Transition

by Kieran Mulvaney

August 23, 2007

Last night at around 2300–shortly after a community meeting that was occasionally fractious, but overall highly positive and supportive, and in which one elder in particular spoke with forcefulness and anger about the need to shut down factory fishing–we left St. Paul Island. Today, we have been sailing south from the Pribilofs to return to the Aleutians. Around midnight tonight, we are scheduled to arrive at Nikolski, following which we will conclude our community visits with stops at, in turn, Atka and Adak.

The sea has been flat calm, and while the sky has, of course, been gray, it has at least been clear, with not even a hint of the fog that has followed us everywhere like a morose yet overly-obedient dog. As a result, the day has provided an opportunity to catch up on outstanding tasks, and to prepare for what lies ahed.

This afternoon saw an oft-delayed Man Overboard drill, which had initially been planned for our first day out of Dutch Harbor, but abandoned when we found ourselves surrounded by shearwaters and whales. Opinions on the fate of the inanimate crew member who took the fall into the Bering Sea (or was she pushed?) were divided, although the fact that a brace of gulls had alighted on her by the time Diek and Marc arrived to her rescue in the Novuraina was not a good sign. More seriously, the sea is a dangerous place to be, and repeated drills, even absent the pumping adrenalin engendered by the real thing, are an essential exercise in making the unthinkable routine.

The small room next to the laundry, used as the ship’s gym, is once more open for membership after refurbishments, redecoration, and the addition of new equipment. Brent, my cabin mate, has already beaten me to it, slipping into his workout gear and out the door while I am typing. George, my other cabin mate, followed shortly afterward, but the cigarette in his hand suggested a different destination.

This morning, a small group of us–George, Pete, Willem, Barbara, Brent, and myself–sat down for initial discussions of plans for the final step of the expedition: the visit to Amchitka Island. Amchitka was the site of three underground nuclear explosions between 1965 and 1971; and it was in an attempt to protest and prevent the third of those that a group of activists set sail from Vancouver on September 15, 1971, on an 80-foot halibut seiner called the Phyllis Cormack. That group, originally called the Don’t Make a Wave Committee, had just renamed itself Greenpeace, and that voyage toward Amchitka was the organization’s first.

A combination of bad weather, a change in the date of the explosion, and the attentions of the US Coast Guard prevented the Phyllis Cormack’s crew from reaching its destination. Thirty-six years later, the Esperanza will complete what the Cormack started, and become the first Greenpeace vessel to reach Amchitka and, all being well, document the test site.

None of the original crew are with us, of course, but they are on board in spirit, embodied in the welcome presence of Barbara Stowe, daughter of Greenpeace founder Irving Stowe. At the age of 14, she watched as the founding members plotted and planned in her family’s living room; stood on street corners selling buttons and pins to raise money for the voyage; and–wisely, probably–resisted her father’s entreaties to join the crew on that historic voyage. It is fitting that she should be with us when we reach the place that inspired her father to take the steps that resulted in Greenpeace, and it is an honor to have her with us.

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