Sailing for a cause

Carmel Loggenberg

I didn't know what to expect when I boarded the Greenpeace vessel, Rainbow Warrior 3, en route Durban on Saturday August 18, 2012.

We left Cape Town just after 8pm - fifteen crew members from across the globe, three other journalists, a good attitude and most importantly, a big supply of anti-nausea pills.
The first evening on the research vessel started off well. I heard the meals would be great, and they were. We dined like kings and queens with enough pasta and a combination of salads to feed the whole crew - twice.

After thanking the chef for sharing her talents with us, I found a good book in the library and went to bed.

I was sharing a cabin with a New Zealander, Sofia Kutzcera who made me feel right at home but did warn that the top bunk was not that pleasant, especially when trying to climb onto it.

I settled down, opened my novel and that's when the problems started.

It began with a slight rumble in my tummy and a horrible taste in my mouth. I knew it was time to make my way to the closest bathroom.

My first date, one of many with the toilet bowl, had begun.

To add insult to injury, I eventually returned to my bed only to take a beating as the vessel bobbed and weaved on the rough seas.

I had to put my ‘memorable’ evening behind me fairly quickly as our 7.30am wake up call arrived and after a bad cup of coffee, it was time for clean up duties.

What really intrigued me was how happy the crew members were to clean toilets and mop the decks and floor when most of them had only had a few hours’ sleep.

They worked in shifts, alternating as deckhands and watchmen.

Despite being very welcoming, I always felt I was intruding on a 'Greenpeace community’.

The environmental tendencies of South Africa was a key topic of discussion, in particular how the country is not doing enough for the environment and questions about why government is not investing more in renewable energy.

During all these 'greenie' debates all I could think about was how bad the state of the country's education system is with thousands of vacant teaching posts and the lack of resources, as illustrated by the Limpopo textbook crisis.
It then also dawned on me how little I know about these environmental issues and I was tempted to call my editor and say, “You sent the wrong person on the Rainbow Warrior 3”, but I had no cell phone reception or internet connection.

As the days sailed by, I interviewed different crew members about their reason/s for joining Greenpeace. The general consensus was that they really care for the environment and believe they can change people's mindsets. My cabin mate Sofia proved to be a real inspiration. The 23-year-old told me she knew nothing else but being kind to the environment and that she considered the sea to be her home.

She said despite missing her family, she believes it's her duty to leave a legacy for her children.

Her words left me thinking about what I’m doing for the environment.

I can't climb cranes or trees in protest because who would report on it?

Well, I thought, maybe that could be my contribution - telling the story.

The most exciting part of my five day trip was definitely the whale spotting near Morgan’s Bay in the Eastern Cape.

I have never seen so many whales, let alone Humpback whales, in my lifetime and in such close proximity.

The excitement was really overwhelming and to some degree I could understand what all the fuss is about.

That particular experience was really the highlight of my trip; but I also disembarked in Durban feeling more educated about environmental issues and about the need to do more to protect our natural heritage.

I am left wondering if and when that will ever happen - I suppose around the same time every child in South Africa receives a decent education.

Carmel Loggenberg is an Eyewitness News reporter.