March 3, 2010

Haiti or bust, Sea Hunter's crew keeps eyes on goal

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

(Continued from page 1)

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Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Writer: Greg Brooks, left, owner of the Sea Hunter, talks with Captain Gary Esper of Hopkinton, Mass., about the rough ride from Maine to Miami shortly after the vessel's arrival Thursday.

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And the customs folks?

''They gave me a whole bunch of documents,'' Brooks said upon returning from a trip to the agency Saturday morning. ''I have to speak to somebody higher up -- and they're not in because it's Presidents Day weekend.''

All of which makes one wonder: Is this trip still worth the effort? And who are these people so convinced, even now, that it is?

Dan Kidd, 61, of Limington is a mechanical engineer and inventor who's sold 50,000 of his pocket-sized crimpers -- they're used on flexible plumbing tubing -- through Home Depot and Lowe's stores nationwide.

One minute last month, Kidd was on the phone with Brooks and his wife, Kathy, asking if they wanted to take a load of his tools to Haiti.

The next, he was driving all over southern Maine in a van picking up other people's donations.

''Gee, these people are actually going to do something,'' Kidd thought to himself. ''They're going to really make a difference, get through the bureaucracy and get down there fast.''

For three solid days, Kidd helped collect donations and load them aboard the Sea Hunter in Portland. It earned him an invitation to join the crew one evening at J's Oyster Bar on Portland's waterfront.

There, Brooks and his crew, impressed with Kidd's commitment, asked, ''Why don't you come with us?''

A wiry, bearded man with a quick laugh, Kidd said he'd have to think about it. But in reality, he knew what he had to do.

''I just couldn't have lived with myself if I'd said no,'' he said.

Even after repeated bouts of seasickness on the roller-coaster ride to Florida, followed by the long delay in the Port of Miami, Kidd said he has ''no regrets.''

If anything, he said, he's peeved at the whack-a-mole reception the Sea Hunter has received since it arrived on Thursday.

''Think about these people who are sitting down there dying and getting diseases and all that,'' Kidd said. ''We've got all of this stuff that can help them -- and it's sitting here at the dock. I don't know what to say. It just seems awful.''

He added, ''I feel bad about all these people who entrusted all of these donations to us, to get it down there. They believed in our cause, and now it's waylaid, sidetracked.''

Gary Esper, 44, of Hopkinton, Mass., has captained the Sea Hunter since Brooks brought it from Louisiana to Maine in January 2009.

Now Esper, a quiet but friendly man who said he's been on the water in one vessel or another all his life, finds himself under a very public microscope over his lack of official qualifications.

''I understand that the laws are in place for a reason -- and that's fine with me,'' Esper said, adding that he fully plans to obtain his shipmaster's license when he returns to the Sea Hunter's winter berth in Boston.

But that won't change the fact that, when it comes to getting from one port to the next, ''I can do anything with this ship,'' Esper said.

Still, has the sometimes harsh spotlight bothered him?

''We're going to help some people. When we see the smile on some Haitian children's faces, that's going to make it worthwhile right there,'' Esper replied. ''I could care less what people think about me right now.''

Dave St. Cyr of Portland used to drive a snowplow for the town of Falmouth before going to work for Brooks' Sub Sea Research Inc. just over a year ago.

Miami is the farthest south St. Cyr, 61, has ever traveled. He sees the trip to Haiti as ''the most humanitarian thing I've ever done.'' And yes, he still believes he's going to get there.

(Continued on page 3)

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