to the top
From Annapolis to Haiti
An eyewitness account of your Navy at work in a land of voodoo and confusion
by Bill Lambrecht
ABOARD THE MV FURY I spot the U.S. Navy warship through binoculars at 10:30AM We are steaming west of Haiti’s northern tip with 30,000 tons of flour and rice, bound for “the Big Mango” Port-au-Prince.
I am traveling with eight Haitians aboard Fury, a 149-foot vessel brought from South Carolina recently to haul cargo along Haiti’s coast. We began this eventful voyage 28 hours ago in Cap-Haitian, Haiti’s second largest city.
At 10:35 the first call comes on the CB radio. It is a Navy warship carrying out United Nations sanctions against Haiti.
The voice on the radio instructs Gaston Michel, Fury’s captain, to switch to the VHF. He is asked 10 questions about his cargo, crew and destination.
“Stay on this channel and stand by,” the voice says.
I have been sent to Haiti by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to write stories about the crisis afflicting this troubled island. Three years ago, a military coup ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power. Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest who many hoped would bring peace to his tormented land, has been in Washington since then under Secret Service protection.
The U.S. has promoted the trade embargo to squeeze the brutal military-led government into permitting Aristide to return. The effects of this embargo are debatable. It is making the poor people poorer in the Western Hemisphere’s most depressed nation. Only time will tell if the military and the rich who have generators and plenty of black-market fuel will give in.
In Haiti, I speak with the poor, the rich and the thugs with guns. I find bodies of people murdered for their political beliefs. I visit temples of voodoo, the religion of over half of the country. I know why author Graham Greene called Haiti “this shabby land of terror.”
Now I am at sea, where the will of the world is coming down on Haiti.
I met Fury’s owners at a hotel; they have allowed me to accompany them on the 220-mile trip along Haiti’s coastline. The voyage has been a troubled one. We hung up on a reef before leaving the harbor.
Yesterday, an intake pipe for engine cooling ruptured, bringing water chest-high into the engine room. We were close enough to the town of Port-de-Paix to rent pumps so that we could make the fix during a tense few hours.
After that, the anchor is somehow caught on a sunken ship and lost. The steering is acting up and the ship’s electronics are fading. In these Caribbean waters, I notice that there are no sailboats, no yachts, no sleek vessels of any kind.
“You see no pleasure boats because there is not much pleasure in Haiti right now,” observes the captain.
From the bridge, I see the warship off starboard growing bigger in the binoculars. To the east, I see a smaller vessel, apparently a U.S. Coast Guard boat. We drift in the azure waters, preparing to be boarded.
For some reason the warship veers away from us and the Coast Guard boat disappears. There’s relief and bravado on the bridge.
Capt. Michel, a hilarious fellow who spent many years in the U.S., grabs the radio microphone and pretends to call: “This is the Haitian Navy calling the U.S. warship. Come in, come in,” he says. There is no Haitian Navy.
“Be advised that you are in Haitian waters and if you don’t behave, we’ll follow you with voodoo and send in our zombie air force,” he says. The crew is roaring with laughter. Someone asks the Navy to send over Budweiser and Marlboros.
The laughter swiftly subsides. The moment we round Haiti’s northwestern tip, I sight a second warship through the binoculars. We are hailed immediately. This time, Michel gets 16 questions, several of them about weapons and fuel. Once again he is told to stand by.
“Good afternoon, Captain.” At 1:10PM, the voice has returned: “We intend to search your vessel under international law.” Michel is given navigational coordinates and told to head there immediately. He goes to his quarters and puts on a brand-new T-shirt.
“LIFT THE EMBARGO,” it says in Creole, the language of Haiti.
Haitian captains tell stories of U.S. ships chasing them into harbors. Of helicopters buzzing them. Of being held at sea for a half-day at a time and “treated like criminals.” Of warships firing over the bows of ships that refuse to stop as ordered.
Much of this attention is aimed at enforcing a ban on the delivery of fuel. The sanctions have sent the price of fuel in Haiti soaring to more than $10 a gallon. Travel in Haiti is an ordeal, electricity a luxury. If you need emergency surgery, you must take a gallon of diesel to the hospital so they can see what they do to you.
We steam toward our meeting place with the Navy warship, the Hue City, an Aegis-class cruiser named after a battle in the Vietnam War. We are four miles from shore and about 35 miles southeast of Cuba.
At 565 feet, the Hue City (pronounced Way City), is nearly as long as two football fields. It is one of a half-dozen warships patrolling Haiti’s coast, along with frigates from Argentina, Canada and the Netherlands.
I consider how small and connected this world is. Blackbeard and his pirate pals patrolled both these waters and the Chesapeake Bay. Naval officers trained a few miles by water from my home in Anne Arundel County are about to pay a visit, which I quickly learn is no drop-by for rum punch.
A boarding team of 11 arrives on an inflatable the same color gray as the ship. Everyone aboard Fury but the captain and first officer is ordered to stand at the bow of the ship. I realize this means me, too, and grab some sun-block.
Our visitors pack .45-caliber pistols that stay holstered. One of them holds a pump shotgun. All of them wear bullet-proof vests that make them pour sweat in the broiling sun. They fan out and begin their search.
The boarding party is polite. They allow the crew (and me) to stand in a shaded area amidships. We are permitted to have water. But they are firm. Louis Newbold, the ship’s 79-year-old assistant engineer, who has cataracts and trouble walking, is kept on deck with the rest of us.
The Navy officers are surprised to find a reporter snapping pictures and taking notes. The lieutenant who commands the boarding party questions me twice. I have a few questions of my own. He gets more answers from me than I get from him.
I ask people if they are Annapolis grads; try to talk about Navy football and the Chesapeake Bay. I can’t even get names for my story. I ask an ensign if his orange life-vest is Coast Guard approved. (It was.) He starts to look and then decides I am trying to be funny.
The visitors spend most of their time trying to figure out how much fuel is on board. If a ship carries fuel to sell, it would violate the U.N. sanctions. They measure the diesel fuel in five tanks. Neither the sailor doing the measuring nor the lieutenant knows how to translate tons to gallons. They call the warship. Someone there does.
Finally, they compute that Fury has 11,160 gallons of diesel aboard. At today’s prices in Haiti, it is worth over $100,000. The lieutenant asks the ship's owners why they need so much fuel. “For your mo-peds?” the lieutenant asks. Everyone laughs.
Finally, four hours after the boarding was announced, the captain is allowed to go free. We trudge back up the metal ladder to the front of the boat and watch the inflatable boat buzz back to the Hue City.
We are half a day or more from the port with an ailing vessel and the crew is not happy, especially Newbold, the old assistant engineer.
“These men did not come here as friends of Haiti,” he grumbles. “They search us, give orders, try to make us their slaves.”
Capt. Michel tries to cool him off. “They were just doing their jobs,” he says.
A Final Encounter
I fall asleep on the deck of Fury watching a plane circling in the sky. It is after midnight. Suddenly, lights begin flashing.
Two speeding Coast Guard boats overtake us and signal for us to stop. They tried hailing us on the radio, but the second officer, who was in command of the bridge, understood no English.
Capt. Michel is summoned. He reminds the Coast Guard that we were inspected a few hours ago. “Do we have to go through this again?” he asks.
In a hundred miles of Haitian coastline, I have seen two Navy warships, three Coast Guard vessels, three Navy helicopters and an unidentified plane that I presume was watching us. This is how an embargo works.
The answer comes back a short time later. We may proceed.
to the top
Dock of the Bay
Swimming Against the Tide
A strong flood tide could be ebbing when six hundred hearty swimmers step into the Chesapeake Bay about 10AM Sunday morning to begin this year’s Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, to benefit the March of Dimes.
“They’re facing currents twice as strong as last year,” said John Jacobs, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “It could be a much harder swim.”
Last year, 504 of 521 swimmers breezed across the 4.4 miles of water beneath the Bay Bridge. A death by heart attack marred the race, but the current proved to be no obstacle.
In recent years, races have been spoiled and nearly ended by unanticipated strong currents. In 1991, 720 swimmers out of a field of 884 were swept away by strong currents and had to be taken from the water by rescue boats. In 1992, once more up against strong currents, only 48 of 331 swimmers finished.
It’s hard enough to swim over four miles without having to fight a force as predictable as currents. So, beginning last year, federal and state agencies have cooperated to choose the best starting time and let swimmers know what they’re likely to be up against.
The daily ebb and flow of Earth’s oceanic waters is controlled by the Moon and Sun. Those great interplanetary rhythms have been studied so many centuries that they’re as well known as the steps in a waltz. NOAA assembles these tidal predictions for the day of the swim and then goes traditional wisdom one better.
Immediately before the race, NOAA deploys a high-tech gadget called a “towed acoustic Doppler current profiler” to measure the precise currents. Real and theoretic may be far apart because the narrow opening of an estuary restricts movement in and out. The shape of the Bay’s shorelines and bottom also has a bearing on tides; wind and storms can play havoc.
To give swimmers the best knowledge humanly possible, NOAA will tow its Doppler behind the Maryland Port Authority’s vessel Endeavor for a full 12-hour tide cycle on Saturday. The Maryland Geological Survey’s Discovery will pull the rig in a pretest on Friday.
NOAA folks will spend race day linked by cellular phones to weather stations to make sure nothing ominous is headed our way.
So, swimmers, let’s see if knowledge is power.
Pleasure-boaters, charter captains and marinas alike have had it up to the gunwales with a new federal tax rule for diesel fuel.
Wording buried in last year’s federal budget aims to collect more taxes on diesel with a burdensome system of clear and blue-dyed fuels. Owners of recreation boats must buy clear, taxed fuel while commercial vessels have to purchase blue-dyed, tax exempt diesel.
Problem is, marinas must either buy a new fuel tank or sell just one fuel. The result? Retailers are losing business and boaters are having trouble finding the right-color fuel.
“This is a problem that never had to happen,” observed Steuart Chaney, of Herrington Harbour Marinas.
For charterboat captains like Joseph Rupp of Rose Haven, the new law means a heap of extra red-tape and form-filling if he is to get refunds that amount to 24.5 cents on 1,000 gallons a month.
“It’s a real problem,” said Rupp.
In a meeting last week with Chaney, Rupp and others, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that he intends to turn up the heat on efforts to change the rule. Hoyer already has proposed legislation to allow purchase of any color diesel fuel.
Beyond his bill, Hoyer, who is a member of the Democratic leadership in the House, said that he is pressuring the Internal Revenue Service to make the change administratively so that it can happen yet this season.
“I said to them that we really need to change this,” Hoyer said.
In an interview later, Hoyer said that he might also try to “put a fix” in an appropriations bill. In the end, that may be the best bet for boaters since Hoyer, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, presumably knows his way along money trail.
South River High Digs an Estuary
Since the state of Maryland made public service a requirement to graduate from high school, some high schoolers are inventing new ways to serve the public.
Members of an after-school club at South River High School in Edgewater aren’t volunteering at a soup kitchen. They haven’t become companions to seniors. And they’re not picking up after strays at the SPCA.
What this group of students called SAVE is doing could help us all breathe easier:
They’re building their school an estuary, an estuary just like the Chesapeake Bay.
Informally, everybody calls it a pond.
The 9-by-27-foot pond is designed to purify the school’s water supply, says Margaret Dowsett, the faculty sponsor. The project, she adds, will be “the latest addition to our habitat, which includes 120 different varieties of shrubs and trees, covering over one and a-half acres of land.”
SAVE (Students Against the Violation of the Environment) meets Wednesday afternoons to plan their “pond” and other programs, among them schoolwide paper recycling. Other days, they dig and plant.
Freshman Stephanie Callahan recalls first hearing about environmental awareness in school when a middle-school science teacher started a recycling program for students.
“When we don’t take care of the environment at home and at school, we lose another piece of the world,” she says.
A Hook in Maryland’s Sportfishers?
Among the clients that Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano is accused of defrauding is Anne Arundel County-based Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermens Association, which held its $200,000 Bluefish Tournament last weekend.
Results of the competition were not final, but it appears a 15.3-pound bluefish taken by Ernie Sears may win the $15,000 grand prize. No one won $200,000 for breaking the world bluefish record of 31 3/4 pounds set in North Carolina 20 years ago.
Six-hundred seventy boats signed up this year, MSSA executive director Rich Novotny reports. That’s a drop of 200 from last year and 400 from several years ago, presumably because of disappointing bluefish runs. Things looked a bit brighter this year with early calculations of a catch of about 200 fish, nearly all in the mid and lower Bay. Of these, 187 were released.
Novotny is watching the Bereano proceedings closely. Maryland’s so-called million-dollar lobbyist, who represented MSSA in its unsuccessful drive to have rockfish declared a game fish, is accused of defrauding it and three other clients.
Following the indictment of Maryland’s most publicized and highest paid lobbyist, a shocked Novotny said he didn’t have the slightest idea anything was amiss.
“We just paid expenses that were billed to us,.” Novotny said. “We weren’t aware of any wrongdoing or misappropriations...We took him at his word of being an honest person.”
With MSSA tournament revenues slipping because of deteriorating bluefish runs, MSSA (the biggest sports fishing group in the mid-Atlantic) can’t afford unnecessary expenses, Novotny added.
Leafgrow: Earth’s Black Magic
Mosquitoes may be the only thing on God’s green earth we inventive, tool-making primates can’t find a use for. Now, as surely as mold makes penicillin, the grass we mow in Anne Arundel County is enriching the earth.
If, that is, you bag your grass and set it aside for the county’s weekly yard-waste truck.
Here’s what happens after that: Anne Arundel’s tons of clippings mingle with those from Prince George’s County’s recycled grass. Add to that a season’s worth of Prince George’s leaves.
It’s showtime. With the magic of chemistry, the clippings hurriedly decompose; in three weeks, the piles are reduced in volume by 30 percent. What’s left by mid-September is Leafgro, a rich, black trademarked compound ready to renew the earth.
Leafgro is a win-win proposition. By joining in the project with neighboring counties, Anne Arundel helps satisfy Maryland’s requirement to reduce landfilling by 20 percent.
Lawns get a boost from Leafgro’s acidic tonic. So do vegetables, flowers, trees, shrubs, broad-leafed evergreens, house plants and just about everything that grows. See Leafgro’s wonders for yourself.
The state makes a buck, too. Maryland Environmental Service tends the pair of 40-acre compost heaps and markets the result as Leafgro.
“This has been a banner year for sales,” says Tate Saderholm of Maryland Environmental Service.
(Call MES at 301/261-8596 or 410/974-7268 for a list of retailers.)
In Virginia, the EPA is slapping around Gov. George Allen’s pro-business administration, threatening to block construction of the new Disney theme park if the state doesn’t tune up its clean air plan. The dust-up is billed as the most serious yet in the back-and-forth over Disney’s grand plan...
Out in Washington state, folks are stunned at how quickly salmon fishing collapsed reminiscent of rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay a decade ago. What will people there do? Besides suffer, they’ll dig in their pockets. Three of four said in a new poll that they are ready to pay higher electric bills so that power plants don’t harm salmon rivers...
U.S. Navy divers are getting ready for a harrowing assignment in Lake Superior: they will bring up barrels of toxic waste 30 years after they were secretly dumped.
Chemical leftovers, munitions and war wastes were shipped from a plant in Minnesota in 55-gal. drums sealed at each end in concrete and then dropped in Lake Superior by workers sworn never to tell what they had done...
United Airlines moved into the eco-tourism business last week by offering three Earthwatch expeditions to Brazil, China or a marine biology center in California. Know anybody with a pile of frequent flyer miles to unload?...
Our Creature Feature comes to us from the suburbs across America, where wild animals are turning up more and more. Conservation groups say that raccoons, deer, skunks and many creatures from the deep woods are being driven to the edges of cities by development.
They get food and benefits from humans, but humans get more Lyme disease and rabies from them. Some folks get scared, too.
“There is nothing more frightening than a 40-pound raccoon on your screen door,” said Rhode Island wildlife biologist James Myers.
to the top
You’ve probably picked up this New Bay Times you’re reading where you shop or work. That’s how most of New Bay Times’ 25,000 weekly readers get their good news on the Chesapeake. “Controlled distribution” means that every New Bay Times is wanted; in fact, copies are read by 2.5 people, we're told. (If you see one of those “.5” people, let us know so we can take a picture.)
Stores, restaurants and marinas (from Solomons to Severna Park, Crofton and Bowie, and into Washington through Upper Marlboro) that graciously allow New Bay Times to share their space say we boost their business.
In addition, several hundred readers subscribe because they want to be sure they never miss their New Bay Times .
We owe those loyal readers, our subscribers, an apology.
For the past couple of months, New Bay Times has been slower and slower to reach your mailbox. We know just how slow because we monitor arrival dates at several locations from the Chesapeake to Virginia. Dunkirk, Md., for example, used to be one day’s postal service from our nearby offices in Deale. But our May 19 issue took eight days to make that journey; our May 5 issue took 10 days.
If we hadn’t known on our own, we’d have gotten the message from your phone calls and letters. “How can I do the exciting things in your calendar that covered May 19 to June 1 when I only received my paper June 1?” new subscriber Margaret Davis of Severn, Md. complained.
We couldn’t agree more. New Bay Times exists for you to read.
So we set out to find out what went wrong.
New Bay Times goes to press each Wednesday afternoon, when circulation manager Steven Anderson trucks our master copy (called “camera-ready flats”) to our printer in southern Maryland. Now that we’re weekly we get special attention; except in ice storms and emergencies, the job is done by evening and early copies hit the street soon after. The bulk of the delivery is completed Thursdays, with Anderson and two assistant circulators setting off in three directions.
That’s faster delivery than ever before.
Thursday is mail day, too, and Deale post mistress Pat Pruitt pushes New Bay Times out of her office before she closes up shop for the day.
New Bay Times’ subscribers who live in Deale get their papers that very day. All others whether they go to Tracy’s Landing, the next post office over, or to Homer, Alaska are trucked to the Southern Maryland District Post Office at Capital Heights. Then each nicely sorted bundle is forwarded first to central stations around the country, then to local post offices.
Trouble is, third class bulk mail is a low priority at each of those stops. Sometimes and some places along the way, it lingers. The real holdup, we’re told, is the first stop: bulk mail room staff has been cut so far that some mail is backed up a month.
We’d like to send New Bay Times first class, but none of us could afford it. At third-class rates, each paper costs about as much as a first-class letter. At first-class rates, each costs about $1.
So we tried another solution. We took New Bay Times to the District Office at Capital Heights for a postal audit. There, bulk mail wizard Bruce Miles promised us he’d get us back to our speedy former ways. “No problem,” he assured us; he would slip us right past the bottleneck as long as we got our mail to him.
And good as his word he was. Our June 2 issue reached Dunkirk in two days. While that’s not a record, it’s pretty good.
So we want to thank Mr. Miles. We want to thank all the postal workers along the way who help bring New Bay Times to our mail subscribers. (We understand that a few of them read it along the way. Be our guest.)
We want to thank our subscribers for their patience. And we want to make a suggestion. Call your postmaster or postmistress. Thank them for getting your news to you while it’s still new. Ask them to keep New Bay Times a priority, like you do.
And if the mail slows down again, tell us.
Tell them, too.
I am writing to let you know that I received your May 19June 1 issue yesterday (June 1). It goes without saying that all of the activities listed for that period and advertisements were of no value and out of date.
It could be delivered by bicycle from Deale to Shady Side in less than two weeks, don’t you agree? Mail service in this area is the pits.
P.S. Wonder how long it will take for you to get this letter?
This is my seventh crossing of the Pacific from Hawaii to the West Coast during my career as a merchant sailor. From this prospect of observation, I wanted to share with the folks at home the condition of the ocean from a non-scientific point of view.
Flotsam, trash, junk no matter what you call it, it still comes from the human race. The last three days have brought us fairly calm seas, thus allowing the crew to see anything that floats as we motor along our track line to Alaska. The crew are amazed at the amount of trash we are seeing in the water as it drifts by Pride’s hull.
Most of it is plastic, some metal (mostly fish floats; in fact, 50 percent of what we see is fish floats and nets), occasional wood, milk crates, dish washing racks, one-liter bottles, whisky bottles, nets, synthetic line, Styrofoam. If it floats, it’s out there!
Now remember, Pride cuts a small visual trackline on this huge ocean expanse. Our line of vision for flotsam is probably 1/2 mile wide and 2400 miles long at best. We have been seeing such flotsam glide by every 15 minutes at the rate of three to five pieces. Aboard Pride, we have filled two 33-gallon plastic trash bags with plastic in only our seventh day since departing Hawaii.
Folks, when you look at the big picture, it’s not likely we happened to steer a course through the only pile of trash in the whole Pacific. Chances are this stuff covers the whole eastern Pacific rim, especially when you consider the clockwise ocean currents.
For generations, as thousands of vessels have transited the world oceans, everything has been dumped overboard. Thankfully, in the last few years, an international law has prohibited the discharge of plastics into the oceans of the world. Vessels still are allow to dump paper, glass, wood, metal and food waste overboard.
How is it enforced, you ask? Well, frankly, by folks’ own goodwill and consciences. I hope their consciences are strong. When and if I get the chance to make this trip again in five to 10 years, I hope all I will see is ocean, plain and simple the way God made it.
Pride of Baltimore II, en route from Hawaii to Alaska via the eastern Pacific rim