the old man of the sea.
Through the waves he rides,
See the way that he glides,
Just being free.
But look out!
Here comes the dawn.
When the whaler appears,
With his death dealing gear,
With a harpoon gun
Got the whales of the world on the run.
Down in Spain,
There was a ship under guard,
Saving whales was her quest,
Then she was under arrest,
Times were hard.
Then she escaped…
To do it again,
Whales have nothing we need,
Not for money nor greed
Now or then.
With a harpoon gun,
Got the whales of the world on the run.
We all are warriors of the rainbow,
We all are children of the rising sun
We all are warriors of the rainbow,
Till our day is done.”
When the news reached the Farm that the Rainbow Warrior had made a miraculous escape from the clutches of the Spanish fleet it was cause for a major celebration. I had only just returned from Europe after having spent most of the year as radio officer aboard the ship. Inspired by the spirit of the moment I got out my guitar and wrote the “Ballad of the Rainbow Warrior.” With the assistance of several of my musician friends on the Farm, I held a concert in the Farm school building, where I sang “The Ballad of the Rainbow Warrior” for the first and only time.
Eighteen years on, I have just returned from Far North, New Zealand where I taught satellite communications classes at the South Pacific annual satellite industry trade show. The final resting-place of the Rainbow Warrior was less than an hour’s drive from the classroom. It sits at the bottom of the sea, a victim of members of the French Secret Service who attached explosive devices to her hull. The detonation of these mines blew a hole in the side of the ship, sending it and one crewman to a watery grave. The World Court subsequently forced the French government to pay reparations to Greenpeace the family of the murdered Greenpeace photographer.
At the time of the incident, the French government was prepared to go to any lengths to prevent the Rainbow Warrior from sailing to the Pacific atoll of Mururoa, where the French government was using to conduct underground tests of nuclear bombs. Greenpeace did not give up, however, and subsequently returned with an armada to successfully disrupt the testing and to focus the attention of the world on the environmental consequences.
It was Mururoa that first compelled me to volunteer my services to the Greenpeace organization. In 1979, Greenpeace chairman David MacTaggart was planning a voyage into the French nuclear test zone on his sailing ship “The Vega.” Word reached me that he needed a radio operator. So I wrote him a letter. David already was familiar with both the Farm and my own radio abilities due to Stephen Skinner’s service on the Rainbow Warrior for the 1979 Icelandic anti-whaling and North Atlantic nuclear waste dumping campaigns.
During that campaign I had handled most of the radio traffic between the Rainbow Warrior and the U.S. via the Farm’s amateur short-ware radio station. I also held a maritime radio license from the FCC with a radar endorsement. The icing on the cake was my involvement in the Farm’s development of radiation detection equipment through its SEI electronics subsidiary. This equipment would come in handy if it proved necessary to make measurements of any possible contamination of the environment surrounding the Mururoa atoll. David realized that I had the perfect background for the mission and so he invited me to join the crew of the Vega.
But it was not to be. The French subsequently canceled its nuclear testing for 1979, which put the 1979 Greenpeace Pacific Campaign on hold. David didn’t forget me, however. At the end of 1979, he called the Farm to ask if I would serve as radio operator on the Rainbow Warrior in 1980 for a series of campaigns to draw attention to the possible environment consequences of the transportation by sea of spent nuclear fuel from Europe to Japan. The Plenty Board of Directors approved the request and I was on my way to Europe as the Farm’s ambassador. It was my first trip outside the United States.
I fell in love with the Rainbow Warrior the first time I saw her when I arrived in Amsterdam to join the crew. The radio room on the Rainbow Warrior was like a dream come true. It was wall-to-wall electronics with every type of communications gear imaginable. There were the mandatory two-way short-wave and VHF ship-to-shore radios, a Loran for radio navigation, two Decca radar systems, an complete amateur radio station, radio direction finding gear, portable radios and walkie-talkies for clandestine operations, and various receivers for monitoring the communications of other ships at sea. The idea of maintaining, repairing and operating all of this gear was overwhelming at first. The whole purpose of volunteering, however, was to accept the challenge and put to use the electronics training that I had received over the years.
For those who never have been involved with radio it may be difficult to understand the fascination that it holds over people like me. Operating radio equipment is a quasi-telepathic experience. The radio headset is a sensory deprivation unit that cuts radio operators off from their local environment and sends them floating through the ethers through a veritable sea of noise. While surfing through the various frequency bands you are constantly bombarded by a babble of noise — some natural, some man-made. Making the initial contact with a distant radio station can be almost a mystical experience: first a faint whisper, maybe something or maybe not. It can make the hairs on the back of you neck stand up. Or when conditions are just right the connection is immediately rock solid and the booming voice of your contact seems to fill your head to the brim.
Life on the Rainbow Warrior was not just a radio adventure. Everyone took a turn standing watch on the bridge, helping to keep things tidy, and cooking the meals for the crew. I find it totally amazing today to think that I actually made tofu and soymilk from scratch and turned out gourmet vegetarian meals that kept the crew begging for more.
From the outset, Captain John Castle told me that it was also my job to keep the press off his back. John referred to the press “a bunch of wankers” who would stab their own mothers in the back to get a story. I later learned at first hand the truth of this statement. In the absence of any Greenpeace director on board, I had to baby-sit the press and keep them well away from the Captain’s quarters.
From the outside looking in, the exploits of the Rainbow Warrior might seem almost super-human. In a sense it WAS super-human because every individual on board was inspired to give their very best, all for one and one for all. At the same time, we all felt a little bit like Frodo who agrees to accept a terrible burden “even though I don’t know the way.”
The sea is often described as a cruel mistress. It is a totally unforgiving and at times a lethal environment. Each person has to trust and rely on everyone else aboard in order to stay alive. This create a bond so strong that it supersedes any other agreements that you may have with others and provides the will-power and the presence of mind to accomplish deeds that may indeed seem impossible. It was my distinct privilege to be a member of the crew and though time and distance may separate me from my friends aboard the Rainbow Warrior they shall never be far away from my thoughts.
The TV news coverage of any Greenpeace campaign might give the impression that the life of a Greenpeace volunteer is a never-ending drama filled with excitement. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the time during a campaign is spent in educating the local people about the possible dangers to the environment posed by a particular activity. A lot of this time is devoted just to getting to know people, how they think and what their day-to-day lives are like. The television cameras never show this, of course. Yet it is as important, if not more important, than the actual confrontation.
During early 1980, I participated in two Greenpeace campaigns to stop nuclear fuel shipments by means of the public sea-lanes. The first campaign took place in France in the vicinity of the Cherbourg nuclear power plant in Normandy province. We approached the power plant and used a Radiation Alert Geiger counter that was manufactured on The Farm to take readings. We found that the radiation levels surrounding the plant, which was immediately adjacent to a dairy farm, exceeded fifteen times normal background radiation. When we reported this in the local press it created an uproar and on a subsequent visit the plant we were met by a troop of unfriendly security guards.
The height of the campaign occurred with the Rainbow Warrior blockaded the port of Cherbourg to prevent a nuclear fuel transportation ship from docking to pick up a load of fuel. To accomplish this, the Rainbow Warriorhad to outmaneuver several ships of the French navy. The Rainbow Warrior eventually was boarded by military police and placed under arrest. During all of the action I monitored the French naval radio frequencies, ran radiotelephone patches for the various news networks on board and kept up a running commentary via the amateur radio with operators on the Farm. For the thirty-six hour period surrounding the event I did not sleep and was operating the radios until a French naval officer came in and pulled my plug. Three hours later, the media persuaded the naval authorities to allow the resumption of radiotelephone communications from the Rainbow Warrior. When the French Greenpeace director Reme Parmontier woke me up, he thought I was going to have a heart attack because my sleep was so deep that the forced awakening sent my entire body spinning into convulsions. Nevertheless, I was back in harness keeping the press happy, which, as it turned out, was one of my major functions for every Greenpeace campaign in which I participated. As soon as the nuclear fuel ship cleared port, the French authorities banished the Rainbow Warrior from France, declaring the ship and its crew persona non grata, never to return.
Expelled from France, the Rainbow Warrior took a short holiday to Guernsey in the Channel Islands, the home of our captain, John Castle. For more than 25 years, John has been one of the stalwarts of the Greenpeace organization. Anyone who saw the 1997 news coverage of the North Sea oil platform campaign will remember him as the man who manned the platform to the end, in defiance of Shell Oil.
From Guernsey, the Rainbow Warrior set sail for London to hold a media event. The ship sailed up the river Thames and the famous Tower Bridge was lifted to let the ship pass by. At the conference, Greenpeace announced that it would initiate a similar campaign in the UK to bring attention to the docking of nuclear fuel transportation ships at the town of Barrow-In-Furness on the Irish Sea.
During the break in the action I stayed in London to purchase new batteries and spare electrical parts for the radio equipment, as well as have a local company build several new radio antennas to my specifications. When all was ready I met up with the UK Director Pete Wilkinson and we traveled by train to Barrow-In-Furness.
When we arrived, we found that the local harbormaster had banned the Rainbow Warrior from entering the port and restricted it to anchoring at a location that was several miles off shore. I used my VHF walkie-talkie to contact the ship and they sent a small rubber inflatable boat with an outboard motor to fetch us. We loaded the batteries, antennas and other radio gear and set off into the open sea. A few minutes later it began to snow and it soon became impossible to see beyond a distance of twenty-five feet. Then the waves began to churn and the little boat was soon dropping into six to eight troughs. One of the lead acid batteries broke and battery acid spilled all over the floor of the boat which meant that soon it would begin to eat the rubber lining of the vessel. Pete gave me a grim smile and said “Fuck this for a lark.” By this time it was impossible to see the shore and there was no ship in sight. Our immanent demise was becoming a distinct possibility.
I got out the walkie-talkie and began hailing the ship on the emergency frequency. “Golf Sierra Zulu Yankee. Golf Sierra Zulu Yankee. Do you read? Over!” At first there was no answer. After a few long minutes passed the ship responded. “We read you loud and clear, Stringbean.” I asked them to switch on the ship’s powerful searchlight to give us a homing beacon. We soon spotting the light beam piercing the furious gales of snow and followed it home to safety.
THE SAGA OF THE RAINBOW WARRIOR, EPISODE THREE
Greenpeace was warned that if it entered the port in any attempt to blockage the arrival of the nuclear fuel ship that the Rainbow Warrior would be seized and confiscated. We therefore went to plan B, which called for the deployment of the zodiacs into port to attempt the blockade while the Rainbow Warrior hightailed it to the Isle of Man to escape possible seizure. Only the captain and I stayed aboard to run the Rainbow Warrior while all other crewmembers manned the zodiacs in a brave, but ultimately futile effort to blockade the port. The small zodiacs did little, however, to impede the arrival of such a large vessel. The only result was that one zodiac was crushed between the ship and the quayside. Luckily no one was hurt in the process.
As luck would have it, the Rainbow Warrior ran into a “force 12” storm while passing through the Irish Sea on its way back to Holland at the conclusion of the campaign. We heard distress calls from ships and eventually learned that several had sunk in the storm. There was little that we could do about it as it took all that we had just to keep from sinking ourselves. We eventually decided to seek shelter from the storm by stopping at a port on the southern coast of England. A sister ship to the Rainbow Warrior called the Fri was anchored up the river Gweek that emptied into the port. This gave me the opportunity to meet the crew of the sailing ship Fri, all of whom had participated with Greenpeace in an earlier campaign against French nuclear testing.
After a few days of R and R, the Rainbow Warrior resumed its journey, at the end of which I was scheduled to fly back to the USA. In the wee hours of the morning I was at the wheel as we passed by a series of marker buoys. John happened to stop by the bridge and realized that I was steering too close to the markers, chewed me out for my mistake and relieved me. I went to my cabin and just sat staring at the bulk head wall trying to keep my emotions on an even keel. There were other campaigns coming up but after making a big mistake involving the safety of the entire ship I began to think that it might be best if I just called it quits.
I have never been what you would call a physically coordinated person. My time at sea had taxed my physical abilities to the limit and I had learned all too well that there were many physical tasks that the other crew members could perform without thinking that were simply beyond my abilities. I decided that the ship and its crew would be better off if they had another radio operator with a wider range of abilities. I finally got to sleep after resolving to tell John just that before departing for America the next day.
When I walked into John’s cabin the next morning he read my mind with one quick look at my face. “Don’t quit,” he said. “I need you. You are the best radioman that I have ever seen in all my years at sea. All the rest are rank amateurs by comparison. You don’t have to know how to do everything. Just do what you know how to do best. That’s all I expect from anyone and that’s what I need from you.”
Whenever I start feeling negative about some aspect of any task in which I am involved I remember John’s words. What’s more, I remind myself that ability alone won’t take you very far. You need to have the sheer will and the courage to do what it takes no matter what your particular limitations may be. Most of all, people work best when they are a member of a team where each person’s particular talent can complement the abilities of others and is used to the limit because of the love, trust and respect that they have in each other.
So I returned to the Rainbow Warrior for several additional campaigns, including the legendary campaign to Spain where the Rainbow Warrior was held hostage by the Spanish navy, as well as to perform equipment maintenance while the ship was in port.
The Saga of the Rainbow Warrior, Episode IV
Mark Long, April 11, 1998
Sail Away With Me
“Rolling with the waves crashing over the sea,
feeling the gale force blowing.
Watching the dolphins, don’t you know that they’re free,
they seem to know where they’re going.
Man may come and man may go
But the oceans roll on and on
Twisting with the tide
An incredible ride
Sailing from the night into the dawn.
Oh, oh, sail away.
Oh, oh, sail away with me.
Oh, oh sail away.
Oh, oh, sail away….”
There are occasions in life when all barriers come crashing down: all thoughts, dreams, emotions and desires of personal “identity” merge with the universe to become an indivisible whole. One such moment arrived while the Rainbow Warrior was sailing down the coast of France towards Spain. I was up on the roof of the bridge surveying the antenna “farm:” an eclectic collection of bristling aerials of fiberglass and aluminum as well as wire arrays that spanned the distance between the fore and aft masts. The deep blue sea was smooth as silk, and the ship seemed to glide effortlessly through the waters while dolphins and pilot whales provided an escort off the starboard side. One moment I was the observer and then I ceased to exist and the world was one.
“Salvad Las Ballenas” (Save the Whales), Phase I
When the Rainbow Warrior arrived in Oporto, near Lisbon Portugal, camera crews from CBC TV (Canada) and IBC TV (Great Britain) joined the ship. There were also press reporters from the London Times and Spanish magazines Siete Dias (7 days, a weekly) and Cambio Diez y Seis (changes 14, a bi-monthly). After taking on fuel and supplies we set sail for northeastern Spain to the port city of El Ferrol de Caudillo, the birthplace of Spain’s former fascist dictator General Franco, who was nick-named “El Caudillo.” El Ferrol was to serve as our base for mounting “Salvad Las Ballenas” (Save the Whales) — our campaign against a Spanish whaling fleet that continued to hunt endangered blue, grey and fin whales despite a ban by the International Whaling Commission introduced the previous year.
El Ferrol is within short sailing distance from the Spanish city of Vigo, where the whaler’s processing factory was located. Our first mission was to undertake a clandestine visit to the factory to snap pictures of whales being skinned and butchered. The Rainbow Warrior was too huge and obvious a vessel to approach the factory. So we used a 35-foot orange fiberglass skiff equipped with twin high-powered mercury outboard engines to make a stealth approach.
Work on this vessel had been my highest priority since returning from the Farm for the Save the Whales campaign. The vessel required a communications system that could be operated by the person manning the ship’s wheel without using his hands. For this purpose, I bought an aviator’s headset with built-in headphones and voice-operated (VOX) microphone that I connected to a high-power radio installed inside the ship’s hull. Twin fiberglass whip antennas were also mounted to either side of the hull to complete the installation.
Prior to launching the mission, we took the skiff for sea trials to test the propulsion and communication systems. I think that the wildest joy ride of my life was when the two-man crew allowed me to take the wheel, rev up the engines, and hurtle across the waves at full tilt boogie. It felt exhilarating while it lasted, but my knees noticeably wobbled once I stepped back off the skiff and onto the deck of the Rainbow Warrior.
The clandestine visit to the whaling factory took place under the cover of night. The press crowded into our small radio room to monitor every step of the mission. The skiff was undetected as it tied up to the whaling factory’s docks. A Greenpeace photographer got off, entered the factory, photographed a gruesome scene of slaughter, and climbed back on board, all without being detected. The skiff returned to the Rainbow Warrior and the next day copies of the photos were rushed to every newspaper in Spain. “Slaughter in Vigo” screamed one newspaper headline, while another proclaimed the whalers as “The Butchers of Vigo.” The campaign to end whaling in Spain had begun.
Save the Whales, Phase II
The next phase of the campaign was to track a Spanish whaling ship out into international waters and stop her from killing any whales. To be successful we had to track the ship at a distance to keep our presence unknown for as long as possible. Otherwise the whaler would call the Spanish navy to prevent us from interfering with the hunt.
Radio was the means whereby we could track the ship. During the days leading up to phase two I had continuously monitored the radio frequency bands while the Rainbow Warrior anchored in the vicinity of the whaler’s hunting grounds off the Spanish coast. With the help of two reporters from the Spanish press, I was able to identify the frequencies normally used by the whalers for communication with their home base in Vigo.
With the aid of radio direction finding equipment, we were able to stay below the horizon of the whaling ship “Ibsa Tres” as we tracked her passage out to the killing area. The Rainbow Warrior made its approach only after the Ibsa Tres radioed home that it was ready to begin the day’s hunt. Then whales were sighted — big fin whales about 85 feet long!
The Rainbow Warrior immediately launched its inflatable “zodiacs” into the water. Each of these small boats was equipped with a powerful Mercury engine that would allow the zodiac to proceed at high speed and make lightning quick maneuvers that no larger ship could match. The idea was to position one or more zodiacs directly between the whaling ship’s deadly harpoon gun and the whale. The Greenpeace crewmembers were putting their lives on the line to prevent the senseless slaughter of these magnificent creatures.
Two zodiacs carried two-man Greenpeace crews while two others carried the CBC and IBC TV camera crews. Each time that the Ibsa Tres began to bear down on a fleeing whale, a zodiac zipped in front of the harpoon gun, blocking its field of view. The morning stretched on and finally the exasperated captain of the Ibsa Tres radioed home for instructions. The base station radioed back that the Spanish navy had been notified and that the Ibsa Tres was to cease all operations and await their arrival.
With a lull in the action, the exhausted Greenpeace zodiac crews came back on board to await the arrival of the Spanish Navy. It was then that I learned at first hand how ruthless the press could be when trying to get a scoop on a story. IBC TV news personality Sue Lloyd-Roberts had continuously harangued her Greenpeace zodiac driver to zip in front of the CBC camera crew’s zodiac so that they would be unable to shoot footage of the action. The driver refused to cooperate, however.
Meanwhile I was in constant contact with the Farm’s short-wave radio station, giving radio operator Stephen Skinner a moment-by-moment account of the action. During the previous year, Stephen had been the Rainbow Warrior’s radio operator during the Greenpeace whaling campaign off Iceland and I had been the shore-based radio operator. The reversal of roles proved to be one of the great assets of the campaign. Stephen could understand exactly what I meant when I described what was happening. This allowed him to accurately report the facts to Greenpeace offices in the USA who in turn informed the world press.
Soon the Ibsa Tres was being hailed on radio by a cruiser-class ship from the Spanish Navy that appeared off our port side. Radio again provided the Rainbow Warrior with much needed intelligence: we could monitor the radio transmissions of the whaler as well as those of the Spanish Navy, ensuring that we would have advance warning of any countermeasures that either ship might undertake.
The captain of the naval cruiser radioed the Rainbow Warrior, ordering the captain to cease all efforts to disrupt the hunt. Rainbow Warrior Captain John Castle replied that we were no longer in the territorial waters of Spain and that the Spanish fleet therefore had no jurisdiction over the matter.
The cruiser captain radioed the Spanish fleet commander for instructions. We all listened in as he was instructed to tell the Rainbow Warrior that we were well inside an area of the ocean that Spain claimed as an “economic zone” over which it did indeed have legal jurisdiction under Spanish law.
The Rainbow Warrior was so informed and once again ordered to cease and desist its activities in the area. Captain John Castle refused to comply. The cruiser captain then informed the Rainbow Warrior that the ship and its crew were being placed under arrest and that a boarding party would arrive shortly to take command of the Rainbow Warrior.
The crew of the Rainbow Warrior convened to decide what to do. Should we attempt to evade the boarding party or should we allow them to take control of the ship? The consensus was to allow the naval officer to board the Rainbow Warrior.
Greenpeace is an organization dedicated to the principle of non-violent protest. Any attempt to evade the Spanish fleet could be interpreted as a belligerent action and therefore was ruled out. As a skiff full of Spanish naval officers pulled along side, I snapped off a few quick pictures and then radioed Stephen that the Rainbow Warrior and its crew were now under arrest. That evening, Walter Cronkite reported the event on the CBS Evening News, informing the nation that the Rainbow Warrior and its crew, including one American, had been arrested in international waters by the Spanish Navy.
I was simultaneously operating two radio systems when the Spanish officer in command entered the radio room and ordered me to stop transmitting. As I left the room, the officer closed the door, put a wire through the latch, and clamped the seal of the Spanish government onto the wire. The radio room and its contents had been impounded and was now off limits. Suddenly I was out of a job, or so I thought at the time.
Save the Whales, Phase III
No one was handcuffed or mistreated at the hands of the Spanish Navy. The crew and members of the press were confined to quarters while Spanish sailors took the Rainbow Warrior back to El Ferrol. This is not to say, however, that we had nothing to do.
The press contingent was rightfully worried that the Spanish government would seize their film as evidence for the court case to come. So suitable hiding places were selected. At the same time, they couldn’t hide all the film or the naval authorities would get suspicious and tear the ship apart. Some film had to be turned over so it would seem to the authorities that the crew and press were complying with all legalities.
Sure enough, as soon as the Rainbow Warrior docked in El Ferrol, an admiral met the press on the fore deck of the ship to demand all film “evidence.” The bogus material was handed over and the admiral turned on the charm for the benefit of the members of the press.
The crew watched all this from the aft deck were we were sequestered. The press, he said, were free to go at their leisure but the crew was confined to the ship pending a formal inquiry. IBC TV personality Sue Lloyd-Roberts sadly informed the admiral that she would need to leave as soon as possible as she had just gotten word from a sick relative and needed to go home as soon as possible. The gallant admiral gave the pretty anchor lady his most winsome smile and said he would render every assistance within his power.
When Sue packed her bags, she slipped the metal film canisters in the bottom of her suitcase. She was desperate for her scoop and if she made her getaway immediately, she would beat out the CBC crew and have a worldwide exclusive. When she arrived on deck to depart, however, the naval captain on guard duty informed her that all effects leaving the ship would have to be inspected. We all knew what she had in her suitcase. The only question was: what would she do now? Part of me wanted her to succeed because the world needed to see what had happened, but another part of me wanted her to fail because she was a pampered TV star who had no qualms when it came to screwing her competitors out of a story.
A naval guard opened the suitcase and began to go through the various layers. About mid-way down he encountered a layer of clothes consisting of Sue’s brassieres and underpants. Suddenly Sue began to cry on cue and exclaimed loudly, “Oh you are prying through my personal things, my private things. How could you?” The Spanish guard was visibly embarrassed and glanced over at the captain. The captain too wanted to show the pretty lady his gallant side, so he ordered the guard to stop the search, and he then escorted Sue off the ship and into a waiting taxi. The next evening, IBC provided exclusive footage of the valiant Greenpeace crew in action to the world. Back at Spanish Naval Headquarters, heads were rolling.
Save the Whales, Phase IV
Following a formal naval inquiry, the Greenpeace crew was given shore liberty and indeed any member was now free to depart Spain if he or she wished to do so. The ship itself, however, was impounded pending the final decision of the Spanish courts. To prevent any attempt by the crew to sail the Rainbow Warrior out of port, guards were posted around the clock and the ship’s main drive shaft bearing and other essential engine parts were removed.
Public relations is an essential part of any Greenpeace campaign and all crew members were committed to staying on to help educate the local people about the plight of endangered species such as the great whales. We were all invited to local festivals where we were treated as local celebrities rather than criminals. Everyone wanted to talk to us. So many were very kind and supportive. I remember one young boy who took me home and asked his parents if I could use the phone to call my folks. They said “of course.” When I offered to pay for the call they wouldn’t think of accepting money. They believed in what we were doing and were happy to give what little help they could to support us.
Visitors began arriving by the hundreds to see the ship. Surprised by the response, the naval authorities gave Greenpeace permission to hold public tours of the ship during the daytime hours. For the first time in my life, I got to put my high school Spanish lessons to practical use as I talked with dozens of visitors each day. If we could convince the Spanish public that our cause was just, then perhaps the Spanish government would free the Rainbow Warrior.
To help coordinate this publicity campaign, we desperately needed to maintain communications with our overseas offices. So I became a clandestine radio operator, using radio equipment illegally right under the noses of our Spanish guards.
Prior to leaving the Farm for my second stint with Greenpeace, my Farm radio mentor and I gutted an old short-wave receiver, and replaced its contents with new electronics. On the outside it looked like any other piece of consumer radio gear, but on the inside it was a radio transmitter. I also had routed a cable from the ship’s antenna “farm” into my sleeping cabin. I began transmitting short messages using this radio with the knowledge that if I were caught I would surely go to jail.
The problem with my clandestine radio set-up was that it just wasn’t powerful enough. It was difficult for me to make contact and the battery power supply would only allow me to transmit for a few minutes at a time. Then one of the other crewmembers showed me how we could remove the seal from the radio room door without breaking it. So I began to enter the ship’s radio room during the late evening hours to transmit all of our messages and then would replace the seal before going to sleep. Each day a guard would tour the ship and stop to inspect the seal. Each time I felt a lump of cold fear in the pit of my stomach. But they did not suspect a thing.
To my dismay, however, I soon found that you can mess with a government seal only so many times before it finally breaks. In the wee hours of one morning — when the seal finally broke to pieces in my hands — I thought that my heart would surely stop beating. At that moment I was sure that a jail cell would be my next home.
Once again the crew came to my rescue. The next morning before inspection time, the crew rushed a few visitors through the tour and then off the ship. They summoned the guard on duty and pointed at the broken seal on the radio room door. “It may have been one of the visitors messing around in here this morning,” suggested one crewman. The guard immediately asked for the radio operator. They took him to my cabin door. I opened the door, feigning to rub the sleep from my eyes, when in fact abject fear had prevented me from sleeping at all. The guard asked about the broken seal to which I replied, “It wasn’t broken yesterday” — not technically a lie, but surely meant to deceive.
During the next two days, I noticed that undercover police were trailing me as I walked about the city. Under the circumstances, I initially chalked it up to pure paranoia. But then there was one instance when I overheard my now perpetual companions using two-way walkie-talkies. There was no doubt that I was under surveillance. I immediately returned to the ship and told the Captain. John opened the ship safe, took out my passport and some money, and told me that it was time for me to leave Spain. “In the morning take the first train leaving for France.” He gave me a hug good-by and I didn’t stop looking over my shoulder until I crossed the border into France.
Save the Whales, Phase V
The “Great Escape” of the Rainbow Warrior didn’t occur until months later. As the weeks rolled on, it became apparent that Spain intended to confiscate the Rainbow Warrior and sell her. At the same time, the 24-hour guard on the ship was no longer vigilant. Essential engine parts had been removed so the ship wasn’t going anywhere, or so the Spanish Navy thought.
Greenpeace, however, had replacement parts made in Europe and then smuggled them into Spain and onto the ship during the early morning hours when the guards were either asleep or too drunk to notice. Then one evening, during a period when no guards were about, the remaining crew fired up the Rainbow Warrior’s engines and slipped out of port. The alarm was sounded and soon the entire Spanish Armada was out searching for the ship. The sea, however is a huge place to search when you don’t know exactly where to look. A huge crowd turned out in Britain to greet the ship at the conclusion of its miraculous journey home.
The Rainbow Warrior Revisited
[This used to be a favorite saying on the Farm: “speak the truth and fear no man.” It has been suggested to me that the following section probably will get the ax. I am going to say my piece anyway in the hope that the final editor of The Farm Book still believes in hearing the truth and also realizes that readers also expect, appreciate and honor the same. So like Archimedies, I am going out on a limb to look for one honest man (or woman, as the case may be) editor.]
Although the news of the “Great Escape” was exhilarating, I never expected to see the ship again. I had gone back to the Farm where other projects were waiting. The Big Dummy’s Guide to CB Radio book that I had helped to write in 1976 had become a cult favorite in Great Britain, so there were plans to produce a new British version of the book to fuel additional sales in Europe.
“The Publisher” Paul Mandelstein had planned an expedition to the UK with another one of the authors to research the new version and asked me to ghost write the new British edition from the information that they gained on the trip. I immediately said no. If any new edition was going to succeed it had to come from the heart. Otherwise the readers will immediately notice that the writer is just going through the motions. My Greenpeace campaigns had taught me the value of interacting with people of all kinds. You just can’t get that experience second-hand.
Paul wasn’t used to people saying no, so it was a bit of a shock for him. For me, I just kept remembering Captain John Castle’s advice “to just do what you do best” and therefore I would no longer accept any assignment that would result in a second best effort. Paul recovered nicely and invited me along on the trip.
Our CB tour of Great Britain was a story in and of itself. We met so many people of all kinds who loved the book and by extension loved the authors as well. At that time CB was still illegal in the UK so half the fun was being invited to become part of the British “pirate” brotherhood.
At the end of the CB tour I decided to visit the London Greenpeace office to say hello to my many friends there. Director Peter Wilkinson was very glad to see me. The Rainbow Warrior was in Holland and would soon leave for a campaign off Canada to protest the slaughter of baby harp seals. No one had checked the radio equipment since the ship had escaped Spain. Could I stay over a few more days and go to Holland just to test the gear and recommend any repairs?
Pete and I had survived a zodiac trip in a blinding blizzard while out in the open sea as well as other harrowing experiences. We had entrusted our lives to each other and come out the other end in one piece every time. I had promised the Farm to be back by a certain date and now I was being asked to break that promise. In the end, I chose to go to Holland and make closure with my responsibilities to the Rainbow Warriorand her crew. I put my trust in the fact that my friends on the Farm would understand.
Many of the crew were also in Holland working on the ship. I made some radio repairs and ordered the required spares for their journey. Now it was time to go home. But it wasn’t so easy to get away. Greenpeace wanted me back. They were going to make a transatlantic crossing at a potentially dangerous time of the year. Their survival required a capable radio operator.
But this time I had to say no. I already had make commitments to the Farm to write a new book and to work on new electronic projects that would generate much-needed revenues for the community. It was not easy to say no to people who had given me so much and placed so much trust in me. Nevertheless I knew that my Greenpeace days were over.
They understood my situation and asked if I could help them find another radio operator. I radioed my compatriot Stephen Skinner to see if he could make the voyage. I also asked him to run it by the Plenty Board for their approval. He radioed me back to say that he would take it on. I was therefore able to go back to the Farm knowing that I had made final closure with the Rainbow Warrior. Now I could go to work on the Farm projects that were waiting for me.
April 11, 1998