July 5, 2010. Port Antonio, Jamaica
Well, our passage from Haiti to Honduras was briefly interrupted. Our first day sailing from Haiti brought fine cruising downwind and down current, but as we began to cross the Windward Passage between Haiti and Jamaica we hit heavy weather. A beam sea of 8-10 foot waves made for a miserable roll. After 48 hours of fighting the helm, driving through lightning and winds reaching 55 mph, we found ourselves passing north of Port Antonio on Jamaica’s NE coast.
With our generator overheating and crew exhausted, we turned south and arrived in Port Antonio just after daybreak. Errol Flynn Marina in Port Antonio has been giving free dockage to boats coming to or from work in Haiti. Only a mile from land, the seas subsided, and we got shelter. We cruised into the protected harbor and pulled gently up to the dock. I was at the helm, and I will never forget the enormous feeling of relief that washed over me as I heard ‘All lines secure’ called out from the deck. I shut down both engines and relaxed fully for the first time in over 2 months.
We lived at anchor, enduring squalls and gales and constant maintenance, for well over 8 weeks in Haiti with nowhere to tie up or deep water to try and anchor in. Once or twice in Haiti our anchor dragged on a windy night and we had to pull and reset. An hour after we tied up at Port Antonio, a squall came through with 40 mile an hour winds, and I paid zero attention to it; a luxury we never had the whole time in Haiti.
June 28, 2010. Petit-Goave, Haiti.
“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road,
Time grabs you by the wrist,
Directs you where to go,
So make the best of this test,
And don’t ask why,
It’s not a question,
But a lesson learned in time.”
–Green Day, “Time of Your Life”
Ah, calm seas and a gentle night breeze. Tropical Storm ‘Alex’ made things interesting for us over the last few days.
At the western edge of the bay of Petit-Goave, we were exposed to a 5-6 foot swell rolling straight into the bay, with 35 mile-an-hour winds holding us beam-on to the seas. Misery! Imagine that your house is the head of one of those bobble-head dashboard ornaments. During a break in the weather, we moved the boat under the mountains at the eastern edge of the bay, giving us much needed protection and a good night’s sleep. We are getting ready for the 800-mile transit to our destination in Honduras…fueling, taking on supplies, clearing the decks, lashing down gear, ballasting the boat, and the thousand small things that have to be done to clear Southern Wind for a crossing.
Most importantly, though, we are waiting for a weather window. Tropical waves are continuing to pass over this area. The water between here and Colombia is pretty rough and pushing north across our course to Honduras. Alex is messing up the whole western Caribbean—not a good time to push your luck on the water. Besides readying our boat for sea, we have also used the time to say farewell to our friends here and to catch up on some last minute patients. The farewells are very, very difficult for me—to see people and places that have become important to me grow smaller and smaller until they disappear below the horizon.
Well, at the end of our week here in Petit-Goave, it’s time to check how well we are meeting the goals for our project that I first envisioned over two years ago while working long nights in Irish hospitals.
I dreamed of a multi-skilled, highly adaptable relief team aboard a self-sufficient support platform that could use 21st Century medical technology, classical medical diagnostics and adaptability to different needs and resources to create long-term health benefits in developing world communities, making a difference one person at a time. Here we are, many months and many days of hard work later, and with many people who helped make this possible now a part of our story, anchored safely in Petit-Goave, Haiti.
For our first mission destination, I chose a tough location—Haiti: more than 800 miles from where we started, with huge challenges facing its people from every possible direction, a couple months after a huge disaster when people are still living in tents but many aid groups have pulled up stakes and moved on. If we could successfully conduct a mission here, I felt confident we could do it anywhere.
April 27, 2010. Petit-Goave, Haiti.
At long last, phase one of our project is complete! We have completely rebuilt our ship, found and loaded all our medical supplies, sailed our vessel over 800 miles from Florida and arrived safely in Petit-Goave, on the northern coast of Haiti’s southern peninsula.
Our last port-of-call in the US was Miami, our jump-off point for the long transit southeast to Haiti. Miami Beach Marina and Epic Marina donated dockage for us while we provisioned, continued stowing and securing our supplies and waited for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream.
Moving from Miami Beach Marina to the Epic Hotel dock was a bit tricky. The Epic Marina is on the narrow Miami River. It had a ripping current flowing into it when we came in, and we had a strong wind blowing behind us, pushing us along the current. When they gave us the docking instructions, they told us, “You can’t miss it—the spot where you guys should dock is about 200 feet long, right between the two mega yachts; be careful because the one in front of you just had a 2 million dollar paint job!” We parallel parked without incident and spent two days provisioning and waiting for the weather to clear.
Two years after I decided to hang up my stethoscope in Ireland, leave the hospital in Dublin behind and move back to the US to organize the Floating Doctors, here we are in Lake Worth Inlet on the Southeast Coast of Florida waiting for a weather window to make the crossing the Haiti.
So many generous hands and hearts have made FD a reality. I am thinking of our friend Don Capo, who helped us save thousands and thousands of dollars, guiding our work on the hydraulics and running gear, and hull repairs, and the refurbishment of many other systems. He finished the survey of our vessel the very morning we sailed from the dock at St. Augustine Marine Center and headed to the inlet to anchor. He stepped off the boat, and he grew smaller and smaller on the dock we left behind. His kindness and generosity are part of what we will carry with us and pay forward on our mission.
On the 200 mile transit to Lake Worth inlet on Florida’s southeast coast we broke up into three watches of three crew each, 4 hours on duty twice a day, 8 hours apart. My own was the 12-4 AM/PM watch. I am usually up till 3 or 4 AM anyway–when you are working on the boat all day and leading a crew, the quiet night hours are the best time to get paperwork and admin done. I have no difficulty sleeping till 9 or 10 AM after coming off watch at 4 AM, even with the morning noises accompanying the other two watches getting up to begin their day. Some of the crew are inherently early risers–you know, those folks who wake up around 5 or 6 AM every day and have no trouble falling asleep around 10 or 11 at night…lucky devils. Some have sleep patterns more like mine, so we were able to do a pretty good job spreading people around into watches that suited their natural sleep/wake cycles.
Man, what a week…you know, I’ve always admired ants…when a group of them swarm together, they can make short work of tasks far greater than their individual size would suggest. With Southern Wind up on dry land, she looks like the project of some giant ant colony, with people crawling all over grinding, sanding, epoxying, building, wiring, and finally checking off all the thousand projects we have had aboard since we started this rebuild.
Once again, our work is flying ahead because of all the support we have received out here from the community–the Rotary club here is providing funds for the extra fuel we will burn in a powered run to Haiti with a full load, and even up in St. Augustine everyone in the boatyard and the folks in the marine industry here have given us materials and hours of their time and experience to help us solve the various challenges we faced in our dry dock repairs.
For example, Rick, Tom and Cheryl at Polaris Marine continue to host Ryan in their workshop almost daily to let him crimp wires and help him decipher the complex wiring solutions necessary on Southern Wind, Sinclair from the Sailor’s Exchange is looking for red hull paint for us, and Bobby and Steve in the yard helped us get our old diesel generator out–after we removed all the bolt-ons (everything we could take off the generator in place), the core and block still weighed around 2,000 pounds–kind of hard to get out of a small space in the engine room!
After much discussion (thanks Don Capo and everyone who pondered this problem with us), we decided to bite the bullett and cut a hole in the hull, unbolt the generator from its mounting and lift it out with the yard’s crane. So we cut a hole (that now we have to patch, of course) and the next day, in a cold heavy rain, Bobby and Steve hauled the generator out the hole…it sounds so easy when I say it like that, but I guess all in all it was pretty easy (because we had their expert help and a crane). We literally pulled it out; there was not QUITE enough clearance in the hole we cut and the generator slid out of the hole tightly strapped to the crane above. I’ve been waiting 8 months for this moment–and now we can install the much more efficient and lighter generator Polaris Marine are donating and close up the hole. Continue reading Week #2 in St. Augustine
We have just finished our first week working on the boat hauled out of the water at St. Augustine Marine Center. We came back at noon today, as the rain started coming on and you can’t sand boat hulls in pouring rain. I know I said I
had about 28 heart attacks during the move from Palm Coast up to St. Augustine, but they didn’t really settle down until the boat was safely lowered onto blocks and supports and the travelift and straps taken away.
We have a lot to do in a short time, but it looks like we will accomplish it. We have two or three repairs to the hull, prepping the bottom and putting anti-fouling paint on, painting the hull above the waterline, removing our old generator and putting in the new one Polaris Marine are giving us, cleaning and serviceing our propellers and shafts, getting our bowthruster operational, installing a through-hull transducer for our Raymarine sonar…ok, I had ANOTHER cardiac event just thinking about that list.
On Friday January 22nd, we moved Southern Wind from the dock where we have been working for months in Palm Coast, 30 miles north up the Intracoastal Waterway to St. Augustine for a haul-out and two weeks of yard work at St. Augustine Marine Center before we sail for Haiti. Haiti has always been our fist planned destination, and ever since the earthquake we have been frantically trying to finish our work on Southern Wind and set sail. The Rotary Club here has raised money for additional fuel–normally we would travel under sail as much as possible to avoid using too much fuel, but people are more important than diesel and when we depart, we will travel with all sails up and both engines pushing hard all the way to Haiti.
Our project is designed to deliver medical supplies where there are no ports, so the devastation in Haiti’s commercial ports will not deter us from going. Also, we originally planned to sail on from Haiti, but we are leaving some of our field gear here in Florida to make foom for additional supplies and volunteers. Our friend Veronica from Rotary has a bus that we can store our surplus gear in and collect when we return to Florida to drop off Volunteers and take on new arrivals before departing for Central America.
First, though, we had to get Southern Wind safely out of the canal where she has lain for ten years, over the 6-foot bar between our canal and the intracoastal, and safely up the intracoastal to the marine yard in St. Augustine for a haul out the next m0rning. Southern Wind is a BIG boat–70 tons, and this would be our first time feeling how she moves in the water. Captain Ryan Emberley, our friend from West Marine in Jacksonville, was aboard to pilot the ship safely on the maiden voyage of her rebirth after years of exposure to weather and slowly dying in her quiet canal.
We were to dock at St. Augustine Marine’s long dock on arrival, stay there the weekend, and haul Monday morning. We calculated that at 10 knots and no problems, the 30 mile run to St. Augustine could TECHNICALLY be made in 3 hours, but even though I think all of us figured there was no way things would go that smoothly, none of us anticipated the Three Hour Tour we would all experience over the next 72 hours.
Besides working so hard for so long, besides our desire to put our project into action, despite the earthquake in Haiti that has us chomping at the bit to set sail, we had one additional reason to want to move Southern Wind out of her canal–lots and lots of dead fish. A record cold snap (of course, right? While we were here in Palm Coast, we have had record floods, record cold…what’s next?) kept the temperature around or below freezing for days on end, and the canals got so cold that THOUSANDS of fish–mostly catfish, but also snook, jacks, mullet, needlefish–froze to death, and in the two slightly warmer days of preparation to move Southern Wind, all their rotting bodies floated onthe surface and the tides and wind brought ALL the canals’ dead fish down into our blind end canal.
Claudia and I headed down to Fort Lauderdale for the boat show—one of the biggest in the country. I have actually never been to a boat show, so this was kind of jumping into the deep end—the show was HUGE; you had to take a bus from one area to another. We went from booth to booth talking to people about our project and trying to find support—we still desperately need a watermaker; we have an atmospheric watermaker donated from Generative Planet that draws drinking water from the air, but although it makes just enough for drinking, we need a reverse osmosis watermaker to have the capacity for washing, cooking, cleaning clinical supplies and getting salt off equipment.
The variety of products and vendors was amazing—I saw a lot of gear we really needed, but I also saw a lot of gear I really WANTED. I know the difference, but just the boats alone that were on display gave me some pretty serious boat envy (“Now this magnificent vessel comes equipped with a docking minisub and helipad…”). Captain J was working at the show, representing a series of beautiful coastal cruisers, and one of my favorite companies, US Submarines (they make luxury yacht submarines…think 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea meets 21st Century technologies), had one of their original submarines on display. I can dream, ok?
One thing that was strange was that we only came across one single booth focused on medical issues at sea—there was a lot of safety equipment as part of other booths’ products, but only John Alibrandi and First Responder Educational Services were entirely devoted to dealing with medical emergencies offshore. FRES sells AWESOME offshore medical kits, and they donated one of their Res-Q-Kits to us, as well as extra IV fluids, a HeartSine automatic external defibrillator, adrenaline injectors and saline injections. John also put us in contact with On Call International, a remote medicine and rescue service—and they are going to let us call them to access physician advice from our clinics, bringing more expert medical advice to our remote locations, and are giving us a special deal on their remote rescue service. If any of us get badly hurt, they can coordinate our rescue and repatriation.
June 30, 2009. Palm Coast, Florida
A day that began with a storm and ended with a beautiful sunset that turned the evening sky into flames!
Lightning and thunder crashed all around the house at 6 AM, rattling the windows and making the power flicker. Afterward, we managed to continue work as usual on the boat. It is so exciting that we are doing finishing work now—carpeting, paneling, running water lines and plumbing, painting, etc; we can really see the boat coming together!
We finished putting up the carpeting in the Scorpion Cabin—that’s what we call the twin cabin on the port side of the aft cabins; when we were hustling medical supplies onboard during the floods here, we stored many of them temporarily in this cabin, and a day or so later we came upon a scorpion that must have taken refuge from the floods in one of the boxes and got carried aboard. For the next few weeks, that dark, warm cabin piled floor to ceiling with boxes looked like the ultimate scorpion apartment complex and made us a bit cagey about going in there and rummaging around. We never saw another one, but forever after we refer to that cabin as The Scorpion Cabin. Hopefully it will never live up to its name again!
The heat and humidity combine into what is called a ‘Killing Heat.’ A couple of years ago, when I was in Ireland, a rare heat wave drove temperatures in London above 100 degrees, and hundreds of people died—mostly elderly people without air conditioning (not a common household appliance then in England), as they (and infants) are much more vulnerable to overheating. The heat here is even stronger—high humidity, and when we are working on deck, and especially down below decks without the fans turned on, sweat pours from every pore on our bodies. Clothes are soaked in moments, paint trays have a rain of salty water into them…it is BRUTAL. We drink 5-10 liters per day and it flows right out of us.
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