MIAMI; Preparations shifted into high gear in Haiti on Monday for receiving the estimated 200 tons of donated relief supplies aboard the Maine ship Sea Hunter, while hopes rose aboard the ship that its five days in limbo here could finally end today.
But even as the crew lashed down cargo and looked forward to this morning`s arrival of a shipmaster who has volunteered to sail the rest of the humanitarian mission, new worries arose about the health of Sea Hunter owner Greg Brooks of Gorham.
Brooks said he spoke at length Monday morning with Dr. William Lynders, a Connecticut physician who has sailed with Brooks` Sub Sea Research Inc. on several of the company`s treasure-salvage voyages.
The cell phone consultation followed a call to Lynders by Brian Ryder, Sea Hunter`s chief engineer and shipboard medic. Ryder said he was worried about Brooks` physical condition, including what appears to be a lung infection.
“I thought I was a strong guy, I still think I am,“ Brooks said. “But it`s been a month of overwhelming things.“
Brooks said he would decide by this morning whether to continue on to Haiti or fly home to Maine after seeing Sea Hunter off. Either way, he said, the decision will not be easy.
Brooks said Lynders told him the infection, for which Brooks began taking an antibiotic on Monday, could combine with Brooks` high stress levels in recent days to cause serious health problems in a country ill-equipped to deal with them.
“I just don`t know,“ Brooks said after calling home to his wife, Kathy, who urged him to get off the ship. “I`m just so torn.“
Cindy Hart of Portland, Brooks` younger sister and Sea Hunter`s cook, said she`s shared Ryder`s concerns about her brother`s well-being as he`s grappled with the stress that has engulfed the trip.
From the storms that battered Sea Hunter on its voyage down the East Coast to the regulatory maze that has ensnared the mission since last Wednesday, Hart said she`s afraid of what might happen if her brother continues on to Haiti.
“I have never, ever, ever seen him like this,“ Hart said, noting that while Brooks has no history of heart trouble, their family does. “I don`t want him to go. I do, but I don`t.“
Brooks made no mention of his health during a brief morning meeting on the ship`s bridge with his 10-member crew and two volunteers.
Instead, he exhorted them to prepare Sea Hunter for the arrival of Richard Devins, a retired oil-tanker captain from Orlando, Fla., who is expected to board Sea Hunter this morning.
Devins holds an “unlimited master“ license with the Coast Guard, which has placed a “hold order“ on Sea Hunter in part because its crew lacks the necessary licenses for a vessel its size.
Devins` willingness to ride along is expected to alleviate the Coast Guard`s licensing concerns. The hold order also touched on the safety of Sea Hunter and its 10 20-foot containers of cargo — now chained securely to the main deck.
“Whatever it takes, let`s do it,“ Brooks told his crew. “Whatever we have to do to make (Devins) comfortable and stay with us and get this mission done, let`s do it.“
Ryder, the chief engineer, then read from a punch list of items that still required attention: moving empty wooden pallets well away from engine vents, chaining the frame of a donated medical mobile unit to newly fabricated hold-downs on the deck, removing a pair of metal lawn chairs topside, tightening the chains on the containers
“Tighten `em up so you can play music on them,“ Ryder told the crew.
Yet another bureaucratic hurdle still faces Sea Hunter: a demand by the local U.S. Customs and Border Protection office that the ship provide a manifest and pay duty on all supplies and materials it took on before coming to Miami.
Brooks, completed paperwork in hand, drove in his rental car to the customs office to meet with officials there Monday morning — as they`d instructed him to do on Friday.
But upon arriving, he was told no such business was being conducted due to the Presidents Day holiday.
“They said come back tomorrow,“ Brooks said, yet again shaking his head with frustration.
Seven hundred miles away in the Haitian coastal city of Les Cayes, the outlook appeared brighter.
In e-mails from Les Cayes, officials at Pwoje Espwa Sud (Creole for “Project Hope South“), said they are hard at work arranging the logistics for offloading Sea Hunter`s cargo.
Commonly known in the United States as Hope Village, the multi-pronged community program — which includes a 700-child orphanage, a public school, a prison outreach program and a home-building project — was founded by the Rev. Marc Boisvert, a Roman Catholic priest who grew up in Lewiston.
According to Deacon Peter Faford, project manager for Hope Village, the small dock in Les Cayes is too damaged and ill-equipped to accommodate Sea Hunter — most notably its 10 containers full of relief supplies donated by the Florida-based charity Cross International.
But the port city of Miragoane, 65 miles north of Les Cayes, has an adequate dock for the containers, Faford said.
Representatives from Hope Village, including the project`s lawyer, traveled to Miragoane on Monday to secure permission to offload the containers there, Faford said.
Also slated to be offloaded in Miragoane would be the large medical mobile unit donated to the Portland-based organization Konbit Sante by the Maine Migrant Health Program, and a solar-powered water desalinator donated by New Jersey-based WorldWater Solar & Technologies to another orphanage near Port-au-Prince.
“Once the heavy cargo is unloaded, the Sea Hunter would continue on to Les Cayes and the smaller cargo can be unloaded into small boats,“ Faford said.
The “smaller cargo“ includes an estimated 80 tons of palletized bottled water, food, clothing, medical equipment and supplies, tents and other items brought to Sea Hunter by individuals and businesses all over Maine before the ship departed Portland Harbor on Jan. 31.
“The Sea Hunter will have to drop anchor about 300 yards offshore,“ Faford said. Hope Village “will have to hire many small boats to ferry bags, boxes, etc., ashore. We will also need to hire trucks to bring these supplies to our location for inventory and distribution.“
Faford said Boisvert has received assurances from the United Nations that its peacekeeping forces will provide security for the offloading operations both in Les Cayes and Miragoane.
Aboard Sea Hunter late Monday afternoon, excitement that the voyage might be close to resuming was tempered by concern for Brooks.
Ryder, after consulting with Lynders, set up his boss with a nebulizer to loosen congestion in his lungs and an oxygen tank and mask to get more oxygen into his blood.
Ryder said he knew his boss was not doing well when he suggested calling the doctor and initiating the treatments — and Brooks readily agreed.
“Normally, he would have run the other way,“ Ryder said.
He added, “We can make it to Haiti without Greg — but I don`t want to.“
Brooks, meanwhile, continued to field cell phone calls from here, there and everywhere in between.
Plopping down on a couch in the crew`s recreation room late Monday after yet another long call, Brooks forced a weary smile.
“I`d rather go 10 rounds with Muhammad Ali,“ he said.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: