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August 29, 2012

The Dangerous Archipelagos

By Julie Andersen

Photo: Deborah BassettPhoto: Deborah BassettEveryone who watches Whale Wars or simply follows the work of Sea Shepherd knows one of last season’s biggest dramas during our eighth Antarctica campaign was the rogue wave that nearly tore off the Brigitte Bardot’s pontoon. Seven days sail from Australia; the partially detached pontoon could have broken off at any moment, leaving the crew and ship in serious jeopardy. But the Bardot didn’t fail us then – and it hasn’t failed us now.

However, our trip to the South Pacific has not been without drama either. In fact, the Brigitte Bardot has found herself in yet another precarious situation equally as dangerous to the crew and the boat as the Antarctic. The danger of navigating the unmarked and often incredibly shallow reefs that have been sinking ships since the time of Captain Cook – when he named the area “”.

We’ve run into quite a few hairy situations with unmarked obstacles in Vanuatu and now in Tonga.  In fact, we’ve heard several stories of shipwrecks and entire crews lost at sea – even recently.  The boat we are with that has travelled here for the last seven years even ran aground in a storm, almost sinking – and the rescue barge assisting it did sink. Few large boats venture into the waters we are in – fearful of not returning. Sudden storms with winds that shift 360 degrees, huge shifts in tides, strong currents, vast distances between islands and populated areas, and poorly marked charts have claimed many vessels – and people.

Fortunately, thanks to our amazing captain, Sid, and our dedicated crew, we’ve managed to avoid disaster. But it has meant a lot of stress and sleepless nights.  Everyone is working nearly around the clock, though with tensions running high, we have started working out stress in the form of impromptu rugby matches with some seriously big and talented Fijian rugby players and lots of fresh coconuts!

That’s not to say the campaign hasn’t suffered from some serious obstacles – including the loss of all communications, fresh water tanks, and a bow thruster. Our amazing engineer Brian certainly has his work cut out for him, but he’s managed to keep the Bardot humming and in constant, safe working order. The Bardot was never meant to anchor the way we’ve been forced to, requiring incredible effort to keep her in one place. The vessel is only meant to steam through big waves and tie up at docks and wharfs.  The captains of both ships have been very nervous at the thought of tying the two vessels together in storms.

I’ve been so impressed with the crew who, although volunteers, have become a seemingly invincible team, ensuring our incredible vessel survives yet another challenging campaign.   Nothing will stand in our way – not rogue waves, icebergs, or the dangerous archipelagos. And certainly not those illegally slaughtering marine wildlife.

Photo: Deborah BassettPhoto: Deborah Bassett