March 3, 2010

As cynics feast, hopeful crew won't give up the ship

By Bill Nemitz

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Sea Hunter deckhand Alex Bezkorovainy throws a life ring to volunteer Rick Woodbury of Scarborough during a safety drill on Saturday off Miami.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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A Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated mechanical engineer with an optimistic streak as wide as the nearby Gulf Stream, Kidd found himself dismayed last week by the cynics who have feasted daily on the Sea Hunter's travails.

Kidd went so far as to compose a written response to the skeptics – the harder he tried to read it aloud last week, the more his voice broke with emotion:

''I'm proud this boat's from Maine,'' Kidd read. ''These supplies and this plan of mercy have been hastily put together with the best of intentions and prayers from myself, my neighbors, my state, my country.

''I cried as I lay crutch after crutch, wheelchair and walker into the ship's hold in the sub-zero weather, thinking about their destination. The ship's not perfect, nor the crew, nor the plan. It's but what I can best offer.''

Now at anchor just over a mile off Miami's South Beach, the Sea Hunter looks better with each passing day.

Ten 20-foot containers, filled with relief supplies by Cross International, a Florida-based charity, are now securely chained to the ship's main deck.

Dozens of cardboard boxes and bulging plastic trash bags, many still soaked from the three ocean storms that battered the Sea Hunter on its 11-day trip down the East Coast, no longer litter the deck.

Instead, they've been corralled inside a makeshift container built from wooden pallets, covered with tarps and secured with heavy chains.

Atop the metal containers, deckhand Alex Bezkorovainy, 41, of Framingham, Mass., has made it his daily mission to unpack bag after bag, carton after carton of wet clothes, spread them out for the sun to dry, and repack them.

Often working well into the night, Bezkorovainy said he keeps the monotony at bay by thinking about all the people who scoured their closets, basements and attics to create this mountain of jeans, blouses, shoes and other clothing.

''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,'' Bezkorovainy said. ''When they did that, it became our responsibility.''

Inside the Sea Hunter's living quarters, the mayhem left by the roller-coaster ride from New England is but a memory. Loose items have been re-stowed, floors vacuumed, surfaces cleaned and windows polished.

Saturday morning, Gary Esper, the ship's captain, summoned everyone aboard to the main deck for a safety briefing.

For almost an hour, the crew reviewed written procedures for extinguishing a fire, rescuing a man overboard, treating a medical emergency and abandoning ship.

''This blue line right here,'' Esper said, putting his toe on a metal support running the width of the deck, ''anyone beyond this (while the ship is under way) has a life vest and a radio.''

Later in the day, the ship's main alarm sounded twice as the crew conducted abandon-ship and man-overboard drills.

For the latter, volunteer Rick Woodbury of Scarborough happily jumped into the 70-degree water and caught the tethered life ring from deckhand Bezkorovainy.

''It went perfectly,'' a soaked Woodbury said, safely back aboard. ''The water was beautiful.''

The safety procedures, which the crew has drilled many times before, will be high on Coast Guard inspectors' checklist when they come aboard the ship Monday.

So will the stability of the cargo.

During his last visit to the Sea Hunter on Wednesday, Coast Guard inspector Paul Bates said he accepts that conditions aboard the ship are ''kind of unorthodox'' compared to a commercial cargo carrier.

Hence, Bates said, he'll place function above form when he returns for his final walk-through Monday.

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