue helicopters arriving on the scene.
During the dangerous rescue, one of the Coast Guard crew received major injuries. The Bounty’s captain and two of her crew members had been washed overboard, but at least they were in survival suits. One crew member made it safely to a lifeboat. The other crew member was eventually found, but she was unresponsive and died. An extensive multiple day search was conducted for the captain but he was never found.
The location where the Bounty was moored in St. Petersburg is in Vinoy Basin, also called the North Yacht Basin near the St. Petersburg Museum of History. It was located on the north side of the road that took visitors to the main pier. The Tahitian Village is long gone, but the mooring pilings still remain.