What’s life like on board MY Arctic Sunrise?

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As Isabelle Philippe of Greenpeace France said to me, Greenpeace ships have some sort of mythical reputation about them. I suppose that’s why I took up the invite to go on board MY Arctic Sunrise in the first place. So what is life like on board Arctic Sunrise?

You can get the basic ship data from Wikipedia, but would highlight one aspect: the ship is an ice breaker, meaning it is very heavy at the front, has a deep draft and no keel or stabilisers. This means that even on smooth seas, she rolls a lot. Among Greenpeace staff and the crew she is known as the washing machine for this reason. I was lucky – I sailed only Saint-Malo – Lyme Regis – Fowey, but Greenpeace staff who sailed Bilbao – Bayonne were not so lucky! The ship’s usual speed is 10 knots (about half the speed of a ferry) so it takes a long time to get anywhere.

But as it’s slow you have plenty of time to explore the ship, and to speak to the crew and campaigners on board. The first impression at Saint-Malo was how friendly and welcoming everyone was – not only the Greenpeace campaigners (I would have expected that), but the crew too. One of the mechanics explained to me that he could earn more working on other ships but that he enjoyed working with Greenpeace more. Joel, the captain, was a talkative and friendly gentleman with plenty of stories to tell.

At first impression the ship is a chaotic mess. There is stuff everywhere – workshops, containers in the hold, canoes, guitars, worn out armchairs. But as you get to understand how things work you see the logic to all of these things on this working ship. You gain the impression that this ship and its inventive crew could solve just about anything they would ever encounter. The ship’s rock band “MYAS’S BAND” is probably the best personification of this – its home made drum kit assembled from wood, buckets and bits of broken bike and outboard engines is played with considerable skill, and safety officer Martti screaming AC/DC’s TNT while moored in Saint-Malo is not something I’m going to forget any time soon!

The ship was built in 1975, and is showing its age, not least with the sewage system that blocks very often, to the annoyance of the mechanics! All the fittings are rough at the edges, and as a guest on board you get allocated either a bunk in a berth with a port hole in the bow, or a more spacious but windowless container in the hold. Every morning at 8am all the campaigners do their bit, cleaning floors, toilets and showers. Luxurious it most definitely is not. But as a guest on board absolutely everything is provided for you.

Theoretically the ship has satellite internet. In practice this proved so slow so as to be unusable. If you are going to be on board anywhere near a coastline arm yourself with a Mifi and a 3G data SIMcard!

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