Unexpected guests for dinner

December 21, 2009

Sitting at the base of the memorial cross at Azimuth Hill two nights ago watching the baby chicks that had hatched over a 24-hour period we noticed a black dot on the horizon.

In less than an hour the dot grew larger and larger, as it steaming towards us, until finally a large dark ship, with razor sharp spikes impaled around its exterior, dropped anchor in Commonwealth Bay.

Paul Watson

It was the Steve Irwin, an anti-whaling protest ship owned by the environmental activist group Sea Shepherd and skippered by Captain Paul Watson.

Watson sails the Steve Irwin, with its Jolly Rodger flag, into Antarctic waters at this time each year to try and stop the Japanese whaling fleet from killing minke whales.

Watson said he had decided to sail into Commonwealth Bay to avoid being detected, in the cat and mouse game, with the Japanese whaling fleet.

We were not expecting guests until January so there was great excitement when we invited our unexpected visitors ashore and in return were invited aboard the Steve Irwin for dinner.

There are 40 people on the Steve Irwin — a mixture of Sea Shepherd volunteer crew and a television camera crew making a documentary on the anti-whaling campaign.

Walking into the base on Saturday morning I could hear there were a lot of radio messages going between our base and the ship to ensure strict protocol was adhered to for an inflatable boat and helicopter operations conformed to wildlife guidelines.

Showing nearly 40 people around Cape Denison in groups of three at a time inside of Mawson’s Hut took an entire day.

Dinner that night on the Steve Irwin was excellent, although only vegan food — vegetable fritters, vegetable sushi and vegetable coconut curry.

Around the Steve Irwin mess table were accents from all over the globe — Swedish, Brazilian, Dutch, English, Canadian, Australian/Irish and American.

Paul Wilson

Later, Watson invited our leader and I up to his cabin to share a drink and cheese platter and chat about the Sea Shepherd’s campaign in the Southern Ocean.

Commercial whaling was banned under a 1986 treaty, but the Japanese have continued to cull whales for research and monitor their impact on fish stocks, deflecting criticism from anti-whaling nations such as Australia, Britain and New Zealand.

Japan says whaling is a cultural tradition, and while most Japanese do not eat whale meat regularly, many are bemused by accusations that the practice is cruel given that other cultures hunt many other wild animals without as much controversy.

Near the night’s end, I overheard the senior producer of the Sea Shepherd documentary say she would love to spend the night at our base, so I offered to swap my tent for an overnight berth on the Steve Irwin.

A night in a bed, not a sleeping bag, and without an icy wind battering me as I slept, was very peaceful.

The Poo run

Living on the ice

Setting up home on ice

Snow, gales and Merlot

Icebergs, penguins, pyjamas

Sailing into an icy cauldron

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