This is my first blog for this expedition to the Southern Ocean aboard the MY Esperanza, actually it is my first blog ever. I plan on writing many more over the course of the next several months. I will just say upfront that I am not very good with the flowery rainbows and majestic sunset stories so I am just gonna tell it how it is. Let me also add this disclaimer. This is a really long blog (two pages) but many things have happened over the last month and I was unable to share them with you as they happened, as to not announce the ship’s intentions or position to the Japanese. In the future I will write more frequently and more concisely now that we the expedition has gone public.
I joined the ship in South Korea where we were tied alongside at an industrial ship yard.
The ship had been there for a few weeks before I arrived and the crew had already begun tackling a long lists of repairs and maintenance that had been delayed for lack of parts and moreover, time.
When the ship is sailing everyone has more than their share of responsibilities and little repairs here and there fall to the wayside out of necessity.
I was a bit anxious upon my arrival. I am a first mate on a fairly large vessel at home in Florida, but this was my first expedition on a Greenpeace ship and something told me it was going to be a little different from what I was accustom to. I was right! For starters I quickly realized that I am the only American in a crew of now 34, soon to be 45. As I am sure you can imagine our countryś reputation for social irresponsibility and environmental negligence forged a skeptical (at best) reputation that well proceeded me. In addition to that I am the youngest member of the crew at ripe ole 27. However, I am far from a greenhorn when it comes to the sea and knew I just needed an opportunity to prove my metal. Well, I got it almost immediately. On my first day a quiet and pensive lad, shorter in stature but well salty and wearing the countanence of a man who had stared into a crystal ball (compass) for more days than I had been alive, approached me on the poop deck. He had only to say a few words and I realized he was the captain. We spoke briefly about my experience and skills and he immediately offered me an opportunity to be a member of the engineering department. I accepted and was introduced to a team of seven very talented individuals from all over, Germany, Sweden, Argentina, Ireland, and now the US. Each engineer has their own niche be it, fitter, electrician, mechanic. Mine would be to assist with overall operations of the engines and to focus on repairing and maintaining the small fleet of rigid hulled inflatable boats on board. It could not have worked out better. Now I could spend time working on my baby, Billy G,
the workhorse of the fleet and the boat I will drive in front of the hunting ships in the Southern Ocean.
One of my first challenges was to go ashore and find two items. Sounds simple enough right? Wrong! The first part was three yards of 1mm metal screen to be used to fashion homemade filters for various raw water pumps. The second, was a nutt, just one little metric nutt. But this one little nutt was the missing piece to a hydrolic pump that was keeping one of the jet boats from running. I was handed a a huge roll of cash (the exchange rate from US dollars to Korean currency is 1 to 900). I didn´t have to walk far before I found myself amidst a maze of narrow alleys and passages lined with openair machine shops and scrap metal piles. As soon as I left the ship I was without a doubt the only non-Korean person for several miles. I was wearing sunglasses, hair in pony tail, oil stained carhart pants and work boots. Hydrolic pump in hand I began approaching stalls that looked like they might have the nutt I needed. However, I could not get within ten feet of a shop before the owner would run out in the street waving their hands frantically infront of my face and shaking their head saying, ¨NONONO.¨ I was really confused. I lived in Thailand for over a year and considered myself fluent in the traditional customs and curticies of Eastern cultures. I was humble, polite, and passive. I bowed at the waist always taking care to position myself beneath whomever I was greeting, no small feet for a six footer. Still, with palms up and kind smile I was chased all the way down the street.
Then it all became clear. I stopped at a busy intersection to gain my bearings and happened to see my reflection in a shop window. My t-shirt! I was wearing an old favorite raggedy shirt. It is blue and has an American flag in the center and beneath the flag reads, ¨BUSH - SATAN 2004¨
I am fairly confident that the people that were shunning me did not find the humor in the slogan but were capable of recognizing the flag accompanied by the notorious BUSH. I dipped into an alley and turned the shirt inside out. Again, I set out down a gauntlet of sparks and welding smoke but this time my reception was much much warmer. I found an old man asleep on a pile of rolled up steel mesh. After making sure his bed consisted of the screen I needed I gently woke him and began the usual game of sherades to communicate to him the type and quantity of what I needed. He whipped out this enormous pair of metal sheers and began to cut me off what he thought I asked for. In doing so the roll of steel slipped from under his knee and coiled up like a yo-yo causing him to slice the palm of his hand wide open with the sheers. He scream loud and began bleeding all over the place. He ran off through a maze of metal racks and I followed after him. When he got to his stash of bandages he was startled to see that I was right behind him. He motioned that he was ok and for me to go back outside. I was not convinced and took a few steps back to see the severity of his injury. He fumbled with his good hand to open packages of gauze and tape. I wanted to help but was not willing to risk offending him. Finally, I could not watch this old man continue to bleed all over himself and his shop. I sat him down and gave him a look that said, ¨don´t be ridiculous, let me help you, you stubborn old coot.¨ He conceded and we got him all sorted out. We walked back out to the street and I finished cutting the screen. I then pulled out my bank roll and motioned for the bill he had scratched on a box top. He smiled, bowed, and tore the box top inhalf, motioning for me to go on my way this one was on the house. One item off my list. I was just hoping the nutt I was seeking would not result in so much blood shed.
The simple little nutt became a needle in a haystack almost instantly. As I approached people sitting atop mounds of scrap and random pieces, I held out my pump and pointed to the bolt protruding from the top. Each time they would disappear and return with a five gallon bucket filled to the rim with fasteners of every size and shape you could imagine, and each time i sat on my knees and pillaged through millions of bits, but to no avail. It was getting dark and I was not totally confident I knew the way back to the ship, but I was not going back without this nutt. By this time I had become the equivalent of a traveling side show scavenging up and down alleys. I also had acquired a fan. A little guy probably eleven or twelve i would say. Every time I turned around he would dip behind a pile of old engines in a good ole fashion game of peak-a-boo. By this time he had disappeared, but as I was staring aimlessly at makeshift street signs that had no meaning to me, I spotted him again standing on the hood of a junker car. The car sat in front of a auto-body shop, so I thought, ẅhat the heck it is worth a shot. I crossed the street and entered an open garage bay. Turns out the kids dad was the owner and as he saw me enter the kid ran over and whispered something in his ear. They both had a good laugh, at my expense I am sure, but by this time I did not care I just wanted my nutt. The dad pulled out yet another huge bucket of bits. This time he took the initiative to begin the digging and pretty quickly came up with the closest match yet. It was the right diameter, but was too thick. He spun around, pulled down his welding helmet, and fired up a saw that looked like it could slice through a tank with no problem. Bare handed he held the nutt right up to the blade and from a shower of sparks came a perfect fit. Again, I graciously bowed and he instantly saw the look of relief on my face. I reached for my pocket and he waved his hands and bowed, again insinuating that it was on the house. I gave the little guy a high five up high, one in the middle, but of course he was too slow for the one way down low J
On my walk back to the ship I marinated on the last five or six hours, amazed by how different it had ended from how it began, humbled, embarrassed, almost ashamed at the impact of the t-shirt.
Upon returning to the ship everyone had called it quits for the day and were relaxing on the helicopter deck. When I produced the nutt and the metal screen there was silence. It turned out that several of them had set out on this exact same mission days before and all had returned empty handed. It wasn't until I returned the wad of cash just as thick as it was when it was given to me that a round of applause broke the silence. Everyone, demanded the story but I was exhausted and knew that I could not have done the day justice with words, and I really needed a cold beer!
The next day we cast off the lines and set sail for ¨Jakarta.¨ I put in quotes because we never really intended to arrive in Jakarta we were using that as our heading to try and fool the Japanese fleet into thinking we were not there for them. A few days at sea and I began to really feel at home on the ship. Working from eight to five in the engine room
and draped over diesel engines on inflatables, preparing them for the extreme conditions they would have to perform in in the Southern Ocean. In my down time in the evenings I tried to make my cabin as homey as possible by pinning up pictures of my family and my girlfriend and two cats.
I share a cabin with a really cool guy from New Zealand. He is the Bosun on the ship. He is in charge of the deckhands, general maintenance, crane operator, etc. His name is Grant and he is 34.
His trade at home is that of an arborist for a conservation society that tends to national parks. Very smart man and we got along from the get go which was good because we were about to share a small and miserable space. Being a Floridian I was pretty anxious about going to Antarctica. Having not worn a pair of close-toed shoes in four years I packed every warm thing generous friends could dig out of the tops of their closets. My dad spent 30 years in the air force so he was the big contributed of cold weather gear. Little does the US military know but they sponsored me on this expedition, thanks Uncle Sam. But the joke was soon to be on me. I was so myopic in my wardrobe planning I failed to realize that sailing from South Korea to Antarctica required at least two months of sailing through tropical climates and crossing the equator. It was around eighty degrees out and getting warmer. The ship has air conditioning but in the name of fuel conservation the chief engineer elected not to use it. Each cabin has at least one port hole, but as you can imagine they are small and when the seas are rough, as they have been, you cannot keep them open for the water coming in. So imagine a steel can with 35 people sweating profusely all the while being shaken about in fifteen to twenty foot seas. It was miserable. People began sleeping on deck until it rained for several days in a row. Sticky sleepless nights resulted in cranky crew. But levity was soon brought to the irritable group, at my expense of course. Each night I began trying to sleep in my bunk but would retreat to a hallway or common area in seek of air circulation. One night I got up and climbed down from my sauna. The port hole was open so I decided to lay down on our vinyl couch that was next to it. I managed to dose off for a bit, but soon awoke for some odd reason. I opened my eyes and in the pitch black I could make out two bright white circles coming towards my face. Thankfully, at the last second my eyes came into focus and I realized those weren't circles at all, THOSE WERE BARE BUTT CHEEKS! Grant had awoke in a pile of sweat himself and had the same idea I did. He had stumbled over and was going to plop down on the couch aka my face. I screamed like a little girl and luckily scared him so bad he aborted his landing and jumped into the air. We were both definitely awake now and had quickly relocated to opposite sides of the nine by six cabin. We stood in silence for a minute and then at the same time began rambling about how hot it was and how we should go for fresh air. Laughing our ¨butts¨ off we made our way up to the bridge to see what was on the radar screen besides a full moon. I knew that I planned on working to erase the incident from my memory asap, but the next morning at breakfast I was greeted with uproarious laughter and applause. Grant had thought the whole thing to be so funny he shared it with the rest of the crew and again the Yankee provided the laughs.
Laughter soon came to a halt upon receiving word that the fresh water maker had a broken pump and there would be no more laundry washing and showers were limited to three minutes or less. Not what you want to hear when you have been sweating 24/7 for two weeks. In addition to that the helicopter mechanic had discovered a crack in the control box that could not be repaired on board. This meant that we would have to detour to a port and try and get a new pump and parts for the heli. The most logical choice was Taiwan. Two-thirds of the things made this planet come from this little island so we figured if we can´t find it there we probably aren´t going to find it. We spent three days alongside in Keelund, Taiwan. We managed to get what we needed and then were on our way again. We sailed for a week and then under the cover of darkness, we turned off our locating and tracking devices, becoming invisible and altered our course for the waters just south of Japan. There we would wait for the whaling fleet to leave and there we would begin to shadow them on their mission to murder whales in the international whale sanctuary of the Southern Ocean. As we sailed we conducted daily trainings on the inflatables. Practicing, launching and recovering, pacing, navigation, transferring passengers while underway.
These boats are high performance machines but they are no better than the person who is behind the wheel and the water where we are heading are unforgiving and mistakes result in serious injury or death.
One morning I came out to the poop deck to have my morning tea and I saw the captain and several crew standing on the side of the ship and pointing astern. They had spotted a Japanese navy cargo vessel, and if we had spotted them, they had surely seen us. There went our cover. The Japanese government and their whaling fleet now knew we were there and most certainly knew why. We continued on and just yesterday came withing 36 miles of the coast of Japan. Territorial waters of any nation end 12 miles out but Japan has decided that they have the right to extend that boundary by another 24 miles. So, in order to avoid the chance of being boarded and taken in to port and held until they whaling fleet could leave and get away we lingered on the cusp of their self proclaimed territory, and that is where I am writing from right now. We are ready, more than ready. There is no doubt that every person on this ship from the newest deckhand to the captain are determined to do whatever it takes to stop this senseless slaughter of these beautiful creatures. Whales face a endless threats, including being caught in nets, ship-strikes, and climate change. The Japanese government should not be adding research whaling to these threats, especially when significant research can be accomplished without harpooning whales. 300,000 whales and dolphins die caught in nets each year, that is one every 90 seconds - and countless more through other man-made impacts. To allow the Japanese government to hunt them for fake science is just madness and we won´t have it! Everything we need to know about whales can be learned without shooting them with grenade tipped explosive harpoons. The hunters are set to leave any moment know and I only hope that they are aware of the passion and resolve that drives this ship and its crew wherever we must go.