Tall ship to linger in Greenport after relief mission

06/10/2010 12:00 AM |

The schooner Halie & Matthew, recently returned from a rescue mission to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, could call Greenport home if its owners and operators can work out the economics.

The tall ship Halie and Matthew just might make Greenport its home port if its owners can work out the economics with the Village Board and the community. The ship, just returned from a relief mission in Haiti, has been based in Eastport, Maine, since owners Butch Harris, Pat Driscoll and Colin Williams launched her six years ago.

The 118-foot schooner with 92 feet of deck space was built by Mr. Harris and friend Johnny Bishop for a lot of money and sweat equity, Mr. Harris said aboard the ship Friday. Cancer claimed Mr. Bishop soon after the ship made its maiden voyage to Florida and Mr. Harris went on a search for others to help him with his fledgling charter business, pulling in Mr. Driscoll and Mr. Williams.

“This is a business — a business that’s a little more fun than accounting,” said Mr. Williams, a full-time accountant. The owners plan to operate out of Greenport this summer to see if making Greenport home makes dollars and cents.

The ship’s captain, Jared Talarski, and his brother Justin believe in “getting involved in a real way,” Capt. Talarski said. They and the owners envision making the Halie and Matthew available for training as well as tours and fundraising cruises to benefit local charities. They expect to organize tours of the boat shortly and, in the meantime, are welcoming visitors who stop down on the dock to visit.

The Talarskis’ belief in getting involved is how the ship came to bring relief supplies to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. It was “just a chance to do something good,” Capt. Talarski said. A lot of people give $10 and then turn their backs, he added. “We actually did something.”

Every boat needs a story and, until the Haiti trip, the the Halie and Matthew didn’t have one, he said.

The trip was actually the Talarskis’ second relief mission to Haiti. They previously had made a run aboard the 80-foot Liberty, a smaller boat owned by a private family, who agreed to let the brothers carry a shipment of food and medical supplies.

They soon planned a follow-up, but there was “an absurd amount of cargo that needed to go,” Justin said. That prompted their search in Florida for a larger boat. They ran into Mr. Harris, who planned to take the Halie and Matthew — named for his daughter Halie, 15, and son, Matthew, 11 — back to Maine. Mr. Harris agreed to let the brothers take the schooner.

“It’s a lot of hard work to keep a venture like this going,” Mr. Driscoll said. He and his partners all have other businesses to run and can’t give the boat the attention it needs, he said. “We needed someone like Jared,” he said. “The timing was right since the season in Key West was coming to an end.”

They had a lot of trouble on the Haiti trip. The boat’s steering broke, their clearance to land was delayed when their agent disappeared, and a storm with 60 mph winds hit and the boat broke from the dock and floated out to sea.

After recovering it, they endured another storm and a 4.7-point aftershock. Finally, they were able to unload, with each box opened and checked by the Haiti Coast Guard.

“They were skimming,” Justin said. But the crew was able to get needed tents, food, medical supplies and water purifiers to a nearby orphanage.

The boat was due to return to Maine but a stop in Greenport on the trip up the coast changed the plan. All aboard expressed pleasure in finding a village that was so welcoming and liked the idea of staying, at least for a while.

“We’re still totally making up our minds,” Mr. Williams said about the boat’s future. But if they can make it work, they would love to call Greenport home, he said. In addition to fundraising work in the community, they’d like to offer volunteers a chance to learn the skills necessary to sail the large schooner, he added.

“You learn a skill, a very awesome skill,” Justin said. “It teaches you a lot. It’s not always as romantic as people think, but it’s all worth it in the end,” he said.

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