ABOARD SEA HUNTER – Cleared by the Coast Guard to sail to Haiti, the Maine relief ship Sea Hunter faced one final hurdle late Monday: rough seas.

Winds gusting near 30 knots and waves that at times reached 8 to 10 feet prevented the ship’s crew from hoisting aboard their tender, Mini Me, as darkness fell over their anchorage a mile off Miami’s South Beach.

Ship owner Greg Brooks said once conditions improved, probably by early this morning, Sea Hunter will be under way.

”It’s just not safe (to raise the tender) in these conditions,” Brooks said. ”It’s way too rough out there.”

Earlier Monday, Coast Guard inspectors rode out to Sea Hunter in a 40-foot patrol boat and boarded the ship for a final inspection.

Lt. Cmdr. Michael Lingaitis and Coast Guard inspector Paul Bates spent more than an hour touring the ship, starting with the 10 20-foot cargo containers chained to the main deck and then moving on to the living quarters and the engine room.

Beyond a few relatively minor items, including a fire extinguisher that needed to be secured and an engine-shaft packing that Bates said could use a little tightening, they found no serious deficiencies.

Next, Lingaitis and Bates observed while all aboard the vessel conducted firefighting and abandon-ship drills — exercises they rehearsed several times last weekend in anticipation of the inspection.

Finally, the Coast Guard party huddled on the bridge with Brooks and shipmaster Kevin Garthwaite of Wells, who volunteered to sail with Sea Hunter to Haiti to alleviate concerns about the ship’s lack of a licensed crew.

Lingaitis, after conferring with his superior, Capt. Cindy Stowe, then formally lifted the ”hold order” placed on Sea Hunter shortly after it sailed into Miami on Feb. 11.

”You’ve got everything secured much better,” Lingaitis told Brooks.

”You’re in a better position than when you arrived. You’re a lot safer.”

The Coast Guard officials then shook hands with Brooks, wished him and the others aboard safe travels and left the ship.

”I’ve got it. I’ve got the release,” said a jubilant Brooks, waving the document just signed by Lingaitis.

”They ain’t getting that back!”

According to Sea Hunter captain Gary Esper, the 700-mile voyage to Haiti will take 2½ days under a forecast of fair weather.

Sea Hunter will stop first in the Haitian port of Miragoane, where a deep-water dock will allow offloading of the 10 containers.

Also scheduled to be placed ashore there are a mobile medical van donated to the Portland organization Konbit Sante by the Maine Migrant Health Program, and a large solar-powered water desalination unit donated to a church orphanage near Port-au-Prince by New Jersey-based WorldWater & Solar Technologies.

From Miragoane, Sea Hunter will sail for an estimated 17 hours around Haiti’s southern peninsula to the port of Les Cayes. There, the remaining relief supplies will be offloaded into smaller vessels and transported to nearby Hope Village.

The orphanage and community assistance program was founded and is operated by the Rev. Marc Boisvert, a Roman Catholic priest who grew up in Lewiston.

”Did you hear the shouts for joy?” Boisvert wrote in an e-mail from Les Cayes upon hearing that the Coast Guard’s hold order had been lifted. ”Yup, that was us.”

Monday evening, with their long-awaited departure only hours away, the crew gathered around the large flat-screen monitor on Sea Hunter’s bridge to watch the aptly titled movie ”It’s Complicated.”

Chief engineer Brian Ryder of West Bath spoke for many as he reflected on the humanitarian mission’s 12-day delay in Miami.

”I won’t miss it,” Ryder said. ”I’ve never been so happy to leave a place in my life.”


Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]


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