The time is near at hand…

by Heath

December 21, 2007

"The frontiers are not east or west, north or south, but wherever a man "fronts" a fact", says Thoreau.  Well since Thanksgiving we have sailed this ship in all of those directions and been blown around in a few more. Moreover, we have successfully fronted a few very unwelcomed facts. 

It has been three weeks since we last spoke. The Esperanza did manage to trump three typhoons but in doing so, Neptune took the liberty of making a very important decision for our expedition. Prior to the storms developing we were amidst formulating a strategy-which course to steer for the southern ocean. Bearing in mind the hunting grounds are the equivalent of twice the land mass of the United States.

We were directly south of the Japanese islands and the whalers stalk as far west as Cape Town, South Africa and as far east as New Zealand. The bridge and campaign team were well into playing out all the scenarios and possible routes the hunters might choose. Would they go west of Australia and pass through the Lok Box Straights of Indonesia or would they pass Papa New Guinea and around the islands of New Zealand to the east? At the time it was the dilemma of the day, but it soon became a moot point. We had to change our course from directly south to directly east in order to penetrate the storms.

These two shots were taken at the moment when we realized that there was no way to run from the first typhoon.They do not do the ensuing storm justice but I didn’t have a free hand to take a picture with while we were in the thick of it. None the less we all made out relatively well and it was good practice for what the roaring forties and furious fifties have waiting for us.

This image was one that I saw many times in my head over those two weeks. What you see is a survival suit and abandon ship drill we did prior to setting sail.

Of course the image of a gallon of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream also occupies many moments in my mind so maybe I am being a bit dramatic.

So now we emerge from the holes we rode out the storms in to a bright beautiful ocean with water so clear you would swear you could see the bottom, but you know what? You can’t. We were sailing over the Mariana’s Trench.  6.8 miles to the bottom, it is the deepest place in the ocean on earth. It is here the ship had to stop, and I had to dive to the bottom.

No, just kidding I obviously didn’t do that. But I did get to go diving to repair the ship. Gavin, the videographer is also a diver and so we were tasked with diving on the hull of the ship to inspect intake tunnels where the ship brings in raw water to cool the engines. We were running the engines hard in order to make up lost time and the already hot equatorial sea water was providing little comfort to the massive machines. Also raining on the parade were about six million black mussels that had hitched a ride from South Korea in these tunnels. Apparently, they really liked the place because they proliferated like the plague and quickly carpeted the walls of the sea chest, starving the engines of what little cooling water they had to work on. First dive Gavin and I plopped over the side with his camera to survey the hull. Second dive we took along hand scrapping tools in a foolish attempt to exterminate these stow-a-ways.The sea was relatively flat, the boat was a drift and people were quite jealous that we were getting to enjoy such magnificent conditions, but privilege quickly turned to a very challenging responsibility.

As you can see the intake is about fifteen feet beneath the surface. However, what you do not see is that the roll of the ship is creating a huge undertow as it list from side to side. So, if you are clinging to the side of the hull, which you must in order to clean it, then one second you will be at 15ft and the next at 25ft. The vacuum created by the sheer girth of the hull pried both Gavin and myself of the grates more than once leaving us twenty feet deeper than we were a blink before, and with two ear drums that felt like they have blown twice over. A third cleaning dive finally did the trick thanks to one of many ingenious solutions by Gavin. He constructed an underwater vacuum by welding a valve onto a long metal pipe using air delivered from the ships air compressor. MacGyver would have been well proud and by the time we were done cleaning that sea chest, you could eat in there but mussels were not on the menu.

It had always been planned to bunker (take on fuel and food) just before heading into the ice fields. Equally as crucial, we needed to repair the helicopter that had been grounded since our departure from South Korea. I cannot express how valuable the helicopter is to two of the main aspects of this expedition, finding the whalers and bearing witness to the murders. Not to mention the role it plays in our direct actions and scope it brings to the science conducted onboard. We aimed to sort these things in Auckland, New Zealand in the most efficient and expeditious manner possible. Seeing as Greenpeace has a national office in Auckland we were able to coordinate seamless ground logistics prior to arriving.  We knew we could get the fuel and food onboard within 48 hours but the helicopter was an uncontrollable variable.

When we came to rest along side at Princess Wharf in the heart of the city, there was a small gathering of around a dozen folks to greet us. It was bitter sweet. First, it was nice to see land and I could already taste the two banana splits I was planning on. However, the welcome party all had luggage, because they were replacements for several crew members whose three or four month tour had come to an end. I had grown quite fond of several of my colleagues in the engineering dept. They had been patient and gracious over the last two months and I was truly sad to see them go.

Crew change done, food loaded, fuel pumped and we are ready to go! Except the helicopter is not ready. Three days go by and no still no heli. Five turns to seven and now the natives are growing restless. In the process of fixing the original break in the chopper the technicians discovered yet another repair that needed to be made to the rear rotor. The parts had to be ordered from the UK and the helicopter service company was having their holiday party on Friday before they called it quits until after new year. We immediately began damage control and executed an exhaustive search for anything that could fly and land on the back of a ship. All the while the gap between us and the whalers becoming greater. Finally, the captain set a departure date of wed the 19th with or without the chopper. That meant three more days of purgatory.  So, many crew members took advantage of unexpected shore leave and stretched their legs one last time.

I too was very anxious to get the show on the road. I could not sit still. So, I went and fulfilled a childhood dream.

I traveled to the Northlands with Remon’ (Fitter) and Paul (Electrician) to the Bay of Islands. It is there, that the original Rainbow Warrior ship was sunk after being bombed by the French military in 1985. The ship was actually tied up on the dock just next to where the Esperanza was currently moored when the French commandos detonated their explosives. The cowardly attack cost a man his life and sank the Warrior. She was towed north off the coast of Paihia Island and scuttled to serve out her retirement as an artificial reef, and what a magnificent reef she has become. The ship is both a garden and a grave. The wreck was the source of much internal dialogue as I made parallels between her mission and the one we were on, and how over twenty years later nations like Japan are still using their militaries to harbor acts of environmental destruction.

This is a picture of the monument that sits on the cliffs overlooking the ship it remembers. I left feeling very proud and very privileged and to say more wouldn’t do the experience justice. A nice four hour trip back south to the Esperanza gave me good time to digest the whole day. I woke up the next morning to a pleasant surprise, a letter from Robin Davey. Robin is the mother of Billy Greene for whom the boat I will drive in the Southern Ocean is named after. She reached out to me in a simple note saying that she was behind us all the way and how pleased she was to see that the Billy G was returning to help stop whaling. I was once again reminded of how many people are part of this expedition that aren’t onboard; Robin Davey, Billy Greene, the 13 year old boy who wrote me last week telling me he wanted to sail on the Esperanza and save whales when he grows up, people who are giving not only dollars but days of their lives. This is what we call “all hands on deck." So Wed. the 19th arrived, it arrived yesterday in fact. It arrived without the needed helicopter parts and thus we left without a helicopter. But believe you me; this ship has no shortage of tricks up her sleeves. A helicopter would have been very helpful but as the captain very matter of factly stated-we have found them before without the helicopter and we will find them again-and friends, at the end of any day, that is good enough for me. Not only have we compensated for the lack of a chopper but we have improved on certain things that were previously restricted by the use of a heli. I cannot say more in the unlikely event that some lonely sailor on the Japanese whaling ship is perusing my Greenpeace blog before he retires for the evening. And we are off! For me this marks the beginning of our expedition. We will find the whaling fleet, we will find them soon and we will do exactly what we came here to do.  Of this I have no doubt, but I must go and sleep now for I need my rest I have a big day tomorrow! I have a date with a lady in red. Her name is Miss Piggy.

One of the camera crew asked me if it was an artifact I found diving. Five minutes later she stopped working. So I gave her a Texas tune up and tomorrow I will take her down to the nice romantic spot you see here:

and together over twelve breathtaking hours we will pump 10 tons of sludge from holding tank 9 to tank 20. This is the kind of romance you can only find on ships!

I was just set to say goodbye here and I heard ear piercing screams coming from the center of the ship. I walked into a crowd of smiles and learned that the Japanese government had announced it will not hunt humpback whales this season. They left port with a quota to kill 50 threatened humpback whales in the sanctuary. Japan had done so at the request of the US government who will chair the next International Whaling Commission meeting this June in Chile. This is great news. However, they must stop all commercial whaling, not just one species for one season. They still plan to murder 985 Minke and Fin whales. This change by the Japanese Gov. is a very clear example of how nations like the US and Australia have the power to convince Japan to stop killing whales. Now they must do it.
The temperature outside is dropping quickly. We are sailing faster.

The time to put this killing to an end is near at hand.
I will write once we reach the ice. Fingers crossed.

By Heath

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