International Rescue Group Thunderbird 2 solar panels-Courtesy IRG

Making of the International Rescue Group

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1Over 100,000 people died, when the earthquake struck Haiti in 2010.  A very good friend of Captain Ray Thackeray’s was among them. She had been working in Port-au-Prince, when her hotel collapsed around her. Several days passed before help reached the stricken island. This became a defining moment for Thackeray. Having been a ham radio operator since his youth in England, Thackeray had seen volunteers pitch in when there were emergencies. He found himself thinking, What if a marine based organization had mobilized boaters already in the area? What if 10,000 small vessels had started bringing food, water and medicine on day one? They might have saved hundreds of lives. That’s how the International Rescue Group (IRG) came into being.

1000 cubic feet of sails for subsistence Haitian fishermen from sailsforsustenance.org
1000 cubic feet of sails for subsistence Haitian fishermen from sailsforsustenance.org – Courtesy IRG

It is a 100% volunteer organization, from Captain Ray to IRG captains, crewmen, operatives staff and the board of directors.

“Our primary mission is disaster relief,” Captain Ray said. “When there is a disaster, the big cities are usually the first to get help. So our focus will be on the islands and coastline.”

They are outfitting a 97 foot ketch, that used to be a charter vessel, as a floating hospital. The captain has stayed on as a volunteer for the IRG. Captain Ray has recruited a Chief Medical officer and a large network of doctors, paramedics and nurses who were willing to volunteer. The ketch can take 6 to 10 people and will be sailing to Haiti to help combat the worsening cholera epidemic.

Thunderbird 2's watermaker
Thunderbird 2’s watermaker – Courtesy IRG

Another vessel, the “Thunderbird 2,” is equipped with two 60 gallon per hour Village Marine Reverse Osmosis watermakers that run on solar energy from an onboard 2kW PV system, including solar charge controllers donated by OutBack Power. Though IRG has only one set up at the moment, the ship could convert nearly 3,000 gallons of seawater, into drinking water, per day if they were both running.

“Thunderbird 1” took a cargo of school books and other supplies to Mexican orphanages last year and is now in Acapulco.

Tools being transported to Haiti - Courtesy IRG
Tools being transported to Haiti – Courtesy IRG

Captain Ray has just returned from Haiti. He had transported badly needed tools, medical supplies and recycled sails.

“It’s hard to rebuild houses without tools. The cholera epidemic is getting worse. And the subsistence fishermen are sailing their rickety wooden boats with old banners, tablecloths and disintegrating tarps,” he wrote in a unpublished log.

They faced a dilemma in port. One of their charity partners had recently been given a shipment of solar panels only to have the local customs demand $20,000 in duties. As they did not have the money, the panels are now sitting in a warehouse.

For IRG solar
For IRG solar – Courtesy IRG

“This is the most efficient form of commerce in Haiti, and political connections don’t help because even if you bail out your goods, you simply exchange one extortionist for another. In many ways, you can’t blame the officials, who are paid little by an inefficient government. This is the way of life here as it is in many third-world countries,” Captain Ray said.

“It is IRG’s policy never to pay any corruption fees,” he added.

IRG took the questionable step of delivering the supplies directly to its partner charity in Port-au-Prince.

This story is only just beginning.

Now back in Miami, Captain Ray has two boats gathering medical and other supplies for what he hopes to become a regular run. IRG intends to make 6 round-trip missions to Haiti every year.

(Photo at top of page: Thunderbird 2 with solar panels on roof)

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