Memories on the Bounty - Janet Coulter Sanford - E-Book

Memories on the Bounty E-Book

Janet Coulter Sanford

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Beschreibung

For fans of Tuesdays with Morrie, a memoir of friendship in the face of memory loss, and of preserving one man’s story of an incredible year aboard the replica HMS Bounty. In 1960, Roy Boutilier and twenty-four fellow Nova Scotians set sail for Tahiti aboard the newly built replica sailing ship Bounty. The ship stayed in Tahiti for almost a year while MGM Studios filmed the epic historical drama Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando. Roy’s year on Bounty and his experiences in Tahiti are themselves the stuff of movies. But it took a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease for Roy and his long-time friend, Janet Sanford, to realize that a fascinating story would be lost if someone didn’t capture those memories. And so began a series of Monday-morning meetings as Roy and the author embarked on a race against time. Memories on the Bounty goes far beyond re-telling Roy’s story; it explores the boundaries of memory, the challenges of storytelling, the pain of saying goodbye, and the enduring bonds of friendship. With dozens of never-before-seen photos from Bounty’s maiden voyage and her time in Tahiti, Memories on the Bounty is a touching story of adventure, love, and loss.

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Memories on the Bounty

A Story of Friendship, Love, and Adventure

Janet Coulter Sanford

CiP

Copyright © 2021, Janet Coulter Sanford

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission from the publisher, or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, permission from Access Copyright, 1 Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E5.

Nimbus Publishing Limited3660 Strawberry Hill Street, Halifax, NS, B3K 5A9(902) 455-4286 nimbus.ca

Printed and bound in Canada

NB1574

Editor: Angela MombourquetteDesign: Jenn Embree

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Title: Memories on the Bounty : a story of friendship, love, and adventure / Janet Coulter Sanford.

Names: Sanford, Janet Coulter, author.

Identifiers: Canadiana (print) 20200385453 | Canadiana (ebook) 20200387995 | ISBN 9781771089579 (softcover) | ISBN 9781771089692 (EPUB)

Subjects: LCSH: Boutilier, Roy. | LCSH: Sailors—Biography. | LCSH: Bounty (Ship : 1960) | LCSH: Tahiti (French Polynesia : Island)—Biography. | LCSH: Mutiny on the Bounty (Motion picture : 1962) | LCGFT: Biographies.

Classification: LCC GV810.92.B68 S26 2021 | DDC 797.124092—dc23

Nimbus Publishing acknowledges the financial support for its publishing activities from the Government of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, and from the Province of Nova Scotia. We are pleased to work in partnership with the Province of Nova Scotia to develop and promote our creative industries for the benefit of all Nova Scotians.

dedication

For Roy

epigraph

[They] call to us out of the past, like owls calling out of the dark. They ask to be heard, remembered, understood.

– Richard Holmes

From the Ship’s Articles

The Bounty’s crew on the maiden voyage from Nova Scotia to Tahiti, 1960–1961

Skipper

Captain Ellsworth T. Coggins, Dartmouth

First Mate

Ross MacKay, Amherst

Second Mate

Ralph Ogilvie, Parrsboro

Chief Engineer

Mark Thompson, Halifax

Second Engineer

Murray Munro, Chester

Third Engineer

Keith Cook, Lunenburg

Fourth Engineer

Ralph Bowers, Birch Cove

Doctor

Dr. Peter Denton-Cardew, Halifax

Radio Operator

George Mason, Montreal

Cook

John LeBlanc, Liverpool

Boatswain

William Snow, Lunenburg

Cabin Boy

Ellsworth George Coggins, Dartmouth

Crewmen

Keith Boyd, Halifax

Robert Douglas, Washington, DC

Lewis Jennex, Oyster Pond

John Kendall, Currys Corner

Victor Magarvey, Granville Beach

Richard Newcomb, Hantsport

Natene Smith, Bridgewater

Ivan Zwicker, New Germany

Dalton Richards, Lunenburg

James Johnson, Aspen

Hugh Boyd, Dartmouth

Roy Boutilier, Dartmouth

Wayne Dewar, Hantsport

Prelim photo

Roy Boutilier was just nineteen when he embarked on the journey of a lifetime aboard

Bounty

.

1

“Come in, come in.” For just over a year, those cheery words greeted me on Monday mornings when I arrived, computer bag in hand, on the doorstep of my old friend, Roy Boutilier. Roy is an old friend in both senses of the word—our friendship goes back over forty years and, chronologically speaking, we are both old.

Early in our long friendship I learned that Roy had a fascinating story to tell about one golden year of his life. I was always intrigued by his story, even though I only knew it in bits and pieces. But I knew it contained a lot of the elements that make for a good story—history, adventure, friendship, romance.

Roy was nineteen years old when a stroke of good luck presented him with a remarkable opportunity. He was living and working in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, when he was suddenly given the chance to join the crew of the newly built replica ship Bounty on her maiden voyage from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, to Tahiti.

Bounty left Lunenburg with Roy and twenty-four other Nova Scotian crew members aboard in October 1960. The ship remained in Tahiti for almost a year while MGM Studios filmed the historical drama Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard. The celebrated movie tells the story of the ill-fated voyage of the original Bounty in 1788, a trip that was fraught with hardship, rivalries, betrayals, and cruelty.

Roy’s year on Bounty and his experiences in Tahiti are themselves the stuff of movies. For years I, and many others, had told Roy that he should write a book about his experiences. It’s one of those things people often say to someone who has a good story, but who really does it?

Roy is a born storyteller, and I had long been convinced that he, or someone, should get those stories written down. Despite the passage of time, I knew that Roy could still recall sharp images and details from that period of his life. Sometimes Roy and I would joke about collaborating on a book, but we never really gave it any serious thought. Like most people, we were preoccupied with daily life—until the summer of 2017. That’s when Roy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative disorder that attacks the brain and results in problems with memory, thinking, and behaviour.

The diagnosis was a harsh blow for Roy, his family, and his friends. Roy’s happy retirement and future plans suddenly looked very different. The disease does not progress in the same manner and at the same rate for everyone, but the reality is, it is progressive. We all rallied around Roy, assuring him that he seemed fine. But everyone had been noticing small, seemingly insignificant things that no longer seemed insignificant.

Immediately after the diagnosis, Roy’s world began to change. Right away the doctor asked him to surrender his driver’s licence. He had always been a careful driver and had a perfect driving record. It seemed an unfair and premature requirement. “I know I can still drive,” he insisted. “I am a good driver; I’ve never had an accident.” But the doctor was adamant. She instructed him not to drive again—not even home from his appointment that day. Roy, who is typically optimistic, fretted about the loss of independence and worried about becoming a burden to his family.

Roy’s wife, Bev, who is my close friend, also found her world suddenly upended. She and Roy had always shared tasks and worries, and now she felt the weight of new responsibilities. She was concerned about all the decisions that lay ahead. Would Roy respond to medication? Would she need help with him? Should they move? Most of all, she feared the day would come when she and Roy would have to be separated. Nevertheless, Bev, who has survived two bouts of cancer, reassured Roy. “When I was sick, you looked after me. Now it’s my turn to look after you. And I will.”

Roy’s year on Bounty and his experiences in Tahiti are themselves the stuff of movies. For years I, and many others, had told Roy that he should write a book about his experiences. It’s one of those things people often say to someone who has a good story, but who really does it?

Like many of Roy’s friends, my husband, John, and I found the news of Roy’s diagnosis distressing. We have enjoyed a long, close friendship with Roy and Bev. We know each other’s kids, grandkids, pets, family lore. Over the years, we have celebrated many special occasions together—birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and retirements. We have a lot of mutual friends, and in the old days, we often attended the same house parties, which sometimes went on until the wee hours of the morning.

The days of weekend house parties are long gone. Now we get together over a Friday night pizza, a Saturday morning coffee, a glass or two of wine on the back deck. Life has its ups and downs for everyone, and we have all faced some bad times—illnesses and family worries—but basically, we have been lucky. The bad times were temporary, and the good times always returned.

But the news of Roy’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis was different. This wasn’t something that would respond to treatment or surgery. This wasn’t going away. Like many people, I wondered what I could do. How could I help Roy? How could I help Bev? What changes were coming, and when?

The cruelty of the disease particularly struck me. How could such a diagnosis be possible? Roy never forgets a face or a name. He is a regular at the local library, often searching out books on local history. He can sing song after song without missing a word. He can recite passages of poetry and folklore like a master raconteur. So much would be lost as the disease progressed. Such a waste!

I deeply regretted the fact that I had never tried to help Roy write a little history about his time on Bounty. The marvellous Bounty stories and snippets of Nova Scotia history that only he knows would be lost as though they had never happened. Conventional wisdom says to do the things that really matter—you never know when time will run out. But, like a lot of people, I had assumed there was all the time in the world.

After the diagnosis, Bev continued to work a few days a week, but she worried about leaving Roy alone. Bev and Roy have a happy, companionable marriage. Bev loves fussing over Roy, and Roy, in turn, has always considered Bev’s wishes above everything. She was reluctant to give up her part-time commitment as a much-loved caregiver to an elderly friend. But she was torn. She knew that Roy found the time long when she was away, and she was uneasy about leaving him alone.

Several people assured Bev they would visit, take Roy out for coffee, and help him fill in the time. Knowing how Roy loves to reminisce about Bounty, I offered to spend a couple of hours with him on Monday mornings. Here, at last, was something concrete I could do. I envisioned us having some meandering conversations about the past, with Roy recounting the familiar stories I enjoy.

After his retirement in 2010, Roy had written a short journal about his time on Bounty. He had not kept a diary during his time on the ship, and as he aged he became increasingly unsettled at the thought that his story would someday be lost. He wanted to preserve his little piece of Maritime and family history and pass it on to his children and grandchildren. Several times, Roy invited me to read his journal and help him expand it, but I never made time to do it. Now that I would be spending Monday mornings with him, I thought we would go through his journal in a leisurely way, and I would type up a short history to distribute to family and friends. I knew it would be a comfort to Roy to be assured that his memories would be passed on.

Now, when I think back to that morning in September 2017 when I made my first Monday visit to Roy, I see how laughably naive I was. It was a brilliant fall day, and as I waited for Roy to answer the door I was already picturing how satisfying it would be to complete this little project. I happily imagined having a twenty-five-page manuscript ready by Christmas. I smiled to myself as I thought about how I would take it to Staples and have it photocopied and bound so Roy could give out copies as Christmas gifts. I was already feeling a great sense of accomplishment.

Roy greeted my arrival eagerly. He was in great spirits, and as he took my jacket he gestured to the living room. “I’m all ready for you!” he enthused. “I found a few things I thought you might be interested in.”

A few things! The coffee table was strewn with books, magazines, boxes, and plastic bags. I hardly knew where to begin and just kept peering into boxes and bags and exclaiming at all that was there. In addition to his journal, Roy had gathered up slides, photographs, letters, telegrams, newspaper clippings, and other Bounty memorabilia. As I sifted through the contents of each bag and box, slowly, but with increasing certainty, I came to realize that there was a lot more to tell than I had ever imagined. I could also see that Roy’s story was actually part of a much bigger story. The full narrative would include shipbuilding and seafaring history, a glimpse into the Golden Age of Hollywood filmmaking, and a look at the beautiful island of Tahiti in simpler times.

I was there a long time that first day—astounded and overwhelmed at the material Roy had amassed. Right away I could see that the twenty-five-page account I had originally envisioned would never suffice for this rich, little-known story. Encouraged by my enthusiastic reaction, Roy asked, “What do you think, Jan? There’s a lot of terrific stuff here, isn’t there?”

“Yes,” I agreed. “You have a wonderful story here. I really had no idea there was so much to tell.”

Neither of us said anything for a few moments. And then, almost shyly, Roy continued. “I bet you could write a great book about all this. What do you say, Jan?”

Amazed as I was at all the possibilities the material presented, right away I could see a lot of problems—all the reasons telling this story would be difficult. For one thing, sorting out timelines and sequences would require much skill, time, and patience. It was all so long ago; would it even be possible to track down background information about Bounty’s voyage? Would Roy be able to help order the events and make sense out of everything? And if so, for how much longer?

I was also concerned that there seemed to be no one who could add detail and authenticity to Roy’s account. Of the twenty-six men who were part of it all, only Roy and two others were still alive. One of the men, Hugh Boyd, has age-related memory loss. The other man, Ivan Zwicker, is still alive, but Roy had not heard of him in years and years and had no idea of his whereabouts. If Roy’s memories became jumbled or confused, who could I turn to?

On top of all these concerns I had one very big misgiving: I knew absolutely nothing about writing a book.

For a while I said nothing. If Roy had said something like, “Oh, never mind. It’s a crazy idea,” I would have agreed. But there he was, sitting in front of me—beaming, proud, hopeful.

I knew Roy longed to tell his story, wanted the assurance that his story would live on. Moreover, he believed in me, trusted that I could actually write a book. That faith sparked a combination of determination and bravado in me. It was time to stop talking about someone doing something someday. Someone was me, someday was now. And the clock was ticking.

So, despite all my misgivings, I heard myself say, “Yes, Roy, we’re going to write a book!” We would tell the story of Bounty—its Nova Scotian beginnings, the voyage to Tahiti, and its starring movie role. We would tell the stories of the men who sailed with him. We would sort through Roy’s photographs and slides and preserve some of those moments in time. Alzheimer’s might someday rob my old friend of those memories, but his story would not be lost.

I was not aware of it at the time, but I was actually embarking on something more important than just retelling Roy’s Bounty stories. But that would only become clear to me as the months passed.

2

Roy’s story begins in 1960, but the true story of one of the most famous mutinies in naval history begins in 1787.

Captain James Cook and other early South Seas explorers had observed that Tahitians and other Polynesians generally enjoyed good health and that breadfruit was a staple of their diet. Plantation owners in the British West Indies wanted to see if the plant could be transplanted to the Caribbean islands, where it might provide a source of cheap and nourishing food for their slaves. Thus, the British Admiralty commissioned Captain William Bligh to sail from England to Tahiti. There, he was to gather approximately a thousand breadfruit plants and transport them to Jamaica.

Bligh left Spithead, England, on December 23, 1787, intending to take four to six months to travel to Tahiti. Originally, he planned to sail around Cape Horn in South America. However, the ship battled weeks of fierce winds and powerful seas there, and eventually Bligh had to change course. Bligh and his men ended up making a much longer voyage—sailing east on the South Atlantic to the African Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean, and through the South Pacific to Tahiti. In the end, the trip took almost a year.

Bligh’s ship had originally been named Bethia, but after it was refitted for the voyage to Tahiti, it was renamed HMAV (His Majesty’s Armed Vessel) Bounty—in anticipation of the bountiful supply of breadfruit it would deliver. According to seafaring lore, it is unlucky to change a ship’s name. When a ship is christened, the name is registered with the gods in “The Ledger of the Deep.” If the name is changed, a ceremony must take place that includes obliterating all traces of the original name, rechristening the ship with alcohol, writing the old name on a piece of paper, and tearing that up and tossing it into the sea. It is not clear whether Bounty was ever rechristened, but given the arduous journey and the eventual fate of the ship, it appears that the gods of the sea may not have been happy about the name change.

Bounty’s long, drawn-out, and often perilous voyage eventually ended when the ship reached Tahiti near the end of October 1788. Arriving at Tahiti must have felt like entering paradise. There was plenty of fruit and fish, fresh water coursed down the mountainsides, the natives were hospitable, and the women were beautiful. James Morrison, second boatswain, wrote in 1789, “The young women wear their hair long, falling in waves down to their waists and decorated with…scented flowers. This is not only very flattering but is a bouquet pleasing…to all who are seated near them. All in all, these are the most beautiful women that we have seen in these seas.” Bligh and the crew remained in Tahiti for almost six months and were enchanted by the both the island and its people.

By April 1789, approximately one thousand breadfruit plants had been dug up and planted in pots. Bounty’s sojourn in Tahiti was over. The ship was ready to set sail for the West Indies. For some of the sailors, it must have been a sad farewell. Some probably balked at the notion of leaving the island paradise and its pleasures to face months at sea in harsh living conditions. But the voyage began with all men aboard.

From the outset, it was clear that the return trip would be a difficult one. To accommodate the thousand breadfruit plants, the sailors were jammed into very small quarters. In addition, some of the water rations had to be used to keep the plants alive. Conditions deteriorated and tempers grew short. Like most sea captains of his time, Bligh ran a tight ship. He demanded strict discipline and meted out punishment when he deemed it necessary.

First Mate Fletcher Christian objected to Bligh’s constant criticism and the harsh treatment of some crew members. He quietly shared his anger with a few trusted shipmates, and a plot was hatched.

A mere three weeks after leaving Tahiti, Christian and his loyal followers led a mutiny against the captain. In the early hours of the morning, the mutineers invaded Bligh’s cabin, shackled him, and ordered him off the ship. The mutiny caught many crew members by surprise. Christian intended to turn the ship around and head back to Tahiti, but not everyone was interested in such a plan—many of the crew were intent on returning home to England, and others were simply loyal to Bligh. In the end, Christian gave a longboat to Bligh and the eighteen men who cast their lot with him. He also granted them some food, water, and a few nautical tables, and then set them adrift.

When a ship is christened, the name is registered with the gods in ‘The Ledger of the Deep.’ If the name is changed, a ceremony must take place that includes obliterating all traces of the original name, rechristening the ship with alcohol, writing the old name on a piece of paper, and tearing that up and tossing it into the sea. It is not clear whether Bounty was ever rechristened, but given the arduous journey and the eventual fate of the ship, it appears that the gods of the sea may not have been happy about the name change.

Their chances of survival were poor. The longboat was severely overloaded, and the food and water rations meagre. But the wily Captain Bligh was outraged by the mutiny and was determined to return to England tp report the crime. Despite nearly hopeless odds, he set a course for the Southeast Asian island of Timor, a journey of 3,618 nautical miles. Conditions were miserable; the weather was stormy and the boat was so low in the water the men were constantly wet.

Nonetheless, Bligh, who was a brilliant navigator, was able to reach Timor after forty-one hellish days at sea. It was a remarkable feat and is still considered one of the most astounding stories of navigational skill and survival in seafaring history. One man did not survive the voyage, and five died shortly after reaching Timor, but Bligh and the remaining men eventually found passage home to England on British ships.

Meanwhile, after triumphantly throwing the breadfruit plants in the sea, Fletcher Christian and the other mutineers returned to Tahiti to resume the idyllic life they had enjoyed. However, knowing the long arm of British naval law, Christian had no doubt that the British navy would eventually come looking for Bounty. Little did he know that Bligh and some of his men had survived and were already heading back to England, ready to tell the story of the mutiny.

In September 1789, Fletcher Christian, eight of the mutineers, six Tahitian men, and twelve Tahitian women left Tahiti forever in search of a remote island where they hoped to avoid detection. They were at sea for four months before accidentally finding Pitcairn Island. The island was not charted correctly on the maps of the time, and Christian decided to take advantage of that error and start a new settlement. Rocky and unwelcoming, Pitcairn was a stark contrast to Tahiti, but Christian and his followers attempted to make a life there. In a further effort to avoid detection, Christian ordered Bounty to be stripped and burned. This meant escape from Pitcairn was impossible. The mutineers and their Tahitian followers were now left to survive the hardships of the island and whatever the future might bring.

By this time, Bligh had returned to England. He appeared before the British Admiralty and told the story of Fletcher Christian and the mutiny. At once, a frigate, the Pandora, was sent to Tahiti. A year and a half after the mutiny, the crew who had chosen to stay in Tahiti were located, arrested, and sent back to England to face justice. Four men died on the return voyage, four were acquitted, three were court-marshalled and pardoned, and three were hanged.

Fletcher Christian may have escaped British justice, but the men on Pitcairn did not fare well. Christian died a year or so after his arrival on Pitcairn. Rivalries between the mutineers and the Tahitian men they had brought with them sparked unrest and violence, and by 1808, only one of the original mutineers was still alive on Pitcairn Island.

This famous mutiny and its aftermath has been the subject of many books and at least five full-length movies. MGM Studios was convinced that this historic tale, replete with adventure and alliances, cunning and cruelty, escapes and near-escapes, would be a box office hit. Accordingly, the studio invested a lot of money and star power into retelling the story. The result was a blockbuster movie that was nominated for several Academy awards, including Best Picture.

Roy’s story is a very small part of this much bigger story. Nonetheless, for Roy and others who were part of it all, their time on Bounty played no small part in shaping the rest of their lives.

3

Since that first morning in September 2017, Roy and I have spent many Monday mornings together. When I arrive at his little semi-detached home, he is invariably waiting and happy to see me. We often play out the same joke about hoping the neighbours don’t see me sneaking into the house while his wife is at work. When Roy opens the front door, he pretends to look cautiously up and down the street. Then he hustles me in the door. I get inside and quickly close the door behind me and lean against it—relieved at the narrow escape. It never gets old; we laugh every time.

At seventy-seven years old, Roy is still very trim and carries himself like a much younger man. He has sported a short, clipped beard for as long as I’ve known him. He is one of those people who never seems to change. After many years in the clothing business, he continues to be neatly dressed in well-pressed shirts and pants that he carefully irons.