Earthrace may take on whalers

13:45, Jun 03 2009
BOAT SPEED: Pete Bethune on the bow of his world record-setting boat Earthrace in New Plymouth.

Japanese whaling ships could be the next target for New Zealand seafarer Pete Bethune and his world record-setting boat Earthrace.

Mr Bethune says he and the distinctive powerboat could become part of environmental organisation Sea Shepherd's fleet battling the whalers in the Southern Ocean after Earthrace finishes its world tour in Hamilton in three weeks.

"That's the most likely scenario but it's not 100 per cent yet," he told the Taranaki Daily News in New Plymouth yesterday. "To go down there would be pretty cool."

Sea Shepherd has become well known in recent years for its skirmishes with Japanese whaling ships.

Last year, its boat Steve Irwin chased the whaling fleet for more than 3000 kilometres, and the organisation claimed to have saved the lives of 305 whales.

For the past three years, Mr Bethune and Earthrace have been fighting a different environmental battle promoting the use of sustainable biofuel. Last year, the 100 per cent biofuel-powered trimaran smashed the round the world speed record, knocking almost two weeks off the old record with a time of 60 days, 23 hours and 49 minutes.


Since then a worldwide promotional tour has given more than 180,000 people the chance to look over the boat.

Back in New Zealand since February, Earthrace's odyssey finishes at Fieldays in Hamilton next month.

"I've lived the dream on this boat," Mr Bethune said.

"I've had the best times of my life on this boat and the worst times of my life.

"I've been treated like a king and treated like a pauper."

Mr Bethune and Earthrace hit the headlines when they were detained in Guatemala after an accident killed a local fisherman, but he said other standout memories included wakeboarding on Loch Ness, diving in the Pacific and Caribbean, surviving more than a dozen storms at sea and brushes with Colombian pirates.

"Would I do it again? I would," he said.

"To get to work on something you really believe in most of us go through life without any chance to do that."

But Mr Bethune said the world tour following the record-setting voyage became much bigger than he had expected and had come at the cost of time with his family.

Now he's looking forward to a break and says joining the Sea Shepherd fleet would not be as demanding on his time.

"It's hit and run 10 weeks and it's all over, not three years like this has been."

His other option is to sell the boat.

As the tour draws to a close, Mr Bethune gave the Government a serve over biofuel legislation.

A Labour law making it compulsory for oil companies to mix biofuels into petrol and diesel was passed last September.

Mr Bethune said the legislation was a positive move, even though it came late in Labour's final term and wasn't revolutionary in its scope.

When National scrapped the law just three months later as one of its first acts in office, Mr Bethune was heartbroken.

"It kind of made me wonder if what you do even matters," he said.

"For biofuels to be viable they've got to be compulsory.

"Governments need to show a bit of backbone and spine and ours have been a bit backwards in that area.

"At the moment, New Zealand is the only country in the OECD that doesn't have biofuel available to consumers.

"Consumers are receptive but the oil companies hate it."

Earthrace, Mr Bethune and five other crew members are in New Plymouth until this evening.

The boat is open for public viewing today from 10am until 5pm and costs adults $5, children $2.50 and families $10. Money raised goes to the Taranaki Coastguard.

Taranaki Daily News