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Hurricane shipwreck victim inspired by mutineer

By Thom Patterson, CNN
October 31, 2012 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
Claudene Christian tweeted this image of her and the Bounty on June 23.
Claudene Christian tweeted this image of her and the Bounty on June 23.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Claudene Christian died after abandoning the HMS Bounty replica
  • The 50-year-old ship sank after taking on water during Hurricane Sandy
  • Christian, a USC grad, had begun new life aboard movie ship
  • She said she hoped to educate children as a crew member

(CNN) -- Claudene Christian dreamed of living a seafaring life like the historic HMS Bounty naval officer who shared her name centuries ago.

She'd secured a spot as a crew member on a replica of the Bounty and had announced it proudly on her Facebook page. But less than six months after joining the ship, her dream was cut short.

As Hurricane Sandy approached the East Coast, its powerful winds swirled up waves that crippled the three-masted, 180-foot Bounty off North Carolina's coast, forcing the 16-member crew to abandon ship.

That's when the waves swept Christian overboard, along with the Bounty's captain and another crew member early Monday, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Robert Parker told CNN. That crew member made it to a lifeboat; Christian's body was found on Monday evening. Capt. Robin Waldridge remains missing.

Raw video: Rescue from sunken HMS Bounty
High-drama rescue on the high seas
A replica of the HMS Bounty sank in the Atlantic Ocean in waters roiled by Hurricane Sandy on Monday, October 30, 2012. Of the 16 people onboard, three were washed overboard. One is confirmed dead, one was recovered safely and Robin Walbridge, the replica's longtime captain, was still missing. The other 13 people onboard were recovered safely. A replica of the HMS Bounty sank in the Atlantic Ocean in waters roiled by Hurricane Sandy on Monday, October 30, 2012. Of the 16 people onboard, three were washed overboard. One is confirmed dead, one was recovered safely and Robin Walbridge, the replica's longtime captain, was still missing. The other 13 people onboard were recovered safely.
Bounty replica sinks
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Sandy sinks \'Bounty\' Sandy sinks 'Bounty'

Christian, 42, often said she was related to Fletcher Christian, the 18th-century sailor blamed for leading the infamous mutiny on the real HMS Bounty.

Grueling recovery begins

In May, Christian won a deckhand job on the Bounty replica, which was built for "Mutiny on the Bounty," a 1962 film starring Marlon Brando. The tall ship also appeared in several other movies, including Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" films.

"I wasn't sure if they'd take me because I didn't have a sailing background," she told a Canadian newspaper in August, "although I've been totally interested in it all my life."

She boasted about the Bounty and her new assignment to her friends and family, describing the ship as a "sailing museum" on her Facebook page. On Twitter, Christian announced "I am in love with my ship ... BOUNTY"

Seeing it as an opportunity to share "our ship and our history," she posted, "I'm sure my ancestor would be proud..."

The ship, she hoped, would begin more efforts toward educating schoolchildren, she told reporters.

"Claudene had a huge caring heart," Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, Sheriff Ron Lockhart told CNN affiliate KFSM. Christian once lived in Vian, Oklahoma.

Claudene had a huge caring heart.
Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, Sheriff Ron Lockhart

"She will be missed."

Sandy changes lives forever

Christian may have been a sailing novice, but she was no stranger to adventure. A former Miss Teen Alaska, she decided to start her own business at 17 and headed to California, as she describes on her Cheerleader Doll Company website, "fresh out of Alaska and on my own in the Big City of LA."

Once there, she attended the University of Southern California where friends tweeted that she performed as a "USC Song Girl."

"She was always staying busy and active at things," her aunt, Patricia Saulsberry, told KFSM.

Photos: Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy

Christian's interest in the Bounty began after she toured a replica of Christopher Columbus' Nina on the Arkansas River last year, Saulsberry said.

The Bounty tragedy began when the ship, which was sailing from Connecticut to St. Petersburg, Florida, reported Monday that it had lost power and was taking on water about 125 miles off North Carolina.

Water poured in through the hull of the 50-year-old wooden ship, the Bounty's owner, Bob Hansen, told CNN affiliate KUSA. "They just couldn't stay afloat anymore," he said.

Early Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard staged a daring helicopter rescue: They flew into the hurricane's outer bands and plucked 14 of the surviving crew members from two lifeboats.

A short distance away, the HMS Bounty sank to the bottom of the Atlantic, as Hurricane Sandy marched north.

All of the crew members were wearing orange survival suits with strobe lights designed to keep them afloat, warm and easy to find.

Coast Guard ships continue to search a 1,300-mile area around the site of the shipwreck for Waldridge, 63. On Tuesday, the Coast Guard reported the water temperature was 77 degrees with 15-foot waves and 42-mph winds.

Even with a survival suit, "it's very problematic" to stay in position in heavy winds and rough seas, Parker said.

Sandy's impact state by state

The Bounty set sail Thursday, as Hurricane Sandy pummeled Cuba with an uncertain path after that.

Nevertheless, people have posted pointed questions on the Bounty's Facebook page suggesting Waldridge shouldn't have been sailing through such a violent storm.

Hansen noted that the captain took the ship "way out east," trying to steer around Sandy.

"He knows the ship, he's been captain of her for over 20 years and nobody knows her better," Hansen said. "I totally trusted his judgment."

Waldridge is a good-natured, mild-mannered captain who has a special bond with the Bounty, according to Susan Robertson, who has known him since 2001.

"Other than his wife, he acts like it's his first love," said Robertson, who works at The Pier in St. Petersburg, where the Bounty is often docked.

The ship's crew, she said "are like members of your own family."

"I hope they find him," she said.

Get the latest information on the storm on CNN.com's Just In blog

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