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Boaters in Caribbean Help Haiti after January 2010 Earthquake

When the earth stopped shaking on Tuesday afternoon, January 12, the critical needs of the Haitian people resonated throughout the Caribbean’s nautical community, where many have lived through aftereffects of far less deadly natural disasters.

Individuals, businesses, yacht clubs and marinas all sprung into action, some to send aid and others to raise funds. These are just a few examples we heard about during the first week:

Carmen Partridge, a boater on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, listened to the news shortly after the disaster hit and thought, “I have to do something about this. I have to do what I can.” She hit the ground running, found a plane and, 60 hours later, sent 12 medical professionals and more than 2500 pounds of supplies into Port au Prince. The USVI team brought order to the chaos at the Haitian Community Hospital, Freres, and its work, now known as USVI Haitian Relief, is ongoing.

“There is no snow in the Virgin Islands but there sure was a snowball,” said Partridge. “I started pushing it, and everyone I passed wanted to add to it. People were just looking for an opportunity to help.”

Meanwhile, within two days of the earthquake, the Rotary Clubs of the BVI, which count many boaters among their members, re-established their existing links with the Rotary Clubs in Haiti and began to collect cash donations. The BVI Clubs, which have worked closely in the past with sailor and singer Michael “Beans” Gardner to support a school at Ile La Vache, Haiti, immediately pledged $25,000 to start the effort.

Also two days after the disaster hit, sailor Don Weiss departed St. Thomas for Haiti to transport NBC and CBS reporters and perform a humanitarian mission, using his 82′ catamaran Catbird which is based on the island for the charter season. Weiss posted information online encouraging other boaters to get involved through OceansWatch, an international not-for-profit conservation organization that works with sailors, divers and scientists.

OceansWatch is helping coordinate efforts to have aid supplies reach Haiti by yacht, and in late January had organized a fleet of 15 yachts from Florida and the Caribbean to go into Haiti’s small islands and coastal villages with supplies and medical teams. The group’s site listed this contact email for boaters to use if they can help: donna@oceanswatch.org. “We have support now from the Coast Guard to bring in supplies by boat. The info email address puts the boats’ information directly on our databases,” said OceansWatch Director Donna Lange.

Sequoia Sun, the Executive Director of OceansWatch in North American, was planning to be on the first flotilla. “We need boats and supplies,” said Lange. “We are also looking to get supplies to the DR, Bahamas and Jamaica as they are closer. Once boats get to Haiti, they can resupply quicker from these points and return to Haiti.”

A yacht charter company began collecting money from customers. Sylvia Driver, Director of Horizon Yacht Charters BVI began encouraging charterers and their guests to make donations of US $20. Horizon will deliver the donations they collect to the local Red Cross fund for earthquake victims – and match each one with an equal amount.

From January 16 to the 23rd, St. Maarten Yacht Club members donated tinned food, clothing, towels, sheets, buckets and cash for the Red Cross and the St. Maarten Haitian Relief Fund 2010. The staff at the club’s kitchen donated 50 cents on each bar and kitchen order filled on the Saturday following the earthquake to be added to the collection.

Yacht Haven Grande marina on St. Thomas held a fundraiser for Haiti relief, a free concert and raffle, on Saturday, January 23 to benefit the American Red Cross and raised $37,000. Numerous marina-based companies and individuals donated services for a raffle and more than 2,000 people attended. “It was a truly wonderful and inspiring event for a cause close to all our hearts,” said Kenny Jones, executive vice president, Marina Operations for Island Global Yachting, parent company of the marina.

The 894-foot USNS Comfort was part of our nautical community last year, visiting Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Antigua. The ship has one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States, 12 operating rooms and a bed capacity of 1,000. (TL and Harriet Linskey, boaters who operate the literacy group Hands across the Sea, Inc. toured the Comfort last October and met Captain James Ware. See their website for more information on the Comfort: www.handsacrossthesea.net.) Captain Ware and his crew of 850 arrived at Port au Prince on January 20 and began treating the most urgent surgical patients.

Big boats or small ones, clubs or companies, or simply motivated individuals – all have been united in the Caribbean this winter by a common goal – to give help to neighbors who need it. Send your stories of help for Haiti to: chrisgoodier@allatsea.net.

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