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A Volcano Erupts on The Horizon23.12.2007

Tags: Rainbow Warrior       Comments: 0

After the hectic pace of the Climate Conference on Bali, the Solar Taxi crew and Louis Palmer are enjoying the peace and quiet on the "Rainbow Warrior". Flying fish, hitchhiking boobies, and the reflection of the moon in the water fascinate the landlubbers. That is until a volcano erupts on the horizon.

Today is our sixth day on the high seas. I was woken by our New Zealand nurse Lesley, who came rushing into our cabin saying something about a "volcano erupting". A what? Reason enough to hurry up on deck. Mike our captain had seen something red glowing in the distance two hours ago in the dark and altered course. Now we’re heading directly towards a green, uninhabited rock island called Batu Tara. The island isn’t even three kilometres wide, but between two of its peaks an 800 metre-high volcano is spitting grey clouds of ash and dust into the sky every few minutes, covering the whole ship with debris.


Thunder crashed deafeningly, the air smelled of sulphur and huge boulders plunged into the sea ahead of us. The "Rainbow Warrior" had seen a few things in her 18 years, but this was without doubt the first volcanic eruption the ship and her crew had ever seen so close.

And we thought at the beginning of this trip that nothing much would happen over the next four weeks and we’d have to get used to boredom! On our very first evening we saw a brilliantly coloured sunset like one you’d see on a postcard. The next morning a group of dolphins were swimming around the ship. Yesterday the whale alarm was sounded, but by the time we had all rushed up on deck, the whale had long since dived again. That was enough to the put the entire crew into a state of excitement for the rest of the day.

In the afternoon a hitchhiker suddenly appeared on board. A big bird, a type of booby with red feet, settled on the ship’s stern to enjoy a free ride. Since he’d made himself comfortable on a chain though, he had a constant struggle to keep his balance. We all laughed at his “boobyish” behaviour.

It’s another world

The sea has been pleasantly calm over the past few days. Thomas repairs and oils towing ropes and screw threads on deck, while I mostly sit at the computer in the cabin until the slight, steady rocking of the waves makes me giddy and I have to go up for some fresh air. Most of the time we have the whole chain of islands from Bali to Timor in view. The islands of Lombok, Sumbawa and Flores are already behind us and we’re now heading for Timor, which we’re due to round to the north tomorrow morning. Our average speed is 13 km/h, and there’s rarely enough wind to allow us to hoist the sails.

The days before Christmas are quiet and relaxing on the "Rainbow Warrior". The crew, 15 people from 13 countries and four continents, occasionally find time to recall their favourite stories of past years. In the evenings we sit for hours on the bridge, just listening to the stories. Here, in the middle of the Indonesian islands, all the stories of recent campaigns seem to have happened years ago. We’re in another world.

The cloud-shrouded volcano towers close by. Sometimes a couple of drops of rain fall. Only the monotonous drone of the ship’s motor can be heard. From time to time a flying fish leaps out of the water and glides in front of our prow for a couple of metres. We cross the sea in complete solitude. Only once do we see a local sailing ship, laden with wood, pass by. The moon shines out from behind the clouds and we spend hours gazing at its reflection in the waves.

Our Dutch, South African and Russian skippers, who relieve each other at four-hourly intervals, have plotted our course for the next days on the map. We’re going to spend Christmas somewhere near the first island we come to that belongs to Australia. We’ve already given this nameless island a name: Christmas Island.



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