The Day Before Departure

by Melanie Duchin

January 25, 2007

Greetings from the Esperanza in Auckland New Zealand. It’s 8pm at night and we were supposed to be underway today at noon, but our departure was delayed due to something in the engine room and some epoxy that needs to dry before we can go. The epoxy is pretty important since from what I have heard (and don’t quote me on this since I’m anything but an engineer) is that it is fixing a crack in the engine block. Sounds pretty serious. Definitely worth waiting for. But I’ve been on board the ship for a week and after a week of preparation, I’m ready to get out of here and head south toward the Southern Ocean and get on with the campaign.

We had a press conference this morning which was pretty well-attended, especially considering the real news will start when we find the Japanese government’s whaling fleet. A reporter from AAP (an Australian wire service, no relation to AP in the U.S.) today asked me if I was scared of dying if I put myself between a whale and a harpoon. The question flummoxed me for a few seconds. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. It’s not that I’m fearless or anything, when push comes to shove I’m a pretty cautious person. But I guess it’s a matter of being offered an incredible opportunity to participate in one of Greenpeace’s iconic campaigns, and that overrides any thought of the risks and dangers inherent in this kind of expedition. So many folks who I’ve talked to during my time here in New Zealand have commented on how brave I am to be going to the Southern Ocean, which is a lovely compliment, but really, wouldn’t most people jump on the chance to be on a Greenpeace ship sailing south to Antarctica to do righteous work trying to prevent whales from being killed by the Japanese government? That’s how it seems from my vantage point. Plus, the odds are on my side. After many expeditions to the Southern Ocean to peacefully confront the Japanese government’s whaling fleet, no one’s ever been seriously hurt. I figure it’s a heck of a lot more dangerous to stay home and drive a car.

At any rate, I spent the rest of my day after the press conference doing seemingly mundane but important tasks. I was advised to stow away and batten down everything in my cabin that can move. Including books on the bookshelf. Boots. Any hard objects that are not nailed down. I’ve been on a number of Greenpeace expeditions in some pretty rough waters, but the rough waters and storms usually struck for a few hours or a day or two or three and then relatively calm waters followed. Not so in the Southern Ocean, from what folks have told me. They ask if I’ve ever been to the Southern Ocean, and when I answer, “no,” they either laugh, or smile, or shake their heads. Today I was looking at a picture of this ship on last year’s expedition and the port side railing was just about in the water. I also heard that the Arctic Sunrise, the second ship that went to the Southern Ocean last year, rolled 70 degrees. As my Grandma Naomi would say, “oy vey.” I am praying that I don’t get seasick, and still have not decided if I’m going to take anti-seasickness medicine before we even set sail or wait and see and try to make a go of it without medication. Quite the conundrum.

I also took one last trip to the grocery store down the street to buy some last minute “personal items.” Much to my horror, I found out that the ship’s provisioning did not include more than just a tiny amount of oatmeal. To me, a morning without oatmeal is like a morning without, well, coffee. So I stocked up: six kilos. I also bought a few kilos of local, freshly roasted coffee since, as Hughie the helicopter pilot on board says, “the coffee on board tastes like kitty litter.” A very apt description. I picked up some bran for Sara, some soft brown sugar and fresh milk for Karli (the latter she’s put into the freezer for use later on), and spent my last six New Zealand dollars on CCs corn chips, the Kiwi brand of Doritos. They’re for emergency use, only. Gotta have junk food every once in a while. Weird things happen without it.

I think that’s it for me for now. Gonna catch the last of the sunset and then wander around town a bit more. I want to get my last few hours of walking on terra firma since, if there are no more unforeseen delays, we have to be on board at 9:45 tomorrow morning for customs and immigration, and we’ll be outta here in a mere 15 hours.

More soon,

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