A “God Thing”

My past two posts represent only a factual summary of recent life events.  Sometimes when things come at you quickly… facts are all you can share.  The further you get from the situation, the easier it becomes to share the emotions of it.  I’d like to take a moment to add some color commentary if you will….  do some word painting in an effort to provide a better feel for what really took place.  As Paul Harvey would call it “the rest… of the story”.

I have a tale to tell about my personal life experiences during hurricane Maria’s attack on Puerto Rico.  This story is what most would call “A God Thing”.  I’ll let you be the judge.

My nerves were still a wreck, I was outside of my own skin worrying about my son who was going through hell and I couldn’t help.  Hurricane Maria had just hit Puerto Rico in full force… and my boy was at ground zero on his 33 foot sailboat.  He was prepared wonderfully, but mother nature decidedly won the battle and wrecked his whole world.  Winds blew over 180 miles per hour across the water… and lasted through the night for 12 straight hours.  I have seen video from his phone and heard his recorded logs during the worst of it.  The word spectacular comes to mind, but not in a good way.  He witnessed a spectacle of destruction that had his father worried silent… beyond words.

Jono wisely took refuge ashore in a two story cinder block building.  He and his cat “Fishbait” spent 12 hours with a local man named Pepe’ watching the door of his refuge bulging in and out… their clothes pulsing against and away from their bodies with the abrupt changes in air pressure.  It was like being inside a drum, but in this case the drum was solid brick.  His small dinghy was lifted by the water making circles in the wind outside the window (it was on dry land before the storm) nothing to do now but watch, as it eventually ruined itself thrashing against a metal fence and sunk.

“Miss Adventure” Jono’s boat had three large anchors set hard to the bottom.  The rain obstructed his view as she slowly… eventually.. lost her battle to the onslaught of 180 MPH wind driven waves.  It wasn’t until the next day that Jono knew the fate of MA.  He found her careened into the mangroves on the East end of the bay.  What the wind left, looters quickly stripped from her bones.  Alone now without a home, sacred dirty and tired Jono spent the next few days trading his labor to help the marina owner recover from the storm, in trade for a place to stay.  We had no direct contact but knew Miss Adventure was lost.  I could only imagine what my boy was going through and as it turned out I was spot on with my fears.

During the day Jono worked on the docks with 2 new friends as he traded labor for shelter.  They slept in 3 to 4 hour shifts, one always standing guard outside with a flashlight and machete warning off looters.  I can’t imagine what it was like crouched down in a swarm of mosquitoes, always mosquitoes waiting for daylight to break.  Day after day a strong sailors fortitude was whittled away piece by piece.  Ingeniously Jono rigged the solar panels he removed before the storm to some old batteries to charge his and others cell phones, hoping one day soon service would return.  Food and water were scarce, Jono made trips to his disabled boat and ferried fresh water from her tanks back to land.  When I finally heard every third word of his voice on a passerby’s cell phone that happened to work, he was spent.  Out of ideas and out of gas mentally.  His crying words “I don’t know what to do dad” crushed my heart… and I couldn’t get to him.  I couldn’t touch him.  It was hard.

I said all that to set the stage, give you an insight into my mental state.  Here at home I was going to work, but not working…. fretting and looking for a way to help, panicking every time my phone made a sound.  Linda beat the bushes, trying to find him a way home.  Emailing senators, looking into every resource to get that boy home.  Nothing was working.  I knew he survived the storm but he was far from safe.  Bad people were doing bad things and he was right in the middle of it.

Linda said we needed to get that boy another boat.  As a distraction I spent my time searching the internet for his next home.  That boy finally found his groove in life and at no fault of his own, lost it to a storm.  Jono removed a lot of his big money items from MA before the storm.  New sails, boom and stack pack etc.  In my search I hoped to find a boat his stuff would work on.  As luck would have it, I found a boat exactly like his for sale cheap in my home town!  I wanted a bigger boat for him but I had to call and see about this boat.

It was Thursday just after lunch when I called the owner of the boat like Jono’s.  Oddly enough she told me yes, it is for sale but she really couldn’t talk to me right now because she was on the boat, moving it from one marina to another in New Orleans and was broke down in the middle of Lake Pontchartrain.

After discussing the problem (having 50k miles of sailing experience) I tried to diagnose the problem for her but she was too concerned about hurting the boat to run it any further.  There was no wind on the lake so she couldn’t sail in.  On the phone she told me she had tried to contact someone to tow her in but it was going to be horribly expensive and almost dark before they could come so I told her I’d be there in two hours.

My plan was to get on my sailboat and pull her in.  The boatyard she wanted to go to is just past my boat anyway so that worked out.  I left work early and talked to her again on the drive to the marina, no wind so she was still stuck.  When I got to my boat the shore power cord was disconnected so my batteries were very dead.  As I worked a man walked up, I assumed from the boat ahead of mine at the marina.  The boat had been for sale for years, it is a huge 100’+ dinner cruise boat that was converted for private use.  This gentleman had bought it and wondered who owned the catamaran behind him.  Normally I love to talk boats but I was visibly in a hurry and I apologized about it, telling him about my urgent business to go pull another boat in.  Graciously he understood and walked back to his boat.  I had my flame retardant suit on from work, it was blazing hot and here he comes back with a pair of shorts (that fit me fine) and a bottle of cold water.

We talked a bit as I gave up on getting my big boat charged and running in time.  Had a short but friendly conversation and I ended up dropping my 10 foot rubber dinghy in the water to serve as a tow boat.  It has a 20 Horse four stroke on it so it had plenty of power.  To make a long story short I pulled the 33′ Irwin past my boat (and the big 100’er) a few hours later on the way to the boat yard and that was that… or so I thought.

Sunday I went back to my boat to get things up and running like they should.  I hung the shorts on his boat at the doorway and proceeded to work on “Sea Yawl Later !!”  Shortly Ken walks back over and made me keep the shorts… he said he saw me come by pulling the Irwin and wondered how that worked out.  I told him I had always wanted to look inside that big old boat in front of me at the dock and he immediately said “come on”.  My new buddy Ken and I had a great conversation onboard his ship.  I enjoy talking boats and shared ideas about his 3 story cruiser, we talked about family and of course I told him about Jono.  I mentioned that we were trying hard to find him a way out of Puerto Rico but hadn’t found a way yet.  He immediately said “I’ve got a Learjet lets go get him”

My jaw might have dropped, I’m not sure but after a second I told Ken “wow, that’s too much to ask” I won’t turn you down but if all else fails we will talk.  I had several avenues working at the time.  We talked some more and as I walked out I told him that he runs in different circles than I do and if one of his buddies was making a relief flight over there I’d like to find Jono a jump seat back home.  He told me sit back down a second and walked away, I thought he may have a name for me or something.  Ken came back after about 5 minutes and said “I can’t find my checkbook but I want to help that boy get a new boat”  call my secretary tomorrow and I’ll have her make you a check out for $10,000 dollars to help that boy.  I must have looked pretty strange, I didn’t know what to say…. right?  who does that!?

Sure enough the check came in the mail!  What if I hadn’t chosen to go pull that disabled boat in that day…. I’d have never met Mr. Ken.  He said he donates large amounts to many charities each year and this sounded like something he wanted to help with.  Later he told me as we exchanged texts that his dad told him the more you give, the more you get and he believed that.  There’s my “God Thing”  I told Ken he didn’t have to do that….. and his reply was grand.  He said “I haven’t done anything I had to do in a very long time”  It’s something I want to do.  How do you act, what emotions could I feel in a moment like that.  My nerves were shot, my boy was out of reach and then this happened.  Suffice it to say I was still a man, but my eyes leaked.

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