ISLESBORO — The voice on the phone sounded weary and laden with worry.

Maggy Willcox, whose husband Peter has been detained by Russian authorities since Sept. 19 along with 29 other Greenpeace activists at an oil platform in the Arctic region, has been talking a lot. Along with fielding press inquiries, Willcox, 61, is talking with the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia and with officials from Greenpeace.

“I’ll talk about Peter until I’m blue in the face,” she said, hoping to keep his story visible.

Along with the others on the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise, Peter Willcox, 60, was charged by the Russians with piracy, she said. Willcox is captain of the vessel. That news had come shortly before she spoke to The Working Waterfront from her home on Islesboro, where she has lived for the last 22 years.

“There hasn’t been a lot of ‘latest,'” she said to a question, though she confessed to feeling relieved that the charge was only piracy, not something related to terrorism.

“That’s the measure of the bizarreness of this,” she said.

The activists, who hail from several nations, are protesting what they see as the potential despoiling of the Arctic through oil and other natural resource extraction. The Greenpeace vessel approached the Russian oil platform and some of those on board climbed it and occupied it, she said, hanging a banner.

“They’re all very committed,” she said. “Greenpeace’s whole approach is like the Quaker ethic, to bear witness.”

Last summer, Greenpeace activists traveled to the same oil rig and chained themselves to the equipment, stopping its operation for four days.

With polar ice melting, many nations are gearing up to drill in the Arctic, she said. Such development could hasten the melting and accelerate climate change, Greenpeace believes.

“Their concern with the Arctic,” Willcox said, “is it’s a fragile ecosystem that in no small part dictates what happens in weather and climate on Earth.”

For the Russians, “Drilling for oil in the Arctic has been in their dreams since Stalin,” she said. Other nations, including the U.S. and Canada, also are “moving in to stake their claim,” she said.

Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace’s executive director, explained the organization’s actions in a video on its website, saying:

“The Arctic serves as the refrigerator and air conditioner of the planet,” reflecting the harsh rays of the sun. “What happens in the Arctic has an impact globally. We need to intensify our activism when both the science and Mother Nature itself [are] telling us we are running out of time.”

An oil spill in the Arctic would be virtually impossible to clean up, Naidoo said, “and so it is for that reason that Greenpeace, as part of its broader climate campaign, is calling for the upper Arctic to be declared a sanctuary, similar to how the Antarctic, some decades ago, was declared a protected area.”


Not only is Peter Willcox committed to Greenpeace’s cause, Maggy said, but he also is no newcomer to activism. The two met in the 1970s when Peter was captain of the Clearwater, the vessel that sailed the Hudson River as part of a campaign to clean the river; singers Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Don McLean were involved with the mission.

Maggy, a 1970 graduate of Camden-Rockport High School, said she had been cooking aboard a schooner in Maine, then returned to her parents’ home in Rockport where she was helping paint the house. Through a boating network, Peter contacted her and asked if she wanted to join the Clearwater crew.

“I dropped the paint brush and ran,” she remembered, and worked aboard for about four years. Peter began working for Greenpeace in 1981.

A video has been posted on YouTube—at—purporting to be a secretly made recording of Russians interrogating the captain. (In the video, Willcox can be seen wearing a ball cap bearing the logo of Rockland’s Home Kitchen Café.)


Though Maggy and Peter remained friends through the decades, they became a couple more recently, marrying at the stone pulpit at the ferry landing in February.

She had moved to Islesboro in the early 1990s with her 9-month-old son after divorcing his father. She had run a bakery, and so thought she could make a go of operating a food take-out business at the ferry landing. She also worked at an interior design business.

“I was looking for something different,” she said of the move to the island. “It was such a tight community,” which appealed to her. She praises the school, too, which accommodated her son by allowing him to take college classes while still in 12th grade.

“They gave him a tailor-made education. This community has been wonderful to me and my son,” she said.

As a single mother, “It hasn’t been easy,” in part because there aren’t a lot of jobs for women, other than cleaning houses, but she has carved out a niche. Almost five years ago, she took over the Islesboro Island News, a small newspaper, and continues to publish it.

“It’s turned out to be a really wonderful thing,” she said of the newspaper.

Her pride in Peter and his work were apparent in a phone interview.

“If you met Peter, you’d be surprised. He’s led an extraordinary life, but you couldn’t find a more understated person if you tried,” she said. Though he would have much to talk about, “He’s always more interested in the other person.”

His role as captain of a ship bound for conflict in the Arctic makes sense to Maggy.

“He’s completely unflappable in a crisis. “He’s an extraordinarily capable captain,” she said.

As of Oct. 7, Peter was OK, Maggy said. John Gimbel, the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, had just seen him and told her, “Peter’s in good spirits and staying positive.”

Maggy urges people sympathetic to Peter’s and Greenpeace’s work to visit the organization’s website and sign a petition demanding the activists’ release.