The Coast Guard recently donated two retired buoy-tenders to an American relief agency that provides health care to several South Pacific island nations.
As those who have voyaged in the South Pacific may have discovered, certain health problems are widespread in native island populations. For example, approximately one-third of the adult population of the Marshall Islands suffers from diabetes, and leprosy occurs there at a higher rate per capita than anywhere else in the world.
When voyagers Jamie and Jacque Spence discovered these unusual problems on visits to the islands in the 1970s they decided to found a relief mission. "After several years of cruising we came to feel that our lives were somewhat aimless, and we were looking for something more meaningful," said Jamie Spence. Canvasback Mission, which recently took delivery of the two retired White-class Coast Guard buoy-tenders, has been operating since 1981, delivering high-fiber foods, staffing clinics, and offering emergency health care via a 71-foot aluminum catamaran.
Spence allowed that the high-performance cat, which will be sold when the cutters join Canvasback later this year, was more than just a floating hospital. "She is in a class by herself; she has no equal in history and is a thrill to sail," he said of the ketch-rigged multihull that was built to ABS standards in Sydney in 1986.
Health problems are disproportionate in these islands because of the "deterioration of lifestyle" and the introduction of refined foods after World War II, according to the mission. "When the U.S. took over these islands from the Japanese, the economic system changed from a barter society to a cash society. They were introduced to white flour, white sugar, white rice, and shortening, and they stopped eating fish, coconuts, taro root, and breadfruit. There is a perception that these are idyllic, problem-free islands, but that is not so," Spence said.Canvasback has instituted a "wellness" program and diabetes reversal plan that promotes high-fiber foods like brown rice. "We initially thought that it would take years to see results, but we’ve seen success in some cases in a matter of a week or two," Spence said.The buoy-tenders, which will keep their American flag, will undergo a brief refit before being delivered via the Panama Canal for humanitarian service in the South Pacific. Contact Canvasback Mission in Benicia, Calif., at (707) 746-7828.