The captain and crew of the Pride of Baltimore apparently sailed their ship properly and committed no errors, the Coast Guard commander conducting an inquiry into the Pride's sinking said today.
"On a general basis, I haven't seen anything with the crew that I would consider to be an error," Cmdr. John Maxham told reporters after the last of the Pride's eight surviving crew testified this afternoon. "From everything I've seen, it seems to be a very professional crew."
During the inquiry, the crew members of the city-owned schooner have said that the Pride was sailing beautifully May 14 when a blast of hurricane-force wind came up and knocked the ship on its side within 20 seconds. A minute later, the ship had filled with water and sunk. The captain and three crew members are missing and presumed dead.
The weather "was certainly sudden and severe," Maxham said. "I think it's a combination of that, along with the quick flooding of the vessel" that led to the Pride's loss.
Maxham, who is scheduled to hear testimony this week from former Pride captains and from the ship's designers and builders, is responsible for issuing a report on the sinking and making recommendations on any changes he believes are warranted as a result of the sinking. The report is due within six months. A separate report will be made by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Pride, a 90-foot replica of a Baltimore clipper, sank two weeks ago off the coast of Puerto Rico during a trip from the Virgin Islands to the Chesapeake Bay -- the last leg of a promotional cruise to several European cities. The eight survivors spent six hours inflating a damaged life raft and then floated almost five days before they were rescued by a Norwegian tanker.
During testimony yesterday, two crew members described briefly how they tried to keep Barry Duckworth, the 29-year-old ship's carpenter, afloat for almost two hours while others tried to inflate their damaged life raft. Crew members earlier said Duckworth died in their arms several hours before the life raft was inflated.
James Chesney, 25, the ship's cook, said the crew found Duckworth floating on his back some distance from the deflated life rafts. Chesney said he and First Mate John (Sugar) Flanagan, 27, tried to pull the life rafts toward Duckworth with a length of line, and eventually extended a pole to him to pull him back to the rest of the crew.
He said Duckworth was cold and "blue around the lips. His stomach was distended" and apparently full of water. He said Duckworth "was aware to a certain extent" but was unable to talk. He said the last time he saw Duckworth "he was dead. After that, I didn't watch."
Deckhand Robert Foster, 23, said Duckworth was apparently in shock when the crew found him and was "frothing at the mouth." Duckworth managed to hang onto the uninflated life rafts, and the crew managed to give the life raft some bouyancy by using empty buckets to trap air beneath it.
"I know that at times people were helping him to hold on, helping him to keep his head above water," Foster said. "It was very hard because the life rafts were not stable at this time." Foster estimated Duckworth was kept alive between 1 1/2 hours and 2 hours.
"We tried working with him . . . making sure he could hold on to the edge," Foster added. "Without our assistance, I'm not sure how long he'd be able to stay alive."
Crew members were apparently horrified by the experience and had agreed among themselves not to speak publicly about it, some crew members said after details of Duckworth's death became public late last week. Today was the first time the crew had been asked at the inquiry to answer questions regarding Duckworth.