Peter Willcox

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Peter Henry Willcox
Born March 6, 1953 (1953-03-06) (age 61)
Nationality American
Occupation Activist

Peter Willcox is best known as a captain for Greenpeace, mostly on the Rainbow Warrior. He was on board when the boat was blown up by French military members in New Zealand in 1985. He was also on the Arctic Sunrise when that boat was arrested by the Russian military, and spent two months in detention in Russia as a member of the Arctic 30. In 2014 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from "The Guardian" newspaper for his environmental activism. He is currently working on his autobiography. He continues to work for Greenpeace.

Early years[edit]

Willcox was born to Eleanor Sharpe of Woodstock, Vermont. Sharp, a member of the US Ski team at the time was single, and gave the baby quickly up for adoption at the urging of her family. Willcox was adopted by Roger and Elsie Willcox, of South Norwalk, CT. He was raised in what may have been the first intentionally integrated community in New England, called Village Creek.

Willcox’s parent were both politically active. He father Roger, a community organizer specializing in co-op, is also a passionate sailor. He mother Elsie, who died in 1973 was a middle school science teacher in Norwalk, who founded an environmental club in the late 1960s.

Both his mother and grandparents, Henry and Anita Willcox were subpoenaed to testify before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. For leading a peace delegation to China in 1952, Henry Willcox lost his building company, at the time the biggest public housing contractor in New York City. Anita Willcox, a successful artist, was unable to even give her paintings away. Fearing a subpoena would ruin her chances for adopting a second child, Elsie Willcox took Peter and his brother Michael underground for 3 months in 1956. After the adoption papers were finalized, they returned to Norwalk, were she did receive a subpoena to testify.

Willcox was taken to many civil rights demonstrations as a child. These culminated in 1965, when Willcox and his father attended the last day of the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights march. It proved to be an event that galvanized his activism. To this day he is a passionate believer that non-violent demonstrations or actions can be useful tools for social change.

Willcox attended North Country School, and later The Putney School.

Clearwater[edit]

During his senior year at Putney School, Willcox received the number 1 position in the draft lottery. He applied for and received Conscientious Objector status. Thanks to the work of Bill Seibert, the previous first mate, Clearwater had been approved by a Federal Judge to be acceptable work for C.O.s. Although President Nixon declared the war won in February 1973, and the draft over, Willcox joined Clearwater anyway. He spent the 1973 season as 2nd and 1st mate, and came back in 1976 as captain. While at Clearwater, Willcox was delighted to come under the influence of both Pete and Toshi Seeger, who he had known most of his life. Their inspiration was critical to making a life time of activism seem possible.

Greenpeace[edit]

After spending a year doing humpback whale research on an old square rigger, Willcox saw an add for mates and engineers on the newly arrived Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. Given a spot as a possible deckhand, he was made First Mate the first day. Four months later, when the British captain had to go home to his family, he became the skipper.


On July 10, 1985, Willcox's ship, Rainbow Warrior, was bombed by French agents. The event, which cost one of those on board his life, caused an international scandal.

Notable Greenpeace Campaigns[edit]

1981:
Offshore Oil drilling on Georges Bank 1982:
Stopping National Lead Industries from dumping a million gallons of sulfuric acid off the New Jersey beaches every day.

Seal killing in Canada

Dolphin killing as part of the tuna industry in the Pacific

Whaling campaign in Peru

1983

Seismic surveying off the coast of California.

Driftnet fishing in North Pacific

Whaling by Russia in Bering Sea

1985

Relocating the village of Rongalap in the Marshall Islands who were victims of the U.S. Atomic Testing program

Rainbow Warrior was blown up in Auckland by French military pesonel, killing shipmate Fernando Periera.

Sailed on Vega IV to Moruroa.

1987

Action with Danish Fisherman against Waste Management Services ship Vulcanos.

1988

Action on USN destroyer bring nuclear weapons into Denmark.

1989

First trip on board the second Rainbow Warrior

Tazman Sea action against drift netters

Scientific Testing at Moruroa

1993

Exposed Russian dumping of nuclear waste in Sea of Japan

1995

Sneak into Turkish power plant burning coal with banner.

2000

Return toxic waste to U.S. embassy in Manila.

2001

Soldertalje, Sweden action over burning toxic waste to generate electricity.

2003 (?)

Guns for Logs in Italy, France, Spain and Netherlands.

2007

Research trip to Bering Sea with two one man submarines

2009

Research trip to Greenland to document global warming.

2013
Captains the Arctic Sunrise in an action against Russia’s oil drilling platform in international waters in the Arctic. He and the crew are arrested and held in prison for two months before being granted amnesty. Demonstrations were held all over the world urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to release the Arctic 30.


Family Life[edit]

Willcox was married in 1991, just in time for the birth of his first daughter, Anita. Natasha was born in 1995. He was separated in 2002, and moved from Spain where he had been living back to Norwalk, CT. His daughters joined him in 2004. In 2013, he married Maggy Aston, who he had met on the Clearwater in the late 1970s, in Islesboro, Maine, where he now lives. He has a step-son named Skylar Purdy. He has nine brothers and sisters, either real (adopted), biological or step.

Sailing[edit]

Willcox grew up sailing. His father Roger was a multiple class national champion, who took his son big boat racing in the early 1960s. Roger continues to be a fair weather frostbite dingy sailor at age 94. Willcox raced for the America’s Cup syndicate Freedom – Enterprise in 1979. He has done ten Berumda Races, did eight S.O.R.C.s in the 1970s and is active today. He currently races on a boat called Christopher Dragon out of New York.

He estimates he has sailed over 300,000 miles in his professional and recreational career.