London Community News
By Paul Everest/London Community News/Twitter: @PaulEverest1
On his daughter’s third birthday, Shawn Watson was more than 2,000 kilometres away, adorned in a survival suit and watching frigid water pour into the boat he was aboard through a dime-sized hole.
It was that day, in March 2005, he decided the next time he reached land, he would head for home in London.
“It was like, OK, I’m sitting here in the middle of nowhere, the boat’s sinking,” Shawn said. “I wasn’t scared. I figured worst-case scenario, I’m either going to be standing on an ice floe or sitting in a zodiac waiting to be rescued. But I thought, naw, that’s just kind of a close call.”
Shawn had volunteered to serve roughly 10 days aboard the R/V Farley Mowat as it worked in the icy Gulf of St. Lawrence to disrupt the annual seal hunt near the Magdalen Islands.
Operating the ship was the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an organization founded by Shawn’s uncle, Paul Watson, who is described by some as one of the most important protectors of the oceans, and by others as an eco-terrorist.
Two icebreakers and a helicopter supplied with extra pumps were dispatched to help the wounded ship. Shawn said the crew was able to use the pumps “to keep the water out as fast as it was coming in” and sail to Port aux Basques, N.L., for repairs.
“And that’s where I got off.”
This adventure was not the first time Shawn had experienced peril at sea on one of the society’s missions.
Fifteen years before, when he was 14, Shawn was aboard another of the society’s ships, the Sea Shepherd II, for a two-month tour in the North Pacific Ocean.
During that tour, Shawn said, the society targeted a number of Taiwanese fishing ships using drift nets and Paul “sideswiped them in order to take out their nets.”
The crews of those ships were not amused, he said.
“We had to wear bullet-proof vests and helmets and they were throwing knives at us. They were kind of pissed,” Shawn said. “It was quite the experience when you’re 14.”
At the time, with the adrenaline of a teenager running through his veins, he never felt his life was at risk.
But now, at the age of 36 with two daughters, a long-term girlfriend and a job, he admits there were some “scary moments” when he recalls his experiences with Paul on the Pacific.
“We were in a bad typhoon for like a week where you couldn’t go out on the deck,” he said. “The waves were going right over the deck of the ship. I guess it would have been freaky, looking back. “But at the time, you don’t have any fear when you’re 14.”
Despite these close calls, however, and even though he has a family and a career, Shawn admits he would consider heading to sea with his uncle again.
“I think about it all the time. I’d like to. I don’t think I could do the whale campaigns because they’re usually three or four months long. I don’t think I could handle it.
“I’d definitely go on a smaller campaign.”
Beyond a desire to become involved with the society again, Shawn said he and his family are behind Paul in everything he does, especially now as he struggles with legal challenges overseas.
“I know that he’s very passionate and this is his passion and it’s all real. He sees whales, seals, dolphins and all that as his clients, his only clients and that’s the only thing he works for.”
Born in Toronto in 1950, Paul has worked as an environmental activist for more than 40 years and was a founding member of Greenpeace.
In 1977, he founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society with the aim of protecting marine life. His efforts to stop the killing of animals such as whales and seals have been the focus of numerous books, films and the current Animal Planet reality series Whale Wars, where he and his followers try to thwart the attempts of Japanese whaling ships around Antarctica.
Last month, as he prepared to present a film at the Cannes Film Festival, Paul was arrested in Frankfurt, Germany, on charges dating back to 2002.
He is accused of putting a ship’s crew in danger during a confrontation at sea off the west coast of Central America while attempting to stop shark fin poachers.
Paul is currently out on bail in Germany and faces extradition to Costa Rica.
His 52-year-old brother Stephen Watson, who also lives in London, said Paul’s lawyers are working to have the charges dismissed.
“He’s in his element, he loves this,” Stephen said. “Every time Paul gets arrested, and it’s been many times, he turns it into a huge victory for Sea Shepherd.”
He added he is confident Paul will beat this legal challenge, as well as another legal issue he’s facing in the United Kingdom. He’s hoping Paul will arrive in London next week for a pair of scheduled appearances at
A.B. Lucas Secondary School on June 15 and the Western University Grad club on June 16.
It has been two years since Stephen has seen his brother and he is looking forward to Paul returning to the Forest City, where he attended the G. A. Wheable Adult and Continuing Education School in the mid-1960s.
Sitting in a home filled with artwork, books and films detailing his brother’s life, Stephen said his earliest memory of Paul was spending time in the woods with him in central New Brunswick.
“We’d go into the woods for the whole weekend and just follow trap lines. We would follow clearings for hydro lines. When they built the hydro lines, they would leave cabins behind, so we would work our way from cabin to cabin and sleep overnight in the cabins.”
He believes it was during Paul’s time in the New Brunswick wilderness he developed his desire to help the environment.
Even with the arrests, the dangerous high-seas confrontations and the numerous political and corporate enemies he has amassed, Stephen said he doesn’t really worry all that much about Paul.
“It’s been 40 years, we’re kind of used to it.”
Stephen is an artist and he added that although he has never served aboard one of the society’s ships — due to having four kids and a mortgage — he donates his artwork to society fundraisers because Paul is “absolutely my hero.”
“I believe 100 per cent in what he does. What he’s doing is extremely important. What people don’t realize is that the oceans are dying. Most people live on land. Paul’s spent 40 years at sea,” Stephen said. “The main message that Paul tries to get across is that the oceans are dying, there’s no doubt about it. And when the oceans die, we die, because we cannot survive on land without the oceans. The oceans create most of our oxygen and the world feeds on the oceans.”
When asked what he is most proud of when it comes to Paul’s accomplishments, Stephen said it all comes down to how much life Paul has protected.
“He’s saved more whales than anybody in history. He’s saved more marine life than anybody who has ever lived on this planet. I mean that’s pretty amazing what he’s done in 40 years.”
The Forest City Meets the Ocean with Paul Watson event takes place June 16 from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Western University’s Grad club.
Tickets are $25 and further details can be found at facebook.com/SSCSToronto.