March 8, 2010

Dedicated crew shows its heart on epic mission

By Bill Nemitz

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A Haitian boat leaves the Sea Hunter on Sunday with a 20-foot shipping container and heads for the dock in Les Cayes, Haiti. All 10 of the empty containers, which will be converted into buildings, made it safely ashore.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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Sea Hunter deckhand Alex Bezkorovainy removes a crane cable from a 20-foot container Sunday after it was successfully offloaded onto one of the Haitian boats, some of which weren’t much bigger than the containers.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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What's more, logistics that appeared to be worked out far in advance turned out to be a mirage.

In retrospect, it's hard to imagine how anyone could have headed off the senseless obstacles thrown up by Haiti's local and national bureaucrats.

That said, when people ask me to sum up the Sea Hunter's saga, I will refer them to Chris Bales of Buxton.

Like countless other Mainers, Bales headed down to the dock in Portland back in late January and donated a large, heavy greenhouse tarp to the cause.

Mr. Bales, I'm happy to report that Saturday afternoon, Sea Hunter volunteer Dan Kidd of Limington led me over to a pile on the dock in Les Cayes and pointed.

"See that?" said Dan, 61. "That's my friend Chris Bales' tarp! I can't wait to tell him it made it!"

In the months and years ahead, I'll also tell people that only two words can encapsulate what this dogged group of 11 people somehow managed to accomplish.

One is "dedication."

The other is "persistence."

I will long remember deckhand Alex Bezkorovainy, 41, of Framingham, Mass., spending hour after backbreaking hour sun-drying clothes that got soaked in the storms.

Bezkorovainy said he did it because "a lot of people, even little kids, got all their stuff together and put in the time and sweat and cared enough to bring it down and entrust it to us. When they did that, it became our responsibility."

I'll remember Kidd, the 61-year-old inventor and budding small-business owner who helped load the ship in Portland and never left.

I've lost count of how many times Kidd defused a difficult moment with his off-the-wall humor and his never-say-die optimism.

"To be honest," he told me during a quiet moment, "I was a little worried at first about how I might fit in around here."

He needn't have worried. The trip wouldn't have been the same without him.

Rick "Woody" Woodbury, 49, of Scarborough, another volunteer who took a six-week (and counting) leave of absence from his job with the Portland Water District, ran himself ragged day in and day out.

One of Woodbury's biggest concerns was security -- he spent countless hours on the ship's stern guarding against Haitians in small boats who might otherwise break into the containers and loot them.

But the scene I'll never forget was that of a little Haitian boy left aboard the ship one day by his father, who was providing water-taxi service for the Sea Hunter to and from the port of Miragoane.

After an often-exasperating day kept keeping an eye on "Junior," Woody leaned down, shook the boy's tiny hand, patted him farewell on the head and handed him a few treats from the galley.

"I'm going to miss the little guy," he said. "You can't change all of it down here, but maybe you can maybe make a difference with just one."

Deckhand Dave St. Cyr, 54, of Portland proved himself an expert welder back in Miami as he fabricated and installed deck braces for the containers.

But who knew that he's an equally accomplished photographer who could capture a Haitian sunset like nobody else aboard?

Deckhand Nick Snyer, 23, of Hopkinton, Mass., managed to smile even when all around him seemed ready to kill someone.

The youngest person aboard the Sea Hunter, Snyer also managed to call his worried parents regularly on the ship's satellite phone and promise them he'd come home in one piece.

Deckhand Julia Cote, 25, of South Portland lightened many a dark moment by breaking out her secret stash of Starburst candies and Hershey's Kisses and bestowing one with a bright smile on each person aboard.

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