Lucy on board the Rainbow Warrior
Wednesday, 9th October
Aberystwyth, despite being unpronounceable to at least 98
percent of the global population, turned out to be a pretty nice
town. I had spent the last couple of weeks having conversations
with the Greenpeace Crew Manager that went along the lines of:
So Tanya, where shall I meet the ship?
In Aber er..er abersinthwit or something um pardon?
Aber..oh god Absynth-thingy
Lets just call it the A-place. It's in Wales.
So having survived Birmingham and a three hour train ride
through the gorgeous green and lumpy Welsh countryside, it came as
quite a relief last night to finally see the Rainbow Warrior, my
home for the next 16 days, anchored off the Welsh coast. I had
obviously found the right, A-place.
Luckily for me, John the logistics coordinator and general
man-with-a-plan had it all under control from then on. At
Aberystwyth Marina, we met up with the five scientists from the
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society who were coming on board to
carry out a five week survey of cetaceans, that's whales and
dolphins, along the welsh coast. They had a huge pile of equipment
which we helped cart down the jetty on trolleys. As I pushed my
heavy trolley down the steep slope, it took on a life of its own
and made a bid for freedom towards the murky waters beneath.
Luckily, a few of us together managed to restrain it and prevent
the survey equipment from a cold swim. It would not have been a
It is my first time on board the Rainbow Warrior. Although I
have been working for Greenpeace for three years, I have never
actually made it on board our international superstar flagship
before. As our rib (rigged hulled inflatable boat) pulled up
alongside the familiar white-on-green Greenpeace logo, I noticed
that everyone in our little troupe of RW novices was grinning with
excitement. It felt like we were climbing on board a celebrity.
This is a ship that has inspired people around the world, that was
rammed and stormed by French commandos while it was opposing
nuclear testing, that this year opposed a nuclear waste shipment
and protested against forest destruction...
Before I toppled dreamily overboard in a fit of nostalgia, I was
brought back down to earth - or rather sea - by George, the first
mate. There was a list of things that we needed to know about life
on board that we should learn fast if we were to avoid being made
to walk the plank by the rest of the crew. Most important was
water. Despite being surrounded on all sides by the stuff, fresh
water is in short supply on ships. So long hot Radox baths are out.
ONE shower a day said George, in capital letters, TWO minutes only
each time. I nod and try and look tough and rugged, a bit like Xena
Warrior Princess. I can tell its not working.
Once on board we meet the rest of the crew and Derek, the
Captain, who has been a Greenpeace captain for seven years. We are
given a tour of the ship from Claire the Radio Operator and High
Priestess of Teccie-ness and on the way we meet Dave the Dolphin -
a wooden carving that sits on the Bow (the front of the ship) that
was donated to us by a sculptor in Germany. Legend has it that he
hid a time capsule inside Dave, with messages of hope for the
future. We also meet a small and scary ceramic gnome with no nose
that lives on the bridge (the place from which the Captain and
mates steer the ship). Ruth, one of the other deckhands, appears to
be quite attached to him, but I think he has evil eyes and should
be thrown overboard immediately. He definitely looks
After some great food prepared by the ship cook, Marco, we head
down to our cabin to make up our beds. I clamber into a top bunk
and get rocked to sleep by the gentle swell. It is only 9:30.
Thursday, 10th October
At 7:30 we get a wake up call from the crew member
who has been on watch duty. We groan a bit, but in fact three of us
have been awake for at least an hour, paranoid about missing the
call and getting in trouble for oversleeping on the first
I always have a problem getting out of bed, but this morning the
problem took on a whole new dimension since I had to figure out a
way to get out of my high bunk, which has wooden walls around the
sides to stop you falling out if the weather gets rough. It was
pretty easy to get into, but manoeuvring yourself over the wall and
down to the floor is more tricky, especially with your eyes sticky
and ankles and knees stiff from a night of sleeping. I jump and
crash to the ground. If the boat sinks because of an inexplicably
shaped hole in the cabin floor then you know who
We eat breakfast and at eight I report to Simon the Bosun, who
is the deckhand's boss and therefore master of my life over the
next couple of weeks. Despite the many horror stories I have heard
about cruel and evil bosuns who work their deckhands to pulp, Simon
turns out to be a very nice guy with no cat-o-nine-tails
immediately obvious. (Yes, I know. Of course, I would say that
that, since I have another two weeks left on the boat under his
command. But honestly, he seems like a very reasonable man. And if
at any time during the rest of this diary it sounds like I'm
sucking up to him, then it has absolutely NOTHING to do with the
fact that he is my boss. Really.) So anyway, charming and handsome
Simon tells me to start by helping out with the cleaning that
happens every day between eight and 8:30.
There are six other deckhands - Henri, Ruth, Mariana, Ed, Will
and Meredith - and they are all walking around in overalls and
t-shirts covered in paint and grease stains, like badges of honour.
Next to them, my old but clean jeans and sweater look pretty
amateur. Luckily I find some 5th hand overalls in the hold (bottom
of the ship) which are pre-splattered with vast amounts of grease
and paint. In fact, they are more paint than material. I put them
on and feel immediately better. I feel as if I have been working
incredibly hard for weeks.
When I get back to the mess (that's the room we eat in) I am
slightly concerned to find the other deckhands vying over who gets
to clean the toilets. Apparently it's one of the better jobs. This
is not a good sign. Figuring that as the most junior deckhand on
board I have absolutely no chance of winning the toilet cleaning
contest, I look around for something else to do and one of the
deckhands explains to me about the garbage system on the ship.
Every tiny piece of rubbish on board is separated: glass,
plastic, aluminium, paper and organic waste all get sorted into
different bins so that as much as possible can be re-used or
recycled. The person in charge of all this is called the Chief
Garbologist, a position which I immediately aspire to just because
the name is so great. I help clean the pantry and the wet room, and
then go back to Simon for more tasks. He sends me down to the
engine room to do some painting.
The engine room, in the belly of the ship, is hot, noisy and
smells strongly of, well, engines I guess. We have to put ear
protection on before going in because the noise is so loud. It's
bizarre, because the ear masks distort and magnify the sounds that
your own body makes, a bit like going under water. If you swallow,
it sounds like someone has just flushed a toilet. If you yawn, it
sounds like a running tap. Or perhaps that's just me.
The engine room is being painted all the colours of the rainbow,
and I wonder if this is Greenpeace just taking it a bit too far.
But Mario, Chief Engineer, explains to me that this is standard
practice on ships, with different pipes being painted different
colours according to what they carry. Blue pipes carry cooling
water. Green pipes carry seawater. It makes sense. After a coffee
break at ten, we add face masks (to protect us from breathing the
fumes) to our ear protectors and begin to look more like extras in
Dr. Who than Greenpeace deckhands.
Lunch is at 12 and, as with all the food so far, is fantastic.
Marco, the cook, manages to create options for vegetarians and
vegans as well as meat eaters. It makes a huge difference to have
meals that you really look forward to. Everyone eats together in
the mess, and everyone does their own washing up in the pantry.
In the afternoon, Simon lets me help out the guys
from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS from now on)
with their research (can the flattery be working already?). This
afternoon they are setting up equipment and checking their
methodology. I am asked to take up a survey position on one side of
the boat and to section of sea for any sign of dolphin and
porpoises. What's the difference? I ask Mark, the Science Director
of WDCS. He tells me that in this part of the world, dolphins are
bigger than porpoises and porpoises have different teeth and fins
to dolphins. They also behave quite differently: Harbour porpoises
are more shy and you are only likely to get a quick glimpse of
them, often hiding behind a wave. Bottlenose dolphins are much more
likely to come and investigate a passing ship and see what s going
on. Bottlenose dolphins also have the habit of Bow riding. That's
when they swim alongside the front of the boat and use the water
currents caused by the ships movement to push them along. Basically
they hitch a free ride. It looks like fun.
I stand at my post and look. And look. I don t see anything.
Apart from sea. It's weird, because if you stare at the sea for
long enough it starts to look different. It's like one of those 3-D
pictures that you have to stare at for 20 minutes, before the
ziggly lines turn into a picture of the Coliseum. Or Jane Fonda.
The sea stops being an endless mass of the same thing and you start
to see patterns and details. It's amazing.
After an hour or so of looking there's a shout from
the other side of the boat. Three bottleneck dolphins are bow
riding! We all leg-it up to the front of the boat and look down at
them swimming effortlessly along - surfacing and diving back down
and surfacing gracefully again. It's magical. This is what we are
all here for. The dolphins stay with us for a few minutes and then
suddenly they are gone. Just like that. We look and look, hoping
they'll come back, but they have obviously lost interest in us.
Perhaps we'll see them again later on in the survey.
After another hour or so its raining and cold and even my
Peruvian balaclava cannot protect me from the cold any longer. I
head inside and warm up. I'll be in bed soon.
Friday, 11th October
The day starts like yesterday, with a 7:30 wake up call and a
sleepy breakfast. Today I am shown how to clean the toilets (or
Heads as they are called on ships. I haven t figured out why yet. I
hope it hasn't got anything to do with the frequency of throwing
up). Then its back down to the engine room, this time for some
serious scrubbing. We have to prepare some walls for painting, but
they are behind a whole load of pipes and equipment and they are
difficult to reach. Its dirty work and by 11 am Henri and I have
aching necks and shoulders from contorting ourselves into strange
positions. Just then, George comes down to find us to let us know
that there are bottlenoses bow riding again. We race upstairs and
arrive just in time to see them disappear again. They're here and
then they re gone again said Will, fellow deckhand like Keizer
the afternoon I'm back in position surveying the sea, just off
Aberystwyth. Mark has had his hat stolen by the wind and is mildly
distraught, since it had sentimental value. "I have two spares
though", he confided. It's cold and we are being spat at by the
rain, but I have a Greenpeace survival suit on and feel invincible,
in a telly-tubby kind of way. But I don't see much and after a
couple of hours head back into the warmth of the mess to drink hot
I go for a nap at seven, with the full intention of getting up
again in an hour or so. Ha ha.
Saturday, 12th October
Woke up at about four being thrown about in my bunk. The sea is
getting frisky. Half an hour later I hear an extremely loud Clang
Clang Clang and wonder if this is what sinking sounds like. I
realise slowly that it is the anchor being hauled up, which means
that we are on the move. The waves are so strong that we are being
dragged towards the shore. We need to find calmer waters.
I try and breathe with the movement of my bunk and focus on
taking each wave as it comes. In my sleepiness I know that I should
take a sea-sickness tablet, but they are in my cupboard, which
means getting out of bed. And getting out of bed means taking a
flying leap into the darkness and onto a moving target (the floor).
I feel that as long as I stay in the safety of my bunk, I'll be
But at 7:30 the Knock comes and I have to get up. I have a bad
feeling about this. We are all thrown around as we struggle into
our clothes and head up to the mess. Breakfast is definitely out,
so I try to get on with the cleaning. But all I can manage is
putting away teaspoons because I feel hot and sweaty and dizzy. I
ask Henri as calmly as possible where I should throw up (there is
strict ship etiquette for this, I m sure) and she directs me to the
bucket in our cabin or the heads. I lurch down the corridor, trying
to smile at the Captain en route, and get as far as a toilet. You
can imagine the rest for yourselves, so I'll spare you the details.
Surprisingly, I feel better almost straight away and collapse
asleep on the day bed in our cabin. When I wake up a few hours
later, the sea is calm and the sun shiny. It's a beautiful day.
Sunday, 13th October
Day off for the crew. Watched movies in the mess and played
guitar. Food has taken on a whole new dimension since yesterday's
events, and I'm beginning to wonder if it really is such a blessing
to have a great cook on board. His lasagne smelled wonderful, but
it really takes the pleasure out of eating when you are wondering
whether you'll be seeing the food back again in a couple of hours
if there is rough weather. Some cruel sadist has even brought some
chocolate hobnob biscuits on board, surely the best food ever
invented in the history of mankind. The Temptation. But oh,the
Monday, 14th October
The thing about living on board a ship is that you have to learn
a whole new language. Apart from the terms "Port, Starboard, Stern
and Bow" which I learnt in the Brownies aged about six, I am a
total foreigner when it comes to nautical language. The crew eats,
drinks, plays chess and plots in the "mess". That's easy to
remember. I wonder which word came first - "mess" or "messy"? A
staircase is a "companionway", locks on outside doors are known as
"dogs" and "leech" is ship speak for the back edge of a sail. It's
all very confusing and only slightly less painful than learning
I feel like Manuel in Fawlty Towers lots of the time - I had a
conversation today that went something like:
Person who understands what's going on: "Clip on the bow
Person who understands what's going on: "The bow line"
Me (trying to say it in a more intelligent sounding way):
Person who understands what is going on and being very
"No, not the one with the Monkey's Fist. The other one."
Me (Confused. Then experiencing moment of dull comprehension,
like the chimps in 2001: Space Odyssey): "Uhhhh!"
Person who understands what is going on: "OK, now release the
And so on. Sometimes I wonder if they are making it up.
In one of the Heads (which, if you have been paying attention
carefully, you will know means "toilet") there is a glossary of
ship speak on the wall, presumably for us to study during quiet
solitary moments. I figure that this will be the solution to all my
problems. Until I attempt to read it. A "Baggy Wrinkle", it tells
me, "prevents sails from chafing on shrouds". And a "Preventer:
prevents gaff from swinging inboard". Whose shroud? Whose gaff?
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?? I resolve to keep quiet and just nod and
smile a lot from now on. That usually works.
I spent a happy afternoon taking winches apart in order to
grease them. They are quite tricky since they have all sorts of
springs and ball bearings which are liable to jump out and spring
or roll away across the deck into the great unknown. Luckily Ed, a
fellow deckhand, knows what he is doing and warns me about the
dangers. Ed even knows how to put the winches back together again,
which is more than can be said for me. Though since there are 21
winches on board, all of which have to be greased, I guess I will
learn sooner or later.
I end up having another early night - 10pm seems late around
here. As I climb up into my bunk, it hits me that our cabin feels a
bit like being at a boarding school. Or rather a weird cross
between boarding school, boot camp and Glastonbury all at the same
time. Four girls share the cabin, which has two bunk beds, a sink,
a small table and a big stereo. We each have a cupboard to put our
stuff in, and the other cupboards house towels and sheets for the
rest of the ship.
There are scary notices on the wall which warn us not to run in
the alleyways, not to talk loudly in the alleyways, not to slam
doors and not to shower between 7:30 and 9am. There is actually
good reason for all of this: ships work 24 hours a day since
someone always has to be on watch, which means that there is also
someone sleeping at any time in the day. It's hard to remember when
you get (or, in my case, jump with flailing arms) out of bed in the
morning that somebody has been on watch from four until eight and
is probably just settling down to get some well-earned kip.
There are also lots of stickers on the walls with campaign
slogans and "I woz here" messages from former inhabitants of our
bunks. Its great tracing the history of the ship and the people who
have been on board back through the sticker graffiti. As I snooze,
I wonder about the scores of activists and Greenpeacers who have
lain in exactly the same bunk over the last 13 years, and the
stories that they could tell. Unfortunately, I find myself getting
distracted by the question of the square meter area that would be
covered by their aggregate beards. I'm going to have nightmares.
It's time to sleep.
Wednesday, 16th October
My bleary-eyed morning starts with the news that Jan - one of
the WDCS researchers - decided to go for a swim at 6:30 this
morning. In the Irish Sea in mid October. She just jumped in. To me
the idea of immersing myself in icy water in the small hours is
only slightly less appealing than being slowly eaten alive by a
team of wombats, but others on board did a good job of pretending
not to be impressed by her barmy bathing behaviour. "Bit warm in
there for me," said Justin, "I like to break the ice when I go for
a dip". Fortunately, Jan is leaving the ship today so will not here
to make the rest of us feel inadequate for the rest of the
An inflatable is going to take Jan and Justin ashore to return
their normal lives and I am allowed to go along for the ride. Simon
(remember him? He's the witty, strong, handsome one) is driving and
once we pull away from the ship we go pretty fast, bouncing along
on the waves with a light spray in our faces. At Pwllheli we drop
off Jan and Justin and collect Tom, another scientist, who is
coming on board for a couple of days. Heading back to the ship, we
thump up and down on the sea again and I feel the wind in my hair
and lick the salt from my lips. Life on the ocean wave feels pretty
good right now.
In the afternoon, I help with painting the hold. The hold is a
big area in the belly of the ship where all sorts of things are
stored, including bikes, kayaks and of course hundreds of banners.
We are using this period of time in which there are no actions to
completely repaint this area from floor to ceiling. Allegedly this
is because we want it to look nice for "Open Boat" days - when we
open up the boat for the public to come on board to see the ship. I
happen to know that it is actually because Dimitri (2nd Mate) and
Mario (Chief Engineer) want to have a grand table-tennis hall in
which to wage their ping-pong battles.
Although I consider myself to be quite a careful person, within
20 minutes of starting painting I am about 90 percent covered in
paint. I have paint in my hair, paint on my shoes, all over my arms
and ...oooh, itchy eye... yep - paint all over my face. A nice grey
stripe across my eyebrow so that I suddenly bear more than a
passing resemblance to Adam Ant.
We start by painting the floor, and then move onto the mast and
shelves. We have to squidge into all the nooks and crannies and the
contorted positions we end in up would make a yoga guru proud. When
we break for coffee, I spend half of the break trying to scrub the
paint off my hands. In the Mess there is a message on the
noticeboard saying "No bare hands on the Cheese". Apparently there
are literally fingerprints on the Edam. There was another notice
that read "No dirty working clothes in the Mess", but some bright
spark changed the "clothes" to "class" fairly quickly.
Later in the afternoon there is a shout that a
family of dolphins is bow-riding. There is the usual scramble to
get up to the front of the ship and about 18 bottle-noses are
swooshing elegantly through the water, criss-crossing each other's
paths and then falling in with each other's movements in perfect
synchrony. They hang around for about 15 minutes and then all
disappear together, in one movement, as if they are attached by
Tonight is the night that I finally get to wash my hair. I have
been saving up my two-minutes-per-day of shower credits, so I
reckon tonight I am entitled to up to six minutes of hot liquid
bliss. When I'm done and am feeling all new and shiny, Mark points
out to me that I still have large streaks of surf grey paint
covering about a sixth of my head. I decide not to worry about it.
At least its gloss.
Thursday, 17th October
It's back down to continue work on painting the hold. We are
bemused to find that a part of the floor that we didn't get round
to finishing yesterday is this morning wet with surf grey paint. It
turns out that Dimitri, frustrated by the slow progress towards the
completion of his ping-pong palace, came down here at 4:30am last
night to hurry things along a bit. I guess he must really like ping
Some of the floor is still covered with a pile of ropes so we
need to move them to an already-painted area. They are arranged
into huge coils to keep them under control. You really do not want
to get one of these ropes tangled up - they are enormous and very
heavy - and unravelling a serious knot would probably take several
strong crew and a long time. I feed the ropes to Ed, who curls them
neatly into coils. Although it sounds easy enough, the weight of
the ropes make my puny shoulder-muscles ache. A bit pathetic I
know, but then again the diameter of the rope is about twice that
of my upper arm, so perhaps its excusable.
We get on with covering the floor, shelves and ourselves with
paint throughout the day, singing along to Morcheeba and the
Levellers, which through our facemasks sounds like the noise a
vacuum cleaner makes when you suck up a sock by mistake. By the
time we've finished, Ping-Pong Paradise is looking pretty smart and
we are feeling quite proud of ourselves. Apart from the fact that
one of us always manages to forget about a wet bit of floor and
tread in it, so that there is always just a bit more rollering to
do to cover up the footprints. This continues
Laurel-and-Hardy-style for a while, so I wonder if we will ever
actually make it to dinner.
Marco has cooked the best pizza in the history of Italian mamas,
and I wolf it down, pushing thoughts of tonight's dire gale
warnings as far into the back of my head as possible.
Friday, 18th October
After none of the predicted gales and a stunning sunrise, we
begin the morning's work as usual with half an hour of cleaning.
This morning I pick up the brush for cleaning the toilets with not
so much as a murmur of dissent from my fellow deckhands. The same
thing happened yesterday, and I am beginning to get suspicious.
Despite two consecutive days of toilet cleaning, I can't honestly
say that I have discovered the joy in it yet, and when I look back
to vying over the toilet cleaning during my first days on board
(first deckhand: "I'm cleaning the toilets", second deckhand: "No,
I am, I am" third deckhand "Ooooh let me, let me") I suspect that
this may well be a scam they pull on all naïve new deckhands. It
certainly worked on me.
There is a strange knocking noise coming from
somewhere below the ship, and the Captain is worried that we may
have something - perhaps a buoy or a lobster pot - snagged
underneath. Simon, our hero, volunteers to do some investigative
snorkelling, and becomes the second person in three days to leap
into the chilly waters of the Irish sea. When he surfaces again, he
reports that whatever it was has unsnagged itself: the lobster-pot
crisis has been averted and we can all return to our chores.
Today there is enough wind to put the sails up and the Warrior
looks fantastic with the white sails billowing in the wind. It's a
gorgeous day, with blue skies and bright white candyfloss clouds,
and I try and sneak in a few photos of the crew and scientists
between painting. There are lots of birds around - gannets,
kittewakes, razorbills, guillimots, and cormorants - which squawk
and soar and feed on great balls of fish in the water.
It's Friday night, and Will decides to organise a pub quiz to
make up for the fact that we can't get to a real pub tonight. My
team - the Randy Risso's - is coming a close second as we go into
the final round - the "name that dolphin fin" questions.
Unfortunately, since Will has chosen the . . . er . . lesser known
species such as the Indus River Dolphin and the Vaquita dolphin to
test us on, everyone in the room scores zero, and the Randy Risso's
go home empty handed.
Lucy's diary continued
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