Pete Willcox

It's 10.30 at night. I am fighting a cold, and feel like a hammered horseshoe. I look out from behind my curtain and say, "Give it a rest". Angelo, our third mate quickly retreats. This is the Italian Stallion's first trip with Greenpeace. He is too handsome for words, and his hard work and cheerful nature have won over every one of the crew. He has been part of the Italian action team for years and teaches climbing. There's just one thing: he has never crewed on a sailboat before. And while he is a long way from being an experienced sailor he has figured out when to give me a shout.

I cannot lie in bed. Ten minutes later I take the two steps out of my cabin to the bridge. It is a black cloudy night. The radar screens and ECDIS (electronically chart display) light up the bridge too well. All you can see out of the window is your face looking back at you.

But I look at the wind instruments and sure enough the apparent wind (the true wind plus the boat's speed and direction) is 50 degrees off the port bow. It is only blowing eight knots true. Normally this would hardly be enough to bother with but the apparent wind speed is 16 knots because of the four knot current behind us. I get a little excited and say lets set the jib and main staysail. We should set the fisherman and the main but we blew out the main last month and I am going to be conservative and take it easy. Age has its advantages.

We put on the spreader lights and set the sails. It takes about ten minutes. Then I go back into the bridge and feather the propeller. We turn off the white steaming lights indicating we are motoring and turn on the red over green, which means we are a sailing vessel. I am happy to see that we do this about ten minutes before a cruise ship floats by going up river.

It is black night. The only light is the glow of Santarem, about thirty miles downstream where we are going. And we are only making four knots through the water. But with the current we are making eight knots over the ground, which is enough to keep us on schedule. The only excitement comes from trying to stay off the riverbanks on the leeward side. I imagine calling up the office and asking them to hire a tugboat. We come up another ten degrees.

I am not relaxed. The pilot who had been happily dozing after dinner was woken by all the commotion and does not look like he is impressed but at least he is awake. We are a couple of cables from the banks (a cable is 200 meters). It's okay. It only takes about 15 seconds to unfeather the propeller and engage the engine.

After half an hour I go and lie down. Dressed, ready to go.

After a couple more hours we need to come up. It's now 1 AM and as we are about to move the clocks forward an hour we all have to get up in 3.5 hours to park the boat.

It's been fun. Well, kind of. But none of us like motoring when we should be sailing.

Pete Willcox is the captain of the Rainbow Warrior, currently in Brazil sailing through the heart of the Amazon. He was was captain of the first Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed in 1985 by the French secret service.