NEWBURYPORT – This story is about a big ship and a little boat. One’s a half-century old and a movie star. The other one has not been built yet.
The big ship is the HMS Bounty, 180 feet long overall, which is going to enter the Merrimack River at high tide on Thursday to dock in Newburyport, with public tours and other activities set for Friday through July 15. The Bounty, one of the few large square-rigged ships sailing today, was built in 1960 to be used in the movie “Mutiny on the Bounty” and also appeared in two “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels, among others.
What brings the Bounty to town? Credit at least in part goes to Caleb Twombly of Groveland, who has worked on the Bounty off and on since 2003 and began casual lobbying for a local stop not long after he joined the crew.
“I just thought it would be really cool to have the Bounty come to my home,” he said last week at Plum Island Coffee Roasters overlooking the docks. “I looked at the chart one day, it was a long time ago, and said, hey, we could fit in there.”
Not by much, actually. The Bounty’s press kit lists a 13-foot draft, although Twombly said it is more like 11½. Despite recent shoaling, the Merrimack channel is close to 15 at high tide, he said.
The little boat in the story — at 28 feet, it is not really so little — is a replica of a 19th-century whaleboat. It’s going to be built at Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury, a couple of miles up the Merrimack from the Newburyport waterfront.
Once finished, it will eventually be placed aboard the last surviving whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan, built in New Bedford in 1841, which is undergoing a major restoration at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. Whaleboats were carried by the larger whale ship and lowered to give chase by oar and sail when whales were sighted.
Lowell’s needs to raise $100,000 for the whaleboat project, not just for materials but for staff and six high school apprentices to build it, and to develop a curriculum on whaling to use with local schools during the October-May project.
“It’s important because Mystic Seaport is doing its best to preserve the Morgan, the last whaling ship, and so building a boat for that has a lot of historical value,” said Graham McKay, shop manager and boat builder at Lowell’s. “For us it’s keeping a tradition alive that is part of our mission.”
“It’s a big-focus project. It’s going to take at least six months to do. It will give an apprentice a very in-depth education in boat building,” he said.
Now, guess whose mother is director of youth programs for Lowell’s? Her name is Alice Twombly.
So in addition to the public tours and other activities that could attract a few thousand visitors, there will be a benefit party for the Lowell’s whaleboat project aboard the Bounty on Saturday night. The flier mentions “creative black tie” and “boat-appropriate footwear; no high heels.”
Caleb Twombly said he began his sailing career with a Lawrence community boating program when he was 13 or 14. His time on the Bounty began with a visit to a friend on board, while he waited to sail on another ship. “Someone told Captain Robin [Walbridge] of the Bounty that I wanted to switch boats, which I hadn’t said to anybody. I was committed to working on the Niagara. But he was out to lunch with the captain of the Niagara, and I kind of got traded.”
Twombly eventually rose through the ranks to first mate and engineer on the Bounty, and something else important happened too: He met his future wife, Rebecca, when she came to work on the boat. He even proposed aboard the Bounty, with a Turk’s head ring made out of twine used onboard, although a real ring came later. The couple, both 32, have spent much of their married life in a small cabin on board.
They spent last winter on the ship while it was docked in Puerto Rico for several months, giving tours and conducting repairs, but neither one is working on the Bounty right now, Twombly said. While they plan their future, he’s captaining the Ninth Wave catamaran sailing charters out of Newburyport three days a week, and also working for Tow Boat/U.S.
They are looking forward to showing off the Bounty to friends and family, he said, and his wife will accompany her niece on board as the ship sails from Newburyport to Annapolis, Md., afterward.
The Bounty, of course, was built to match the somewhat smaller HMAV Bounty on whose decks the famous mutiny took place in 1789. Members of the crew, led by Fletcher Christian, preferred remaining in Tahiti to sailing on under the harsh rule of their commander, Lieutenant William Bligh. They set Bligh and loyal crew members adrift in a small launch and took the ship to isolated Pitcairn Island, where they burned it and established a settlement that still exists today. The movie, released in 1962, starred Marlon Brando as Christian and Trevor Howard as Bligh.
The movie will be shown outdoors on Newburyport’s waterfront adjacent to the ship.on • Saturday at about 9 p.m. There will also be live music and other events during the ship’s stay.
The Bounty’s visit is sponsored by the city of Newburyport, Chase & Lunt Insurance, and the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with the insurance agency picking up the bulk of the $10,000-plus tab for promotion, entertainment, and logistics. But there is no charge for having the Bounty.
“The Bounty reached out to us,” said Ann Ormond, chamber president. And the idea, at least, started with Twombly.
“Nothing happened for a very long time,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t really know till last winter. I just saw it on the schedule.”
Bounty tours, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday through July 15. Tours: Adults, $10; Children 8 and up, $5; Children 7 and under free.
Lowell’s Charles W. Morgan Whaleboat Project fund-raiser aboard the Bounty, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, with champagne, raw bar, silent auction, ship tours. $100 per person/$150 a couple. Call 978-834-0050 or www.lowellsboatshop.com.