Sailing with the Sea Shepards in the South Ocean

Peter Heller is an old friend who just published an incredible article in National Geographic Adventure, about sailing with the Sea Shepards in the Antarctic, trying to sabotage Japanese whaling ships.

“The Nisshin Maru was on our port side, and the two ships approached each other at an acute angle. In a typical collision situation, the law of the sea dictated that we had the right-of-way, as we were on her starboard. I watched with awe as the Nisshin’s bow, as tall as a three-story building, lunged off a 35-foot wave, airborne, and crashed down like a giant ax. The hole it tore out of the sea vaporized, the spray driven downwind. The gap closed. Three hundred yards, 200 yards. Now we could hear the blare of the Nisshin’s horn through the tearing gale. Repeated blasts, short and long, enraged.

“Collision, one minute.”

I remember reaching down and tugging on the waterproof zipper of my dry suit and having one very clear simple thought: You’re going to be wet and cold in about 20 seconds. The hammering bow loomed, 200 feet away, aimed midships, at our belly.

It was the most impressive sight I’ve ever seen. Cornelissen glanced at the radar, then at the juggernaut, and held his course. He was focused, intent. A deadly game of Antarctic chicken. One hundred fifty feet away. He blew the horn, which was the order to unleash the prop foulers. A squad on the stern stood, braced themselves, and whipped several hundred feet of mooring line off a big spool, enough to tangle any propeller.

And then the Nisshin blinked. Whoever was at their helm threw it hard to port. For an agonizing second the two ships ran parallel, and then the Japanese were pulling away, fleeing back into the fog. As they ran, Watson pulled down the mic on maritime channel 16, and barked, “Nisshin Maru, Nisshin Maru, this is the Farley Mowat. You are in violation of an international whale sanctuary. We advise you to get out. Time to go now, you murdering scumbags. Now move it! And run like the cowards you are.”