Guest Post: Chad Halstead – Life, Death, and Continual Rebirth of Small Boats

Chad has been volunteering for Sea Shepherd for the past three years now. He is the best small boat driver that we have ever had. But, over the years he has also acquired so many skills that he is able to fulfill almost every job on the ship. Saying that, I’m reserving only the helicopter pilot position… and I’m sure that’s not far away!! Mad skills, this guy. Great to have you on board, Chad, and thank you for your contribution!!

I have been a part of the deck department and driven the Delta boat on board both the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker over the past three years. It is my main responsibility to maintain and keep all three of the Steve Irwin’s small boats in top condition and always ready for action. Due to old age, excessive wear, and harsh working conditions, this can be pretty difficult.

This year, I was thinking how we are much harder on our equipment than the average commercial user. At times, we’ve had parts break because of the wear and tear, but it is not due to being reckless. Through time, we have increased our level of aggression to match that of the whaling fleet. We are pushing our equipment and ourselves to the limit because, at the end of the day, we are the only obstacle to the success of the Japanese whaling fleet and their 1,000 whale quota. I almost view these boats as just materials and, at times, think they will not matter, so long as we accomplish our goal of getting in the way and saving whales. Same goes for our ship — we will put our ship in the path of a harpoon ship if we need to and, if it sustains damage while saving a life and cuts profit to the Japanese whaling fleet, well, that’s a success for both us and the whales.

A lot of things can be repaired, but one thing we can’t fix in this world is the ever-growing list of extinct animals and creatures. Some of the problems we have had with our small boats have forced us into life-threatening situations, but our focus was on our mission and less on our own safety. Sea Shepherd forfeits not only the safety of ourselves but also our equipment for the lives of these whales.

This year, keeping the small boats running has been the most work I’ve had while with Sea Shepherd. We have had a series of problems — most of which we had no way to prevent or predict would arise. Whalers have thrown grapnel hooks down into the boat, puncturing and ripping holes in the inflatable pontoons. We’ve had bolts in the steering gear break while traveling top speeds, engine computers failing, causing the engines to just shut down suddenly, and constant water damage to electronics by the whalers’ water canons. I even had one of the Delta’s engines seize due to a failed bearing inside the engine. All of these things, I must repair while at sea, through snowstorms, ice, and crashing waves. It goes without saying that the Antarctic elements are extremely unfriendly for outside work. Whatever it is, the boats must be repaired immediately. Not only do they act as a large asset in our actions against whaling ships, but also serve as rescue boats in the event of a person falling overboard or an incident with the helicopter. We rely on these boats to keep the whales safe, as well as ourselves.

During campaign, I feel a lot of pressure from the organization, but also from the responsibility of being a part of the only group of people who is down in the Southern Ocean trying to put an end to this. Every day is lives. Every hour is a potential difference, and every action is a chance to throw a wrench in the gears of this killing machine. Preparing for actions can be a little stressful — checking all your gear, what did you miss, do you have everything, confidence and cool thinking to cover all your steps.

As soon as the boats are lowered in, you’ve just got your mind on the moment of engagement. It’s almost as if you sit and wait for that flag at the beginning of a race, where you see it drop, push forward the throttle, and set your eyes on your target. On the way over, you are running through all your movements, all your tactics, where you need to put the boat, where the others boats are going to be, and a whole series of ‘what-if’s’ that run through your head. Most emotions disappear as you pull up to the ships and you just concentrate on the many obstacles around you. Hours of actions just fly by in a blur. Once the actions are over, the trip back to the ship can either be the best feeling or a bit of a disappointment if you didn’t get the outcome you hoped for. Either way, it’s best to remember that we are doing all we can and we’re the only ones in the world down here doing something. Stepping back onto the ship is a relief either way. In my three years, I’ve never seen someone get seriously hurt, and to return to the crew safely is a great feeling.

As I look back at the events of this campaign, the Steve Irwin, alone, has done over 10 small boat actions against the harpoon and security ships and deployed over 35 prop fouling lines. We have disabled the Yushin Maru No. 2 and caused problems to the Yushin Maru No. 3′s propeller. We had a boarding team climb through barbed wire and spikes of the Shonan Maru No. 2 and, since day one of campaign, we have continued to fight with every last resource that this ship and organization has. We made new tactics and were constantly looking for an opportunity or a weakness in the whaling fleet to exploit. I look back and remember all the close calls, the dangers, and all those moments where our lives were at risk. But, instead of holding onto any of those fears, I shed them for pride and further motivation. We weren’t hurt and, every time, we learn something that makes us stronger during that next action. We’ve driven the hell out of these boats and we’ve gotten the job done. We are cutting the quota of the whaling fleet every year, but if we don’t progress in strength every year, I don’t know if we’d have the same effect. This year has been proof of that theory, as the whaling fleet has received $30 million to help them build a more secure and defensive fleet.

As the campaign comes to an end, I have already begun making a long list of jobs that I must start to work on the small boats for next campaign. New Delta pontoons, new electronics, radar, and extensive fiberglass and paintwork. I will definitely have my hands full during the months in port, but already look forward to another great year of direct action and resistance against the vicious killing machine we call the Japanese whaling fleet.