Aboard HMCS Athabaskan, the uniform is universally blue, navy blue. Pressed shirts and orderly lives. These sailors' country is one of privilege.

At their destination, though, it is another story altogether: Ripped clothing and ripped lives. Haiti is today full of chaos.

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Sailors from the destroyer HMCS Athabaskan load supplies for Haiti in Halifax on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2009. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

As the Athabaskan steams at a steady 20+ knots due south, the 250 sailors aboard the destroyer know the two worlds will soon be in contact.

When they aren't cleaning, stowing or steering, they watch the all-news television.

They realize the disaster they are sailing towards.

But unlike most Canadians who yearn to help, but can only offer prayers and dollars, the sailors here know that in a few short days Haiti's sorrow will become their own.

On board is a huge range of what is called "light engineering" supplies: axes, chainsaws, concrete cutters and diesel generators.

The storage bays are also stacked with food, medical supplies and more personal stuff, like toiletries and clothing, which the sailors themselves collected.

Just a few hours after Athabaskan slipped her lines at Halifax's navy dockyard on Thursday and headed out to sea, Commander Peter Crain addressed the crew over the ship's loud speakers.

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This report from CBC's Rob Gordon, aboard HMCS Athabaskan

He thanked them for their swift effort to ready the warship in just one day. He apologized that some may not have been able to give loved ones enough notice. He assured them that the shore-based support system would help with any difficulties caused by the urgency of the mission. 

He then spoke a plain truth. "Exactly what we are going to do," said Cain, "I don't know yet."

Which is true. But every sailor here knows the mission is to help the Haitian people. And that they have the tools on board to make that happen.


Still Haiti bound

As journalists and aid workers alike are learning, getting into Haiti is proving much more difficult than expected.

Air traffic at Port-au-Prince has been effectively shut down to all but the military and emergency aid teams. 

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The first group of Canadians caught in Haiti's earthquake arrive in Montreal early Friday morning, Jan. 15, 2010. The nearly 100 weary evacuees were brought home on the same military aircraft that carried the first Canadian soldiers into the disaster zone. (Peter McCabe/Canadian Press)

So two CBC crews spent a good part of Thursday trying to board a chartered plane from the Dominican Republic into Haiti and ultimately failing.

It was a frenetic scene at the airport, which was packed with aid workers — mostly British, who'd flown in from Pakistan — who, like the CBC, were caught in the backlog into Port-au-Prince.

(And it's sure tough to argue CBC should jump the queue when experienced aid workers are also lined up.)

Eventually, we decided a better bet would be to drive in Friday via a van convoy, from which this note is being thumbed.  As I'm writing this (4:30 a.m. Friday morning), it's four hours to the border, then three hours to the capital.

This amid reports of ever desperate  Haitians now making roadblocks out of bodies in Port-au-Prince, as bandits stop vehicles coming in, looking for food and water — of which CBC's convoy has plenty.

— Paul Hunter


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The CBC's Paul Hunter and a group of aid workers drive in an early morning convoy from the Dominican Republic to Haiti on Friday. (Angela Naus/CBC)

Travel tips for a van convoys into post-earthquake Haiti

Money: A few thousand dollars spread among several people hidden in money belts. Also, several hundred dollars in "throw-away" wallets that would be given to bandits if stopped and robbed.

Water: As much as can fit in the vehicles, but hidden under luggage in case of attempted robbery.

Food: Also as much as can fit, including as much as possible for other people in Haiti.

TV and survival gear: Including video cameras, portable satellite dish, satellite phones, a generator, extra gasoline, flashlights, sleeping bags, toilet paper, baby wipes, water purification tablets, immodium, Cipro and Tiger Balm - for spreading under noses to mask the smell of rotting bodies.

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Read Paul Hunter's earlier report:Haiti-bound with soft bags

Weapons: No. Not ever.

Travel time: Daylight is much preferred.

Driver: Ability to speak Creole is a huge asset.