The Storm of My Life

(This blog is about my experiences living and working aboard the M/V Sea Hunter, a 220’ salvage ship)
With the M/V Sea Hunter loaded down with aid, we steamed into Boston on January 31, 2009. There was a Haitian community that also wanted to contribute to the cause. We planned on only being in Boston for a day, as time was going quickly and we knew we had to get these supplies in the hands of those that needed it.
A couple Haitian women dropped off more supplies the next morning, as well as some home cooked food for the crew. They were full of prayers and gratitude for each one of us. They still had family and friends living in Haiti and hadn’t heard from them since the earthquake. I could see the fear and concern in their eyes as they spoke with us and tried to be strong. Meeting these women made it so much more real and urgent. We thanked them and promised that we would do everything in our power to assure that all this aid would get into the hands of the people of Haiti.

Nick Snyer checking the navigation program as we head into the North Channel

Early the next morning we fired the engines and headed out of Boston’s North Channel, around Cape Cod. Each member of the crew and volunteers knew we had a long ride ahead of us. Greg Brooks (owner), Bill Nemitz (reporter) and Mac Macintyre (security) flew ahead of us to Miami to take care of some business before the M/V Sea Hunter arrived. The plan was to stop in Miami to load additional aid that was being donated by Cross International, a worldwide charity.
As we headed out of Boston that clear and freezing morning, I stepped out onto the deck and looked around harbor. The city was coming alive with the morning light and you could feel the energy in the air. I closed my eyes and as I took in a deep breath I gave up my own prayer. I first gave thanks for all I had, both small and large and I asked God to watch over us as we made our way to Haiti. I asked that he watch over all the donated supplies and to assure it would get into the hands that so desperately needed it. As I opened my eyes I felt a calm come over me. A few of my friends were worried about my going on this venture. They were afraid I could be hurt or contract a disease, but I didn’t share their concerns. I had complete confidence in the abilities of Capt. Gary Esper, the crew and the ship. Though I didn’t expect it to all go smoothly, I felt that we, as a group could handle whatever was put in our path. We had a mission to complete and there was no stopping us!

The first two days of sailing were a bit rough as we all tried to adjust. The one exception was poor Dan Kidd. He was one of our volunteers and the oldest member aboard. Dan was a 61 year old mechanical engineer from Maine. I believe this was his first time out to sea. While everyone was getting accustomed to doing normal everyday things while rocking, Dan spent the majority of his time in his bunk. He was feeling the full effects of being seasick. Though he brought along plenty of things to curb this, it seems nothing was working. He would get up to use the restroom and head straight back to bed. A few times he would force himself to eat a few crackers and drink water to keep from getting dehydrated. I felt so sorry for him and wished there was something more I could do.  I  knew how he felt. During my first time sailing from Houma, LA to Maine, I felt the full effects of being seasick. The only relief was lying down and praying sleep would come.

The snow and sleet were whipping across the deck

On the third day of our trip we were entering Delaware Bay. The forecast wasn’t looking good. The news was predicting a huge storm off the coast of Delaware, right in our path. Being the worry wart I can be at times, I asked if we should try and head into shore to let the storm pass. Gary and Brian were confident we could make it and the ship would be fine. It was decided to pull into the bay and anchor to ride out the storm. We all went through the entire ship to double check that everything was secure. We knew we may be in for a rough night. Most of the guys were taking it in stride. Though they were cautious, they felt confident in both their abilities as well as the ships to withstand the storm. I, on the other hand, did not share in their confidence at that moment.

By about 10:00 pm, we had been rocking in 20’ waves for hours. They were actually washing over the wheelhouse. You could barely see outside the pilot house windows as the snow and sleet were blowing sideways. The wind was howling and at times so loud you could hardly hear the person next to you. I kept watching the faces of the more experienced sailors to see if they were getting more concerned. Needing to calm my nerves, I decided to go to my room and lie in my top bunk. I needed to be alone to try and quiet my inner self. As I lie in my bunk holding onto the handle on the ceiling, I did some deep breathing exercises. I tried not to let my mind go elsewhere. I kept telling myself to think of pleasant things. I would envision, step by step, picking up my granddaughter and driving to the beach (her favorite place to go). I would think about our conversations and the endless questions she asked of me in her tiny voice. Every few minutes, I would say a prayer to God asking that he helps us through this storm. I tried with every inch of my being not to allow my mind to wander to the “what ifs”.

We set a bed up for the ship’s cat Nine to keep him safe throughout the storm

For a short while I actually dozed off and somehow didn’t fall out of my bunk. I awoke abrupty to one of the crew members banging on my door stating that Capt. Esper required all aboard to grab their life jackets and head to the pilot house. The storm was now a full blown nor’easter. My eyes were as wide as saucers as I tried to adjust to the darkness. The ship rolled to one side and I was tossed from my bunk to the floor. I was then thrown from one side of the room to the other. I grabbed ahold of the bedpost for dear life and tried to gather my thoughts. I reached for my life jacket and a picture of my children. I can truly say I have never been that frightened in my life, that this would be the end.  I felt myself quickly go into a full blown panic mode.

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