Joel Stewart captain of the Rainbow Warrior, pictured on the crossing from Holland to England. (C) GREENPEACE / COBBING

“There is little man has made that approaches anything in nature, but a sailing ship does. There is not much man has made that calls all the best in him, but a sailing ship does.” - Allan Villiers

Today I spent some time with the captain of the new Rainbow Warrior; Joel Stewart.  He talked to me about how he came to be involved with Greenpeace, about his admiration for the new ship and about his hopes for New Zealand.

“My favourite place to sail is wherever I am at that moment.  Right here, in New Zealand is the place to be right now but I also really like to sail the waters between Northern Washington, British Colombia and Alaska, that’s my home.

Before I joined Greenpeace some twenty three years ago, I was running a freighter in Alaska when the Exxon Valdes hit the rocks.  I actually happened to be very close by at the time and heard all the radio conversations.  I was very shocked by it.  I realised that a catastrophe like this was always going to be a risk and decided that it wasn’t a risk worth taking.  I just didn’t want to contribute to that.

So I looked for an environmental organisation, one with a sailing vessel that worked against further oil exploration and campaigned to get us away from fossil fuels because it was quite clear to me that this was not the way we should be going.  So now, after twenty three years with Greenpeace it is a real honour to captain a ship like this; one that has such a very low carbon footprint.  What I had been pushing for with Greenpeace, over a long time, was a vessel that sails well; one that has good sailing characteristics and this is the first time we’ve really had a large campaigning vessel that does just that. 

Compared to the second Rainbow Warrior we can sail windward, the new ship has more sail area so we can sail faster and when we need to we can also motor sail more efficiently.  We have an E-drive hybrid motor that can deliver just a little bit of power or a lot of power as need be, and we can control all of this from the bridge.  That level of control makes it very easy to shift between sailing and non-sailing.  It’s not a big deal to put some sails out and cut the engines.  Two people can put the sails up for the entire ship, but three or four people make it much faster. 

The new Rainbow Warrior sails along the coast of IJmuiden during her maiden voyage from Hamburg to Amsterdam at North Sea

Every possible aspect of the design, from the shape of the hull, the rigging, the weight distribution to the overall performance of the vessel was calculated, computer modelled and tested in a testing tank. The technology that went into designing, planning and testing this ship was of a very high standard.   Even the materials used on board such as the aluminium masts, the booms, spars, standing rigging, and the running rigging, all of this is very high strength, very high tensile.  For example the captive sheet winches have these automatic feeders that keep the line tension on so I can just control it with one button that will reel the sheet in and it keep it under tension the whole time.  Even the lines that pull the sails in have a core and a sheath made of a special material which keeps them from sliding.

This is my third trip on the New Rainbow Warrior and I’m really happy with how the new ship performs and how well it meets our campaigning needs.  We do still use the sextant and the chronometer for celestial navigation, but there are a lot of electronics that help with situational awareness so we know exactly where things are but you still want to be able to rely on your basic sea going navigation skills should you need to call on them.

In the future we hope to build a campaigning vessel that is entirely fossil fuel free.  But we couldn’t wait for that.  The fact of the matter is we had a limited budget so we used technology that was available off the shelf.  To have tried to invest in an entirely new system wouldn’t have been the best use of our supporters’ money.  We have to get our vessels out campaigning now.  There are just so many urgent issues we have to deal with.  We need Governments to step in and stop paying subsidies to the fossil fuel industries so that alternative energies have a better chance and can compete on a level playing field.

I think New Zealand could be a real leader as a country that has a lot of potential for clean energy.  You have a lot of wind, a lot of solar power, a lot of wave power available to be harnessed.  In fact 73% of the electricity consumed in New Zealand comes from renewable sources, so you already have the technology and the know-how.  New Zealand could be an exporter of clean energy technology and expertise and that’s something we would really like to see in New Zealand.

Even a small country like Costa Rica has declared their intention to become Carbon Neutral and it’s going to be kind of embarrassing for the rest of the world if a small country like Costa Rica becomes carbon neutral before the so called “Developed” Countries.”

Joel Stewart, Captain of the New Rainbow Warrior.

Here's a video featuring Joel Stewart on the maiden voyage of the new Rainbow Warrior