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A Relief Mission to Haiti

As told by Capt. Tommy McCoy

Capt. Tommy McCoy

Snotty Seas, an Earthquake, and a Desperate Mission to Help.

I received a call one day from someone who wanted to know if I was interested in taking a 65 Hatteras from St. Thomas to Haiti. I said, probably, and I went down to Red Hook where I met the guy who needed a captain and agreed to go with him. Twenty-four hours later I had my seabag packed and I was on the boat. We left at midnight headed west for Puerto Rico where we’d pick up some other folks. And thank God this owner didn’t do this trip alone cuz he was very disoriented with directions. He wasn’t sure which way north, south, east, west was. I’m going, “Whoa, glad I’m here.” 

In San Juan we picked up five more passengers from Iowa. It turned out they were a pastor and missionaries who were headed to Haiti to provide relief after the epic 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. 

The Hatteras I was on was called the Jesus Gypsy. And I’ll tell you, on this trip I honestly prayed more than I’ve ever prayed in my life [laughs]. It was consistent, every so often the crew would say, “Let’s have a word.” These five guys didn’t know what they were getting into. They just knew they were going to get on the boat. Before we left we got into cabs and drove around and picked up about $10,000 worth of provisions and a 125CC scooter. We had large bags of rice, potatoes, big 30-pound bags of stuff. There was sugar and more nonperishables. Long-term products. 

Apparently this pastor had a couple orphanages. He and his constituents had been going to Haiti for years to set up multiple orphanages, and they were going to check on things and make sure their kids were being cared for. They were pretty concerned. 

The plan was when we got to Haiti we’d have to load all this stuff on flatbed trucks that were protected by the local police. There was rampant piracy there at this point so we were glad we’d have security. So, we got loaded down, got to know one another, and left San Juan around midnight. 

Once underway we had a pretty sick crew, there were a lot of really unsettled stomachs. But we had a schedule to keep so they had to hook in and hang on. Tailing conditions had been awful. We had a bit of a tropical disturbance that carried 25-knot winds. And those guys, well, they just were not boaters, they kept getting sick. We continued on to Haiti and ended up clearing customs in Port Haitian. We pull up to this old rickety commercial dock. The immigration official came aboard and didn’t speak a lick of English. But he noticed my Masonic labels [tattoos] of being a Freemason, took a liking to me, and we got in and out. 

We continued on through the night to get to our destination. As we came in towards our port we could hear all this chanting off our starboard side. And we could see some fires taking place and a bunch of voodoo action, which I guess is very big in Haiti. To hear these guys chanting on the shoreline, I don’t know... to be honest with you, it was odd. Let’s just say I didn’t want to pull up to shore with $10,000 of provisions aboard and shoot the crap with them. 

Anyway we ventured on and we could see the lights of the trucks that were to meet us. It was about 10:30 at night. And there was a so-called dock we were looking for. Turns out the dock was nothing more than a hill of silt. So we weasel our way up there. We drop the hook and drifted back to it. 

Then the work started; we had to carry stuff to the back deck, down the boarding ladder to the swim platform, and then hand it to someone in the water. It took hours. 

We had armed security at this point with automatic rifles because of the piracy. The trucks did actually have a run in with pirates on their way to the orphanage, so it’s a good thing they were there. 

It was a pretty amazing experience. I had never been to Haiti and after all that time in rough seas it was nice to know I was doing something to help. The Haitians were really happy to see us coming because they had nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was a crucial relief mission.

Capt. Tommy McCoy is former Grand Banks dealer and operated a own private charter company. He has logged thousands upon thousands of sea miles. His most recent cruise was with the editors of Power & Motoryacht aboard our Grand Banks 42 project boat Arawak from Islamorada to Lake Okeechobee, which you can read about here.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.