Rainbow Warrior captain Peter Willcox and his crew were protesting the French government’s nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific, when the French military bombed their Greenpeace ship in 1985.
The vessel sank and photographer Fernando Pereira was killed. Instead of stopping opposition to its nuclear testing, however, the French action galvanized the public, leading to the eventual end of nuclear testing in the Pacific.
A second ship was built, and for 35 years, Willcox has remained captain of the Rainbow Warrior, bringing international awareness to destructive environmental practices around the world.
Three years ago, Russian government officials kidnapped Willcox and his crew on the high seas, where the activists were protesting Russian plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. They spent two months in a Russian prison before they were granted amnesty.
Willcox has written about his illustrious career on the Rainbow Warrior, in a book titled “Greenpeace Captain.” The memoir, from St. Martin’s Press, covers 30 years of Greenpeace actions.
Willcox will be in Moab on Sunday, May 15, to show slides and sign books at Back of Beyond Books, 83 N. Main St. His presentation is set to begin at 7 p.m.
“The purpose is to give people an idea of what we do with Greenpeace campaigns and why they’re important,” Willcox said. “I will answer questions for as long as people want to keep me there.”
Founded in 1971, Greenpeace often engages in nonviolent civil disobedience in an attempt to promote peace and save the planet.
Willcox said one of Greenpeace’s “best actions,” was when the Rainbow Warrior crew took on the daunting task of relocating 350 residents from a radioactively contaminated island to another island 150 miles away. The evacuation and relocation required four trips.
The United States tested nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands from the 1940s to the mid-1950s, knowingly exposing residents to high doses of radiation to learn what would happen to them, Willcox said.
“They asked us to move them (from their radioactive environment),” Willcox said. “It was an amazing thing in my life. I will never forget it.”
Willcox grew up in Vermont in a politically active family of sailing enthusiasts. His mother worked on a presidential campaign with legendary activist and folk singer Pete Seeger.
Later, after graduating from high school, Willcox worked with Seeger, who founded Clearwater, a boat that provides science-based environmental education and cleanup of the Hudson River in New York. Willcox worked for Clearwater, and became its captain from 1976 to 1980.
“It’s sort of where I went to college,” he said.
Willcox learned about Greenpeace after reading “Warriors of the Rainbow.” He joined the organization in 1981.
“When the Rainbow Warrior came to the U.S., I was on board two weeks later,” he said.
Willcox, 63, and his wife Maggy reside in Islesboro, Maine. They heard about Back of Beyond Books in Moab through a mutual friend of bookstore owner Andy Nettell and Maggy Willcox. Other stops along the book tour have included Washington, D.C., New York City, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.
“It’s pretty inspiring to read about all of his exploits,” Nettell said. “He and Greenpeace have put their lives on the line trying to save the earth. They espouse nonviolence but sure put their lives on the line to save resources.”
Willcox disembarked from the Rainbow Warrior ship four weeks ago. He plans to set sail again in August, for a trip to Turkey and Lebanon. Greenpeace’s current focus is on climate change, he said.
“We have to do all we can to leave all the fossil fuels in the ground,” Willcox said.
Veteran activist Peter Willcox to speak at Back of Beyond on May 15
“It’s pretty inspiring to read about all of his exploits … He and Greenpeace have put their lives on the line trying to save the earth.”
Where: Back of Beyond Books, 83 N. Main St.
When: Sunday, May 15, at 7 p.m.
To learn more about Greenpeace, visit www.greenpeace.org.