March 8, 2010

Dedicated crew shows its heart on epic mission

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

(Continued from page 2)

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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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Cindy Hart, 54, of Portland, the ship's cook and Brooks' younger sister, ran a tight galley -- before you loaded up on lasagna seconds at dinner, you'd best make sure you're not cutting into tomorrow's lunch.

But whenever I think of Hart, I'll recall the day she returned from her first shopping trip to Les Cayes with tears in her eyes.

"Those poor kids on the street," she said. "I just wanted to scoop them all up and take them home with me."

Captain Gary Esper, 44, of Hopkinton, Mass., took his lumps on this trip because he lacked a captain's license. (He just aced the first test in an online course to get one.)

But I'll say this about Captain Esper: One day in Miami, when it appeared the mission might be over, I took a long walk on South Beach while he and Brooks met yet again with Coast Guard officials.

I returned to the Sea Hunter ready to book my plane ticket home. But then I spoke with Esper.

"I think it's going to happen," he assured me. "I really do."

And so, having already sized him up as a man of his word, I stayed.

Ryder, of West Bath, the 47-year-old chief engineer, was the first to go public in defense of the Sea Hunter's mission.

"We are all family," Ryder wrote in an open letter to his fellow Mainers. "Dysfunctional at times, but still a family. We hope we can keep going and we thank the people of the great state of Maine for all of your support."

Weeks later, people all over Maine are thanking him back.

Then there's Shipmaster Garthwaite, 57, who easily could have sat at home in Wells and watched the Sea Hunter's quest go under. But he didn't.

Unlike another shipmaster who came aboard before him, took a look around and left, Garthwaite could not have been a better fit.

To watch him on the bridge Friday in his vintage Hawaiian shirt, calmly communicating with United Nations security boats there to safeguard the offload, was to know that a true professional had graced the Sea Hunter with his quiet competence.

Then there's Greg Brooks.

At times, many aboard the Sea Hunter seriously worried that Brooks, who celebrated his 59th birthday on this voyage, might have a coronary.

But when it truly counted, his was the voice that kept the crew members and their mission moving ever forward.

"It took all of us to do it," Brooks said Sunday as the last of the 10 containers miraculously left his ship. "But it's done."

Throughout their trip, those aboard the Sea Hunter occasionally have been dismayed, in some cases even wounded, by the bloggers back home who delighted in comparing the Sea Hunter to "Gilligan's Island" (how original) and a "ship of fools" (how inaccurate).

"Why would they say those things about us?" they asked me more than once as they scrolled through the comments on the bridge's 52-inch flat-screen monitor. "Who are these people?"

I told them I've come to learn there are two kinds of people in this world -- those with the courage and compassion to go out and truly make a difference, and those who lift a finger only to take cheap potshots from the comfort of their keyboards.

Truth be told, I've heard from a few online snipers myself this past month.

Many have told me I was crazy to come aboard the Sea Hunter. Others have advised me to abandon ship immediately.

They couldn't have been more wrong.

Today, I will in fact depart the Sea Hunter and begin the long trip to Port-au-Prince, then to Miami and, at long last, back to Maine.

But as I wish fair winds and following seas to this extraordinary group of people, I'll harbor no regrets for asking Greg Brooks all those weeks ago to take me along for the ride.

To sail with the Sea Hunter and tell its story was, in the end, much more than just a journalistic adventure.

It was an honor.

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

 

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