Rainbow Warrior Dolphin Tour

Lucy's diary

Feature story - 22 October, 2002
Mostly, Lucy spends her time at a desk on the fifth floor of the Greenpeace office in Amsterdam, but somehow she has smuggled herself on board the Rainbow Warrior. Now, for 16 days, she will scrub toilets, paint decks, help out with cetacean spotting and otherwise lead the good life.

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 good start.

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 suspicious.

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

Sunrise.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 morning.

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

to blame.

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.

Research.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.

Just visiting.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 Soese.

Mark.In 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 ribena.

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 OK.

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 Regret?

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 Dutch.

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 line"

Me: "Uhh?"

Person who understands what's going on: "The bow line"

Me (trying to say it in a more intelligent sounding way): "Uhh?"

Person who understands what is going on and being very patient:

"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 Elephant Nozzle"

Me: "Uhhh???"

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 tour.

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.

Bottlenose dolphins.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 invisible threads.

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 pong.

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.

Simon investigates.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

Also, read more updates on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society website.