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Longtime HMS Bounty captain Hugh Boyd dies

Bill DeYoung



Hugh Boyd aboard Bounty in June 1965, on its first voyage to St. Petersburg. Screengrab from MGM documentary "Voyage of the Bounty to St. Petersburg."

When visitors stepped through the door that would lead them aboard HMS Bounty, moored on the north side of the St. Pete Pier approach for decades, the first thing they heard was the pre-recorded voice of Hugh Boyd, captain of the wooden ship and general manager of the tourist attraction:

Well, ha-ha, hello there mates. Welcome to the Bounty. Say, have you noticed a special kind of flavor in the air since you came? Why it’s oakum, tar, black spruce, oak, pine and manila … yes, and even old sweat. That’s one way of knowin’ that you’ve not come aboard a phony, but a real wind-battlin’ timber-shakin’ swell-bustin’ windjammer…

Boyd, who died Jan. 26 at age 86, was inextricably linked with the replica 165-foot vessel, which had been constructed in a Nova Scotia shipyard for the big-budget MGM film Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando. The movie Bounty was built to scale, using original 19th century plans loaned by the British admiralty, and it was built to be seaworthy (via sail power or its concealed twin diesel engines).

In the fall of 1960, Hugh Boyd signed on as an able-bodied seaman for the 7,000-mile cruise from the shipyards to Tahiti, where Brando, Trevor Howard and the others actors would pretend to be Fletcher Christian, Captain William Bligh and their shipmates (Mutiny on the Bounty was based on a real incident, and this was to be the third cinematic interpretation.)

Boyd stayed with the ship for its return to New York, where it went on display at the 1964 World’s Fair.

The City of St. Petersburg signed a contract with the film studio to dock Bounty at the Municipal Pier, for tourists to walk in the buckled shoes of Christian, Bligh, Brando et al.

When Bounty arrived on June 19, 1965, Boyd was ship’s bosun. Within the first year, he was promoted to captain.

He married Sharon Dewar, his high school sweetheart, and they settled into St. Pete life, raising two kids, Tom and Tara.

Her father kept a small apartment on the exhibit grounds, Tara Beesley (nee Boyd) remembered. “Whenever a hurricane came through, he would come check on us, but for the most part he would be there at the ship, battening down the hatches,” she said. “That ship, my mother would say, was ‘the other woman.’ He was always worried about her.”

Whenever Bounty was needed elsewhere, Boyd went with her. For many years, before Tampa had its own “pirate” vessel for the Gasparilla festival, Boyd would sail her across the bay and up into the Hillsborough River, festooned with colored banners and Jolly Roger flags.

He was aboard, and in command, when Bounty was leased to sail to Mexico to film the 1983 comedy Yellowbeard.

In the Pier attraction’s heyday, 250,000 visitors strolled Bounty’s polished decks each year.

Cable TV magnate Ted Turner purchased the MGM film library in 1985, and with it, the HMS Bounty itself.

Boyd remained captain for several years, and several Turner-financed adventures, but left Turner’s employ at the end of the ’80s. During this period, he discovered a new love, for the Colorado mountains. “He climbed every mountain over 14,000 feet,” his daughter remembered, a feat known as the Colorado Grand Slam.

Yet he always came home to St. Pete, to Sharon and the kids. Boyd was an accomplished musician who played piano, sousaphone and even the bagpipes (he was proud of his Scottish lineage). Sharon Boyd sang at area churches and other venues. She passed away in 2013.

(Sharon’s obituary, written by her family, included this bon mot: “She will be sorely missed by family and friends who will never forget her uproarious laughter, her happy conversations and her partial forgiveness of her husband’s outrageous transgressions.”)

Bounty was donated to the Fall River Chamber Foundation, later known as the HMS Bounty Organization LLC, which continued to bring the ship to the Vinoy Basin for the winter months for much of the 1990s.

Bounty was lost off the coast of North Carolina during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Hugh Boyd, his family said, was heartbroken.

“I don’t know that he ever realized, but he took his role as steward of this ship in such high regard,” Tom Boyd told the Catalyst in 2020. “And he was always one for restoring it, and bringing it back to its original grandeur.”

He loved to sail, he loved to laugh and he loved a good adventure.

Plans for a memorial service are being worked out.

“Daddy’s wishes were for his ashes to be scattered out to sea,” Beesley explained. “He actually asked us, more than once, to just flush him down the toilet. But I don’t think we’ll do that.”

Related story: VINTAGE ST. PETE: MGM’s Bounty



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  1. Avatar

    Dennis Stephens

    January 27, 2022at3:16 pm

    Bravo! Hugh was a wonderful man!

  2. Avatar

    Roger Beesley

    January 27, 2022at5:53 pm

    Hugh was a great guy, very accomplished, but always friendly and cheerful. He was a very generous man with a great sense of humor. He will be very much missed, a great man to be around.

  3. Avatar

    Linda Miville

    January 27, 2022at6:46 pm

    Hugh and Dad, Bob MacDonald, sailed together and were great friends. Dad will miss Hugh. I know Hugh is sailing up above.

  4. Avatar

    Dana Crawford

    January 28, 2022at7:18 pm

    Thank you for the article.what a man to have as a wooden ships.did he own a ship in the bottle?

  5. Avatar

    Roger Beesley

    January 28, 2022at7:31 pm

    He touched so many people, and was universally loved. Rare indeed to know a man so treasured by so many people.

  6. Avatar

    Greg clarke

    January 29, 2022at11:17 am

    He was my inspiration for going to sea on tall ship, I have sailed thousands of miles on his ship, The Bounty. RIP Captain may you and former Bounty Capt. Robin Walbridge, RIP, meet in heaven and talk about the old girl.
    One fact that need attended to. The Bounty was built longer than original for film crew and new galley.

  7. Avatar

    Matt Smith

    February 1, 2022at12:54 pm

    Great man. He taught me so much about the ocean, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, life and honor.

  8. Avatar

    Jack Stillwaggon

    April 24, 2022at2:50 pm

    I worked for Bos’n Boyd on the Bounty at the NY World’s Fair. My father was the harbor pilot who brought her in from the sea to the dock in Flushing Bay. After that season at the fair, we sailed her to Jacobson’s Shipyard in Oyster Bay LI. Hugh asked me to help on weekends through the winter refitting her for a voyage in 1965. As a reward, Hugh invited me to sail with them in June ’65 to Florida. We had a terrible storm the first couple of days but Hugh couldn’t have been happier. He ate a green apple and danced on the heaving deck while playing a concertina. We crossed the Gulf Stream with fore and aft sails set. It was wonderful. I had to disembark in Port Everglades to get home in time for my final exams. I missed the best part of the voyage around the Tortugas and up to St. Pete. Hugh was a great mentor and quiet sort of leader. I figured he would live forever. So sorry to hear the news. My condolences to the family.

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