March 3, 2010

Concern over captain's health tempers crew's excitement

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.

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The Sea Hunter sits fully loaded at its dock Monday, awaiting a hoped-for departure to Haiti today.

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Crew member Shawn Jordan of Portland cleans the Sea Hunter’s search lights Monday in anticipation of today’s hoped-for departure to Haiti.

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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.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Sea Hunter owner Greg Brooks, left, checks the long-range weather forecast between Miami and Haiti on Monday along with ship captain Gary Esper, center.

Photos by Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist


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