BOOKS: Ocean Warrior

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1995:

Ocean Warrior, by Captain Paul Watson.
Key Porter Books Ltd. (70 The Esplanade, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5E 1R2), 1994. 264 pages, cloth, $26.95.
[In U.S., order from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, 3107-A Washington Blvd., Marina Del Ray, CA 90292.]
If Ocean Warrior was a work of fiction and Paul
Watson had never been a sailor, it would still make Watson a
worthy heir to the tradition of Stephen Crane, Herman
Melville, and Robert Louis Stevenson––a tradition he honors
with allusions to The Open Boat, Moby Dick and Treasure
Island. It’s a can’t-put-it-down page-turner: a rousing collec-
tion of classic sea stories, weaving all five of the eternal
themes into a single narrative. For those who weren’t litera-
ture majors, that’s man-against-man, man-against-woman,
mankind-against-nature, self-against-self, and coming-of-
age. It’s the story of a young man who matures through der-
ring-do in naval battle, growing into the command of a fleet
and leadership of a crusade while more awkwardly grappling
with politics and personal relationships.

One element would be missing, however, from a
work of fiction: the single symbolic villain, a Captain Ahab
or Wolf Larsen, anti-hero of Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf.
Larsen in particular would make the perfect foil for Watson:
a grim Scandinavian sealing and whaling captain who
respects no god, takes a mechanistic view of nature, is tacti-
cally brilliant, and tries to take the world down with himself.
Instead of going up against a single worthy foe,
Watson confronts a series of captains and crews of Larsen’s
outlook but none of his intellect and courage. Confronted,
they mostly pick up their nets and run. Watson’s strongest,
most diabolical opponents are actually anonymous Canadian
civil servants, and his fellow cofounders of G r e e n p e a c e,
who can’t quite achieve mythic dimensions of villainy
because whatever else their shortcomings, and however inept
their tactics as they sabotage the Sea Shepherds at every turn,
they are at least nominally on the same side.
True story
But Ocean Warrior isn’t fiction. It’s Watson’s
account of his own nautical exploits, leaving his campaigns
on behalf of seals, wolves, and Native Americans for anoth-
er volume. It opens with Watson’s ramming of the pirate
whaler Sierra off Portugal on July 16, 1979, an episode by
turns dramatic and comic––and it’s the comedy Watson
chooses to emphasize in clash after clash. Deadly serious
Faroese rake his bow with machine-gun fire; Watson and
crew shoot them back with 45 gallons of eight-year-old pie
filling. Watson is of course deadly serious about saving
marine life, but he knows humor is in itself a lethal weapon.
Time after time Watson and crew sink or damage scofflaw
whalers, driftnetters, and other high seas riffraff, then use
their reputation to bluff others back in hopes various govern-
ments, ridiculed for their failures, might grow the courage to
enforce laws and treaties apparently adopted only to pacify
less aggressive activist groups with far larger constituencies
than the ever-broke Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Watson can be pardoned for not giving the bigger,
richer groups proper credit for winning through conventional
politics the statutes whose implementation he attempts to
impel. Warriors are perennially frustrated by politicians,
whose job it is to keep conflict from becoming combat.
Like any pirate captain, Watson also incessantly
battles his own mutinous recruits, many of whom are moti-
vated to come aboard in the first place more out of sociopathy
than conviction. Most quit early, upon discovering the hard
work involved in keeping a ship afloat. Others resort to sub-
trefuge. Some, notably Ben White and Scott Trimingham,
nearly succeeded in ousting Watson from his own organiza-
tion when for several years in the late 1980s he made the mis-
take of trying to permit a politically correct degree of demo-
cracy and even consensus in the decision-making. Unlike
most pirate captains, however, Watson survived to regain the
helm and tell the tale.
Read it. You may already know the plot, but
Ocean Warrior adds many new dimensions to the stories that
have inspired a generation.
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