Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Coming off the bench

If you follow my posts on social media, you already know that I am on my way to the US Virgin Islands to help with the relief efforts there. If not, and this is the first you are hearing about it, I apologize. Things have been a little crazy since this all came about.

For anyone who has joined us here in the last five years, a brief history: Louise and I became volunteers for the American Red Cross shortly after moving aboard our RV, Odyssey. We were looking for a way to volunteer, to replace the volunteer work each of us had been doing when we lived full-time in San Jose, California. When we learned of a new partnership between the Red Cross and the Escapees RV Club, allowing Escapees members to volunteer at disaster relief operations in their rigs, it was a perfect fit.

We had just started the enrollment and training process when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. We still had not completed training when Hurricane Rita struck just two weeks later. We finally finished our training, and in early October of 2005 we drove to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for our very first deployment as disaster relief volunteers. That deployment, at four months, remains our longest to date. We had holiday dinners on paper plates at relief headquarters, and saw some of the worst devastation we've ever seen, before or since.

The Battery, the Ravenel Bridge, and Patriots point from James Island, on a drive a week ago.

Fast forward seven years. We'd been on perhaps two dozen relief operations, everything from hurricanes to tornadoes to wildfires. We'd moved up the chain of command to the highest echelons of disaster responders, even developing and administering training in our function. With few exceptions, we'd always deployed together, in our RV, with our three pets. And then we bought a boat.

I don't need to tell you that we're not going to be racing in to any hurricane-stricken areas in a boat that goes 7mph in any kind of timely way. And leaving the boat behind to its own devices, as well as dealing with our last remaining pet, is not feasible enough for us to contemplate deploying together, or frequently. But we always left the option open that if there was a disaster big enough, we could find a way to deal with the boat so that at least one of us could respond.

Now is that time. A series of devastating wildfires in the west, followed by some of the most powerful and destructive storms in recorded history, have left the Red Cross starved for trained and qualified volunteers, as well as funds. A month ago we made a sizable donation, but when the situation on the ground in Puerto Rico became clear, we made the decision to spend the extra money to berth the boat so that I could deploy.

And so it is that I am typing in a hotel room in Atlanta, having arrived here this morning on a flight from Charleston. Tomorrow morning I board a flight to Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, the area of greatest need for my particular skills at this moment. Louise is minding the boat and the cat.

Louise insisted on snapping a photo of me "in my school clothes" before I left this morning,

I made the call to DC on Friday. By Saturday the decision had been made, and we told the marina office we needed to extend for another month. Our slip is committed starting October 28th, so that is a hard stop -- I need to be back in Charleston by the 27th to move the boat to another spot.

We spent a full three days preparing. Saturday and Sunday involved squaring the boat away, gathering clothes and materials, completing four hours of update training, and finishing paperwork and downloading procedures and other important files. Monday we rented a car so I could get to the nearest chapter to pick up debit cards. Then to the bank to withdraw tons of cash -- banks and ATMs on the islands are inoperative. And then to Walmart to buy supplies needed in the islands that we did not have on the boat.

Once I am in the air tomorrow I will be more or less disconnected and incommunicado for all but essential communications for the next week or two. There is no power on the islands, no running water, no cell service, and limited Internet. I brought Vector's satellite phone with me so that I can remain in limited contact (text messages) no matter what the conditions. It is likely I will not be able to post here for much of that time, and it's possible my next post will not be until after I return to the mainland.

The long boring post about rebuilding the davit winch, which I had intended to post next, will also have to wait (I know you are heartbroken). While I am gone, Louise will try to keep everyone informed of my status over on her quilt blog. (Edited: I'll actually update here on this blog -Louise)

Tonight I will take my last nice hot shower and sleep in my last real bed for the next three weeks. When I return, I hope to catch at least one happy hour on the Megadock before we shove off (happy hour is seasonal; it starts next week).


  1. Salute! I wondered if you guys were still "in the game"


  2. Hi Sean, I am still active in ARC GSO, NC where you & Louise helped us during a hurricane some time before you bought the boat. I know of one GSO vol. Quinton Macon, who is also on his way to US Virgin IS. His specialty is Director of Feeding for Mass Care. Good Luck!! Chandlee

  3. Sean and Louise, I am so happy that you made this decision to jump back into the fray. Your skills and abilities will be helping so many in an area where help is desperately needed. I'll add you both to my prayer list and eagerly await the recaps when you're back. Godspeed and travel mercies.


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