Billy Greene Custom Whaling Boat Rinsing Service

by Guest Blogger

December 24, 2005

An update from Nathan.

Today, for me personally, was one of the greatest days I’ve ever had.

In my first blog post I wrote about how, 17 years ago, seeing footage from the first anti-whaling campaign led me into Greenpeace and, ultimately, to my involvement in this current campaign. I vividly remember pointing to the monitor with the tape running of an inflatable trying to thwart the harpooner, turning to my father and saying, “I want to do THAT”. At the time, it was a dream. Today, that dream was finally realized.

Over the past month, the Billy G has been fitted with a high-powered fire-fighting pump, originally manufactured for mounting on a fire engine. The pump sends seawater down a pair of fire hoses on each side of the cockpit and through two pipes pointing straight up.

These pipes are tipped with tapered custom-built nozzles that shoot the water either straight up or out like a peacock tail. Working with the wind, the driver can then position the Billy G to send a wall of misty water up in front of the whaling boat’s bow.

So today, we fired it up. The whaling boat was not pleased. With some finesse, we could position ourselves upwind and send water higher then their crow’s nest, soaking the spotters, pilot and captain on their open perches. After taking a good twenty minutes of bridge soaking, courtesy of the Billy Greene Custom Whaling Boat Rinsing Service, the captain changed course for an ice field. Within a half an hour, the ice density in the water was increasing and it reminded me of the scene in the Star Wars movie where they enter the asteroid field: We were rocketing through a field of drift ice at nearly 20 knots, dodging all sorts of sizes of bobbing ice – ranging from basketball-sized chunks to house-sized pieces – while trying to keep the water on their crow’s nest.

Often we had to be close and right off their bow. The ice density kept increasing. They started blasting their horn at us to signal their course changes, as they had to maneuver around the larger pieces as well. Then they stopped doing that, choosing instead to surprise us with sudden course changes.

Phil kept ahead and off their bow and helped us position the spray. It really was not easy to steer around ice everywhere while keeping an eye on the movements of the hunter ship and the positioning the water spray to land on their bridge. Phil earned some horn blasts as well, as he often had to cut across their bow to find his way through the ice in the lead and to keep an eye on us aside. But cutting across their bow didn’t matter – they were intentionally using their bow to drive us to the side anyways.

Then the Yushin Maru #2 captain decided he’d up the ante; his next tactic was to drive the Billy G into the ice itself. He would constantly correct course to put large chunks of ice in our path while leaving himself just enough room to skirt by. Fair enough. We’re faster – not by much but just enough – so we’d just increase speed, steer around, and be right back on him. He’d also change course to change the effect of the wind on our water trail. Fine: we’ll come around the other side. He’d increase speed. We’d match him. He’d try to steer his stern into us. Fine, we’d move up on his bow more.

So the ante went up again. He steered into a huge field of pack ice. Pack ice is amazing stuff. Flat as a table, low on the water, and (if you’re driving a boat with a relatively thin aluminum hull) uncomfortably dense. The hunter boat slowed considerably, but could essentially break through this ice with no problem. We could not. At times the ice was gathered in clusters meaning we had no choice but to fall in line on his stern and wait for an opening. At other times, we would navigate our own route – wandering our way through the maze of leads and false leads.

Finally, we earned the horn, and a lot of it. But keep in mind, HE chose to drive us into the ice field and drive me repeatedly into ice; if he was upset about poor visibility, he could chose to slow or halt.

This went on for four unrelenting hours. Into the pack ice, out of it, into drift ice, then into a little open water, then into more, new pack ice. Ice everywhere. Constant course changes. Having to turn around in dead-end leads to quickly retreat and fall back to their stern wake to follow their ice breaking. Skirting through gaps with inches on each side. Once we actually struck a shelf underwater and came to a full stop. Phil came to us and with his crew helped us to just barely get out in full reverse. Once, frighteningly, we hit a desk-sized piece straight on at good speed, jumping up and over it. But for all the ice, we came out unscathed.

The harpooner did come out to his perch. But he didn’t stay there too long. He looked quite annoyed. And very wet.

We passed icebergs the size of mountains, basking in full, cold sunlight, just breathtaking. The churn of our drives and the ships propellers made the water a light, milky, iridescent cerulean blue and white stream within a deep, clear ultramarine sea. In my experience, it was an epic contest set in the most stunning natural amphitheater, beyond anything I could have ever imagined. It was, even less than a day after just experiencing it in reality, simply unbelievable. It was a dream, a real dream.

But the real dream-come-true part was that this hunter boat did not find or shoot a whale with us beside him. Everything he tried we foiled. Eventually we turned back only because we need to take on fuel for our boat and pump. We had gone almost 25 miles from the mothership with him, much farther than they will normally go from the factory ship to hunt. And he was empty handed.

For one day at least, I can say we faced off with a whaling captain, and thwarted him. It takes a massive effort to get a small boat like the Billy G to Antarctica to do this: it’s a huge task to simply operate a ship like the Esperanza and all its support infrastructure. There’s a complex web of communication and coordination woven between offices around the world. There has to be a link that goes all the way from the individual who eagerly sends us a donation all the way to us down here, using the equipment they bought us, eating the food they paid for, putting on the survival gear they donated.

Because of the efforts of the entire crew on this ship and all of the folks involved in Greenpeace worldwide who put this effort together and, most importantly, the supporters who give us what we need to make the effort, I was the very lucky soul to actually get behind the wheel and get a chance to protect these whales – 17 years after a dream was born. That truly moves me. It’s such an honor to be given that chance, I find it hard to talk about without tearing up.

For me, that’s what Greenpeace is about.

And we’ll try it do it again tomorrow.

Merry Christmas to all. Thinkin’ of ya

(photo Copyright Greenpeace/Davison)

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