'It takes a pirate to catch a pirate'
With bunk beds in cramped rooms, stickers with slogans such as "Woodchipping Sucks" plastering the walls and the smell of samosas filling the air, this could easily be a backpacker's hostel.
But life aboard the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's anti-whaling ship Bob Barker is no holiday.
The Bob Barker, named after an American game show host who donated money to buy the ship, is docked in Sydney's White Bay and will soon make the voyage into the freezing waters of the Southern Ocean for a three-month campaign.
Preparing for the journey ... Andrea Gordon. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Over summer, the crew of 35 conservationist volunteers will stalk the Japanese whaling ships and brave nature's whims to put themselves between the hunters and their prey.
The crew will work exhausting days and nights in an ocean known for its dangerous winds and huge waves.
"I think this season down in the Southern Ocean is going to be the most intense year to date," the ship's manager, Andrea Gordon, said.
Pointing the way ... the Bob Barker hopes to intercept Japan's whaling ships. Photo: Kate Geraghty
"Sea Shepherd has been getting stronger and more successful every year and last year we saved over 850 whales and we intend to shut them down completely this year."
We talked to the crew - who were busy doing maintenance and stocking medical and food supplies - about a day in the life of the Bob Barker's crew at sea.
On board the Bob Barker
The Sea Shepard ship, the Bob Barker, moored in White Bay, Sydney, preparing for the upcoming journey to the Antarctic to chase Japanese whaling boats. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Breakfast is served in the mess. It is a cheerful room lined with big tables with blue bench seats and decorated with photographs of whales and elephants.
The crew have a hot breakfast, such as pancakes and baked beans, cooked by the galley crew.
"All the food on board the ship is vegan, so no animal products," Ms Gordon said.
"As conservationists, we just think it's important that we're not contributing to the demise of the species we're trying to save."
The crew have their morning meeting to work out tactics for the day.
Ms Gordon said the hardest part of their job is tracking down the Nisshin Maru, the Japanese factory ship.
"Our most effective tactic for stopping whaling fleets is just finding the Nisshin Maru and staying behind the ship because, once we put a Sea Shepherd ship behind the Nisshin Maru, they stop killing whales and try to run from us.
"Last season we circumnavigated almost half of Antarctica chasing the Nisshin Maru out of the whaling grounds and eventually out of Antarctica and they went back to Japan a month early, cutting their whaling season short."
The day's work begins. The crew is split into teams on the bridge, engineers in the guts of the ship and others on deck and in the galley.
The bridge team handles navigation and communication and the engineers keep the engine room running. These teams will work four-hour shifts, with eight-hour breaks over the course of 24 hours.
The galley team handle cooking and the deck crew look after maintenance and operate the inflatable boats that chase the whaling fleets.
The work is frightening and potentially dangerous.
If they are close to the whaling vessels, the crew expect to face aggressive tactics from the whalers, who often lead them into poor weather conditions.
"The whaling ships have shown complete disregard for both human and whale life," Ms Gordon said.
"When going up against the whaling fleet, we're a crew of volunteers funded by donations, and we're going up against one of the most well-funded fleets and technologically advanced fleets.
"And we've faced a barrage of tactics from them - from water cannons to ramming."
The crew have lunch, which on the day smh.com.au visited was a spread of salad, samosas, sushi, bread and a two-layered chocolate cake.
Ms Gordon said that, after the first month at sea, most of the fresh food had been eaten and the meals came mainly from tinned or dry foods.
"They come up with an incredible amount of creative dishes.
"We'll still be eating new and different things at the end of three months."
Meal times also give the crew time to get to know each other.
They are made up of volunteers from many backgrounds, preferably with a lot of different practical skills, including medical expertise, carpentry and engineering.
Leon Brown, a 21-year-old pipe fitter from Perth, has been working on the Bob Barker while it is in port.
"For the last six years my work has been in mining and construction," he said.
"The projects are really bad for the environment, so I'm trying to have a bit of time away and have a bit of a change."
The afternoon work begins.
While the work is exhausting and sometimes risky, it is worth it for the crew.
"When we're out in the Southern Ocean, every day that we're not with the whaling fleet is a day that the whalers could be killing whales," Ms Gordon said.
"To me that's the scariest thing ... knowing that they could be killing whales."
Sam Sielen, 28, who came from the United States to work on the ship, feels much the same.
"There are risks we take every day. Just getting in an automobile ... is putting your life at risk.
"So going out to sea to fight for a cause I so strongly agree with, this is a risk I'm willing to take."
For some of the crew, the afternoon is also an opportunity to rest between shifts.
The rooms on the ship are very compact, with two bunk beds crammed inside. Downstairs is the male crew members' quarters, dubbed the "man cave".
Even when they fall asleep the crew are reminded of their mission, with drawings and photos of whales on the wall along with stickers with the slogan "It takes a pirate to catch a pirate".
Dinner is served in the mess. Some of the options include pizza, curries, lasagne and vegetarian hot dogs.
The crew will sometimes have theme nights to boost morale and special dinners to celebrate holidays such as Christmas, New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day.
"The food is a really important part of the ship," Ms Gordon said.
"It's something that really brings people together during the campaign and, when we have long days at sea or there's bad weather, it's a real morale boost that the crew can all come together and share a meal.
The crew might also spend their down-time watching DVDs and playing games, she said.
The crew continue to work through the night, mostly keeping tabs on the location of the whaling vessels and making sure they don't slip away in the darkness.
As though battling the high seas and trying to save whales doesn't sound active enough, the crew keep healthy and stave off sickness with regular exercises, including stretches and aerobics, on the deck.
"One of the great things about being aboard the ship is we get volunteer crew from all over the world and all different backgrounds," Ms Gordon said.
"One common factor with all the crew is that people have a passion for protecting the ocean and wanting to save marine life.
The Bob Barker will be docked in Circular Quay from November 10-12 for free public tours, before it heads to Hobart for more preparation for the voyage south.