Maddie Rasmussen from Wooli has been a deckhand on the Steve Irwin for four years.
Maddie Rasmussen from Wooli has been a deckhand on the Steve Irwin for four years.

Life on Sea Shepherd flagship not for the faint-hearted

The Sea Shepherd flagship the Steve Irwin will arrive in Abbot Point tomorrow as part of Operation Reef Defence to protest the proposed Adani Carmichael coal mine.

It stopped in Coffs Harbour on July 24 and the Advocate caught up with Coffs local Maddie Rasmussen who is a deckhand on the ship to get a behind the scenes look at what life is like on board the famous ship:

All about saving animals

A DESIRE to save animals first lead Maddie Rasmussen to veterinarian studies but she soon learnt that wasn't for her.

" I was pretty naive back then. I thought the only way to save animals was to become a vet so I worked my butt off to get the marks to get in, but I soon realised it wasn't for me."

She had seen various images of Sea Shepherd vessels in action around the world - fending off whaling ships, or intercepting illegal fishing vessels - and decided to take a year off university and applied to join their ranks.

Despite being a voluntary role, it's highly sought after.

"I was really lucky. I applied and two days later got an interview and was accepted. Some people have waited five years."

That was four years ago and she is still going strong and was delighted to sail back into her home town as a deckhand on the Sea Shepherd flagship the M\Y Steve Irwin on July 24.

"Every year when I was growing up we would come to Red Rock and that's where I learnt to surf and dive. Finally my mother has retired here so this is where I come on my breaks."

Not that she gets many of those - sometimes working seven days a week, virtually on call 24 hours a day.

"If we see an illegal ship at 3am we will go out in one of the smaller boats. Criminals operate at all hours and we have to be ready. I've been out at 2 in the morning and haven't gotten back until six in the evening.

"I've never felt my life is threatened or anything like that, but when you go out in the smaller boats and you're manoeuvring about much larger ships at night for example, you have to have focus."

When she does come back to shore it's mostly to work at local cafes or other odd jobs to save up money to support her volunteer work.

"It's been my life for most of my 20s. When I come back to shore I have to get used to driving again and even sleeping in a normal bed. You see a lot of death and destruction so it does take a toll."

But she still counts herself as one of the lucky ones.

"I am lucky because ocean conservation is what I want to do forever. I will spend my 20s volunteering and learning as much as I can and in my 30s or 40s I hope to start my own conservation organisation."