Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It's your watch--Greenpeace Days aboard the Rainbow Warrior

It's 3 AM and the knock comes, and someone pokes his head inside my cabin. "It's your watch," he says.
"Uuuunnnh," I inform him. He's glad his watch is over and he's heading for bed; I'm not happy that mine's about to begin.

It's black as a cave in the cabin named Cook & Boy and I want to stay here in my nice cozy bunk. But there's no way out of this, short of a mutiny. I roll out of bed and, in the pitch black, pull on the shorts and sweatshirt I'd left within easy reach. I stagger to the door and past the larger cabins to either side, where the rest of the crew bunks. (During a campaign against Russian whaling, two of these cabins will come to be known as Slobovia and Smellvokia.)

 Oh, for one more night,
steering the R Dub. 
I climb the metal steps to the main deck and already feel the slap of temperature change and the clean salt air. Now I'm feeling better about leaving the dank closeness of the crews quarters. A quick stop in the head and then in the kitchen to get something to drink, and I'm fully awake and walking down the long narrow passageway past the mess, past the hatch that leads to the noisy engine room. I walk a straight line, anticipating how the passageway tilts as the ship moves beneath me; I've got my sea legs. Before the captain's quarters at the end of the passageway, (nicely situated above water line--rank has its privileges even aboard a Greenpeace boat), I  turn up the wooden stairs to the wheelhouse.

Only the glow of the instruments lights the wheelhouse. Peter sits with his feet up against the chart table, coffee mug in hand. He tells me the course and I take my place behind the great wooden wheel--yes, picture an old-fashioned ship's wheel, spokes worn smooth by many hands over many nights and days over many seas. I check the compass in the glass housing above, and then I hold the ship on course.

Sometimes we talk during the dark hours, as we look out past the mast, past the running lights, over the bow of the Rainbow Warrior, watching the darkness of the night meet the darkness of the waves. But it's the companionable silence I remember best, the hum of the engines, the softness of the light, the spokes beneath my hands as I guided the ship with its sleeping crew through the warm Pacific night.



(Want to read more about Greenpeace days? Click on the "Search this Blog" box to the right and enter the word Greenpeace.) 

15 comments:

  1. Ahhhh---you took us right along with you!  Beautiful! Flashback memories, right? How long ago? What did the Rainbow Warrior watch for?  And is she still watching? Love the name "Cook and Boy."

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  2. Author! Author!   (more, more)  12:34 A.M. I see.  

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  3. You gotta write when the spirit says "write!"

    Hi Roberta!  I miss you!

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  4. Such a lovely and evocative piece of writing!  Pat, when are you going to continue with the story you started reading...last year?  It is about a girl, Green Peace, and surely a boat named Rainbow.

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  5. Type your comment here.So much nicer than doing the engine watch with the oil can and the ear protectors - but probably not as cushy as on one of the earlier wooden hukllen minesweepers we rented out for those wonderful Pacific escapades.

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  6. forgive the errors below  - but I can just imagine long legged you leaning forward squinting in the gloaming through those  oversized spec you wore - not sure if i'd have been sleeping easily below....
    One thing I'd never imagined is anyof this strange world we now inhabit. Those days seem comfortingly secure & far simpler

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  7. What a wonderful trip through the night. 

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  8. I love the stories and, of course, admire your work!

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  9. Yeah, Jolyon. The engine room = dirty, smelly, noisy & hot. Good thing I was never ships engineer...

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  10. Hey, man, I got so good that Peter let me steer the RW thru the Panama Canal! (Squinting as I was thru those oversized glasses...)

    Re: our strange world--It surely was a lot easier to go out and confront the whalers than it is to figure out what kind of real action can be taken to stop climate change... 

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  11. Funny you should ask, Alice--I'm just ready to pick up that story and take another run at it. Thanks for the encouragement (and remembering it!). I'm thinking that novel will reflect more of my days with Greenpeace than did "Kidnapping the Lorax."

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  12. Thanks, Deb! I wanted to convey the feeling of those nights...wasn't sure I'd done it, so I was very encouraged to see your reply. 

    Yeah, a nostalgic flashback from--gads--about 30 years ago (hardly seems possible!). We'd intended to find tuna fishermen who were setting on dolphins--but ultimately were called away when Peru suddenly decided to change its decision about supporting a whaling moratorium. Our focus shifted mid-campaign from dolphins to whales, due to the delicate timing of the moratorium.

    The Rainbow Warrior was sunk two years later by French government agents, killing a crewmember who was down in one the crews' cabins I describe here--starboard of Cook & Boy. The agents had set limpet mines on the ship, to prevent it from going to protest nuclear tests in the Pacific. You can read more about it here: http://www.greenpeace.org/new-zealand/en/about/history/the-bombing-of-the-rainbow-war/. I was not aboard then; Peter who I mention in this essay was aboard as captain (and he continued on that Pacific campaign, with a different ship). The Rainbow Warrior was eventually sunk as an artificial reef off the coast of NZ--you can dive to it. I hope to some day.

    There was a second Rainbow Warrior that sailed for 20+ years, I believe, before being retired, and Greenpeace has just launched the third RW ("R Dub," we in Greenpeace say) http://www.greenpeace.org/new-zealand/en/news/A-new-Rainbow-Warrior-sets-sail/

    Peter will again be aboard as her captain. Long may they sail! 

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  13. This is so fantastically written. Yes, write this book. I want to read of your days on this ship.

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  14. Love these Greenpieces! More, more!

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