‘Whale Wars’ boat visits Marina del Rey
By Pat Reynolds
Earlier this month I got a call from a professional captain friend of mine letting me know of a very interesting looking boat docked at Fisherman’s Village in Marina del Rey. He said, “you definitely should check this thing out – it’s a pretty amazing boat.”
I went down to Fisherman’s Village and indeed, sitting right outside of the El Torito Mexican restaurant was a 115-foot powerboat that looked like something straight out of a “Batman” movie.
Long and slender with small wings jutting out, the gray, wave-piercing trimaran looked positively commanding as it sat ready and waiting for its next mission, which all hoped wouldn’t entail what it had just endured – a near sinking in the waters off Antarctica.
The Bridget Bardot, like its namesake, is a slender, sexy creation that makes her living in front of the cameras. However, unlike the sultry 1950s starlet, this Bridget’s set is not exotic Saint-Tropez, but more commonly the brutal and uncaring Southern Ocean.
This Bardot is a character in a documentary television show that airs on Animal Planet called “Whale Wars” and spends her time negotiating weather systems that are among the worst the world has to offer. She is part of the Sea Shepherd fleet that patrols the remote and very dangerous waters at the bottom of the planet, specializing in wreaking havoc on commercial whaling vessels from Japan. Some define what Sea Shepherd does as eco-terrorism while others say they are heroes fighting for illegally targeted, defenseless animals.
When I arrived and laid eyes on the boat, it looked familiar. In a moment it occurred to me that this ultra-modern design was very similar to another boat that had visited Marina del Rey years ago called Earthrace – a boat that had broken the round-the-world speed record for powerboats. Apparently the Bridget Bardot (at the time a different name) was the record holder.
I remember covering that event and going to a local seminar where Earthrace’s skipper, Peter Bethune, gave a talk about the virtues of bio-diesel as an alternative fuel source. He said he spent his life savings on the trip and the boat that ran on corn oil because he believed in the cause. He was an engaging, rugged Kiwi with an honest passion and an aura of fearlessness. Bethune made the voyage in Earthrace but it was a struggle – before the conclusion the 78-foot boat collided with a small, unlit Guatemalan fishing vessel in which one man died.
Both of these crafts, seemingly sent from the future, share a similar past. After Earthrace broke the speed record, Bethune enlisted the boat into Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd organization. He had a new cause and readily put himself in harms way for the protection of the ocean’s whale population.
The Bardot replaced Bethune’s Earthrace (renamed the Ady Gil) after a Japanese vessel ran the boat over during a skirmish. The boat was split in two and sank. A month later Bethune boarded the Japanese ship and attempted to perform a citizen’s arrest on the captain but was instead arrested himself, ultimately spending four months in a Japanese prison.
As I boarded the Bardot I thought of Bethune and after looking around I was reminded of what the boat does. The tour guide pointed to containers reserved for butyric acid, which is actually rotten butter, that they use for stink bombs that are hurled into Japanese whaling ships as one of many of the means the group uses to bother their enemies.
The pirate flag flew off the transom as a reminder that this boat has a purpose and a cause, and is not a welcome sight for certain vessels. The well-worn decks and living space told the tale of a boat that is constantly operational and filled with crew.
Although the Bridget Bardot has been L.A. chique over the past week sitting quietly in the Los Angeles sunshine, with even a recent visit from former “Baywatch” actress Pamela Anderson, who publically endorsed the Sea Shepherd cause, this is a work boat. Soon it will return to the Antarctic and be part of the menacing fleet that will mercilessly harass whaling ships. Capt. Watson and the Sea Shepherd organization accuse the Japanese government of abusing the allowance of permitted scientific take for commercial purposes and unnecessarily killing whales that should be protected.
The controversial captain is currently embroiled in a legal controversy involving the Costa Rican government’s demand to have him face trial for a 10-year-old incident involving what Watson calls the “Shark Fin Mafia.” It’s assumed he will be available for another Southern Ocean anti-whaling campaign, thus another season of “Whale Wars.”