• CAP Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Recovery Mission Part 2

    Blue Water Air Force

    CAP Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Recovery Mission

    By Tony Vallillo

    Continued from Part 1...

    There are a number of Maritime Academies in the US, one of which is the federally operated US Merchant Marine Academy, and several others which are run by one state or another. In particular, both New York and Massachusetts have maritime colleges as part of their state university system -- Mass Maritime and SUNY Maritime. Each of these has a training ship, both of which are 1960's vintage cargo ships of the so-called "stick ship" variety; i.e., break-bulk ships that have onboard derricks to load and offload cargo. These represent the last generation of merchant shipping prior to the current container ship revolution. The two colleges each acquired a ship of this kind and modified it for use in training large numbers of cadets. Most of the cargo holds of each ship were converted into berthing spaces for upwards of 500 to 600 cadets, and the result was a ship that closely resembled the troop ships of the World War II era. Our digs was to be the SUNY Maritime ship SS Empire State VI.

    Our home away from home -- the SS Empire State VI, training ship of the SUNY Maritime college in New York.

    Since some of the cost of modifying these ships came from Uncle Sam, the ships are considered a reserve asset, and are occasionally used as floating hotels in disaster situations such as this where they can dock close to the action. These two ships were used to house many of the responders, volunteer and paid, who were working for FEMA to assist in the recovery and clean-up.

    The Convention Center, which served as FEMA's headquarters and command post, as well as a makeshift cot city. The hotel at the very left edge of the picture was also used for responders, as was the small cruise ship just beyond the Center.

    FEMA itself had commandeered an entire hotel adjacent to their headquarters at the Convention Center, and had also contracted for a small cruise ship which also served as a floating hotel. Altogether there were accommodations for thousands of people. The ships were self contained little cities, with power, air conditioning, fresh water and most of the amenities of modern life. As a long time devotee of armchair nautical lore I was fascinated by this opportunity to spend some time on something other than a mega cruise ship.

    Perhaps the best part of the Empire State -- the mess hall. The food was excellent, and plentiful!

    We checked in at dockside, and then it was up the gangway and onto the ship itself, whereupon we were met by members of the crew and brought immediately to the mess hall. Now this was a crew that knew how to treat airmen who have just spent an entire day in an Airvan! The food, as it turned out, was really good - I have been on two cruises where the food was not as good as on the Empire State! Dinner time turned out to be the best time of the day. As for the accommodations, we ended up in a berthing area that held upwards of 50 men (women had their own areas, of course) in bunks three high that looked very much like the quarters for enlisted men on a modern submarine. I, fortuitously, got a bottom bunk, a necessity for one so un-athletic. Pete, though, ended up with the top bunk. Not only was this climb a strain, but the top bunk was right underneath the air conditioning vents, a situation that resulted in his eventually coming down with a head cold after we got back to the States a week later.

    Yours truly examines the sleeping quarters, a converted cargo hold with bunks that were, somewhat surprisingly, not bad at all.

    1. pinkyjr's Avatar
      pinkyjr -
      Photorico scenery makes tshe TJIG scenery where CAP operates from, and a brand new TJAB scenery which features the famous FEMA tarps all over the island.

    1. gene172's Avatar
      gene172 -
      What a great service that this CAP mission provided to the people of Puerto Rico. Americans should be grateful that volunteers like yourself contribute their expertise to our country in this manner. Thank you for contributing this article which presents the mission and the work of the CAP in such vivid detail.

    1. allanj12's Avatar
      allanj12 -
      Hi Tony, thank you for the fine articles on CAP and your experiences there. Other than the name, I had little idea of what was involved. It made think to look up the Canadian equivalent, CASARA.
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