A re­lief or­ga­ni­za­tion is fer­ry­ing aid to hur­ri­caner­av­aged Haiti with its fleet of sail­boats.

Soundings - - Contents - By Capt. Robert Beringer

As Hur­ri­cane Matthew ripped through south­west Haiti in the predawn hours of Oct. 4, 2016, peo­ple did their best to find shel­ter and pro­tect their fam­i­lies. When the storm passed, 500 peo­ple had died. The dam­age to roads, in­fra­struc­ture and busi­nesses ex­ceeded $2.8 bil­lion. Aid of­fi­cials es­ti­mated up to 80 per­cent of some ar­eas were de­stroyed; one gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial de­scribed the car­nage as “to­tal de­struc­tion.”

But even be­fore the last of the storm winds had died, vol­un­teers of the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Group were or­ga­niz­ing a voy­age to pro­vide hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief via their fleet of sail­boats: the 50-foot cata­ma­ran Ren­dezvous Cay, the 97-foot ketch Thun­der­bird V and the 56-foot ketch Tan­de­meer. Tap­ping into their net­work of char­i­ties, they co­or­di­nated the col­lec­tion of tons of do­nated re­lief goods from around the South­east United States.

The ves­sels, too, were do­nated and crewed with vol­un­teer sailors from Europe and the United States, who did all main­te­nance, re­pairs and up­grades. I joined the crew on Thun­der­bird V in Hol­ly­wood, Florida, for a week and got a les­son in the power of hu­man kind­ness and com­pas­sion.

Goods taken on board cover most ba­sic hu­man needs and oc­cupy ev­ery state­room, locker, lazarette and deck space. “For the trip to Haiti, we’ll all be sleep­ing on mat­tresses placed on the floor,” said IRG ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ray Thack­eray. Orig­i­nally from Liver­pool, Eng­land, the 62-year-old has an easy smile and a type-B per­son­al­ity that suits this type of work. Al­most ev­ery day, some­thing breaks, and Thack­eray’s glib re­sponse is to “put it on the list.”

Look­ing at the re­lief items — food, cloth­ing, toi­letries, cut­lery, lum­ber, toys, tools, nails, school sup­plies, flash­lights, bat­ter­ies and child-care goods — gave me a dis­turb­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion of just how bad things were in Haiti. We loaded al­most ev­ery­thing the char­i­ties brought in their trucks, but we had to re­ject any­thing that re­quired elec­tric­ity. Most Haitians had no ac­cess to it.

Haitians were also in great need of clean water. The storm se­verely da­m­aged wells and cis­terns in the Tiburon penin­sula and left the pop­u­la­tion vul­ner­a­ble to wa­ter­borne ill­nesses, such as cholera, which fur­thered the mis­ery of the al­ready dis­tressed na­tion. In some vil­lages, the dis­ease was so en­demic that peo­ple aban­doned their homes, walk­ing miles in search of food and water that wouldn’t sicken them.

In­stead of haul­ing a lim­ited sup­ply of bot­tled water, the boats ran on-board de­sali­na­tors, pro­vid­ing potable water di­rectly from the ocean to the peo­ple via hoses run to the beach.

The de­sali­na­tors ran off a diesel gen­er­a­tor and let the boats pro­duce as much as 2,300 gal­lons of water per day.

Ad­di­tional re­lief came in the form of 75 used sails col­lected by the non­profit Sails for Sus­te­nance. Fish­er­men would use them to in­crease their range and im­prove daily catches.

Any boat owner will tell you that work­ing on an old boat is dirty and dif­fi­cult.

Thun­der­bird V is a steel-hulled ketch built in 1978. (Like me, she has age is­sues.) The first morn­ing, the bilge pump failed and chief en­gi­neer Har­ri­son Richard­son scram­bled through an­kle-deep water to fix it. (We all were re­lieved that we didn’t have to form a bucket brigade.) The next day on Ren­dezvous Cay, I threw my back out lift­ing a 250pound boom, and fel­low baby boomer Joel Kro­nen­berg twisted his knee jump­ing into the dinghy. We passed around the ibupro­fen and cheered when a cou­ple of 20-some­thing vol­un­teers showed up with good at­ti­tudes and strong bod­ies.

Ev­ery day was full of sur­prises. We pulled the dual an­chors and dis­cov­ered that one of them had wrapped around the out­board of a sunken boat. Re­ally. First mate Me­gan Collins strapped on her scuba gear and gin­gerly un­wrapped it, and we spent the bet­ter part of two days rais­ing and re­mov­ing months’ worth of marine growth from the chain. At the wharf in Hol­ly­wood, a truck pumped 1,500 gal­lons of fuel into our tanks. Thack­eray winced at the $ 3,200 bill, but he knew the diesel would be far more ex­pen­sive once we reached the Caribbean.

On board Thun­der­bird V, I could feel the sense of ur­gency as Thack­eray and the vol­un­teers la­bored to com­plete re­pairs, load gear and get un­der­way. We watched the weather fore­casts, hop­ing for a south wind that would carry us over the Gulf Stream quickly.

Time was the most pre­cious cur­rency: Ev­ery­one at IRG was aware that lost time meant lost lives. Tan­de­meer ar­rived in Haiti on Nov. 23, and Capt. Se­quoia Sun said it was heart­break­ing to see dozens of peo­ple wend­ing around, car­ry­ing empty water jugs. That crew un­loaded their re­lief goods and be­gan mak­ing 800 gal­lons of water per day. By May 2017, they were able to build a mo­tor­ized well pump, pip­ing sys­tem and cis­tern that de­liv­ered fresh water to the vil­lage of Kaykok on Ile- a- Vache.

But even three sail­boats loaded to the wa­ter­line could pro­vide only a mod­icum of re­lief; 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple were in need of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, and a thou­sand boats like ours would only be­gin to re­lieve their suf­fer­ing.

A year af­ter the hur­ri­cane, food and shel­ter re­main scarce, es­pe­cially in the re­mote ar­eas of Tiburon penin­sula. Lo­cal pro­duce is be­ing trucked in at un­af­ford­able prices, and the peo­ple feel they’ve been aban­doned. Other parts of the coun­try are not much bet­ter.

Jeremie res­i­dent Du­vanel Fran­cois re­cently summed up the long strug­gle Haiti has ahead of it: “We can spend 30 years, and we’ll never bounce back.”

To learn more about IRG and coastal dis­as­ter re­lief, goto in­ter­na­tional res­cue group.

org. To do­nate used sails for Haitian fish­er­men, visit

Thun­der­bird V is a 97-foot steel ketch that was do­nated to the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Group. It fer­ried sup­plies to Haiti af­ter last year’s dev­as­tat­ing hur­ri­cane.

Vol­un­teers load de­sali­na­tors and used sails for fish­er­men aboard Thun­der­bird V.

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