David Howitt and I spent the whole Summer of 1986 working
to raise the money for our mission to infiltrate Iceland with
the sole purpose of causing maximum economic sabotage to their
whaling industry. I waited tables in a nightclub in London's
Chelsea district during the nights, and I refinished antiques
on Kings Road during the day. David went to southern England
where he picked hops. Every few weeks we would meet to discuss
our plans and go over intelligence we had gathered on Iceland.
When our work was complete, we would make a batch of paint-filled
light bulbs and ride out on our bikes to redecorate London
Finally, the day arrived when we rode the London Underground
subway to Heathrow Airport to catch our IcelandAir flight
to Reykjavik. As we rode to the airport, I removed a patch
from my jacket that read "Save the Whales, Save the Earth"
with a picture of a fin whale. All we carried with us was
our cameras, clothes and raingear, underwater flashlights,
knives and a couple of maps. All the tools necessary for any
action would be acquired in Iceland.
When we arrived in October, only the hardcore tourists were
still around. We got beds in the local youth hostel, and one
of our first tasks was to buy a pair of bolt cutters and a
large adjustable wrench from a local hardware store. We wanted
as much time as possible between the purchase of our tools
and the action, in case anyone might remember the purchase.
On one of the first nights in the capital city of Reykjavik,
we snuck out of the hostel late at night and into a scrap
yard from where we could view the four, 175- foot Icelandic
ships that comprised the nation’s entire whaling fleet.
Hvalur (“whaleship”) 5, 6, 7 and 8 bobbed in the
harbor, tied alongside each other like four Riders of the
Apocalypse waiting to unleash their evil on the natural world.
The ships’ superstructures were painted white with the
bridge windows and portholes dark and imposing, resembling
the eye sockets of a skull.
Needless to say, we were a little intimidated. The reality
of what was so simple to discuss in England but was now staring
us in the face in the freezing fall weather of a Reykjavik
night was more than a little daunting. But we had known it
would not be easy, so we began a series of late night observations
of the harbor. Within two weeks of surveillance, a definite
routine began to emerge. Every Friday night, a watchman would
relieve the day watch, carrying with him two bottles of Brenivin,
a strong Icelandic vodka. No activity could be seen on three
of the ships, the watchman staying on the fourth ship, the
one furthest from the dock. A weekend night emerged as the
best night for action.
In Reykjavik we saw photos from the whaling station, which
was 45 miles from town. Tours were offered for the station,
so David and I hitchhiked to the desolate station and were
dropped off near the entrance. As we approached, not a soul
was visible. The whaling season was over, and with it the
demand for tours. David and I began to walk throughout the
premises in broad daylight, gazing through windows at offices,
machinery and workshops, and it quickly became evident to
both of us that we might be able to strike the whaling station
also. We knew we would have only one shot at the Icelandic
whaling industry, and any risk to ourselves did not matter.
Already we felt the chances were high that we would not get
off the island once our sabotage was discovered.
Iceland in November 1986 was not a country that expected
or even remembered the threats of a militant anti-whaling
organization. Only one watchman was aboard all four ships.
It was the off-season and the crews were ashore, with work
on the ships restricted to daylight hours.
The week of our planned attack, the whaling ships were taken
into drydock. One by one, they were pulled out of the water
for repairs and cleaning, which is a major operation. David
and I had planned on attempting to sink all three ships minus
the one that housed the watchman. Now we were forced to sacrifice
our third target. Our money was running low, and the fear
of my discovery still haunted us. Maybe we were already under
surveillance ourselves, and the police were waiting for us
to act before they could legitimately arrest us?
Already David and I had read up on the Icelandic penal system
and learned that the longest sentence given to any crime was
eleven years. We also learned that Icelandic prisoners were
employed making cement sidewalk blocks. From that day on,
the jokes never stopped of how good we might become at building
Finally surrendering our fate to the whale spirits, we decided
to act. We choose the night of November 7th for our task of
vengeance. We said goodbye to our European friends and told
them David and I were going to rent a car for our last day
to do a little sightseeing.
We drove to the airport on the morning of the 7th to pre-check
our luggage for the 6 a.m. flight out of the country the following
morning. It was to Luxemburg, but we did not care where it
went, as long as it was not Scandinavia. Next, we drove to
Iceland's only vegetarian restaurant for what might be our
last supper. We had been saving our money for this last luxury
but found the restaurant closed. Not to be disappointed, we
bought food from a supermarket and drove to a clearing above
the whaling station to eat our meal and await the early winter
While eating, we listened to the car radio and after our
meal discovered we had drained the battery dead. Here our
mission might have ended, had not a vanload of Icelandic youths,
probably employed by the whaling station, came to our rescue.
They towed our car until we could jump start it, and then
we waved goodbye and drove to our prearranged hiding place
for the car, as night was fast approaching.
A rainstorm began to fall, adding a brilliant cover as David
and I pulled on our dark raingear, gloves and ski masks and
strapped on fanny-packs filled with flashlights and tools.
I then placed the car keys on the top of the rear tire, and
we began the long walk to the whaling station in complete
darkness, bending into the wind and increasing rain.
As we approached the whaling station, we were surprised by
the sight and sound of a front-end excavator that was digging
a trench at the station. We dropped to the ground and spent
the next hour lying in the freezing rain until the workman
and his machine headed off to the local town. As the lights
of the machine disappeared, we leapt into action.
After this task, we found the computer control room that
kept the entire stations machinery fully automated. We smashed
the computer panels until sparks flew and LEDs flashed and
the beautiful music of machines dying all around us could
be heard. There was no time to waste, so we moved next to
the ship’s store, where the spare parts for the four
whaling ships were kept. Taking the most expensive pieces,
we walked to the edge of the docks and tossed them into the
Finally, we reached the offices where record books detailing
the illegal catches were confiscated and cyanic acid was poured
through out the building. Windows were smashed, and anything
that looked expensive met the business end of our wrenches
and bolt cutters.
Our first task was the sabotage of the six huge diesel generators
that provided power for the station. David and I were both
experienced diesel engineers, and we knew what was good for
an engine, as well as what was bad. Before long we were stripping
off our outer clothing and sweating profusely in our handiwork.
Next, we moved onto the centrifuges that processed whale
blubber into a high-grade lubricating oil that was used in
missiles. Smashing the delicate gear, we next located what
we could not find at the meatpacking plant: the Whalemeat
Mountain. David had attempted to move the many crates of whale
meat, housed in huge refrigeration units beneath the station,
but the forklift he drove ran out of propane gas. We were
forced to wedge open the refrigeration units and then sabotage
the refrigeration units themselves so that hopefully the meat
would thaw and spoil.
Watching World News a few days later, we would hear the
station’s foreman recount with shock how it appeared
that the whole whaling station had been the target of an air
We could have spent all night sabotaging the station, but
the ships were waiting, so David and I signaled a retreat
and returned tired and sweating to our car. Once there I experienced
a frantic moment as I reached for the keys on the tire and
found them not there. The high winds had been so strong as
to blow them some feet away, where I found them with my flashlight.
Now covered in grease and drenched in sweat, we drove back
to Reykjavik. The weather made the roads treacherous, and
often the car would start to slide when it hit ice.
I am convinced that many of my premature gray hairs were
earned that night. An hour later we reached Reykjavik Harbor,
where three ships lay bobbing in the water, the fourth in
dry dock. Resting, David and I ate some quick energy food
and stashed our confiscated record books from the whaling
station in the backseat. Taking a deep breath, we opened our
car doors and stepped back into the pounding rainstorm that
made our ski masks and rain gear not just a disguise but a
necessity. With hands in our pockets like two cold fisherman,
we walked down the dead-end dock towards Hvalur 5, 6 and 7.
The tides in the harbor were such that we were level with
the ships’ decks; so to board, all we had to do was
hop a few feet from the dock to the steel-plated decks. Moving
quickly to Hvalur 5, David pulled out our bolt cutters and
cut the hasp on the lock that shut the engine room hatch.
Moving into the fully-lit engine rooms, David searched the
ship for any sleeping watchman while I moved into the engine
room and began lifting deck plates, looking for the saltwater
cooling valve that regulated the seawater that cooled the
ships’ engines at sea. By the time I found it, David
had returned to announce that the ship was indeed empty.
We began to wrestle off the sixteen or more nuts that held
the valve cover in place, and when most were removed water
began to shoot out from the bolt holes. I tasted it, and it
was salty. When the cover was fully removed, the ocean water
would flood first the engine room and then the rest of the
ship’s compartments, dragging it to a watery grave in
Reykjavik's deep harbor. Leaving the cover partially removed,
we moved to Hvalur 6, where we repeated the process, quickly
locating removing that ship’s salt-water cooling valves.
Finally, with all the nuts and bolts removed, we took a
pry bar to the valve, and with a little persuasion the valve
quickly popped free, releasing a flood of seawater that drenched
both David and me. Quickly returning to Hvalur 5, we removed
the last of that ship’s cover bolts, and again the ocean
began to rush in.
Now it was time to execute our escape. The whaling station
had been demolished, and two 175-foot whaling ships were sinking.
The time was just before 5 a.m., and the airport was almost
an hour away. Walking away from the two sinking ships, we
tossed our tools into the icy waters and pulled our ski masks
off just as we reached the car. Hopping into the driver’s
seat, I started the car and pulled onto the road. Less than
two minutes later, we were pulled over by a Reykjavik Police
My first thought was, "No, they can't be that good;
they can't have been watching us this whole time..."
Still, there we were two ships quickly sinking and minutes
ticking away before our flight to freedom would lift off,
possibly leaving us for the next eleven years to fine tune
our masonry skills at the local prison. And a police officer
was walking to my window while David and I sat soaked in water,
with grease from engines all over our clothes.
The officer asked me to get into his car. Looking at David
as he sat with eyes forward, I got out of the car and into
the back seat of the police cruiser. The officers ignored
me and spoke to each other in Icelandic before finally turning
around and asking me in plain English, "Have you drinken
any alcohol tonight?"
Almost laughing, I said, "No, I do not even drink!"
which was a lie, and he then asked if he could smell my breath.
It was tempting to utter a joke, but hot coffee on an IcelandAir
jet was calling. So I breathed on him, and he wished me a
safe trip to the airport, knowing that was where we were probably
headed because of the early morning departure.
That police officer is probably still cursing himself today
after having the nation’s only saboteur since the second
World War into his police car and then letting him go. Returning
to the car, David told me he had almost bolted but thought
it best that he wait for another moment for some signal from
me. The zoo liberation was now out of the question as we sped
towards the airport to catch our 6 a.m. flight.
Pulling into the airport we grabbed our daypacks and quickly
changed our clothes, dumping the grease-covered ones in the
airport garbage can. We next went through Icelandic Customs
without any incident, checked in and grabbed our boarding
passes. The polite ticket agent told us the flight was delayed
due to the harsh weather. The words were what we least wanted
to hear, and David and I spent the next 30 minutes staring
at the clock, imagining the chaos erupting at Reykjavik harbor
just about now. Finally, our flight was called, and we quickly
boarded, still not feeling safe until we landed in Luxembourg.
Hours later we did just that, David and I gazing out the
window half expecting to see Interpol agents waiting for our
arrival. They were not. We collected our luggage and walked
out of the airport after making an anonymous call to the Sea
Shepherd offices in the U.K. saying only, "We got the
station, and two are on the bottom..."
We hitchhiked to Belgium, where we caught a ferry to England
and then a bus to London. Getting off the bus now 36 hours
after our action, I walked to a news agent and picked up a
copy of the morning paper. A story on the front page said
only, "SABOTUERS SINK WHALERS, photo page six..."
Flipping to the page, I saw one of the most beautiful sights
in the world. There was Hvalur 5 and 6 resting gently on the
bottom of Reykjavik harbor, only their skeletal superstructure
peeking above the waves. Paul Watson was quoted as accepting
responsibility for the attack, which he said was an enforcement
action of the IWC's moratorium on commercial whaling that
Iceland had violated.
David and I embraced in the streets, laughing with the elation
that only a realized dream can bring.