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Seafaring Businessman Johnson Leads Aid Voyage to Dominica

September 27, 2015

Following the recent devastation of Dominica by tropical storm Erika, local sailor and businessman Paul Johnson, was among Barbadians moved to take quick action.

His sense of urgency was amplified even further after he received a call from an old friend and sailing colleague in the wake of the Wednesday, August 26 disaster, vividly describing the destruction that Erika had wreaked on the ‘Nature Isle of the Caribbean’.

Johnson’s immediate and empathetic response would lead to a successful trip – undertaken with the full backing of his brother, Harris Paints’ Chairman, Ralph Johnson – that would be responsible for putting much needed supplies on the ground in Dominica just days after the storm.

The call from a fellow sailor had come early as people in neighbouring islands were just becoming aware of the extent of the damage. By Saturday, having cemented his plan, Johnson recounted how his mind raced thinking of how to execute the hastily arranged voyage. “I knew time was of the essence and we had to get moving quickly,” he said.

Just two days later, at 4:30 on a hazy Monday afternoon, Johnson – having made some calls of his own –would depart en route to Dominica with a capable crew of four including himself, on an “overloaded” vessel, the 46ft Bertram Sport Fisher named “Shooter”, which is owned by the Johnson brothers.

The other crew members, “trusted seamen” Mark Gentlin, Denis Richardson and Clint Brooks, were “more than enough” for a successful 43-hour round-trip between the islands, 37 of which would be at sea. “They had all immediately said yes and I was grateful because I trust those guys,” said Johnson.

As for ‘Shooter’, she was packed to capacity with as much food, water and medical supplies as was safely possible, with Johnson noting he was moved by the overwhelming support that poured in particular from Ralph “Bizzy” Williams, Greg Ward and his own brother Ralph, once word had spread of the impending trip to Roseau.

“My phone started ringing off the hook. Everyone wanted to send something and we were determined to take as much as we could. People literally turned up at the dock with supplies and some even wrote names and addresses hoping that their package would reach the intended persons on the other side. In the end we loaded 175 cases of water, 300 cases of canned goods, a palette of dry goods, solar-powered lamps, emergency medical kits, baby supplies including food and diapers, along with water filters and purification tablets. It took three flat-bed trucks, a pick-up, and a transit van to freight the stuff.”

While noting the trip across to Dominica seemed uneventful in calm conditions, Johnson said they were at the time unaware of developments that would later lead to some surprises on the return leg.

“The boat was laden and heavy with fuel and supplies, so we had to be extremely careful as we made our way across. But those guys were something else, having given up their sleeping quarters so that we could take more supplies with us. We had to take turns sleeping in a passageway because there was no more room left on the boat.”

Arrangements had been made for a reception by a team from Harris Paints, and after eighteen hours at sea, Johnson and his crew were met dockside by Roseau Harbour Officials and the staff from Harris Paints Dominica.

“The team from Harris Paints were incredible. Just to get down to the dock would have been a huge task for them. They were very gracious and sent their thanks to Barbados,” Johnson said.

There would be further challenges in store for Shooter and Crew beginning with how to successfully refuel for the return leg without power, which led to an ingenious design with the fuel being gravity-fed from atop a lift truck. The journey back to Barbados turned out to be quite eventful, with a damaged exhaust keeping things interesting, and even raising concern that the boat was sinking at one point. Shooter’s lifeboat, which also had supplies packed for the relief mission, was accidentally damaged during offloading and was partially deflated during the trip back.

“We had a small but experienced crew, and those concerns were quickly rectified, and we had all the regulation safety equipment on board, so we weren’t unduly worried. All in all, we were happy that everything was delivered and we made it back in one piece,” said Johnson.

“I must thank all the wonderful people who helped me to take such a large and meaningful quantity of relief supplies to Dominica and I am so grateful for the selfless acts of kindness shown by everyone involved especially the crew, Clint, Marc and Denis, as well as Jimmy White and Allan Burkett who helped so much. Our gratitude must also go to Harris Paints, Chickmont Foods, Williams Industries, Pauls Enterprises, Forde’s Auto, Atlantic Marketing, TMR, Collins Limited, Goddards Enterprises Limited, Cenvet Inc, and the Dominica Relief Fund, along with the many other individuals who contributed towards the success of this trip. We now urge Barbadians to continue to pray for the full recovery of Dominica.” (PR)