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Cruising Sailors are Making a Difference in Haiti

The devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010 prompted an outpouring of assistance. For some in the marine community, this help continues nearly two years’ later especially to some of the offshore villages best accessed by boat. One of these yachts is S/V Tranquility, a 56ft custom steel ‘Bruce Roberts’ sailed by Cameron and Leighia Murray and their two children, Maya and Fynn. With the help of several individuals and organizations, the family formed ‘Sailors without Boarders’, made two humanitarian trips so far to Gonâve, and have spread the word to other cruisers to do the same or to donate supplies. This isn’t a story about hand-outs, but of helping hands.

The Murrays were in the Florida Keys when the catastrophic 7.0 earthquake hit.

“Our renewable energy business, Trans Marine Pro, was slow at the time due to the American economy,” explains Leighia, “so we decided as a family to do something that wouldn’t get in the way of other AID organizations. Since we have our own boat, a large one with a six-and-a-half- foot draft, we could deliver AID to the outer lying coastal communities that had been affected but were hard to get to. Thus, ‘Sailors without Boarders’ (SWB) was formed and we reached out to the sailing community.”

Through the help of Key West’s Conch Republic Navy, SWB partnered with the Association Amis des Enfants (AAE) on Gonâve, an island located to the west-northwest of Port-au-Prince. This organisation is made up of young Haitian families who are dedicated to helping their children and build a better future through education.

The Tranquility’s first ‘Sail AID to Haiti’ mission cast off in April 2010. The voyage delivered four tons of cargo from a wide variety of donors that included medical supplies, eight 7.2kw generators, children’s clothing, canned food and baby formula. The cargo was offloaded directly into the hands of the AAE.
After the trip, and back in Florida, the Murrays concentrated on their business, but their hearts and minds were still in Gonâve. They soon started to seek donations for a second trip.

“We asked our clients at the end of a job if they’d be willing to add a 1% donation to the overall installation of renewable energy systems on their sailing vessels and most people have been glad to help,” says Leighia. “In addition, we won the major prize at the Latitudes & Attitudes Miami Boat Show bash in February and we sold the prize the next day to make enough to return to the island.”

SWB’s second trip’s mission this spring focused on health and sustainability needs for Gonâve. For example, dozens of shoes were delivered thanks to a ten-year-old Florida student via a Shoes of Hope drive at her elementary school. The shoes greatly helped protect the Haitian children’s feet from the spread of cholera during the rainy season. On the sustainability front, Tranquility‘s seven tons of cargo included a 1.6kw Solar Array as well as donated computers and school supplies for over 500 children.

Captain Cameron led the renewable energy project. Over the six weeks that SWB was in Haiti this spring, he worked with the local residents to teach them how to install and care for this new solar system. The system now powers Gonâve’s main school 24-hours a day and allows for night classes and the generation of revenue to build another school in the highlands. One of the AAE’s goals is to establish a public Internet café to connect them to the world and also to pay for school teachers and food. The solar system, a renewable energy source, can certainly put them on this path.

The Murrays’ children also took an active part in this mission. They were put in charge of assembling the solar cookers donated by the Seven Seas Cruising Association. This marked an effort to introduce a cleaner way of cooking that didn’t rely on felling trees or expensive fossil fuels.

Currently, SWB is working with three communities in Gonâve in partnership with the AAE.

“Our vision isn’t to take over or tell them how to do things from our western standards but to provide the technology for the community to help itself, help the children and build successful futures for the children,” says Leighia. “Education is greatly regarded in the community and many children want to go to school but unfortunate the price of education is high and therefore illiteracy rates are high on the island.”

For more information and to help, visit: www.sailorswithoutborders.com. Or, stop by the Trans Marine Pro booth at the Annapolis Boat Show in October.

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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