All at Sea

photo man 2

I’ve been interested in Photography all my life but I didn’t train as a Photographer, I joined the Merchant Navy. I served my apprenticeship with an American firm and spent the first two years on Supertankers. That just drove you nuts. I joined the last ship I was on with them in Rotterdam and we sailed to Saudi Arabia loaded with oil. You weren’t allowed ashore in Saudi, so when I stepped off the ship again in Rotterdam, we’d not walked on land for 6 months to the day. The wages were good but people did end up stir crazy.

We alleviated the boredom by playing practical jokes on each other, which did sometimes get dangerous. For example, one chap went into his cabin and someone had put a lump hammer on top of the door, so it fell on his head. Another chap thought he was going mad because he kept seeing a big pink rabbit run across the top of the engine room. There’d been a fancy dress party on the ship and there was a bunny costume that one of the officer’s wives had made up and when he was doing his log in the engine room, someone would put this on and sneak across the top platform so he’d just catch them out of the corner of his eye. And we changed somebody’s cabin around once. He had an empty cabin next to his and while he was on watch we got into his cabin and put all his stuff in the next one – we even managed to change his key and the telephone and everything. When he was trying to get in we were saying ‘it’s not your cabin, Geordie.’ And he was going ‘Yes it is!’

A couple of years later I joined Greenpeace for a short period. I just saw them on the television saving whales and I thought, ‘That’s brilliant’. They had a ship moored up in London Docks and I would go up sometimes for a couple of months and do all the engine work. They were doing a campaign at the time to block the outflow at Windscale because it was radioactive, and sent out a reconnaissance team in a rubber dinghy to locate the end of the pipeline. Windscale had let a load of highly radioactive waste out and they thought nobody would know about it. Our team found this oily sludge on the side of the dinghy and all over them, and as a matter of course they carried Geiger counters. The poor people had to have bloody hosepipes up their bums and everything to wash all this stuff off. I went on the mission to block the pipe and they brought out a High Court Injunction against us. What had happened before was the Rainbow Warrior had been in France on an anti-nuclear thing and the French police had tear-gassed it. Margaret Thatcher had said to Mitterand, ‘That only gives them more publicity – bring out a high court injunction instead because they never break those.’ So this time we thought we’d break it. The downside of that was that they could have sequestrated all the assets of Greenpeace, so it was a risk. But we broke it, and were fined £30,000 which George Harrison paid for us, apparently. Everyone started donating money and Duran Duran wanted to do a benefit concert, so Greenpeace ended up with more resources than they had before they started – the injunction backfired on the government.

I was supposed to be on the Rainbow Warrior on that trip when it got blown up by the Secret Service. My name was down to be engineer on there, but I stayed home and ran my business instead. The chap who was killed was a photographer – a Portuguese chap – Fernando Pereira. His camera was drying out in the engine room and he went down to collect it when the action started. Unbeknown to him there was a second bomb which went off when he was down there, and he was killed. That could easily have been me. A photographer always thinks of his camera first.


If you are interested in cameras and are in the Hayle area, do drop in to this excellent shop: