As soon as we headed down South a month ago and exited the Australian Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) we were trailed by a Japanese harpoon ship. The ship would stick around 8 miles behind us, just within radar range, with the intention of keeping a close eye on us at all times. With such a ship on our back that can relay our location to the whaling fleet at all times, we are at a huge disadvantage. Also, this ship is much faster than ours, has a more capable radar and is able to hold much more fuel. The odds are stacked up against us.
On few occasions, the spy ship gets close. We keep it at safe distance by towing a prop fouler behind us, in a bid for them to back off or choose to have their propeller damaged. We run through dense ice fields, maneuvering through the maze of incredibly dangerous growlers, which could easily puncture our thin non-ice class hull and send us all diving. We move into French Territorial waters and even though the French offer us their official support, not much they can do unless a navy fregate or destroyer is ready to chase out the harpoon ship.
Just before christmas we anchor at Commonwealth Bay for 2 days, right at the Antarctic continent. Some of us dive into the freezing Antarctic waters to swim with penguins one morning and by mid afternoon I step onto the continent at Cape Denison, where the Australian scientist and explorer Mawson first set foot in 1911. The hut is still there and the bay is home to a 30.000 strong colony of Adelie Penguins. We hang out with the penguins for over 5 hours and visit a team of scientists who work on the preservation of Mawson's hut for about 6 weeks every year (when it's is not too cold). The landscape is breathtaking, with ice and snow covering the rocky landscape for as long as the eye can see. Penguins huddle together, walk around and sledge down the steep slopes on the western side of the bay. Seals lie around aimlessly, enjoying the sunshine which occasionally pierces through the grey clouds above. I wonder if I have ever experienced such true wilderness.
After a brief 3 weeks at sea and with the spy ship still hanging on behind us, we decide to head back to port to refuel the ship. When we leave again, the spy ship is still waiting for us, just outside the Australian EEZ. Although they are eagerly awaiting our arrival at the EEZ boundary to intercept and escort us again, we have managed to get out unnoticed. We slipped through the net and disappeared into the vast ocean. Right now we are loose, somewhere and ready to strike at a moment of our choosing. The whaling fleet is out there, the whales are out there and so are we. The crew is in good spirits. We are all looking forward to a good few weeks. Everyone wants to make this work, everyone wants this madness to end.
Friend and ship's photographer Michael Williams normally seeks out wildlife to shoot. His work focuses on capturing Australian's diverse wildlife: birds, frogs, reptiles, mammals and in particular documenting endangered species in a bid to further their chance of survival. Besides his amazing work, he has also published some pictures from the first part of our campaign on his website:
(click on 'Special Collections' and then 'Sea Shepherd Operation Waltzing Matilda')
The blog features posts from various crew members and is updated throughout the campaign. Check it out: http://www.seashepherd.org/matilda/crew-blog/
For all other news: http://www.seashepherd.org