The Profiler: Captain Ray Thackeray, International Rescue Group

The Profiler: Captain Ray Thackeray, International Rescue Group

Kristen Hanlon

Captain Ray Thackeray with a donated fortress anchor for the Thunderbird 2. Contributed photo.

Founded in 2010, the International Rescue Group is an Alameda-based volunteer organization that provides aid to coastal communities suffering from natural disasters. Utilizing a network of boats cruising around the world and a purpose-built ship, the Thunderbird 2, the IRG can deliver fresh water, food, and medical supplies to communities who otherwise might have to wait many days or even weeks for help. Recently I had a chance to talk with Ray Thackeray, founder of the IRG, to find out more about the group and its mission.

Please tell me a bit about yourself, your background in sailing and how the International Rescue Group came to be.
Growing up in England I was an enthusiast of amateur radio - I became a licensed ham radio operator on my 16th birthday. Amateur radio has always had the largest global emergency network. Amateur radio enthusiasts have been helping the police, ambulance services, and disaster relief organizations for decades. Even in this day of modern communications and cell phones, the ham operators have this global communications network. So from an early age I was exposed to this notion of amateurs helping people in emergencies all over the world - and that stuck with me.

I’m an engineer and got involved in the Internet business, and was pretty successful. About 13 years ago I started thinking about retirement. I’ve always been sailing - personally, I’ve sailed 26,000 miles - and while I was sailing I’d be dreaming of this idea. I thought, “If amateur radio enthusiasts can run a truly global emergency management communications network, why can’t boating people?”

At any given time there are 10,000 yachts sailing somewhere in the world. You can fit an enormous amount of medical supplies even in a small boat. In 2004, I flew to Thailand immediately after the tsunami, invited by a friend in Phuket. Luckily for him he lived on a hill, but down below - it was all wiped out. Then in 2010 the Haiti earthquake happened, and I was really struck by that, and decided, “That’s it. I’m retiring and I’m going to start up the rescue group.”

How many boats and volunteers are involved with IRG?
I started by acquiring an unfinished steel hull of a boat that I felt would be perfect for our purpose. I got help from a marine architect in Berkeley and we redesigned her as a disaster relief boat, and we’ve had volunteers completing the build ever since. She’s currently at Nelson’s (Marine) dock at Alameda Point. We were totally caught off guard by what happened in May (when the city evicted Nelson's). We were only given four days' notice that we had to get the boat out of Nelson’s yard, so we had four days to get the boat seaworthy. We worked in teams around the clock with angle grinders, grinding the steel on the bottom off the boat so we could prime the steel and paint it. At one point I was found under the boat with an angle grinder in my lap running at 8,000 RPM and I was asleep! (Laughs) It was absolute madness! We were the last boat out before the sheriff arrived.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to hook up the boat’s propulsion system, so now we have to tow her to another marine facility. The boat was intended to be a fundraiser during the America’s Cup, and so the city’s actions have cost us $50,000 in fundraising and another $5,000 in a yard fee to go to another yard. So we’re trying to figure out a way we can get some of that back and get the boat on the water and ready for its intended purpose.

We have, in our online global network, over 200 boats and yachts signed up. Just two weeks ago we established our first operational standby base, in Puerto Marqués, which is next to Acapulco. We have a donated boat - which came from Alameda - fully operational, and crew who look after the boat, and land-based support in Mexico as well. We are currently negotiating for land-based doctors to join our network and be available for that boat in case of hurricane or earthquake or other disaster.

In Alameda, we have a medical advisor, Dr. Peter Perez, who is putting together a medical professionals network. We have an accommodation space on the Island and will be bringing in medical professionals - doctors, nurses and so on - to train under Dr. Perez to be on standby for our organization.

Our steel-hulled boat, Thunderbird 2, has a 10-ton cargo hold, and can support a crew of 10. It also has a 1,000 gallon-per-day water maker, which takes seawater in and pumps freshwater out. We’ll literally be able to put a freshwater spigot on a beach and be able to provide enough fresh water for 5,000 people. Our plan is for this boat to join the other one down in Acapulco so we’ll have two boats stationed there.

If a person wants to volunteer on a mission, what are the requirements?
First, we’re looking for medical professionals - doctors, nurses, dentists, opticians - that’s our first priority. Then we need sailors who can get these professionals to disaster zones. We can teach people how to sail as well - nearly anyone can be a deckhand. The third priority is adding boats to our network. We’d like to encourage yachting people - and there are a lot of them in Alameda - to join our organization, so that when a disaster hits, and they’re within range, we will be able to communicate with them.

Communications is a really big thing for us - what IRG is doing is made possible by recent advancements in communications technology. Just a couple of years ago a device called an InReach came to market, which allows people to send and receive small messages by text or e-mail to your distribution list, and it gives your GPS location. It’s only $250 and is quite popular with the yachting community.

Other than volunteering on a mission, how can people or businesses help IRG?
We’ve had fantastic support from the marine manufacturing world - we’ve been given donations of equipment, including an anchors, a diesel-electric hybrid twin-drive propulsion system. This makes our boat the Toyota Prius of the sea! (Laughs) A San Jose company donated a solar panel farm, and a Washington company donated $3,000 worth of charge controllers so we can charge up our battery packs. E.A. Wilcox, over on the Peninsula, donated paint for our steel boat. The Thunderbird 1 made a trip to Zihuatanejo to deliver school supplies donated by Joe Dalipe of Island Print Express. Local manufacturers and distributors have been amazing, and I have a page on our website that thanks all of them for their help.

What we really could use right now is help from a local boatyard to haul our Thunderbird 2 from Nelson’s dock so we can complete our work on it. We’re stuck until we can find a new location for her. The city wants to charge us $100 a day for leaving our boat at Nelson’s dock, but it’s the city that put us in this position in the first place. If the city could help us out by waiving those fees, that would be a massive help.

For more on the International Rescue Group, visit http://members.internationalrescuegroup.org/.

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