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.
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.
Floating Doctors was announced a Rotary International Cause and will be taken up by the Palm Coast Rotary Club. By becoming and International Cause, any Rotary Club can support Floating Doctors and have them be their club’s focus organization to help.
July 2, 2009. Palm Coast, Florida.SHARKS IN THE CANAL!!
You know, the story here keeps changing…when we got here, Sky and I took one look at the green, zero-visibility canal teeming with life and thought immediately, ‘Wow, what a bullsharky-looking place! And wow—the only shade anywhere around the canal for a big alligator to rest on the bottom during the heat of the day is under our boat and under our dock!’ However, everyone around here told us that sharks don’t come in here, and they have only seen an alligator once every few years during big storms. So last week, we saw a big 7-foot alligator idling around in the canal before it disappeared in the twilight, and today we saw a 5-foot shark (a bull or a blacktip) swim casually past the boat. It makes me a lot less happy about going back under the boat to clean the propellers! If I didn’t know better I’d think the neighbors were trying to encourage my demise, except that they have all been so nice to us—one of our neighbors, David, sent me a photo of the Southern Wind graphically altered against a nebula shot from the Hubble space telescope called ‘The Cosmic Voyager.’ Hopefully we’ll never be that far off course! Zero cross-track error is our goal!
A supporter of ours named Jonathan, an ER Nurse in L.A. (who is also an experienced transit captain, having spent years sailing the breadth of the Pacific) gave me great ‘rule-of-thumb’ advice about swimming in unknown waters. You never know if the seemingly calm, placid water you are about to dive into to survive the blistering heat has had 10 huge tiger sharks show up every afternoon at 5 PM for the last thousand years, so always seek local knowledge—but if none is available, never go in the water if you can’t see the bottom clearly from the deck of your boat! The dark, tannic waters of this canal looked sharky from the moment we saw it!
But that is the consequence of having a canal teeming with life. Now that we are living in Dennis and Jeannette’s old house (they moved across town and are letting us stay in their house where the boat is docked), we have taken to fishing off the boat in the evenings—after 6 PM, we are DONE working on the boat and we often take a break before dinner to fish, since a lot of the crew are just learning and we will have to provide a lot of our protein this way during our journey! Tonight we caught a stingray, which we let go right away—she was gravid (pregnant); you can see the large bulge in the middle of her body from the base of the tail forward—and I caught my first ever tarpon; which we also let go. Fascinating and Beautiful, respectively, but so far we have caught a lot of fish but none that are much good as food! We SEE them in the water, big red drums, but so far they seem to be mocking us!
June 28, 2009. Palm Coast, Florida
Ah, Sunday again! Not a moment too soon—we had a long, brutal week of work! Noah spent some time hanging over the side in harness touching up the port side hull; I think we made him paranoid about alligators coming up underneath him but he survived unscathed—this time!
We kept our normal Sunday ritual today; sleep in a little, then clean up the boat for the next week’s work—in only a couple of hours when we start work , chaos reigns aboard and it becomes very hard to find tools or navigate over piles of lumber, coils of wire, trays of paint and other boat-building debris so even though we constantly clean as we go and tidy up at the end of every day, half a day on Sunday going over the whole boat from stem to stern saves us hours of work otherwise lost tool-hunting during the following week.
Normally we would try and muster the energy to go to the beach for a couple of hours and lie in the sand, but for the last few evenings we have been working on a side project—Sean found a film contest sponsored by Converse and Target where the theme is about turning dreams into reality, and we have entered.
It is the first film project that we have all worked on together, and everyone pitched in like we do on everything else—Jon drew the titles, Jamie drew over 700 frames, I did the voice over, Ryan and Jamie recorded the sound effects…and all in the evenings after putting on our usual 10-14 hours on the boat! The film was due to be submitted online at 1 AM tonight so Sunday was not quite the day of rest it usually is, especially for poor Sean—by the time editing was done (at 12:55 AM!) he was practically falling apart at the seams!
Tonight, I decided to try out a newly available form of relaxation—there is a Jacuzzi bath tub in Dennis and Jeannette’s house and it turns out that a few bubble go a long way in a Jacuzzi tub…I nearly fell asleep, but I could feel the soreness of the last two months easing as I luxuriated. Sky reminded me to enjoy it while it lasts…tomorrow we go back to the boat with a vengeance!
June 24, 2009. Palm Coast, Florida
Well, when it rained 30 inches in 5 days here, everyone here said ‘it never rains like this at this time of year!’ It set an all-time record for rainfall here in Palm Coast. Now the heat has well and truly arrived, and everyone is saying ‘Wow, it never usually gets this hot until much later in the summer!’ Naturally…must be because during the rains we happened to have large construction holes cut in the deck, and now during the heat we are doing hot, heavy work below decks! The heat index was 105 yesterday, and we felt every degree of it! I spent most of the afternoon installing our mast boot—the seal around where the mast passes through the deck; normally this is a bad leak point and hard to seal because as the mast flexes, it opens the seal, so several hours were spent bullet-proofing it for storms! We also re-sealed the hatches in the salon ceiling, but after hours laid out flat on the top deck in the sun, I was wrecked—and looked it!
June 5, 2009. Palm Coast, Florida.
It is 2:00 AM in Palm Coast…all my crew that have arrived here in Palm Coast so far are passed out asleep after yet another brutal day getting our sailboat ready to sail south with all our medical supplies. We are so tired at the end of the day we rarely go out except to get something we need at Home Depot, WalMart, Publix supermarket, etc.We cook together in the house we have been sharing for the last few weeks (the boat isn’t ready to live in quite yet!), then nearly every night sit on the screened patio around our little table and talk (often about how to solve challenges we encounter during our daily re-build of our boat, often about what our voyage will be like, and often about nothing at all). Behind our house is nothing but marshland, so the night is filled with frogs, crickets, and other strange sub-tropical marsh sounds. So far we have seen armadillos (a big herd of them came trotting by last night while we were sitting outside), black racers snakes (lots of em’ but our friend Snoop, a fiberglass guy we found here who is helping us glass all the new stuff we built, says they are territorial and keep rattlesnakes away), tortoises, lizards, frogs, alligators (outside WalMart in the run-off pools), dolphins, manatee s, eagles, deer…and we haven’t even set off yet!
Nick’s guitar and acoustic bass arrived in the mail from home today, so we now have two guitars, a bass, and a harmonica! Music… what a fantastic way for us to develop connections with the people we are going to meet; playing music together has been a bonding experience among us as I hope it will be between us and those we encounter along our journey. After dinner, before I went off to go do email, we sat around for a while playing 12-bar blues—so far, we can rebuild a boat together and play music together; I can’t wait till we do our first clinic together! When they pulled me up the mast for the first time the other day when we were working on the rigging, from up there everyone on deck keeping me safe, raising and lowering gear and running lines like a maypole looked like one animal with many parts, moving as a team…adaptable yet adapting together.
Going up the mast was the very first activity that had required ALL of us on that task in different roles at the same time, with serious potential consequences, and watching everyone do everything needed with speed and purpose made me feel a surge of trust in everyone here. I really don’t know how I got so lucky in everyone here, except that many people here have survived at least one occurrence of Life Happening, and the kind of people who gravitate towards service to others when they have experienced pain (instead of turning inward and self pitying) are, I suppose, the kind of people who are kind, thoughtful of others, creative, self-motivated, compassionate, hardworking, and of course funny! My dad got to meet Mother Theresa when he worked in her Home for the Dying in Calcutta and said she has a terrific sense of humor; after all, if you can’t laugh at yourself or at life, you’ll be a very, very unhappy person!
Our house is in the canal system in Palm Coast, only couple of hundred feet down the road from our boat, and some of the houses have their own dock on the canal. Our boat, the Southern Wind, is at a dock behind the home of the previous owners, Dennis and Jeannette. They have allowed us to do major construction every day behind their house, let us use all their tools and extra equipment, told us how to do a lot of the repair (a lot of it was stuff we were doing for the first time! I can’t believe Sky knows how to frame, epoxy, fiberglass, paint acid on metal to prepare it for painting, and generally do boatbuilding!), driven me around for hours showing me where to find the marine yard, chandlery, welding shop, Home Depot and all the other places we need to find to get our boat ready!
All the neighbors have been very kind as well; only once have any of the neighbors asked us to desist—you see, we tend to forget what day it is (time has no meaning when you are working as hard as you can all day, every day) and one Sunday at 7:00 PM we were using (simultaneously) an electric planer, a circular saws and a chopsaw, 2 drills, and a metal grinding wheel. Did I mention that these folks have their backyard and dock directly across the canal entrance from us—about 100 feet away? Serious remorse was felt when he very politely reminded me what day and what time it was. We packed up our tools and took off!
The community itself has received us really well, too—my sister says she can’t get over how good the customer service is; we have also made a lot of friends down at the local Home Depot (since we go THERE about every other day). In fact, the radio interview Sky and I did here on WNZF on June 1st was due to Jon at Home Depot, who (after hearing about our project) put us in touch with David Ayres at WNZF who interviewed us on the air about Floating Doctors.
So I have a sturdy, large sailboat, all the medical supplies Direct Relief International provided, and an absolutely AMAZING crew of remarkable individuals who I not only like, but to whom I have already lite rally trusted my life more than once. I feel absolutely confident; everyone’s attitude is so positive, everyone pitches in to work SO hard all day every day…every hard or dirty job has no shortage of willing hands to tackle it. After almost exactly a year since we even started to organize this mission and gain support, we are making it happen! Everyone who comes to see the boat thinks we have been working on it for 6 months because so much has been accomplished in the 6 weeks we have been here! Every day the boat takes a huge stride forward towards being done!
It is getting pretty late and we have to be up in 6 hours to head down to the boat, so I’ll pick this up tomorrow. I was chatting with my mom earlier this evening (she has been our biggest supporter, she is even helping develop and manage our website at the moment!) I think Sky is making a frittata with all our leftover vegetables and she makes the BEST frittata! I need to find an 8-inch peeler log to make a conical plug to fit the raw seawater intake pipe underneath the boat (I’ll hammer it in with a mallet from underneath, good thing one scuba tank I brought happens to be full); then we can remove the frozen (open) valve on that pipe inside the engine room (without seawater flooding into the engine room) and weld a new valve and a filter in its place. Plus we have a list of about 30 job s we are tackling tomorrow. AND we have GOT to find out what keeps biting Ryan when he is sleeping! He is BATHING in insect repellent, none of us are using it, and he is just getting mauled by something!
Just another day!
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